Pop culture’s fascination with dystopian futures is nothing new. From classic science fiction novels to the current young adult book-to-movie trend in today’s cinema, writers often imagine a world in which our basic human rights are stripped away. And whether it’s due to class warfare, or the rise of machines, the success of each incarnation largely depends on the strength of its characters.
PSYCHO-PASS, a cyberpunk police procedural set, yes, in a distant dystopian future, follows the concept with interesting cases, a tightly wound mystery, and a study on empathy.
Set a hundred years in the future, PSYCHO-PASS takes place in a world where a simple brain scan can determine if you are — or have the potential to become — a criminal. The Sibyl System individually reads a person’s personality, mental state, and the probability that they will commit a crime. Each crime is measured by the Crime Coefficient index, and if a person’s index is too high, they’re immediately apprehended by the police.
What’s interesting is that the Sibyl System doesn’t just register if someone has committed a crime, it also measures their potential to do so. These walking time bombs are known as 'latent criminals,' and they’re followed around by the protagonists in our story, Unit One, which is comprised of Enforcers and Inspectors. Both wield Dominators, large handguns that can only fire on criminals with a high Crime Coefficient.
PSYCHO-PASS begins with Akane Tsunemori, a brand new Inspector on Unit One who learns about the system through an Enforcer, Shinya Kogami. Throughout the course of the show, the two take on multiple cases and eventually encounter Shogo Makishima, a criminal mastermind that they must take down.
If the plot sounds vaguely familiar to you, you’re not alone. PSYCHO-PASS definitely has elements of several Philip K. Dick adaptations, including BLADE RUNNER and MINORITY REPORT, but it also brings to mind other sci-fi flicks like EQUILIBRIUM. The themes are the same: what’s the price of living in a world where crime has reached an all-time low and the population is, theoretically, happy and safe? Is it freedom? Is being capable of a crime the same as committing one? Even the mere thought of doing something wrong can get you in trouble.
Though the story gradually takes on a major arc with its key villain, I most enjoyed the individual cases and the way they explored those societal themes. Each grisly murder says something about the people caught up in this world, and the effect the Sibyl System has on its 'participants.' Stylistically, each case is sharply conceived, with unabashed violence and dark, gritty visuals.
PSYCHO-PASS does not shy away from the truth, nor does it allow its psychoanalytical theory to get in the way of some major action. As with any good sci-fi action story, the two go hand in hand. I highly recommend PSYCHO-PASS for anyone who’s a fan of the aforementioned films, cyberpunk dystopian thrillers, and explorations of human nature.
Rachel Heine is a pop culture junkie, amateur food blogger, and cat nap aficionado. She also regularly contributes toNerdist and Static Beach. Check out her blog — popandsizzle.com — and follow her on Twitter: @RachelHeine