Each week I found myself faced with a quandary when it came to Psycho Pass 2. If I watched it when I got up, I would feel unsettled the whole day. And if I watched it before bed, nightmares followed. Yet despite this, it is one of the series I found myself dying to watch week in and week out.
[Note: This review includes massive spoilers about the first season of Psycho Pass. For a non-spoiler introduction to the series, read our review of the first half of the first season here.]
Psycho Pass 2 once again follows (the now veteran) inspector Akane Tsunemori as she is forced to deal with a new criminal who doesn't even register when scanned by the Sybil system. However, what makes this so interesting is not his mysterious inability to be scanned but rather the meticulous method of his crimes. It is apparent largely from the start that the villain, Kamui, is not simply murdering at random but is performing a massive experiment with one central purpose: finding out how exactly the Sybil system works.
He does this by first figuring out the rules of the dominator scanning/enforcement pistol. Can it be used by simply manually forcing an inspector to pull the trigger? What if you just had some of the organs of an authorized user, would it still work? Can an inspector even be killed by a dominator or are inspectors exempt from scanning?
Watching as Kamui performs experiment after experiment is both interesting and horrifying. And then seeing as Akane struggles to stop him even after knowing the general nature of his plans makes Kamui seem like a powerful villain and legitimate threat.
While in the first season of Psycho Pass we did learn the secret of the Sybil system, we knew next to nothing about how it came to be. Psycho Pass 2 spends a fair chunk of its runtime fleshing this out. We learn not only about the system’s origin but also about the possible alternatives to it and how they were ultimately dealt with. This in turn fleshes out the setting in new and interesting ways and sets the stage for upcoming iterations of the franchise.
[Skip to the next section to avoid major spoilers.] When it comes down to it, the core of Psycho Pass 2 is exploring the Omnipotence Paradox (“if an entity is all powerful, can it create a rock so heavy that not even it can lift it?”) as it applies to the Sybil system. Of course, the Sybil system is not all-powerful; however, it is all-judging. Thus, the question becomes can the Sybil system judge itself—and by proxy, what would the repercussions be if it found itself to be deserving of punishment?
Over the course of the first season, the Sybil system judged individuals and added those who could not be judged to itself. Thus Sybil itself is far from an individual—it is a hive mind more than anything else; and to judge itself, it would have to judge not on a personal level but on a societal one. This idea opens up a whole new can of worms as while Sybil would be able to judge itself, it would also be able to judge groups and organizations. And as we all know, it is perfectly possible for good people to be part of a bad group.
Among the characters of Psycho Pass 2 is Mika Shimotsuki, Akane's junior partner. In the year and a half since the end of the first season, the two have worked side by side. However, despite this, Mika deeply dislikes Akane on a professional level. This is simply because Mika implicitly trusts the system. If the system tells her someone is a criminal and should be exploded in a mass of blood and gore, she does it and feels no guilt. Along the same lines, she largely treats the enforcers under her command as expendable tools that must be kept on a tight leash.
Akane, on the other hand, simply sees everyone as a person. To her, killing is the absolute last resort in any situation, criminal or no. She would rather put herself in harm’s way and attempt to talk a person down than to take the safe and easy shot. To Mika, this is quite literally unthinkable.
[Skip to the next section to avoid major spoilers.] Last season, we saw how a person with values similar to ours—i.e., Akane—reacted to the secret of the Sybil system. In Psycho Pass 2 we get to see how an average member of the society we see in Psycho Pass—i.e., Mika—responds to the same information. Her reaction shows just how indoctrinated people have become on an individual level. Despite the fact that the Sybil system has trained her to despise criminals, she is still able to force herself to follow a device completely made up of criminal minds—able to convince herself that it is a perfectly wonderful idea that makes total sense despite the obvious contradictions.
While watching Kamui's experiments unfold is darkly engrossing, as a character he is lacking. With his ability to be invisible to the Sybil system and his power to lower other people's Psycho Passes through a mixture of drugs and psycho therapy, he should be terrifying—in fact, he is for the first few episodes.
[Skip to the next section to avoid major spoilers.] But as the story goes on and we learn more about him, he seems less and less real—especially when we are expected to take wholesale the idea that he is unscannable because he shows up not as one person but as a group of people because of all the transplants he received after an accident as a child. By the end, he feels like little more than a plot device to move the story along and provoke the Omnipotence Paradox quandary. And while he certainly succeeds in those areas, as a villain it's hard to feel strongly about him one way or another—his goals and actions are far more interesting than the man behind them.
Let's be blunt, here. People explode in a shower of gore or otherwise die in terribly violent ways in pretty much every episode of Psycho Pass 2—often in large numbers. There is also more than a bit of body mutilation and physical torture, both implied and plain for all to see. Then, there's all the psychological torture that various characters are put through—including Akane as the villains push against her natural ability to rebound from psychological stress and attempt to break her irrevocably. In other words, there are more than a few truly messed up moments in Psycho Pass 2 and if you don't have the stomach for it, well, that's perfectly understandable.
Psycho Pass 2 is an excellent cyberpunk crime drama. It expands the dystopian world from the original Psycho Pass and gives us new insight into its society and history. Moreover, it comes populated with several well-realized and complex characters that make for a story full of unexpected twists and turns. If it has one potential downside, it is that it is not for the faint of heart. There is a ton of ultraviolence in this one and it never lets up. But if that doesn't dissuade you, you should definitely give Psycho Pass 2 a shot.
For a second opinion, check out the review over on Ani-TAY, our user-run anime blog.
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