By Jessica Pu (Bugle Team)
We can all agree that the one thing that is exclusively known to yourself is your mental activity. Now imagine that the government has created a system to measure it. People are matched to occupations and spouses based on intelligence and personality. Scanners are installed all over the country to detect any latent criminals and force them into mental wards. What used to be a person’s mind is now defined as a psycho-pass, measured using concrete numbers, ranging from the clear teal hue below 60 to the clouded black over 300. What do you do?
Keep calm and don’t cloud your hue.
That said, the society created in the fictional futuristic world of Psycho-Pass is both fascinating and terrifying. With the Sibyl system in place, citizens are freed from the stress of choosing the path of their life and protected from latent criminals that may disrupt society. However, they also lose their free will; they are no longer able to choose their own actions, becoming unquestioning and subservient. Those whose capabilities were judged low by the system suffer from discrimination and unhappiness, which may accumulate over time and turn them into criminals. The system is not perfect, and the many issues that arise from its imperfection are compelling illustrations of the true nature of human beings.
A striking theme of this anime involves the definition of morality. Interestingly, the criminal investigation department employs a group of officers labelled as ‘enforcers’, who are in charge of shooting the criminals. Enforcers themselves are latent criminals. Nicknamed as “hunting dogs”, they skillfully “sniff out” the scent of the “prey” (the criminal). That leads to a central question: how different is the mind of a skilled detective from that of an intelligent criminal? In this anime, the main character Kougami Shinya, an enforcer, constantly puts himself in the shoes of the criminal to figure out how the crime occurred, why it occurred, and who the criminal may be. This technique is frequently used in real life as well (Ericsson, 1981). It works every time, but doing so gradually clouded up his hue. This hints that successful detectives have very similar mindsets to criminals, but what draws the line between the two remains a very important question to be answered.
“Kougami shoots at the audience in the opening theme”
Other than enforcers like Kougami, there are still many issues that arise from the imperfect Sibyl system. The major one reveals itself through an criminal, Makishima Shougo, whose criminal mind cannot be measured by the system. This again raises a question about how morality is defined. Throughout the anime, Makishima quotes several philosophers on the topic of free will and the concept of a surveillance system similar to Sibyl, including Jeremy Bentham’s model of the panopticon (which can be found here). Free will also plays an important role in this anime, as the society is largely restricted from choosing their own future. But even in our society, it is common for us to follow scripts and schemas automatically without consulting free will (Langer, Blank & Chanowitz, 1978). This again evokes many interesting questions about how our behaviours arise and whether there is an external force that determines our behaviours.
“Makishima calls upon the rise of free will”
To me, this anime is not just a thrilling story with dynamic characters and fantastic visual-audio. It also intrigued me by raising many insightful questions about human nature, such as the feasibility of measuring mental activity and putting a label on it, as well as the concept of morality and free will. It was especially exciting when the true nature of the Sibyl system was revealed. The make-up of the system is so clever that it blew my mind. I would absolutely recommend this anime to everyone, even those who have never watched any anime before, because it will definitely be an eye-opener.
Ericson, R. V. (1981). Making crime: A study of detective work. Toronto: Butterworths.
Langer, E. J., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of “placebic” information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635-642.
Source of first photo: http://img14.poco.cn/mypoco/myphoto/20130409/09/64609270201304090928174233439729565_008.jpg