Psycho Pass and the Lost Art of Restraint

[HorribleSubs] PSYCHO-PASS - 14 [720p].mkv_snapshot_10.38_[2013.01.27_02.12.07]

More literary references I don’t bother to seek out.

Psycho Pass has always elicited some strong reactions from its viewers. Being a series that practically begs you to put it in context with what’s happening in the real world, strong reactions are inevitable. 

This series is like a balancing act and it is far more difficult to pull off than a sugary sweet slice of life series or an off-the-wall romantic comedy. Psycho Pass is closely examined by the audience  because this is a world more familiar to us than that of many other titles surrounding it. As such, even the smallest mishaps in execution are magnified ten-fold and logical leaps appear ludicrous. Episode number fourteen is a stellar example of this phenomena. 

To peel off the layers would be too time consuming. Instead, let us look at the one scene that started it all (for me at least).

Seven minutes in and we are treated to a scene in which a man whose face is obscured by a helmet, corners a woman in the street. He later begins to violently assault her with a hammer in front of numerous people. Bystanders are seen quietly observing the crime while others have their phones out. In the crowd is one amused Choe Gu-Sung, who records the scene and comments, “This is good, some real brutal stuff.”

This can easily be justified with what is called the bystander effect. But it seems to be a far more personal story than that. Shingo Minamino a music producer at Nitroplus was murdered on the busy streets of Osaka last year. Gen Urobuchi worked with him on titles like Saya no Uta.

The scene in episode fourteen is designed to upset us. But this is where Psycho Pass trips and falls flat on its face only to continuously spiral downward in what may be its most disappointing episode to date. It sets off a domino effect that can only be described as disastrous.

Before anyone accuses me of being overly sensitive, I think I have a good understanding of media violence. I’ve had a great deal of experience with very violent films (a good number of my favorite films are excessively violent) and I just recently went to the cinemas to watch Django Unchained, a film that switches from cartoony gore to horrific violence which I thoroughly enjoyed, thank you very much.

Running for a full minute long, this scene crosses the line from shocking, apprehensive to exploitative. Why, I’d say it’s almost sickeningly voyeuristic. This scene becomes a tool for the creators to exercise their smugness, a shallow attempt on any real kind of social commentary. Choe Gu-Sung’s line that closes off the scenario is almost spoken in a condescending tone. The idea of this scene almost becoming a mockery of its real life inspirations does not sit well with me. This may not be the intention of the creators or the staff, but by poorly handling an integral scene like this, the staff seem just as incompetent as Psycho Pass’ Public Safety Bureau.

A lot of scenes in Psycho Pass can be justified in many ways, but its execution? So much less.

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9 Comments

  1. I was talking w/ a friend about this scene earlier today, and I think we both agreed that its direction was pretty close to pornographic. Yeah, people have made allegations before that Urobuchi dabbles in “torture porn” and I’ve thought before about how Psycho Pass borrows ideas from the genre, but again: there’s a difference between depicting extreme violence and fetishizing it, and I think that Psycho Pass comes so close to the latter in ep 14 that the line between the two might not even exist. It’s a suspicion I’ve harbored from this show’s beginning (see: the rape in episode 1) but I think this scene made it especially clear.

    Some of this blame should go to Urobuchi but I think some should go to the director as well. There’s a lot of tonal confusion embedded in the show: if the world of Psycho Pass is a gray universe that pits a dystopia against a madman, then why does the soundtrack implore us to cheer on the Enforcers when they’re blowing people up w/ Dominators without consequences? Is the show trying to send up or comment upon violence, or is it just depicting it in the most obsessively detailed fashion for no other reason than that the staff wanted to? There are some pretty interesting ideas woven throughout, but right now they’re undermined by extreme mean-spiritedness and the consequences of focusing on moral dilemmas and horror at the expense of what makes for good science fiction. It’s like all the worst habits of both the writer and the director have come back simultaneously to bite everyone in the ass.

    It’s possible that the creators might still be able to turn this around (Urobuchi’s other endings have been pretty good!) but Psycho Pass has dug itself into a very deep hole by now. Extricating itself is going to take a lot of subtlety and care, and honestly in his best moments I don’t think Urobuchi’s had much of either of those.

    • but I think this scene made it especially clear.

      There was a time where accusations of Psycho Pass hating women were thrown around every now and then, I used to laugh at those– assuming that to most people, every anime under the sun hated women. But this episode was very uncomfortable to sit through and that’s usually a sign that something’s amiss.

      There are some pretty interesting ideas woven throughout, but right now they’re undermined by extreme mean-spiritedness and the consequences of focusing on moral dilemmas and horror at the expense of what makes for good science fiction.

      Psycho Pass’ greatest misstep can be attributed to the series jumping headfirst into masturbating over moral and philosophical debates without properly setting up the world and the system. That’s not how it goes in this genre. You can’t go this far without making your world believable. The Sybil system’s inner mechanics are barely explored and thus, it almost feels like obviously calculated maneuvers are made so that that system itself sets up rules that assist to further a plot. That’s one of my greatest pet peeves in fiction.

      This series is slowly becoming a missed opportunity. It’s accessible, presents very good ideas and is entertaining at some parts but as the episodes go on, it’s slowly cornering itself into a tight spot.

      • I don’t think Psycho-Pass ever intended to be “good science fiction.” The Sybil System itself is ridiculous and would likely fall apart if put under any scrutiny. If you don’t like to ponder morale and philosophical dilemmas, you may be watching the wrong show. At the same time, I can understand why you would be aggravated that Urobuchi is using the world as a plot device more than anything else.

        What made you uncomfortable? If it was the scene with the woman being beat to death, doesn’t that mean it played its intended role? If you were fine with it, I would think it had failed to incite the appropriate emotion.

        That scene was meant to be disturbing. It was meant to take the bystander effect to the extreme. All those people forwent any personal responsibility, and they didn’t even place that women’s fate in the hands of each other. They had blind faith in the state the entire time.

        I can understand disliking Psycho-Pass, but I can’t see why this episode is the tipping point.

        • I didn’t say anything about disliking the series’choice to ponder on the moral or philosophical issues. In fact, I welcome that. But the show’s themes would have more weight to them if we understood the world the lived in a little better. The system is so antagonized in this series that it dulls anything else that would be seen as a positive.

          What made you uncomfortable? If it was the scene with the woman being beat to death, doesn’t that mean it played its intended role? If you were fine with it, I would think it had failed to incite the appropriate emotion.

          I was uncomfortable with how that scene was set up and executed. The woman was established as a bitch and in truth, did we really feel any sympathy for her? I didn’t. What really bothered me was that it didn’t have any real gravity to it. I knew what was coming and Psycho Pass’ smugness over the statement it was making just added to my dismay. Let me feel the injustice, if this PP made her out to be someone who lived a fairly normal and well-adjusted life until a psycho decided to kill her…if the show actually made me care– then this scene would’ve done its job. Instead, it makes it a point to show that this woman had it coming. To me it’s just a poor exercise to shock people and it parades a message to overt without any real feeling to it.

          I can understand disliking Psycho-Pass, but I can’t see why this episode is the tipping point.

          I’m guessing it’s because even the people who like and enjoy Psycho Pass weren’t very happy with this episode either.

          • “The woman was established as a bitch and in truth, did we really feel any sympathy for her? I didn’t. […] it makes it a point to show that this woman had it coming.”

            I don’t think there was nearly enough information to establish that woman as being a bitch. If anything, the lack of characterization supported that idea that anyone could have been in her position, and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

            Without a doubt, I felt sympathy for her. She did nothing wrong but was still bludgeoned to death in the middle of a crowded thoroughfare. If that’s not unjust, I don’t what is.

            I think a big problem for all of us is that we’ve been desensitized to violence. Since when have we needed a thorough back story to feel sympathy towards our fellow man? I might be grasping at straws, but Psycho-Pass has definitely played around with this idea before. I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene was intentionally monotonous.

            • I don’t think there was nearly enough information to establish that woman as being a bitch.

              If the series introduces her making fun of someone on the phone and reveals that she had a somewhat personal relationship with said killer (who is undoubtedly the same person she scoffed at), I’ll take that as characterization. I’m not saying she deserved it, but PP almost kind of makes it seem like it was justified. I personally thought that Rikako’s death was far more well done, in her last moments she tries to call her father to no avail. A small scene that humanizes her. This is anime, it’s fiction. Of course I require more of an emotional investment. As much as PP’s world reflects our own, it’s a creator’s responsibility to immerse the viewer in their world. And in episode 15, I was detached.

              I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene was intentionally monotonous.
              If so, the series could’ve done a better job at making it look like that. Maybe taking out the music would add to the tone they were trying to achieve. We can discuss the moral implications of such a scene, but I don’t feel like doing it simply because I don’t think this scene was done well. That’s why I mentioned Django Unchained in this post. That film flip flopped from two different kinds of violence, when it wants to be horrific and unnerving– it can. Psycho Pass’ attempts on unnerving violence has me believing that the staff lacks the experience or the wisdom to execute it well enough.

  2. “Running for a full minute long”

    Yes, it seemed a bit long at first, but how can you say that after you have seen that guy’s home?
    The answer for ‘why’ was there – it was revenge, a thorough job to blew off all the pent-up steam.

    • Like I said, there are many, many ways to justify questionable content in Psycho Pass. I believe it’s more proper to ask what the intentions of the creators were to have a scene run for so long (and repeatedly shown) and whether or not a line was crossed. I think this helps us understand why this episode garnered strong opinions. Justifying the scene will just have us running around in circles.

  3. have to agree with you about the murder scene. i’ve been thinking that so far pp has been violent without crossing into exploitative territory (or at least i felt the earlier disturbing scenes were handled with the right kind of context) but this just felt a bit overdone. there were a lot of ways to execute it differently and that really could have helped set the tone they were trying to go for overall because as it stands, i have no idea what they’re going for anymore…

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