Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Monday, May 5, 2014

Anime Review: Psycho-Pass Season 1

You know there is very little I hate more in this world than people thinking they can get a bead on me by taking a quick read. I'm more complicated than that.  I am not a number and I am not a name.  I am myself. But what if we lived in a world where all the data that makes up my personal history was available. Psych exams, proficiency tests, criminal records, medical history, behavioral  proclivities, typical coping mechanisms etc. Furthermore what if all that data could be accessed and collated instantaneously so my mental state could be analyzed at the drop of a hat.

Thus is the concept of Psycho Pass. In the future a system combines all that data into a crime coefficient able to determine the likelihood a person will commit a crime under emotional strain. The story focuses on a rookie cop put in charge of leading a unit designed bring latent criminals in once it becomes clear they're about to snap.


I know it sounds familiar.

But the show makes it clear that it's not just talking about criminal alienation but the consequences of our current big data world. What happens when all that data takes good old fashioned human agency out of the equation.

Half the time it isn't people's inherent nature that pushes them over the edge but the despair of knowing they've crossed the empirical line. "If the cops are going to kill me I might as well go out with a bang." But the numbers are there and if tool is available why not use it.

And I want to be clear we are in the gray here. There are some real pieces of work in this show.  The human animal is an animal. A delusional beast that roams the earth believing itself to be beyond the savagery of the hunt. It ain't. We are all voracious beasts.

(Miles, you're starting to scare yourself.)

Okay here's the thing the show has the visual style and tone of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Sometimes it comes close but this is no GitSac.

It doesn't come close to the sheer level of mindfuckery of that masterpiece. All in all the show is better when it's exploring the implications of its setting rather than any sort of narrative. A world where everybody, particularly the police can know more about you than you, where our reliance on data has trapped us and in that trap we despair.

When it tries to go for plot its too conventional to make a good mystery and too convoluted to make for good drama. But when it delves into the implications of an automated society where the random coefficient of free will is ignored and denied you have some good speculative fiction on your hands.

Since everybody has a breaking point, society has turned everybody slightly into happy funtime zombies in denial of their passions and vices in fear of bringing down the heat who are a bit too trigger happy. It's not even their fault though since their guns are automated. Part of the reason why I trust cops is because somebody through training and accountable policy has to know how and when to use force. Taking that judgement away from human hands and entrusting it to a computer program just feels... wrong.

I don't want an anarchist state where every man is for himself and I don't want warlord land where might makes right. We need smart, honest, compassionate, just, responsible, well trained, accountable cops, (Yes I know we don't always get that but we need it all the same) and while I love computers they don't have any of those qualities. A computer is only as smart, responsible as the person who programmed it. Stats can lie, and if/then statements don't leave much room for compassion or nuance They can tell me who starred in Oceans 11 though.

After the second half the show almost becomes a deconstruction of Ghost in the Shell's stand alone complex. Quick recap the stand alone complex is the ability for many different agents acting without coordination or collusion to create a singular effect.

And the big twist of Psycho-Pass is about how such an effect birthed by people who are in affect sociopaths is absolutely nuts especially when sanctioned by society to be a "justice" system. Crowd sourcing jury duty, no judgeship.

You know what I can't dance around it.



The "program" is a bunch of brains in jars.  Particularly the brains the system deems most worthy are a bunch of damn  ubermensches of the Beyond Good and Evil variety. No wonder I was getting a facsist vibe from the place, all art being sanctioned by the state, careers dictated by the system, and everybody too mullified by the peace to realize we... damn I'm sounding like the series' villian.  Which I suppose is his whole deal. Sure he's evil but the potential for evil is a consequence of freewill and being an anomaly in the system of control he's self aware of it and sees himself as humanity's liberator.

Just a reminder he's evil and a bit of an ubermensche himself feeling that the ability to choose evil is innate and denying that capability is a lie. A lie which society can not be built on.

Anyway the brain in jar thing has a lot implications. I generally advocate crowdsourcing. The more guys you can put on a project the more good ideas they'll cook up, but in the process those ideas loose their tangible link to their creator.  Their humanity. Which I suppose is the point. Humans are flawed and a justice system based human ideals and morality will also be flawed still justice has to be human. It's too important, too complex an idea, not to be.  Can you build a law machine?

Law is the crooked dusty dirt path. At times it may seem like a road to nowhere but it is our only guide in the darkness that is our souls.  Look not away from its mud nor the grime it leaves on your feet, for they too are part of that path as they are part of yourself.

Oh and the ending is brilliant.

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