Psycho Pass follows Inspector Akane Tsunemori and her subordinate Shinya Kogami as they hunt down the criminal mastermind behind a variety of gruesome crimes. By design, the show is meant to get people talking about the nature of crime in society and what people are willing to do to live in a crime-free world. It does this by subverting viewer expectations with the world building, character interactions, and who gets to take off their shirt.
Spoilers for the show.
The world of Psycho Pass is governed by a supercomputer called the Sybil System. The Sybil System manages its citizens by assigning them job positions through a series of psychoanalytic tests and scanning the streets for potential criminal activity. Within the society, there is a lot of emphasis on having a clear psycho pass which is composed of two parts: the Hue and the Crime Coefficient. The Hue is a color assigned to you that represents your level of stress. A single color is the absence of stress, the desirable outcome, while a dual-color is a clouded Hue. Those with a clouded Hue are asked to seek psychotherapy.
The Crime Coefficient is a numerical value determined by how likely you are to commit a crime. Values 0-99 are values for regular citizens. 100-299 are latent criminals, people who may commit a crime so they are isolated from society in institutions and given therapy treatments until that number goes down. Values 300 and above are reserved for people who are currently committing or have previously committed a crime and are eliminated from society through on-the-spot execution.
The prominence of psychotherapy and the constant scrutiny of one’s psycho pass asks the viewer what they are willing to give up for a crime-free society. I have read several articles regarding mental health treatment in Japan, and it appears that seeing a psychologist is social suicide. Anything that marks you as different in Japan is a social no-no, but seeing a psychologist means that you are not strong enough on your own to deal with whatever it is that is affecting you. However, with Psycho Pass, when everyone is expected to see a psychologist, that stigma seems to be removed within the show. I cannot say how a viewer that grew up with that ideal is supposed to react to that kind of world, but I suspect it started a couple discussions.
As someone who grew up with American ideals, I can say that the constant scrutiny of your psychology is creepy to me. I grew up thinking that what happens in your head stays in your head until you choose to express it. So having a robot run and managed by the government scan my mind to determine whether I would commit a crime or not plays into the current issue of constant government surveillance. What should the government know about its citizens? How much is too much? And so on and so forth.
In Japan, there is some sort of emphasis on workplace hierarchies. I can only speak to the workplace environment of a Japanese school because of some research I am currently doing, but I assume the same sort of relations occur in an office setting as well. Older workers are respected by younger workers for their experience and there is a heavy emphasis on your “rank” or position within the company in relation to others. You listen to your senpai, you order around your kohai. Such is the way of things. You even get a taste of this in anime based on how the main character reacts to an older student vs. a younger student. The “Notice me, Senpai” meme pokes fun at that ideal.
Psycho Pass plays with this too. When the show starts, Akane Tsunemori is a brand new Inspector, fresh from school and probably living on her own for the first time. As an Inspector, her and her partner’s job is to hunt down criminals who have slipped through the Sybil System. Assisting them is a team of Enforcers, latent criminals given a couple extra freedoms because they have skills that can help hunt and catch actual criminals. What better way to catch a criminal than by hiring another one, right? Enforcers take orders from Inspectors, and defying those orders can lead to undesirable consequences for the Enforcer.
Tsunemori complicates this hierarchical system with her relationships with Shinya Kogami and Tomomi Masaoka, both of whom are Enforcers who take on a mentor role for Tsunemori despite her position being higher than theirs. With both men, Tsunemori recognizes their expertise in police work and prefers to listen to their strategies because they are more effective rather than order them around herself. In her mind, she would prefer to make the call that catches the bad guy with the least number of casualties possible rather than make a poor call as a result of her inexperience. This upsets her partner, Inspector Ginoza, because that is a dangerous mentality that has led to other Inspectors becoming latent criminals and eventually Enforcers. And yet Tsunemori continues that behavior through most of the series because it is effective.
Tsunemori’s relationship with Kogami is even more complicated. Kogami is a former Inspector and studied criminal science at a university before the university system was abolished. He is still in contact with a former professor of criminal profiling and uses that connection to give Tsunemori a crash course in profiling. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this relationship is how both Kogami and Tsunemori are drawn to each other because they confuse each other.
In their first assignment together, Tsunemori shoots Kogami with a paralyzer in order to talk down a criminal. Kogami is surprised that someone as mousy as Tsunemori would have that kind of guts, and Tsunemori is befuddled by Kogami’s because of his intriguing and charismatic persona. Their relationship is the foundation of the show. Here we have Inspector and Enforcer working together as partners, sharing experiences and resources and getting together when they are off duty to further their investigation. By breaking down the barriers of their rank, they are defying the social norms of the workplace. However, as with both characters, since that is the most effective way to catch the criminal mastermind they hunt, that is what they do. And guess what? It gets results.
Less intellectual but perhaps my favorite form of subversion in this show is the fan service. Between Kogami and Tsunemori, Kogami is always the one to go shirtless. Always. The only time we see Tsunemori in anything less than a dress shirt is when we see her wake up for a regular day in the second episode. That’s it. Even then, that scene is meant as a world building tool to highlight the typical morning of a regular citizen of the Sybil System. Meanwhile, Kogami being shirtless serves no purpose other than to be eye candy for viewers who appreciate a nicely muscled male torso. Kogami is seen training in a workout room (shirtless of course), completed with a small interaction where Tsunemori stares at his nicely toned pecks and Kogami goes “What?” A little more than halfway in the show, Kogami and Tusnemori are both injured. Kogami is shirtless (and bandaged) and Tsunemori is fully clothed. They sit back-to-back on a cot for modesty’s sake, but there are a couple shots that focus on Kogami’s torso.
In other words, this show appreciates that women watch it and make conscious decisions to cater to them as a result. This is not to say the show is completely free of fan service for men–there are a few female characters that find themselves in questionable choices of clothing–but of the two main characters, Kogami is the one that shows an excessive amount of skin. And that right there is subversive because that would normally be Tsunemori’s role.
The purpose of Psycho Pass is to make people question what it would be like to truly live in a crime-free society. What are people willing to sacrifice to achieve that? What would that kind of world look like? How would that world utilize current technologies, particularly social media? One of the best ways to get people to think is to subvert viewer expectations. You think one thing is going to happen but something else happens instead (Tsunemori shoots Kogami with a paralyzer, Tsunemori defies the recommendation of her senpai to learn from her Enforcers, etc). Psycho Pass does a good job of subverting normal tropes, and I actually consider it one of my favorite anime as a result.
If you have not already, I highly recommend Psycho Pass. It is a good introductory anime if you are unfamiliar with the medium. Both the subtitled and English dubbed versions are great, and it is currently available to stream on Netflix, Hulu, and Funimation.com.