Psycho-Pass 08 – Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
December 5, 2012 Leave a comment
As the series progresses, the more dangerous, flawed and downright stupid the Sibyl system becomes, and although there have been certain elements that try to portray the system in a positive light, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see this way of working as good. At first there was the suggestion that the Sibyl system was a positive force that helped to control and maintain society, and through its use society was ordered with everything running smoothly and ‘properly’. However, as is becoming ever clearer, the Sibyl system is fatally and intrinsically flawed, forcing people down the path of self-destruction and causing far more damage to society than it may ever prevent. It is a system that forces people down the path of no return, while creating the perfect conditions for those with the ability to exploit its flaws, thus allowing for crime and criminals to almost function with impunity. Through its use we have seen characters lose their lives for no real reason, while other are forced into one job because their Psycho-Pass readings are too high for them to left alone. The Sibyl system has created and maintains a highly stratified society where aptitude scores and Psycho-Pass levels dictate where you work and what kind of lifestyle you have.
The Sibyl system and its sub-systems only help to repress and suppress society by disallowing certain emotional and psychological freedoms, while simultaneously punishing those who transgress. Through the use of the Sibyl ‘prophecies’ the police and government are able to keep up appearances and supposedly maintain a society without real crime. The claim throughout the series has been that through the use of Psycho-Pass and the broader Sibyl system crime can be pre-emptively prevented. By constantly checking peoples Hues and keeping society in check it appears that anyone with criminal tendencies can be weeded out and either disposed of or locked away. However, the very notion that crime can be pre-emptively prevented is flawed and arguably doesn’t work. While it can catch certain criminals, they are the ones who are either stupid or unlucky, those who facilitate crime and know how to manipulate the system to their own ends are not caught. The system and those who believe in it claim that it is possible to determine criminals through their thought processes and the way they act, thus suggesting that criminality is somehow hardwired into human psyche and through the correct use of technology it is possible to detect and manipulate it. This very notion is erroneous and creates criminals where there shouldn’t be any, labelling those with the ‘wrong’ sort of mind latent criminals, and in many cases locking them away for life.
The problem is that the system and the methods used by the police to enforce it are flawed and ultimately create an environment within which crime is almost inevitable. Like the Judge system in Judge Dredd, or the Precogs in The Minority Report, the Psycho-Pass system allows no room for questioning the reasons behind these judgements or whether they are even the correct course of action. Instead the system is viewed as infallible and its wishes are carried out regardless of the consequences. The Sibyl and Dominator system may make it easy to destroy criminals, but through its use the links between these criminals and their crimes disappear. It is very hard to make a dead person talk, even harder when they are a red puddle on the floor. Kougami would have probably killed Rikako if he hadn’t been stopped because his Dominator had told him too. However, in doing so, any connect between her case and the previous case that Kougami was working on would be lost, simply because the system suggested that she was too dangerous to live. By shooting first and asking questions later all links between crimes and evidence that could be gained from the criminal are lost, thus making solving crimes significantly harder. By blindly following what the system says and killing these criminals those who facilitate crime are given incentives to continue their work. They don’t have to cover their tracks because the system does it for them, thus allowing them to work with relatively impunity, assuming they can continue to work around the flaws in the system.
In many respects the Sibyl system punishes the victims of crime or those who remain far more than any individual criminal. Those who suffer from the stress of seeing someone die or are involved with a crime may have their Psycho-Pass readings increase and become cloudy, thus damaging their livelihoods and future. In this episode for example the friend of one of the murder victims will likely emerge from this experience with a cloudy Psycho-Pass and deep emotional and psychological trauma. The system and society doesn’t however have anything to deal with the aftermath of crime or those who supposedly police it. Instead she may be judged to be dangerous or have her future severely damaged because of her experiences and feelings of guilt. The system cannot read into the nuances of human emotions and instead of acknowledging that this particular individual had a traumatic experience at a young age simply views her reading and passes out judgement. There is no subtly in this system and no notion that the context within which someone is brought up may have an impact on their growth and attitude towards the world. All crime happens within a context, be it poverty, greed, or perhaps out of necessity. The social, economic and cultural conditions within which crime takes place are therefore essential in understanding why such events happen. By suggesting that crime is somehow hardwired into the human psyche, the Psycho-Pass system and those who rely upon it fail to understand the reasons behind crime in the first place.
The system therefore creates adverse conditions for many people, thus pushing them towards crime or backing them into a corner from which they cannot escape. In the first episode for example the character that kidnapped and rapped a woman after being scanned by a drone was found to have an elevated Psycho-Pass reading. While it is impossible to condone his actions they were nevertheless a creation of the system that supposedly polices and controls society. We can view his death as a product of a system that creates the conditions for crime rather than stops them. Furthermore, because his victim was brutally kidnapped and raped only to see him disintegrate into a red puddle on the flaw her Psycho-Pass reading =was elevated to a dangerous level. Because of this the system judged her to be as dangerous as the man who she was raped by and thus labels her for extermination. This character had done nothing wrong, but because of her experiences and the trauma that she has suffered the Sibyl system labels her as dangerous. As a victim of rape she deserves better treatment and help, but we see a system that doesn’t look at what happens after a criminal is destroyed, instead allowing their victims to fall through the cracks and, perhaps inevitably, be labelled criminals themselves.
But now we come the numerous problems that this series has, chief among them is how unbelievably pretentious it is. Part of the problem with the series has been the numerous quotes from plays or other literature by Makishima the main antagonist. Now, they may be there to demonstrate how well read this character is and perhaps to demonstrate why he is helping all these criminals, but it just doesn’t work. Instead we are forced to sit through his character quoting random literary works for no apparent reason, with the quotes seemingly having no real reason other than to be quotes. During this episode in particular Makishima once again quotes Titus Andronicus, but it remains very difficult to work out why and if it has any bearing on the current events. Instead this scene leaves the impression of a series trying to hard to be clever and ultimately resulting in a pretentious mess that is taking itself far too seriously. Not to mention leaving Makishima as an empty shell, devoid of any real characterisation, whose sole purpose appears to be to stand on a balcony and quote literature for no discernable reason. A well-produced story doesn’t need to continuously quote Shakespeare or introduce various philosophies because the underlying story and character are strong enough on their own. Blade Runner (and naturally Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) manages to explore idea surrounding what it means to be human while also using ‘normal’ or ‘everyday’ dialogue. It is a story that doesn’t need Shakespeare or other literary references to do this because it is well told with a strong narrative framework and characters.
The exposition and a substantial amount of the dialogue in recent weeks has remained static with the characters standing and talking at each other while explaining everything about the plot and what is happening. There are times when watching these characters talk is akin to watching a plumber explain exactly how the plumbing in your house works. It may be interesting, but unless you really need to do your own plumbing there seems little need to get a lecture on the importance of how the system works. Psycho-Pass makes its story overly complicated, and instead of using a simple framework that can be viewed in different ways tries to be too clever which inevitably leads to pointless dialogue and annoying characters. Its like the characters are talking for the sake of it instead of doing something meaningful to the narrative. What we end up with is Makishima quoting for the sake it, and instead of meaningful dialogue or progression in story and character we are left with numerous monologues. There were similar problems with Fate/Zero when the main characters spent the majority of their time looking serious and talking at each other. Instead of meaningful dialogue we were left with numerous monologues that took up the majority of the episode without any real reason or purpose.
The characters in Fate/Zero like the characters in Psycho-Pass felt empty, they were devoid of emotion of importance, instead content to stand and quote things at each other. This is precisely the main problem with Makishima, he is empty and regardless of his position as the antagonist and apparently the one behind all these crimes seems to have neither real place nor purpose to the story. Once again as I watched this episode I was left with the nagging feeling that I’ve seen it all before, but far better; the series remains derivative and empty, with characters coming across as one-dimensional and sometimes pointless while the story stays flat. All the themes to do with law enforcement and ideas surrounding education, culture, choice and so on are fascinating, but they aren’t going anywhere. The series continues to leave me with an empty feeling as if I could wake up tomorrow and completely forget that it existed. It doesn’t help that my reservations about Urobuchi Gen’s writing appear to be coming true with pretentious dialogue and terrible, one-dimensional characters screaming from every scene. For a series that involves such fascinating ideas and themes it is surprisingly empty and dull.