Mental Health Care Runs Amuck in Psycho-Pass Anime Series

One of the best things about Japanese anime is that as a means of storytelling, it is not limited to specific areas of subject matter. Whereas most American animation is usually limited to kid-friendly material, anime can be applied to just about any genre (drama, romance, horror, etc.). Thus, when I heard about the anime Psycho-Pass, a hard-boiled cyberpunk crime thriller series that spans 22 half-hour episodes, I just had to see it for myself. I'm glad I did--it's one of the smartest sci-fi shows I've ever seen.

The overall plot of Psycho-Pass will sound familiar to anyone who frequents the crime thriller genre: a group of law enforcement officers searching for an elusive suspect who is connected to a series of brutal, gruesome crimes. Yet where Psycho-Pass differs greatly from other crime thrillers is in its setting, a futuristic Japan that is constantly monitored by an omnipresent computer network called the Sybil System. Such a setting puts a unique spin on standard crime thriller character types and conventions, resulting in a challenging and engaging narrative that sci-fi fans will relish.

It is difficult to describe Psycho-Pass without explaining the rules of the world in which it takes place:

* Each Japanese citizen has a "Psycho-Pass", a psychological profile that is routinely read by the Sibyl System. If a citizen's "Crime Coefficient" (a particular value within a Psycho-Pass) rises to a certain level, the Sibyl System will require that citizen to get state-approved psychiatric counseling to lower the Crime Coefficient. If the citizen refuses counseling and/or his Crime Coefficient stays at a high level, he will be identified as a "Latent Criminal" and face a life sentence of institutionalization.

* A person's Crime Coefficient can rise due to stress, anger and trauma, so citizens are strongly encouraged by the state to avoid situations where such emotions can be triggered. For example, artists (musicians, writers, sculptors, etc.) are required to get a state license to prove that their work does not cause the Crime Coefficients of their spectators to increase. Unfortunately, even though the Crime Coefficient is a measurement value that was devised to predict and deter criminal activity, victims of violent crime can also become identified as Latent Criminals due to the trauma they experienced at the hands of criminals.

* Law enforcement duties are divided between two classes of officer: Inspectors and Enforcers. Enforcers are Latent Criminals who show an aptitude for law enforcement work and are tasked with the violent and stressful aspects of law enforcement. Enforcers have more freedom than other Latent Criminals (such as their own living quarters and permission to visit the outside world with the accompaniment of an Inspector) but they are still held in low regard by the general populace; characters frequently refer to Enforcers as nothing more than "hunting dogs" for the Inspectors. It is also not uncommon for an occasional Inspector to be downgraded to an Enforcer.

Psycho-Pass reminds me of other sci-fi TV shows such as Dollhouse and Orphan Black in that it centers on an advanced form of technology and then uses a series of episodes to examine the daily lives of the people who are most immediately impacted by it. As such, Psycho-Pass poses many thought-provoking questions about the relationship between society, law and technology. In particular, it frequently ponders whether it is more important to have a society that is truly just or a society that is successful at convincing its citizenry that it is just. If this is your kind of science fiction, then I can't recommend Psycho-Pass highly enough.


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