Imagine a world where your psychological condition is constantly monitored; where you, and everyone around you, are placed in a perfectly suited job perfectly; where crime is pretty much a thing of the past. This is the Tokyo of Psycho Pass, watched over by the benevolent/intrusive eye of the Sybil System – the computerised system that monitors the psychological conditions of on all the citizens within the Tokyo environs.
Of course this isn’t the idyllic utopia that the concept suggests, refusal to seek treatment for a cloudy ‘psycho pass’ [the name given to people’s mental health] can result in time in a dentition centre, or psychotic outbursts due to the fact the citizens of Tokyo can no longer tolerate even the slightest amount of stress. Those with severely clouded psycho passes are locked up, considered to be latent criminals aka it’s only a matter of time until they give in to their immoral urges and commit a crime.
Poster for Psycho Pass
The protagonists of this show work within the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation division. Akane Tsunemori is a new Inspector, assigned to a team in the pilot episode. Meanwhile Shinya Kogami is an Enforcer, one of a select few latent criminals who have been released from detainment facility under the mentality of ‘use-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief.’ In this way the inspector’s psycho passes are protected from the corruption of needing to think like the criminals they are trying to arrest.
Oh and I should probably mention the gun too, the dominator, a weapon controlled by the Sybil System which can change modes depending on the level of force the Sybil System deems necessary. The trigger is locked on people whose psycho passes are within safe levels, next up is a non lethal paralyser mode followed by the lethal uber-destructive body-exploding mode for those who are no longer worth saving.
Wow, that took a long time to set up. And by now you are probably wondering what western text this is an adaptation of. Brave New World, perhaps? 1984? Both these texts are quoted in various episodes and the antagonist even carries copies of these books around with him. But no, I offer up that Psycho Pass is actually a cyberpunk version of Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes? Really? Yes, really. Now Mr Holmes has been riding on the wave of an extensive revival in recent years with the BBC’s contemporary adaption Sherlock, CBS’s also contemporary, but transported to America, Elementary and Guy Ritchie’s rather more violent masculine, steampunk film versions. Even I have had my hand in the Holmes cookie jar, with a theatrical site specific version of The Speckled Band which was performed at The Treasurer’s House, York and Ripley Castle. [Here’s the trailer for those interested.]
Why so much interest now? Well I think all these adaptations tap into the sense audiences these days are constantly being forced to act like the great detective in their everyday lives. We are bombarded with infinite information that we have to analyse and investigate to find the truth, or our truth; the useful from the red herring. But more on that another time, perhaps.
Now how is our cyberpunk, sci-fi show, this Blade Runner meets Minority Report via Brave New World, related to the great detective?
Well, like many crime stories it owes much to the format established by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A genius detective, who might be a little sociopathic or at least bad with people; his loyal, emotionally understanding companion, who might also be pretty good with a gun; and finally a sociopathic, manipulating criminal mastermind as the big bad to be eventually faced and hopefully defeated, often at the cost of our great detective’s own life.
Shinya Kogami – Cyberpunk Sherlock
Shinya Kogami is our Sherlock, once a normal Inspector, he let his obsession to solve the case and his ability to think like a criminal get out of hand, leading to his demotion to Enforcer. As a latent criminal, he works with the police, but he is not one of them. In this capacity he can do things a rule abiding officer could not. His deductive powers, keen ability for observation and ability to see the bigger pattern from the minutiae also place him firmly in the Sherlock mould. In particular episodes he is not afraid to abandon the constricting law system to pursue the criminal and the truth.
Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami aka Watson and Holmes
Kogami find his loyal, emotionally switched on, moral back up in the form of Akane Tsunemori. This Watson is a woman, but refreshingly her gender is not made the main interesting point about her. She never acts in a traditionally ‘feminine’ role. [Unlike Lucy Liu in the pilot episode of Elementary.] There may be a current of attraction between Akane and Kogami—isn’t there always something a little more between Watson and Holmes—but it is never made a main plot point. Instead Akane is a stalwart of the right, moral decision. From the pilot where she shoots her Holmes to defend an innocent woman, who the system has wrongly deemed unfit for existence, she is set up as the defender of justice. Not to mention a sharp shooter, who misses Kogami’s vitals when she paralyses him.
Shogo Makishima aka Moriarty
And finally the third side of the triangle: Moriarty. Shogo Makishima is the asymptomatic [he commits psychologically damaging things without any effect to his psycho pass] Homme Fatale. Yeah, you read that right, homme fatale, the man who turns up and emotionally manipulates the protagonist into a downward spiral that could result in his death. Move over Irene Adler, it’s Moriarty who really gets under Sherlock’s skin. [Somewhere the fan girls all cheered, but that gay romance isn’t exactly what I’m getting at.] Even Makishima’s character design fits this idea of the Homme Fatale. He is seductive, but with a sense of elegance; his movements are sensual which is even evident in his fighting style in the gripping scene where he and Kogami face off for the first time.
Makashima, like Moriarty, acts as an enabler for others. As the scanners never pick up a fluctuation in his psycho pass he can move at will, setting up the perfect situations for those who would normally set off the Sybil System’s alarms. This reminds me of a quote from Sherlock Holmes in the story The Final Problem:
“The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him. That’s what puts him on the pinnacle in the records of crime. I tell you Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I could free society of him, I should feel that my own career has reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some more placid line in life…”
The final episodes of this show draw on the narrative structure of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty’s explosive encounter at the Reichenbach Falls, and spoiler alert, may have a similar conclusion.
Kogami and Makashima
Another, final interesting point to raise is the similarity of the settings. The dark, twisted alleys of Victorian London metropolis are, plus some more tech, pretty much the same squalid urban spaces that criminals in sci-fi noir inhabit. But like Sherlock Holmes, Psycho Pass’s settings also include the higher end of society, elite academies [like Sherlock story The Adventure of the Priory School] and the palatial homes of the rich and famous. Of course the urban labyrinth has been home to the detective and his criminal antagonists since Edgar Allen Poe, so it is only natural that in its futuristic guise it plays host to a new set of villains and heroes.
My only final note is that at some point in the future I might blog about Psycho Pass in even more detail as it is one of the shows on my PhD viewing list.