I think the architecture in the opening is as key as what Oryo is saying herself. It is stark and utilitarian; it is without any life or joy. Why? Because it has been designed with maximum efficiency in mind. There are no human flourishes that invite interpretation. The builiding is simply what it is supposed to be: a place for patients to feel serene. This mindset reflects not just the condition afflicting Oryo’s father, but the condition of the world of PSYCHO-PASS itself. At its best, the System is boringly efficient. At its worst, however, it literally renders people inactive and unresponsive. It should come to no surprise, then, when Oryo says, “…[the] pathogen will never be eradicated. This is a disease called serenity…” The emphasis is mine, because I think serenity perfectly captures what Huxley was trying to warn us about: the danger of becoming comfortably numb.
I think the dissatisfaction lies in the fact that the System doesn’t actually put people in the best position to succeed. That’s what it wants you to think, but the truth is that it really puts people in the best position to not fail. And there’s an insidious reason to achieve this sort of serene success. When you aim for the highest of the highs, you may fall woefully short, but when you succeed, you feel as though you’ve achieved it through your very own means. This is the sort of individualism that is endangered in the world of PSYCHO-PASS. By ensuring that you won’t fail, not only will you feel indebted to the System, it also ensures this easily-achieved “serenity” that renders its people too impotent and comfortably numb to rebel. The System is designed in such a way that only the most socially deviant can and will act out.
1984 is the go-to book when it comes to dropping dystopian allusions, but I do think Brave New World has always been the more apt comparison for the direction that our civilization is headed. Consider Oryo’s other words: “They don’t notice anything. They don’t say anything. And they don’t think anything. They are merely a shell of their former selves and soon they will disappear like the melting snow.” By maximizing efficiency, the general populace in PSYCHO-PASS are no different from the humans being used as batteries in The Matrix trilogy. Of course, the System requires your labor. It requires your manpower and obedience to keep its wheels turning for perpetuity. At the same time, everything comes so easily that you are not required to think.
This reminds me of how people will often rage at “ugly” art without understanding that this sort of tension and conflict being expressed by the audience is exactly what a lot of artists are trying to achieve. What simply gives us pleasure will not always invite thought and criticism. Of course, a photorealistic rendering of a human being is technically impressive, but what does it make you think or feel? A lot of artists thus utilize the abstract and the obscene just to invoke a strong reaction from the audience. Sure, I won’t deny that some young artists are easily impressed by the avant garde, and thus attempt to mimic modern art without any thought into its construction. In our contemporary society, “trolling” has become a part of our vernacular, so we see these amateurish attempts as nothing more than artists “trolling” for attention. It thus becomes all too easy for the rest of the movement to be broadly dismissed because we’ve been conditioned to accept only what pleases us, and label inauthentic anything that hopes to challenge this preconception.
Plot summary: Ginoza takes Shinya off the latest case because Ginoza’s a jerk who thinks Shinya’s emotions will get in the way.
As usual, Akane spends most of the episode just trying to understand Shinya. Meanwhile, Oryo continues to murder more and more young girls, and Makishima sits around and hammers us over the head with the story’s meaning.
• Oh, the irony in Ginoza’s words: “I can’t allow a detective who can’t put aside his preconceived notions to be a part of the initial investigations.” There’s another key contrast I haven’t really discussed much: the fact that only the Enforcers really think. Ginoza doesn’t have to think. He simply follows the protocol. He simply depends on the System for everything. On the other hand, Shinya might jump to conclusions, but he only does so because he actually comes up with his own conclusions.
• Akane gawking at Shinya’s body might make sense if he actually looked like he had washboard abs and not just a bunch of flesh-colored lumps:
• Just another instance of hyperrealism at play: is Shinya overly aggressive with the training doll because he knows its a robot or because it looks too human? This ambiguity lies at the heart of cyberpunk.
• Shinya: “It’s me who kills a person, not the Dominator. In order to keep that in mind, I have to feel the pain here.” He’s simply repeating what I’ve said at the top of this post. Shinya continues to hone his own fighting skills, because he understands that he cannot allow the System to stamp out his individualism. First, the Dominator allows its wielder to feel no guilt because it determines for its wielder which suspect to apprehend as well as how to apprehend said suspect. The wielder also doesn’t feel responsible because the job is easy; when you don’t have to earn your victory, you don’t feel as though you’ve actually achieved it. The same is true for failures. Finally, it can be said that Shinya simply wants to feel.
Unlike, say, Ginoza, Shinya doesn’t want to be yet another cog in the system. When he apprehends a suspect, he wants to feel it, even if this feeling is nothing more than the pain in his fists. Sure, there’s a certain sadomasochistic streak here, but his desire does make sense on another level. His job has an enormous impact on people’s lives. If Shinya merely becomes a part of the process, he will be alienated to the effect he has on results of his actions. To use another metaphor, the PSYCHO-PASS system and the Dominator make up the assembly line. Those like Ginoza are simply there to ensure that the assembly line continues to operate at max efficiency. Shinya’s need to feel reflects the alienation of the modern assembly line worker, i.e. the need for the craftsman to feel pride in his or her work.
• Akane’s antics seem rather juvenile and ill-befitting of the show. First, her silly “Oops, did I say something I shouldn’t have?” covering of her mouth in an earlier scene, and now, her pointing like a child at Shinya to cover himself up in a shirt.
• Sasayama gropes his female coworkers, but rages at a rapist. Right, you guys just keep pretending that the former is nothing more than harmless fun just because worse things could’ve happened instead. The implications of this juxtaposition is quite apparent even if it’s not intentional.
• Oh, the naivete of teenagers: “I wouldn’t get near something bad from the start.” Yes, you guys are invincible. Nothing bad will ever happen.
• Oryo: “There’s this quote from Kierkegaard that my father liked. ‘Because man is superior to animals, in other words, because man is the self and spirit, man can be in despair.'” I wonder where this exact Kierkegaard quote comes from. Regardless, Kierkegaard was a Christian existentialist, who ultimately believed that despair came from not accepting God’s will, but we don’t have to concern ourselves with that.
We also don’t need to cover all three kinds of despair that Kierkegaard goes into, especially since PSYCHO-PASS itself doesn’t seem specifically Christian at the moment, though this can change as the narrative develops. But why invoke Kierkegaard then? Because it sounds cool on paper? Possibly. But I do think one of the Kierkegaard’s concerns do make sense within the context of the anime, and this is the fear of the Self. In other words, we are distinct from animals because we have the capacity to self-reflect; we have the capacity to distinguish the Self from the world around us. For some people, however, there is this fear of Oneself that can a lead a person to render the Self unnecessary. So how does this all make sense within the narrative of the anime? The System is what makes the Self unnecessary. Remember Oryo’s words from last week’s episode:
“It seems you can’t choose the life you wish. I understand how hard that is. In this era, the System determines everyone’s aptitudes and we all have no choice but to live by it and be satisfied with only a happiness forced upon us… as we are unable to make our real dreams come true. The person you desire to be… Your true worth… Don’t you want to try discovering them?”
In other words, the fear of existentialist despair has led people to rely upon a System that makes unnecessary people’s own ability to choose their own way in life. In other words, the Self is made unnecessary. You’re just another part of the process. Despair is thus not something to be feared, but rather, something to embrace: “Unless you know despair, you cannot know hope.” Despair (and hope) is what sets us apart, after all; the authenticity of the Self is what makes us human. Oryo’s catatonic father knows neither despair nor hope, much less the rest of the population. On the other hand, this fear of choice, i.e. a fear of stress and suffering, leads to this utilitarian, max-efficiency society that renders us less than human. Another way to understand the problem: ask yourself if animals have regrets. Under the rule of the System, however, can a person in PSYCHO-PASS have regrets? To regret, you’d have to feel as though you should’ve chosen otherwise, but does the System give you meaningful choices other than what to wear and what to eat for breakfast?
Sure, you can bring up the fact that Akane’s the exception to the rule since she chose to join the MWPSB when she had other superficial choices before her. I’ll contend, however, that she’s the exceptional archetype. She’s the anomaly who tries to infiltrate the cold, logic-bound system with her compassion and nurturing for others, even robotic simulations. She’s meant to be unique, even if she often acts like a displaced anime heroine.
• Oryo: “My father used dismembered bodies as the subject of many of his drawings. That’s because they symbolize the contradictory nature of the self.” I think the “contradictory nature of the self” refers to the fact that the Self is more than just the body. Our Self — with a capital ‘s’ — is more than the sums of its parts. The maintenance worker from last week marveled at the beauty of the dead girl despite the objective fact that the body has been dismembered and rearranged in an illogical way.
• We could also ignore all these words and just go, “OMG YURI.”
• Makishima: “However, once Psycho-Pass checks became routine, people have found their sense of stress numbed so much that patients who can’t even recognize simulation itself started appearing.” Everything we’ve been discussing over the last couple of weeks can be found in this one sentence: the dangers of the hyperreal, the alienation of the worker, etc.
• Makishima continues to say, “Once that happens, they’re the same as living corpses.” In other words, zombies. If you want to get all sociopolitical, lumpenproletariat is another word you can use. “Soon their autonomic nervous system stops functioning on its own and their vital functions shut down.” In other words, the death of the spirit leads to the death of the body. Our villain rebels against the System by trying to sow chaos and suffering because it ironically brings the system back to life. To combat serenity, he aims to jolt the zombie-like society to life with suffering.
• More evidence of the dying Self: “In this era, everything that could be called a reason for living has died out. No one tries to talk seriously about what life should be like anymore.” It isn’t crazy to think that in a world where a person’s thought process could be quantified, so has the idea of an ideal life been quantified. We’ve defined it; just follow our orders.
• B-but I thought authorial intent was everything: “Well, it’s not uncommon for there to be a disconnect between the creator and the impression their creations give.”
• There’s Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” playing in the background as our two men discuss a horrific topic. I actually find it tacky. I’ve never been impressed when other shows have done the same thing, e.g. trying to make nursery rhymes seem creepy. The irony here has become so passe and unsubtle.
• In terms of storytelling, however, this part of the episode is a disaster. It’s literally the villains just sitting there, telling you the entire gist of the story: “This is what it means, folks!” Show, not tell! It isn’t that difficult!
• The clunky storytelling continues: “You guys prepare toys, and we, mischievous children, use those toys to shake up society.” This is rather disappointing, but I guess I can’t be too surprised. After all, this is the same writer who felt that the breakdown of the symbolic order should be represented by literally guts and fecal matter.
• Another example of cyberpunk is the new guy disguising himself as a schoolgirl with a hologram. The blurring of the lines between the sexes is another persistent source of ambiguity in the genre.