cyberpunk edge runners has been a big hit with critics and audiences alike lately and has renewed a lot of interest in its video game counterpart, the Divider Cyberpunk 2077. But in addition to prompting a revisit of a game from 2020, it also begs the question of who likes it – or doesn’t – fans should check out next, and 2012 Psycho Pass is a pretty clear contender.
Written by Gen Urobuchi and directed by Naoshi Shiotani, Psycho Pass was Production IG’s bold new sci-fi IP that aimed to be the studio’s next big hit as ghost in the shell. It was a dark series illustrating the darkness lurking in a seemingly utopian society where public safety is at an incredible level, thanks to the seemingly omniscient “Sybil System”.
What qualifies as cyberpunk can be up for debate depending on the media in question or who you talk to. Many definitions found online specify an element of anarchy permeating the world of the story, which doesn’t quite add up. Psycho Pass‘ initial utopian turn, however flimsy the veneer.
In Cyberpunk 2077 and edge runners, a “cyberpunk” is a term for an individual who shapes their own identity in a future dystopian city that is generally characterized by rampant capitalism. The huge wealth gap results in a kind of futuristic Wild West in which cyberpunks strive not to change the world but to create an identity for themselves.
But a story doesn’t have to be told from a “cyberpunk” perspective to be a cyberpunk story. blade runner depicts an equally dark and bleak future, but is told from the perspective of detectives from different backgrounds, all embroiled in mysteries that pull back the curtain on society. The elements that make up the world and the aesthetic that presents them is what is referred to as cyberpunk.
ghost in the shell has also been called cyberpunk and tells its story from the perspective of an elite cyber-counter-terrorism group. Not exactly a story from the perspective of the underdog, but its political themes reveal its messages about how technology can be abused in the future to take advantage of people, making it apt to call it cyberpunk.
The Psycho-Pass utopia
So what kind of world does Psycho Pass present and does he qualify as cyberpunk? Simply put, yes, but not without prior accumulation. Psycho Pass is set in the early 22nd century, when much of the world is in chaos, but Japan perseveres and has become one of the safest places on earth.
This was achieved through the Sybil system, a framework by which people’s brains are scanned to determine their abilities, placing them where they will be most beneficial to society. It also serves another purpose, assigning a particular “hue” to individuals based on their scans which determines their likelihood of committing crimes.
This is also calculated numerically as an individual’s “crime coefficient” or “psycho-pass”. When the number gets too high, people need to be stopped and given counseling to lower their coefficient. Inspectors from the Ministry of Social Affairs Public Security Bureau (MWPSB) carry weapons called Dominators that can stun or even kill people whose coefficient is too high.
To ensure that the Inspectors’ Psycho-Passes are not overly scrambled, latent criminals are employed as hunting dogs called Enforcers and are used to apprehend dangerous criminals. The series follows rookie inspector Akane Tsunemori as she learns the sad truth about being an inspector.
Psycho Pass‘ is the story of a utopia maintained by a very violent and disordered system which has certain problems but which also sometimes defends itself. Much of the first half of the series is devoted to setting up this world, explaining how it works, and exploring the ways the system can be exploited.
But the discovery of the exploits comes with the revelation that these exploits are rather new to this world. Japan is known to have enjoyed considerable peace for possibly decades. It’s not until the antagonist, Shogo Makishima, is introduced that it’s clear what kind of threat this futuristic utopia faces.
Makishima is a terrorist and murderer with a love for philosophy and literature, who views the Sybil System with disdain, viewing it as a society that robs humanity of free will for being flawed. He uses his cunning and apparent invincibility to Sybil System scanners to raise deranged individuals, namely a number of vanguard serial killers.
While many cyberpunk stories aren’t about changing the societies that surround them, Psycho Pass is all about the battle between people who protect peace and a man who wishes to tear down the superstructure of this society. Namely, through mass panic, riots and plots to dismantle key systems essential to the stability of the country.
Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami are the pair at the center of Psycho Pass. The first is a rookie whose apprehension towards the system and naivety transform into an evolved perspective on justice that places free will in the hands of the arbiters of law, not just blindly following the system.
On the other hand, Shinya Kogami is a much more traditional protagonist who fits the mold of a lead role in a detective story. He is an Enforcer, which means that in the past he became a latent criminal after his hue deteriorated. He’s the one most viewers will consider the real main character given his rivalry with Makishima, but it’s his traditionalism that makes him flawed.
Psycho-Pass places its protagonists between a rock and a hard place; a traditional narrative juxtaposing rebellion and a dystopian system with a utopian endgame and demonstrable benefits. The question of the series, and the one that makes it so fascinating to watch and ponder, is how best to run a society like this.
Is the answer rebellion? Is it submission? If the answer lies in a third option, will it be effective? Through 22 episodes of construction and deconstruction, the characters arrive at their own answers to these questions. While later sequels to Psycho Pass weren’t always loved, the first season is a masterpiece. It’s truly one of the best sci-fi series in years and one of the best anime series since. Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex.
Psycho Pass is certainly very different from edge runners, with a different philosophy of action and storytelling. However, they are both incredibly well-made stories whose depictions of societal collapse in the advanced future create exquisite character drama and encourage viewer thought. Those who resonated with edge runners‘ characters and their philosophies can find a similar catharsis in Psycho Pass.
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