Reaper's Reviews: 'Psycho-Pass: The Movie'
Production: Production I.G
Format: 113 minutes
Release: January 5, 2015
Psycho-Pass is one of my favorite anime series ever, in no small part for its slick narrative and cyberpunk vibe. Psycho-Pass 2, on the other hand, is one of my most disliked anime series ever because it trashes those elements. This sharp contrast between the two seasons is apparently thanks to the existence of this little movie.
The first season was such a delightful surprise that ended up as one of the most attractive new sci-fi properties of the 2010s. As far the sophisticated, hard-hitting sci-fi anime go, Psycho-Pass was among the very few new anime titles to actually stand out and join the “big boys” club that included the likes of Ghost in the Shell, Akira and Cowboy Bebop.
Psycho-Pass 2 had the unfortunate case of being sandwiched between an acclaimed, fan-favorite first season and a movie whose mere existence forced the second season to make several hasty decisions for its story arc and characters. It didn't help that ultimately said season had a very small impact on the franchise as a whole, making a good chunk of the series meaningless.
So does Psycho-Pass: The Movie justify its production and the mauling of a second season? Well, no. It really doesn't justify it. I would much rather prefer a tighter and better executed television continuation than a theatrical sequel. That said, it was still a pretty damn good movie in its own right and a solid addition to the growing franchise, so that's something.
And with that, let us start the review of the 2015 theatrical debut of the Psycho-Pass series, directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro and Naoyoshi Shiotani (both directed the first season, the latter also directed the second season), written by Gen Urobuchi (Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass S1) and produced by Production I.G: Psycho-Pass: The Movie.
Story & Setting
Psycho-Pass: The Movie takes place four years after the conclusion of the first season (and the only one the movie counts); the year is 2116, and Sibyl is still in power with Akane as a difficult associate. On the side, Mika continues to be a pawn for the System in fear of being killed or branded criminal by Sibyl.
But the majority of it doesn’t matter. Well, mostly.
After taking down foreign terrorists who invaded Japan, Akane and her team receive some big news: the missing, rogue Enforcer Kogami has been spotted in a state called the “Southeast Asia Union” (SEAUn for short), a superstate currently in the process of importing the Sibyl System. And so, with Sibyl’s condensing blessing, Akane is sent to investigate Kogami’s return.
To get this out of the way as early as possible, Psycho-Pass: The Movie doesn’t require you to watch the second season to be prepared for it. It doesn’t touch on any plot threads from the season, and its only noticeable links to it are the team lineup and Mika’s awareness of the Sibyl System’s true nature. So unless you’re a perfectionist like me, you can skip the dreadful prequel.
On the other hand, this does come back to bite this movie in its arse, but more on that later.
Anyways, after a fairly explosive and bloody action prologue with some decent teamwork that shows-off the Division’s chemistry, Psycho-Pass: The Movie moves its story to the state of Shambhala, a supposed haven of sorts founded by the SEAUn with Sibyl’s help; Akane being the lone agent sent there.
Perhaps one of the movie’s biggest selling points is the fact that this marks the first time Psycho-Pass explores its setting beyond Japan. If the SEAUn is any example, then the remarks in the series about the state of the world are terrifying. SEAUn is a violent, corrupt place ruled through insanity and chaos.
Even Shambhala - the SEAUn’s supposed safe haven - is not a place most people would enjoy visiting. Sharp disparities between the rich and the poor color its seemingly lively streets, while the military force rules the mega-city with an iron fist - the kind that has no issue beating a poor woman in front of her child.
It brings a fascinating addition to the argument regarding Sibyl, who despite its less than moral actions makes people wonder if it’s indeed a necessary evil to keep current society in check, lest it would be consumed by the unprecedented levels of violence and cruelty that would make Makishima and Kamui proud.
I’m rather disappointed we don’t see enough of this, however. While a big chunk of the story is set in the SEAUn, it mostly takes place in the megastate’s forests and ruins, while Shambhala only has significance in a handful of scenes. While the movie does an excellent job giving the SEAUn identity of its own, it could use its locations more effectively.
As for the actual story, it’s pretty decent, well-executed and very well-paced with defined acts and progress. I wouldn’t call it “outstanding”, but it’s not bad - definitely more coherent and less convoluted than its predecessor, though some viewers would find it surprisingly ‘standard’ overall.
It’s more or less like a typical story arc in Psycho-Pass, only operating on a much grander scale than before. As a result, it might be somewhat predictable at times as it also doesn’t shake up the formula of the series enough.
And while it presents a lot of food for thought with its expansion of themes of past, it ultimately fails to reach some of the emotional heights of Psycho-Pass S1. It very nearly does several times, but it doesn’t manage to leave a serious impact.
Before continuing, I should retort that while I voiced some issues with the story, those are rather minor issues and nitpicking more than anything else. I think it’s a decent story for the big screen format, intelligent than most of its peers and has a good chunk of impeccable world-building for its franchise. It also mostly avoids idiocy-driven plotlines unlike Psycho-Pass 2.
Unfortunately it ultimately suffers from the same final issue that the second season had: it barely - if at all - moves the overarching narrative forward.
The unstable nation of the SEAUn goes through land-shaking changes and development in intriguing and sometimes unexpected ways, but at the end of the day, the situation in Japan with the Sibyl System remains the same. We return to the same status quo as before: Akane is still working for the System in a very teeth-clenched teamwork.
As its own little story, Psycho-Pass: The Movie is pretty good. As a continuation of the franchise, however, it ends up feeling a little more than a filler, unfortunately. As good as it is, I doubt you’d miss anything particularly important in the lead up to the eventual third season.
Psycho-Pass: The Movie features several short appearances from series mainstays, as well as the introduction of a few movie-specific characters, but to be honest, most of the characters here don’t matter as the movie is first and foremost about the bond of Akane and Kogami.
Let’s start by talking about the rugged, handsome elephant in the room; Kogami is back after being absent for a season.
And really, he is the highlight of the entire movie, as he brings his usual cool attitude and snarky personality, as well as his philosophical discussions and quick-thinking plans. It’s like meeting an old friend after a noticeably long vacation, and you’re glad to see them again and in a good shape.
As noted in the finale of the first season, his mistrust in Sibyl caused him to leave Japan and explore the world, eventually seeing the strife and hardships that other countries face. Without delving into spoiler territory, the film sees him being often compared to his old nemesis Makishima, and the potential threat Kogami may pose if he will ever embrace the fallen villain’s approach.
It’s a legitimately intriguing character arc for Kogami, even if the movie doesn’t take this idea to the fullest. Everyone’s fears for this scenario, as well as Kogami’s own uncertainty about the outcome of his crusade make for some delicious drama and debate throughout the film.
Meanwhile Akane retrains the personality she developed in the climax of the first season. There is not that much to add about her as frankly she remains rather static throughout the movie. However, as one of the best characters in the franchise, there is no denying that watching her in a movie production is a delight.
And of course there is the general chemistry between the two. The moment of reunion between Kogami and Akane is one of the movie’s best scenes due to how intense and nervous it feels, and since they are technically a target and his hunter, the sense of familiarity is brilliantly underlined by fear for the worst.
And despite the circumstances, their interactions still show great care and understanding of one another. The hell they went through during the first season ironed their friendship to the point that even though Kogami is someone she was told to arrest or eliminate, Akane still goes to sympathize with his actions.
Meanwhile Kogami is willing to shelter her when the situation becomes difficult. The movie’s greatest achievement might be its ability to take one of the franchise’s core aspects and re-cloth it unto a new setting almost seamlessly. Again, it’s just delight seeing this dynamic again.
That said, beyond those two and Ginoza every other character from the series that appears in the movie is more or less sidelined, ranging from Shion providing brief support for Akane in the movie’s first act to Yayoi receiving two words across the entire movie. At the same time, the newly introduced characters for the film are forgettable.
But good things first; Ginoza gets a pretty big role in the movie as it reaches its climax. Without going into spoilers, I’m glad his and Kogami’s character arc reached a lovely conclusion that still fit their personalities and relationship, and Ginoza just dominates his few scenes with his usual stern attitude and straightforward tactics.
Also Mika only appears for about three or four scenes that sum up about 5 minutes of screentime, and that’s a good thing. Because nobody likes her. Nobody likes Mika. She’s an awful character in terms of personality, development and relationships.
Thankfully it appears that her disdain for Akane has weakened a bit, as she follows her around during the action prologue without complaints. I did have issues with another scene featuring her due to reverting back to her old self, but it doesn’t last long.
Unfortunately, one key area where Psycho-Pass: The Movie truly fails is the antagonists.
I already spoke highly of Makishima in the past, and while I had a very critical look at Kamui, he still was an interesting concept. But this time around the new villains are nothing beyond your run-of-the-mile bad guys, consumed by greed and lust.
On its own, being a greedy, psychotic bastard is not a bad idea for a villain, but those who populate the movie are nothing else but inconveniences or obstacles made purely for the story’s conflict. They lack defined personalities, have no charisma and their motivations leave a lot to be desired given the series in which they exist.
Animation & Sound
It’s Production I.G on a movie budget, so of course the animation and artwork are beautiful, packed with details and emotive. I wouldn’t call it the absolute best the studio ever produced, but it’s a significant quality leap from the inconsistent production of the second season.
The action is absolutely gorgeous with both breathtaking gunfights and some lovingly animated hand-to-hand combat scenes. Shambhala is a well-crafted urban environment filled with life surrounded by rotten locations, while outside it lie vast forests brimming with color. The vibrant locales really help distinguishing the setting from the previous shows’ sci-fi Tokyo.
On another note, one huge benefit of theatrical anime projects aside from a more compressed budget is the lack of censorship, and Psycho-Pass: The Movie can be a true bloodbath when it wants to without focusing too much on gore and excessive violence. Instead it really drives home how brutal the war in the SEAUn can get.
I don’t have that much to add about the soundtrack. It’s still good work, not much of new tracks, and does its job. The opening song “Who What Who What” marks the third time Sigure makes a song for the franchise, and in all honesty it’s not a bad song but it’s arguably the weakest they’ve done for it thus far.
I enjoy the inclusion of “The Monster With No Name” by Egoist as the ending song. Some may call it lazy but frankly I don’t care because it’s a pretty damn good song.
The English dub is par for the course. Kate Oxley and Robert McCollum return as the voices of Akane and Kogami respectively. Both continue to do a great job, the former with her headstrong yet youthful voice and the latter with his growling and snarky voice, and their chemistry - as noted above - is as good as always.
While most of the regular cast only have a few lines, the overall quality is good. While the villains are pretty forgettable, I do have to say that Jason Liebercht and Major Attaway are solid in their respective roles. Finally, Alex Organ has a neat cameo in the movie - not hard to guess as which character.
I would also encourage to watch the English dub of the movie rather than its Japanese counterpart mainly because the latter can be a little hard to take seriously.
Like don’t get me wrong, the Japanese dub is amazing and filled with strong performances… But only when they speak Japanese. There are several scenes with heavy use of English, and while this is nothing new to anime, their prominence in the movie may require Japanese dub fanatics to check the other version.
While a more considerable weight to its story in the grand scheme of things would have been greatly appreciated, Psycho-Pass: The Movie is a step in the right direction for the Psycho-Pass franchise as a whole. It presents new ideas and concepts while elegantly expanding on the setting. It brings back an old friend and concludes the two leads' mutual character arc while setting up things for the future. And even if its major antagonistic forces were lackluster, the tension and action covered the flaws nicely. It's very flawed, but is solidly directed.
Psycho-Pass: The Movie is not the definitive sequel and ending that it could - and for some, should - have been, but it is a welcome return to form after a disappointing second season. It lacks the depth and personal conflict of the first season, but still retains a lot of its style and morbid charm. The story may not be up to par with some of the franchise's best, but the reunion between Akane and Kogami is peerless. And coupled with slick visuals, Psycho-Pass: The Movie is not a revolutionary work by any means, but it's definitely a deliciously fun sci-fi film.
- It's the good ol' Psycho-Pass we all love to watch.
- Akane and Kogami's chemistry is excellent.
- High production values.
- Brings some new and exciting ideas to the franchise.
- Barely moves the overarching story further.
- Extremely disappointing villains.
- With the exception of Ginoza, most supporting characters are sidelined.
& the Ugly:
- Can good anime movies stop being lazy and call their theatrical releases "The Movie" all the time?
© 2019 Raziel Reaper