Monday, April 14, 2014

Psycho Pass

Still chugging along on my +Hulu subscription. One of my amigos recommend Psycho Pass in the anime category. The Wiki is over here.

Animation? I dug it. Soundtrack? Again, good without intruding on the show itself. Storyline? Wow. That was powerful stuff. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for some Utopia plagued society bits that has a ton of elements from all over that somehow conspires itself into one kick ass tale.

Apparently its so well done that there will be a second season, novels, manga and other bits. Things to look forward to.

The character designs are well done. One of the main characters, Kogami, has that 'Spike' look and seriousness to him and is well placed against his new nemesis, Shogo who is platinum blonde with long hair while Kogami has short cropped black hair. Our new police officer, and hence, the viewer's guide to this new world, is Akane, who is a slender youth with short brown hair. She stands out in vast contrast in terms of thinness to the other women of the show, especially the cyber expert whose a buxom, flirty blonde.

The guns, Dominators, are also slick. Their appearance changes depending on what mode they're in so that you get a few different varieties of the weapon.

The non-spoiler review is over. If you like anime, you might enjoy this if post modern stuff hits your pleasure centers. Below I'll be discussing very specific spoilers and why I think it's a fantastic set up for any modern role playing game.

1. Cyberpunk but not: When I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, Cyberpunk meant Cyberpunk 2020. It meant people with bionic limbs that lost their humanity the more cybernetic they became. It meant missions for one mercenary company against another. Psycho Pass has elements of isolation to it. It has elements of the society not caring about its fellow members. But it does so on the positive side of such a coin. The isolation and sterilization of modern man, isn't done by cybernetics, its done through the elimination of things that may lead to revolutionary thoughts and ideas. Corporations aren't the issue, it's big, no, super government that only has society's best interest at heart, even if that means failing some of the people.

As a matter of fact, Shogo's last big plan? To destroy the capability of Japan to feed itself, is so awesome farming itself so rarely touched on in traditional Cyberpunk stories, it is a perfect bit to directly steal for a cypberunk game for anyone who hasn't seen Psycho Pass.

In this instance, it would be the introduction of a virus into the crops that is supposed to protect the crops from other viruses and insects. The players would have to find out where the automated farms are, where the 'brains' of those farms are, how to work around or with the security, and then stop the eco-terrorist.

2. Minority Report: The police of the setting use guns called Dominators. The dominators are capable of reading a person's 'psycho pass' and their crime coefficient. The higher the later, the worse the former. People can be taken in before they commit any crimes because they are capable of committing the crimes. Highly reminded me of minority report.

Another big nod to future corporations or media involvement, was that everything is networked. For example, the guns the police use? They have to have network access in order to flash their scan back to the databanks in order to get that reading.

People are surrounded by holograms that promote a better life. Their clothing for example, can switch to different images and outfits, as can their furniture, as can outside furniture, like benches or water fountains. There's a 'hidden' layer of reality beneath it all.

3. GIGO: Despite everything being 'jacked' in, there are huge voids in the grid. Whole areas that are not on the grid, or at least on the 'official' grid. For example, underground railroads that were supposed to be discontinued long ago. The 'eyes' of the city stopping in certain neighborhoods because its not efficient to go and fix them over and over again. When the data going into the system is bad, the police sometimes have a hard time compensating for it.

4. Ministry Chosen Professions: One of the things that's fascinating about the setting, is how things are doled out. For example, people take tests that determines where they'd best fit into society. If you're not that smart or not that capable, you wind up in low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. Some of the 'free spirited' things like say, music creation? Heavily watched and controlled by the government. Other professions like criminal profilers? Due to the stress it puts on people's 'psycho pass', are gone.

How about farmers? Well, here's the thing. The country genetically modified wheat and does all of the farming with automation so there are no farmers. A whole profession wiped out by automation. Anyone looking around at how farming is done today in say, America, might be thinking, that's not necessarily a good idea. Turns out in Psycho Pass it isn't either.

The good news is that society as a whole has a remarkably lowered crime rate. The bad news is that the people aren't necessarily better off. For example, where there are riots, its difficult for the police to react quickly and effectively because there are so few of them. In addition, as anyone working today at the 'standard' nine to five can attest, having a job does not mean you have happiness, but its worse in this series because you don't have opportunities to get out of those jobs.

For example, if you work in a factory in this future, you don't even get internet. You get to work, eat, live, and well, probably die in your factory. But hey, you have a job man! Good work.

What's worse though, if your psycho pass gets 'cloudy', they throw you in an institution until it recovers or well, they leave you there or you are eliminated from there. Those who have a certain aptitude are put to work for the police as enforcers as opposed to detectives.

5. Software: One of the interesting things about the series, is that it embraces the flawed software model and acknowledges that no system is perfect. For example, those 'Dominator' guns?

Well, the internet access thing is a bit annoying but in a fully wired city where wi-fi is generally not a problem? Not a big problem. But when the gun is not able to read certain types of people because of their abnormal brain function? Individuals that might be called sociopaths in today's society?

Well, you have no standard gun, you have no knife. What now? Another potential problem, is that software can be tricked. In the series, one inventor creates a helmet that mirrors the 'psycho pass' of other nearby people so that your own murderous intent and ability might be hidden by someone else's lower rating.

The interesting twist to it though, is that not a lot of the 'criminals' have guns or other weapons either. They have to do with things like construction nail guns or with hammers or other objects of everyday use.

6. Characters:

At the end of the day, Psycho Pass is all about characters and how they interact and sacrifice and what they can and cannot change about themselves. For example, the inspector Ginoza, keeps heading down the path that his father and partner took in that the more he tries to handle, the worse his psycho pass and crime coefficient get until he winds up serving not as a detective, but as an enforcer. Masaoka doesn't have a 'huge' character role or arc, but he plays mentor to Akane, appreciates the depths to which Kogami works, and tries to kept his son, Ginoza safe in the system. He doesn't necessarily get all of those things done.

Psycho Pass has a lot of themes running through it involving isolation, society, government, individualism, and things that make you think and look around. It packs enough punch that I'm having a hard time thinking of how a second season is going to live up to the depth contained in the first season.

Psycho Pass is broken up into two packages on bluray/dvd combo. The first  and second parts are $29.96 and each is supposed to be over 50% off. Sheesh. On Amazon Instant, the episodes are available, but aren't part of the free pass so here's where +Hulu has an advantage of Prime.

Check it out.

For those other big fans of anime out there, are there any other series you'd recommend in a similar vein? I just finished watching Darker Than Black Season 2 and was like, yeah, they should've left it alone at the first season. Tried watching Skull Man but started dozing into the second episode. Did it get better? Psycho Pass and some other recent anime like Attack on Titan have me excited for the future and hidden gems I may have missed.