Reaper's Reviews: 'Psycho-Pass 2'
Production: Tatsunoko Production
Format: 11 episodes
Release: October 10, 2014 – December 19, 2014
My review for the 2013 first season of Psycho-Pass a couple months ago concluded with me saying that despite its teaser ending, Psycho Pass S1 was "a masterclass of anime storytelling", something which I considered back when I first watched the season in 2013 and again when I revisited it for this review.
And you know, I still reflect on Psycho-Pass. It was true back when I first watched and it was true after revisiting it and rewatching Gen Urobuchi's dystopian gem. Psycho-Pass deceived viewers with its seemingly generic aesthetics, only to absorb people with its brutal story and uneasy themes. To say that good sci-fi anime - let alone a dark, cyberpunk tale such as this - is a rarity would be an understatement.
Sadly, Psycho-Pass did have one noticeable issue. It ended on a rather inconclusive note. It dealt with the main conflict, completed its main characters' personal arcs and thoughtfully explored its ideas and questions. But it still kept a couple of plot threads for a possible continuation. And hey, even then the first season ended brilliantly, with a beautifully bittersweet ending.
Besides, a second season of Psycho-Pass? Sign me up. There are few shows like Psycho-Pass, and I am not against taking a second dip of a fascinating and realized setting such as 22nd-century Japan. Though, it took me a few good years to actually sit down and watch the damn sequel. Why? Maybe I just wanted to watch it sometime after I would have found an excuse to watch the first season again.
Of course, second seasons are always a wary business. You never know if it's going to be better than or on par with the first installment. Sometimes, the lightning doesn't strike a second time. It misses and ends up zapping you instead.
Guess you know where this is going, huh?
So ladies and gentlemen, this time we have a review of the 2014-2015 sequel to 2013's Psycho-Pass, directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani (Blood+), written by Tow Ubukata (Mardock Scramble, Ghost in the Shell - ARISE) with supervision from Gen Urbotchi (Fate/Zero, Madoka Magica) and produced by Tatsunoko Production: Psycho-Pass 2.
WARNING: Long review is long. Spoilers for the first season at full-force are here as well.
Story & Setting
The first episode of Psycho-Pass 2 starts the series off in a promising way. A bombing in Tokyo is brought to the attention of the Public Safety Bureau, and so Akane Tsunemori and Division 1 are on the case. Now the bombing is not the interesting thing here; rather, the culprit’s Crime Coefficient and stress levels - often raising upon committing crimes - remains in the safe zone.
Enter a mysterious individual known as Kamui, who has apparently found a way to control and stabilize people’s hues - the aforementioned stress levels - and thus making them exempt from the judgment of the Sibyl System. Who is Kamui is anyone’s guess, but he holds a strong grudge against Sibyl and decided to challenge the system and the PSB, leaving an enigmatic note - WC? - in his wake.
A year and a half has passed since the events of the first season; by now both Akane and the viewers are aware of the Sibyl System’s true nature. It is more or less an organic supercomputer made of the minds of “criminally asymptomatic” humans unable to be judged by the system itself. And our dear Akane is forced to work with the system in spite of her hatred for it.
Of course, history repeats and now the Sibyl System has to face the elusive Kamui, who just like his predecessor Shogo Makishima knows how to cause quite the ruckus. All the while Akane finds herself needing to confirm Kamui's existence to her skeptical colleagues.
I'm not going to drag this on about the quality, so let me state it right here and now: the story of Psycho-Pass 2 is a pale shadow of the first season and a massive step backwards for the series. Both behind the scenes and in the actual season, Psycho-Pass 2 is simply plagued by awful card draws from just about every corner.
Retreads are something I have mixed feelings about. I don't mind a sequel retreading familiar plot points and thematic elements if they try to play with what was experienced back in the original work. You can explore some intriguing storylines by examining the prequel and even going as far as to criticize it. The problem is that Psycho-Pass 2 fails to do it. Horribly.
Psycho-Pass 2 has some terrific ideas and concepts, ones that rival its predecessor in terms of ambition and scope. It ranges from delving into Sibyl’s past and possible origins to the examination of the Hues and the Psycho-Pass itself, along with other elements such as the omnipresent paradox and collective psyches.
Unfortunately, the execution and writing leave a lot to be desired.
While the first episode is a passable if ultimately standard pilot, the next three-four episodes end up becoming a merciless, brainless and tasteless string of cruel and ruthless atrocities. Psycho-Pass 2 feels like it values gore, shock and action far more than it values its story or characters, and indeed, the first half of this season gained nothing but apathy from me.
Psycho Pass S1 was not a light-hearted show by any means, but its ruthless depiction of crime and murder served its purpose to present how things work in the setting and the disturbing range of messed-up individuals who were ironically a by-product of the current society. In contrast, Psycho-Pass 2’s violence is illustrated just for the sake of it.
People get splattered a lot, villainous characters and adversaries lack any philosophy or intrigue to explain their utterly disgusting kills and any thought-provoking themes get sidelined in favor of gruesome action and increasing body count just to establish how vicious this new threat might be. And there is no emotion to be found other than the aforementioned disgust. No rhyme or reason.
Other than its inability to establish a coherent narrative until well into its sixth episode, Psycho-Pass 2 suffers from another issue: it’s far too short for its own sake.
With just eleven episodes - half of its predecessor’s count - Psycho-Pass 2 has very little time to develop its characters, expand on its conflict and present a well-paced story. Its reliance on needless violence and large-scale action appear to be an attempt to cover up this intriguing but poorly-thought out premise.
Psycho-Pass 2 is rushed and condensed, setting up several plot threads and storylines that either never go anywhere satisfactory or get shot down despite promising appeal. I commend the production crew for trying to work out with what they had, but it becomes clear that the series is simply too ambitious for a one-cour format.
And as a result, a good chunk of its central plot points are not a product of carefully-designed build-ups or organic dynamics. No, it’s almost always delivered through contrived revelations and timing or sheer stupidity from the main cast.
A particularly egregious example is an Inspector’s downright insane refusal to act while her fellow colleagues coldly massacre about a dozen hostages. And another example involves Sibyl’s frustrating lack of action against a rogue Inspector well into the season’s final episodes, which comes at odds with the system’s established characterization.
Have I mentioned yet how apathetic I am towards this season?
The incredibly short length also means a good deal of sacrifice in the form of world-building. Psycho-Pass 2 does delve into some interesting pieces of history of its Sibyl-monitored setting, but for the most part it is too busy focusing on its chaotic narrative than on its neglected setting.
Even some curious revelations regarding Sibyl’s past competition don’t add much to the franchise. The first season got some criticism for its rather formulaic start, but it helped characterizing its world and creating a believable stage for its storylines. Meanwhile, Psycho-Pass 2 not only fails to build upon this foundation, it barely uses the setting.
And that’s a shame because the setting of Psycho-Pass, by the end of the first season, is rather well-developed. Yet, its society and culture - despite being major elements of this season as well - are barely utilized at all. For the most part it lacks the engrossing cyberpunk atmosphere of its predecessor, and the social commentary is almost completely absent as well.
Yet another problem is how this season simplifies the conflict into a more white and black affair. Psycho-Pass S1 was also “guilty” of having relatively clear-cut sides of the conflict, but it managed to blur the lines enough to present opponents of ambiguous morality on both sides. In particular, the Sibyl System was the essence of “necessary evil”, as despite its extreme logic the system managed to keep on the peace it sought.
Here the Sibyl System has devolved into a laughably villainous entity that does far more damage than the costly peace upholding of the first season. To be fair, it’s actually given explanation as to why the system is so murderous and vicious this time around, but this only really happens in the final act of the season.
But it’s still jarring because as extreme and ruthless as Sibyl was originally, it becomes so uncharacteristically cruel and smug right off the bat with this season, purposely hindering its own goals. It also doesn’t help that Psycho-Pass 2 is adamant about portraying its protagonists as good, honest cops who refrain from dirtying their hands.
Seriously, where is the harsh reality that Akane and her men are forced to do questionable things in the name of the law? Where are morally grey individuals who present intriguing debate about Inspectors and Enforcers like Kogami or Masaoka? Ultimately the show just cowers away at those aspects, preferring to set clear, cookie-cutter heroes and villains as its leads.
And whatever attempts to tilt back into this area are butchered as some genuinely intriguing characters as well as set-ups ultimately regress to one-note monsters or honest-to-God perfect saviors, leading to overall bland, melodramatic affairs.
Now, I’ve seen some people declaring that Psycho-Pass 2’s story should be judged on its own merits rather than in direct comparison to the first season, to which I say no. It shouldn’t.
Yes, Psycho-Pass 2 is relatively standalone and self-contained in comparison to most second seasons, but it’s ultimately a trite that follows in its predecessors’ footsteps far too closely without replicating or meaningfully evolving the same formula. This is also without the aforementioned lack of setting usage or exploration in this season.
It doesn’t have any legs to stand on its own. Everything good about Psycho-Pass 2’s narrative is salvaged elements from the first season. Everything bad about Psycho-Pass 2’s narrative is the show’s refusal to actually study why and how its predecessor functioned as a dystopian crime thriller and social commentary vehicle. It recycles the formula without understanding it.
But frankly I can’t really blame the writing crew for this one. In an interview regarding this season, writer Tow Ubukata admitted that the second season’s plot structure was restricted due to the then-upcoming theatrical release of Psycho-Pass and Ubukata’s team lacked the creative freedom to work outside the first season’s style.
He had to “fill in the blanks”, and a short schedule also caused a lot of stress during the production, as the script had to be re-written to fit better within the context of the movie - which happened well into recording duties during the season. I’m not going easy on this season, but its incredibly restricted and troubled production explain a lot about its issues.
That said, it also brings me to the final issue in this section: the ending and its (lack of) impact.
To put it short, at the end of the day Psycho-Pass 2 adds very little to the overarching narrative of the series. Its eleven-episode run barely changes or reveals anything meaningful that might be brought up in later installments. The status-quo ultimately remains the same without major shakeups that make me wonder what was the point of this season anyways.
There is about one plot-sensitive revelation in the final two episodes, but aside from that, I suspect that one could skip this season straight to the movie without feeling lost. Despite all the ruckus, all the chaos and all the bloodshed spilled in this season, Psycho-Pass 2 has a hollow - if sometimes touching - finale that turns the entire season into a minor, dismissive affair.
Once again we follow the investigations of Division 1 from the PSB, this time led by Akane herself after graduating from the rookie she was back in the first season. There have been some changes in the crew, however. Ginoza has been demoted to an Enforcer, while Kogami - as you recall in the finale of Season 1 - left the Bureau and Japan altogether.
Meanwhile new additions to replace Kogami and sadly-departed Masaoka and Kagari are the Enforcers Sho Hanekawa and Sakuya Togane, alongside the previously introduced Joji Saiga who now serves as an analyst for the team and acts as Akane’s confidant. Yayoi and Shion remain in the team while the other big addition is the rookie Inspector Mika Shimotsuki.
Finally, as Makishima’s brains are scattered on a field somewhere, it is up to the man known as Kirito Kamui to take the role of the charismatic and anarchistic villain who challenges the Sibyl System.
So let’s get to the meat here. One big issue I have with the characters this season is how mismanaged they end up being. Some characters are barely used before the show unceremoniously kills them off, others are simply background noise with only one personality trait, and even characters from the first season are sidelined without any new development to them.
Yayoi is a particularly egregious case. She was arguably the least interesting and developed main character of the season 1 cast, despite being the only one to receive an entire episode dedicated to her backstory.
But here she is even less important, and duller than ever. The little cliffhanger of her backstory is left untouched, and I somewhat doubt it’ll ever get resolved in a future installment. Her only defining moments this season are cooling down the frustrating Mika and sleeping with Shion here and there, and this is just a waste of a potentially compelling character. Again.
Oh, and speaking of Mika, she is the single-worst aspect of this entire new season.
Mika was already introduced back in Season 1 as a supporting character for one of the earlier arcs before being recruited at the end of the season into the Bureau. And honestly I liked her character back in the first season; she was snarky, headstrong and her involvement in the series at the time was poignant.
Unfortunately, any chance of Mika becoming an intriguing foil for Akane as the new rookie is smashed due to the season’s intense desire to make Mika the most hated character in the franchise. And frankly, when you have sociopathic artists and insane cyborgs in your cast, that’s quite an achievement.
Mika as she appears throughout the season is an obnoxious, rude person and surprisingly mean-spirited towards most of her colleagues. Her behavior towards both Akane and the majority of her Enforcers is often pretentious and snobbish over the smallest details, with very little explanation.
Another thing is her constant attempts to undermine Akane, going as far as to conspire behind her back and frequently report what she considers wrongs in Akane’s methods and philosophy. Like forget questioning Akane, Mika despises her with every part of her body - and there is no actual reason given to this situation.
I guess one may say her experience with the Bureau back in the first season wasn’t particularly great (even though it was almost non-existent), but there was no build-up or explanation over this feud - it’s just there for the sake of drama and is taken into its illogical extreme. Her fixation on one baseless personal issue deprives Mika from any sense of likability or sympathy.
It doesn’t help that Mika’s actions end up being responsible for several tragedies in this season, some due to her idiotic adherence to “protocol” even when such thing risks innocent lives, and the others due to her slowly realizing how deep she is in the frying pan, too late to do anything useful. It’s legitimately difficult to feel any sympathy for her after spending most of the season plotting against her genuinely affable superior.
In contrast, I really enjoyed Akane in this season, who remained one of the few shining beacons in a sea of mediocrity or outright awfulness. While the season ultimately doesn’t add much to her character, it’s delightful to see a more experienced Akane now in charge of her division.
She remains this hopeful, likable Inspector whose struggles to work with a system she doesn’t agree with feels surprisingly relatable. And yet she is still a more hardened individual with a newfound sense of authority who is given an intriguing plotline regarding her inherent ‘purity’ in contrast to Psycho-Pass’s setting.
While Ginoza doesn’t get a lot of screentime this season, he was also a fun character to watch. It becomes clear very soon that the events of Season 1 changed him, which included the death of his father and the departure of his old partner. Now he’s more laid-back and approachable, more open-minded and affable towards Akane.
It’s such a huge contrast than his original characterization, but shows just how much he grew as a person since the first time we met him. I do sincerely wish to see him getting more screentime in the future, and potentially an interesting subplot that actually explores his current like as an Enforcer.
Unfortunately beyond those two and the retired professor Jyoji Saiga (who always steals the spotlight when he’s on screen), the cast is rather dreary.
The new additions amount to very little; Sho Hanekawa and Teppei Sugo are likable enough Enforcers, but the former only seems to fill in the void left by Kagari with his childish behavior (though with a shy personality) while the latter doesn’t get a lot of characterization and ultimately doesn’t receive a substantial character arc that was teased with his proper introduction.
We also have Risa Aoyanagi, an Inspector introduced in the original series. Risa is cool, beautiful, has a good chemistry with Ginoza, questions her superiors and actually gets some good scenes early on. Frankly she could have been the main character of the series if she was handled better.
But then the series decides that Risa is not good enough and she is sidelined in favor of Division 1 not even halfway through the season. She was seriously one of the only interesting and relatable characters in Psycho-Pass 2, so the show decides that’s not good enough and kicks her out before she could become more than just another Inspector.
I’ve already talked about Sibyl in the previous section, so this leaves us with three characters to talk about: the Enforcer Sakuya Togane, the elusive main antagonist Kirito Kamui and Kamui’s lackeys.
Let's not beat the bush here; Togane and Kamui are stand-ins for the absent Kogami and Makishima, from their roles to some of their personality traits. To be honest, I do quite like and enjoy some ideas and twists added to their archetypes, but they just don’t reach even the footsteps of their predecessors.
Togane is one of the Enforcers under Akane, and is presented as her most competent subordinate. He is cool, usually calm, intelligent and handsome (sounds familiar), and is one of the more involved members of the Bureau in the Kamui incident.
Of course, his character takes a completely different - if obvious - direction. I don’t mind how predictable this direction was, truth to be told, but with how poorly executed it felt. Togane starts off as the cool and highly competent Enforcer before revealing himself to be a far more sinister man.
It’s a novel attempt to shake up what we’ve already experienced, and he spearheads one of the best plotlines in the season, but as more about Togane revealed, the less interesting and compelling he becomes. By the end of the season he degrades into a one-dimensional psychopath to almost cartoonish levels.
Oh yeah, speaking of Kogami, he does get a couple of cameos, and those are some of the best moments in the entire season. Legitimately good moments, not just relative to the season.
As for Kamui, his motivations for challenging Sibyl are more noble than Makishima’s, but the true nature of the character is revealed too late into the season to care. While that might very well be the point of his character, he lacks a memorable personality and design to leave a real impact.
He is also responsible for some truly vicious terror acts, some which make Makishima’s actions pale in comparison, but for “a man of the people” in comparison to Makishima’s twisted ideology, Kamui’s actions make it much harder to sympathize with him. Yes, a good chunk of his victims are assholes, but at the same time he also killed a good number of innocents.
This leads to a jarring conclusion when the series tries to make Kamui the hero of the story, even if it’s a dark, twisted way rather than a more straightforward one. His backstory, while horrific at first glance, is made hard to be taken seriously when you learn about the specifics of his current existence, which requires a hefty suspension of disbelief.
His band of followers is also hard to be accepted. Makishima was a skilled manipulator who talked into his associates’ primal instincts and similar-minded beliefs, but they still retained their own will and never saw him as a Messianic figure; Kamui’s men are mad, single-minded fanatics who see him as a god because he somehow manages to relieve their stress via a contrived drug.
And the secondary antagonists who follow him are just… a cardboard. I acknowledge the limited screentime allowed, but even those with episodes dedicated them lack any depth or complexity to turn them into engaging threats. This is where them being fanatics to Kamui hurt the most, because it deprives them of their personal traits and identity.
Kamui’s chief henchwoman is the most frustrating part of this because her loyalty to Kamui makes absolutely no sense. I get that “torture makes you evil” and bullcrap as such, but this is just stretching it to retardant territories as she knew the guy for a day and a half, kissed him and became his lover/top-valued lieutenant.
That’s something you’d find in the cheesiest spy movies, and its inclusion here is frustrating to say the least.
Animation & Sound
I would say that the quality of the animation overall is below the average of the previous season. That’s not to say that Psycho-Pass 2 looks like garbage most of the time, but the animation quality, at least outside some action sequences, dip a lot more frequently than in Psycho-Pass 1.
There are more cases of off-model instances, long-winded shots, junky animations and unpolished aesthetics, with some parts in episodes 3, 4, 6 and 7 feel unacceptable for the franchise. One particular scene included a very choppy assault on a humiliated victim that felt like something from a flash cartoon.
That said, some action scenes are pretty well-done, with swift cuts and creative angles to cover up faults in movements. I will also say that the digital animation for the Dominators is still top-notch, and some CGI usage throughout the season is fairly competent and rarely break the immersion.
Not bad for the fact that this time around the animation and art were handled by the old and still respected studio Tatsunoko Production, which funnily enough contributed to the founding of Production I.G. and is now partly-owned by it. They did a generally solid job, even if they couldn’t match their predecessor.
I will comment negatively, however, that this season’s art direction and general presentation continue to feel rather generic, even moreso than the first season. This season lacks a strong character to its setting, aesthetically speaking.
On the sound side of things, the soundtrack is still solid, with both old and a few newer tracks to fill in the silence. Really, Yugo Kanno did a good job once again.
The opening and ending themes of Psycho-Pass 2 are the series’ highlight in my honest opinion.
“Fallen Angel” is another great song by Egoist and acts as a mesmerizing closure to each episode. Chelly’s soothing vocals and Ryo’s electrifying music make for a highly addicting song. I still somewhat prefer Egoist’s previous ending work “A Monster Without a Name”, but “Fallen Angel” is no slouch either.
“Enigmatic Feeling”, the second Psycho-Pass opening to be sung by Toru Kitajima who is also famous for the opening “Unravel” from Tokyo Ghoul, is seriously my favorite song in the entire franchise. It’s a chaotic rock and downright insane song that only takes a couple of calm moments before exploding with electronic lyrics.
There is something so fascinating about this song in relation to the season, because it feels like it captures the story’s insanity and uncertainty perfectly. I just wish… that the season deserved this quality opening. Hopefully it will pop up as an insert song in future seasons.
When it comes to the English dub, it should be no surprise that Psycho-Pass 2 has a good English dub. Kate Oxley and Josh Grelle continue to do a wonderful work as Akane and Ginoza respectively, alongside the return of the criminally underused Lindsay Seidel (Yayoi) and Lydia Mackay (Shion).
Returning supporting/minor members Michael Federico (Saiga) and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Risa) are given more time to showcase their work. Despite my personal grievances against the character, I will say that Cherami Leigh did a very good job as Mika, down to a distinctive and emotive voice that at least adds a lot of life into the character and her script.
Meanwhile, Chris Sabat dominates it as Togane while Zachary Bolton’s soft performance as Hanekawa is endearing. And finally, Clifford Chapin is solid as Kirito Kamui. He did a pretty good job with such a script, and Chapin’s youthful yet expressive voice resonates with the concept of Kamui as an everyday guy.
I don't enjoy saying this, but Psycho-Pass 2 is not just the bad kind of a second season, it's also a bad series in general. It features plenty of new, creative ideas for the world designed by Gen Urobuchi back in 2012, but ultimately ends up becoming a messy, convoluted and rushed retread of the first season. As painful it is to say, almost everything good about Pyscho-Pass is demolished or disrespected by this anomaly of a continuation, which favors mindless action and gore over philosophy and moral debate.
Psycho-Pass 2 is a victim of a lot of issues and unfortunate circumstances, and it even struggles at being a mildly entertaining action sci-fi show due to its inconsistent animation and lack of logic. At a mere 11 episode run, Psycho-Pass 2 is also too short for its own good, which means it has to sacrifices organic storytelling and steady character development. As a result, its plot is erratic and its cast is unlikable. And when nothing in this series means anything in the grand scheme of things, I gotta ask, what was the point of this season?
- Akane and Ginoza show how much the first season developed them.
- Some pretty good ideas and concepts presented.
- Killer opening and ending themes.
- A soulless retread of the first season without its smarts, simplifying and condensing plot elements.
- Too short for its own good, should have been a two cour season.
- Inconsistent animation.
- Weak characterization and lack of usage of existing characters.
- Doesn't shake the status quo, even a little.
& the Ugly:
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Raziel Reaper