Title: Psycho Pass 2 (Psycho Pass 2nd season)
Format: TV series
Genre: sci-fi, dystopian, cyberpunk
Series Director: Naoyoshi Shiotani
Studio: Production I.G
Series length: 11 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 10 – December 18, 2014
Reviewed format: High def download with fansubs
“Little time has passed since the Shogo Incident & Enforcer Kogami’s disappearance before a new incident has Unit 1 of the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division scrambling for answers. Criminals are able to commit the most brutal crimes without affecting their Psycho Pass -the measurement for judging everything. Inspector Akame Tsunemori, now head of Unit 1, must guide her rookie detective, Mika Shimotsuki, and two new enforcers to find the criminal mastermind that no one, not even the ever present Sybil System, believes exists.”
To begin with: this series should’ve been much longer. It never had the time to develop & play with it’s new ideas & characters. If it was allowed to be a run of 24 episodes, it wouldn’t feel so much like Season 1.5 than a fresh 2nd season, despite the new things that it brings.
The original season of Psycho Pass appeared pretty much out of nowhere & took many people by surprise with its interesting take on a dystopian future where Thought Crimes are the Evil of the Day.
The conceit of the series is in the year 2113, in the unnamed city (which is pretty much Tokyo) citizens’ psychological levels are routinely & constantly cymatically scanned to measure their base stress, stability & “Crime Coefficient” levels -also referred to as a Psycho Pass (oh, what a clever pun!). If anyone goes above the thresholds for these is deemed a criminal & arrested for rehabilitation or, if their numbers are too high to return to normal, routinely executed by other an Investigator or an Enforcer -who is a criminal who can’t be rehabilitated but has skills useful to the system. The rub being that such a conforming system itself is a constant generator of stress & instability, so much of the population is either seriously medicated or practising various forms of Cognitive Dissonance in order not to notice the horrible things in front of them. This creates a world that, upon the surface, seems like a twisted mix of Ghost in the Shell and Brave New World.
Central to this narrative dystopia is Tsunemori Akane, an Inspector for Public Safety Bureau. She’s matured greatly since the events of the 1st season, now able to delegate tasks to her unit’s Enforcer’s based upon their personal talents as well as be able to understand the minds & motivations of criminals without being affected by them. This is the true conceit of Akane, in that she always maintains a clear Psycho Pass no matter what she is exposed to but still doesn’t let her judgement become clouded. She is also the only person to know the secret of the Sybil System, in that it is a collection of the greatest criminal minds the city has ever known who are sustain to judge the rest of the city because they are the only ones who can understand the criminal mentality.
Akane is one of my favourite female characters in a long time, because she is not only given her own sense of agency within the narrative but she is never portrayed as or treated like a victim. It was a conscious effort on the part of the series creators not to sexualise or victimise her in any fashion as part of their Anti-Moe agenda (which is why there are more half naked men in the series than women). Of course, bad things happen to Akane over the course of both seasons but they are used as points of development to make her stronger, better, more competent. & she’s not just a Mary Sue either. She has her faults, lacks confidence to mack difficult choices, is still emotionally dependant on the memory of Kogami to help her make difficult choices (she lights his brand of cigarettes in her room so she can remember his scent) & is prone to moments of weakness. Yet all this serves to make her a more rounded & realistic character in a fantastical narrative.
Unfortunately, this development isn’t extended to the new characters, especially the antagonists.
The main antagonist is Kamui Kirato, a strange figure whom the Sybil System is unable to recognise. At first, you may think that this is just a rehash of Makishima Shogo character from the 1st season, who couldn’t be judged by Sybil or the Dominators (the weapons that the Public Safety Bureau use to incapacitate or kill criminals) but they actually, & smartly, make the two characters completely different. Kirato can’t be recognised by the Sybil System at all, his existence is anathema to it, thus he cannot be judged because he cannot be seen. The reasons for this & for his attacks on the Sybil System as well as the Public Safety Bureau (who are the hands of the Sybil System) are very interesting & pretty original but ultimately underdeveloped.
Likewise is the other antagonist, Togane Sakuya, an Enforcer assigned to Unit 1 with a dark history. Rated as having the highest Crime Coefficient every recorded & is known for tainting the Hue (how Psycho Passes are rated) of every Inspector he’s ever worked with. He has an obsession with Akane & her near absolute purity of Hue &, again, the reasons why are fascinating but wasted because of the brevity of the series.
& that becomes the crux of the entire series: amazing, fairly original ideas ultimately hampered but the lack of space to develop & mature. I don’t know the reasons why they went with an 11 episode season & I’m far too lazy to bother trawling through forums, websites & Tumblr to find out why. It’s exceptionally vexing to see so many cool ideas stunted because they just don’t have the room to grow.
On the positive side, the series is still exceptionally beautifully animated. The glowing neons of this future-scape shine through, as does how the holographic technologies acting as shields from reality. The visual-scapes of Psycho Pass have always been incredibly interesting, rich & filled with a wealth of details. The series producers said that they were heavily inspired by films such as Blade Runner & Minority Report, which shines through in the neon-billboard heavy design. The way that holograms are integrated into everyday life is also interesting. Allowing people to turn their tiny apartments into anything that they can imagine, as well as changing their clothing (when at home) & cars almost at will (for the Investigators activating the police mode on their vehicles).
Another brilliant aspect of the series is the opening theme Enigmatic Feeling by alt-rock group Ling Tosite Sigure (the lead singer of which performed the opening track from Tokyo Ghoul). This track alone will surely put the band on international music radars, with it’s complex layering & tortured multi-singer vocals.
In the end, unfortunate, this season just isn’t really developed enough to fully enjoy -despite all the brilliant ideas, plot twists & designs.
What I would recommend though is binge watching both series together, so you see how ideas & characters develop together. This way you can truly appreciate the intentions & ideas within.
Before we begin with the critique, we’d just like to point out that this is our 69th post, so please insert childish Bevis & Butthead style laughter here.
Title: Black Bullet (Burakku Buretto)
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, action, harem
Series Creator: Shiden Kanzaki
Series Director: Masayuki Kojima
Studio: Kinema Citrus
Series length: 13 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 8, 2014 – July 1, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs
“In the year 2021, mankind is decimated by the epidemic of Gastrea, a parasitic virus, and is forced to live within the Monolith walls, which are created from Varanium: a metal that is able to subdue Gastrea. Soon, children who were born with the Gastrea virus and obtained superhuman abilities as a result, are discovered and dubbed “Cursed Children”. Due to the Gastrea virus’ intervention, the Cursed Children could only be female. Civil Securities are formed to specialize fighting against Gastrea, operating with the pair of an Initiator, who are cursed children, and a Promoter, serving to lead the cursed children. Ten years after the epidemic, Rentaro Satomi, a high school student who is also a Promoter in Tendo- Civil Security Agency owned by his childhood friend Kisara Tendo-, along with his Initiator, Enju Aihara, conducts missions to prevent the destruction of the Tokyo Area and the world.”
This is the last series of the previous seasons Loli-fest that sexualised massively underaged girls that I shall be reviewing & am glad that the trends of anime in this new season have shifted from the hypersexualisation of little girls to the hypersexualisation of teenage girls as they struggle to become idols (shudders).
Yet despite the loli (& general) hypersexualisation, I actually enjoyed this series (for the most part).
The main reasons for my enjoyment of the series is the plot & the characters. Unlike other drag-rush series this past season, Black Bullet actually progresses & develops with each episode. Giving you enough info about the events before the start of the series to understand the narrative universe but not getting bogged down in useless exposition. Unfortunately there are some illogical in the character development, which I shall touch on later, but the fact you have 3 clear arcs within the 13 episode time frame means that the series, as a whole, needs to keep moving & developing.
Like so many dystopian post-apocalyptic/post-disaster narratives, the story is both about restoring the social order in the face of the threat of an “Outside Other” as well as restoring trust & connection between individuals (for more on this subject, check out my lecture here). Yet Black Bullet is actually more focussed on using the latter to deconstruct the former.
The central protagonists have all have issues with loss, trust & how the world of their present wishes to be. The narrative drive is how these characters seek to overcome not only how they feel about themselves & those in their lives but to tear down the world that wishes to ignore & destroy those who protect them; preferring instead the safe peace of ignorance rather than acknowledging that they owe their lives to an army of mutated little girls & their (sometimes abusive) human partners.
The three centre protagonists -Rentaro, Enju & Kisara- are all broken in some way by the on going war with the Gastrea mutations. Rentaro lost his family in the first attack on Tokyo & was then adopted into the Tendo family, where he lost his limbs protecting Kisara from a Gastrea attack. During that same attack, Kisara watched her parents die, which caused so much stress on her body she suffered catastrophic kidney failure (which is odd but, hey, it’s fiction, right?), leaving her unable to do prolonged physical activity despite her high level martial arts training. Whilst Enju was born as one of the Cursed Children & abandoned in the ruins of old Tokyo before being dragged in to serve as Rentaro’s partner, leaving her with huge trust issues as at the treatment of other Cursed Children (she can hide the red eyes that give the girls away) by the rest of society as well as the constant fear that she could die from her Gastrea infection before she grows up.
It is this constant, pressuring knowledge that drives Enju to act; especially in regards to proclaiming her constant love for Rentaro, claiming that she’ll be his bride -much to his annoyance. This can be read as a way for her to push away the fear of her own mortality, as well as possess a shred of hope that there will be someone who won’t abandon her. Similarly, Rentaro is crippled by the dread of losing anyone, which makes him hesitant in his actions but eventually allows him to reach out to the other Cursed Children, helping them normalise their lives for the chance to be integrated into regular society without having to bare the stigma of their births. Whilst Kisara is consumed by the need to discover the truth as to how her parents could’ve been killed by Gastrea in a protected zone balanced with the need not put her beloved Rentaro at too much risk or lose him to her rivals in love -such as Miori, who isn’t shy in showing her affection for Rentaro.
These personal drama are set against a larger socio-politic conflict that is common in post-apocalyptic reconstruction narratives. It’s mainly focussed on the issue of the public’s view of the Cursed Children, mainly mitigating the authority’s hatred & murder of them, as well as trying to reunify Japan from fractured city-states to a full nation once again. With many conspiracies & old hatreds lying hiding in the background.
As mentioned in the 2nd or so paragraph, there are 3 clear arcs to the series, each building upon the last (except for the 1st obviously, duh!). It is honestly refreshing for this past season to see a series so clearly sign posted for its intention for pushing the narrative forward & doing so without losing any character development or the external context, pressures & personal oaths/commitments.
The 1st arc focuses on establishing character & narrative context, where a rogue Promoter, Hiruko Kagetane, & his psychotic Initiator daughter, Kohina, steal a device that can summon the highest class of Gastrea, which can ignore the barriers & destroy all of Tokyo with an army of Gastrea drones as well as its own power. This arc allows Enju & Rentaro to come to terms with their position as Civil Security Agents, their abilities as well as working more smoothly as a team. It also helps Rentaro come to terms with the lose of his limbs & their replacement with special cybernetic technology, putting him on an even front with Kagetane -who is entirely augmented with cybernetic & military technology. The Hiruko pair are a dark reflection of Enju & Rentaro, a what could have been if Rentaro let his anger & thirst for vengeance get the better of him. In the end, turns out the summoning device was actually a bunch of kids stuff, deepening the mystery of the Gastrea.
The second arc focuses more on Rentaro’s moral & social development, as he is made head bodyguard/security chief to the nominal head of Tokyo Area, the pale & mysterious, Seitenshi (not real name). Who wishes for freedom for the Cursed Children but is kept in check politically by Kisara’s grandfather, Tendo Kikunojo, who is also Rentaro’s adoptive father, the one who turned him into a weapon. The reason for Seitenshi so suddenly promoting, other then his defeat of the Hiruko pair, is because she’s meeting a rival leader of the Japanese territories, Saitake Sogen, an ambitious man who wishes to rule all of the island nation with an iron fist but one who Rentaro is personally familiar with, due to having meet him when he [Rentaro] was still a child. Whilst there is a genuine fear of an assassination of Seitenshi, Rentaro has more issue dealing with the power politics within Seitenshi’s palace, as her regular bodyguards are murderously jealous of Rentaro being given a position of privilege so close to their beloved (read in a stalkerish fashion) leader. Enju & Rentaro also finds that they can no longer turn a blind eye to the injustices set upon the Cursed Children, especially when Saitake leaks information to Enju’s school that she’s a Cursed Child, causing her to be removed & for her then to run away. Even whilst dealing with all that, Rentaro encounters new Loli jailbait, Tina Sprout, rendered in an overly sexualised way with lulled eyes & exposed shoulders (because loose women in Japan always show their shoulders, never understood that cultural hang up). But whilst she appeals to be utterly docile & helpless -Rentaro had to help her a few times- she’s actually a living machine weapon like he is, sent to assassinate Seitenshi on behalf of Ayn Rand (no, not that one even though she is evil enough to be a supervillain). There ends up being a pretty cool series of battles between the two of them, especially after Tina fucks up Enju because they didn’t know she was weaponised & when Tina tries to kill Kisara without knowing that Rentaro works for her (because she now wuvs him, makes it hard for her to explain things when she finds out). It ends with a cool action scene & Rentaro sparing Tina’s life because she is the tool for another but he ended up fucking up Seitenshi’s head of security because he tries to shoot a wounded Tina. Rentaro grows them big nutz & blows the dude’s finger clean off before demanding a better position of power from Seitenshi, which she agrees to because she wants to bang him like a screen door.
The 3rd & final arc is the most traditional in terms of an action series plot but still pretty good. A giant Gastrea has corroded one of the Monoliths that keep the Gastrea away from the Tokyo Area & it’s only days before it collapses, meaning that all the mutations can destroy the city. So, we have a Ticking Clock scenario yet one that plays out well for the most part.
Rentaro has an X number of days to assemble a team in order to be part of the Civil Security fighting force. Which doesn’t make much sense in a way, because they never explain why they need group teams & not the usual partnerships in the fight. Rentaro & Tina (who is now partnered with Kisara) are rejected by almost everyone that they ask, which is again strange because Rentaro has a serious rep within the Civil Security community now, but means that he can approach those whom he trusts the most. Unfortunately this is few people, so he only managed to recruit one pair who are old friends of his & Kisara & Tina join, much to Rentaro’s objections over her poor health. They eventually find another member in the form of a former student of Kisara’s family martial arts school & senpai to Rentaro (but Rentaro addresses him as nii-san or elder brother).
Parallel to this, Rentaro has taken it upon himself to become a teacher for a group of Cursed Children who live in the ruins of old Tokyo but the Gastrea attack on the Monolith has brought public tensions to the boil. Many normal humans see the Cursed Children as the cause of the Gastrea virus rather than it’s victims. So there are more violence against the Cursed Children, represented by a blind beggar girl whose mother burnt out her eyes rather than look at the accursed red of them. This all comes to ahead when, before the big battle, someone bombs the school group that Rentaro teaches, killing all of the girls who had just come to trust him & have faith that they will have a future. Naturally, this causes huge grief for both Enju & Rentaro but steels their resolve to win the battle so that they can prove that the World is worth saving.
Another aside to this is Kisara’s investigation into how a Gastrea could corrupt the Monolith, which all leads back to the overarching meta-plot of her family’s schemes.
After the first big battle, Rentaro’s team disobeys orders in order to prevent a surprise Gastrea attack but are blamed for the deaths of other Security Officers -including the leader’s son, who turned chicken shit at the last minute. In order for everyone to save face for everyone, Rentaro has to go off on own to destroy a mysterious Gastrea that protects the huge monster that controls all of the other Gastrea in the area. After being attacked by wolf-like Gastrea, Rentaro is saved by Kagetane, who has returned from the dead, & his daughter Kohina, who still wants to fight Enju. Kagetane is still obsessed with getting Rentaro to see his point over view: that humanity is doomed & only enhanced superhumans like them & the Cursed Children will survive (ignoring the fact that the Cursed Children never survive into adulthood). Yet Rentaro is determined to stick to his Hero of Bitter Justice routine, so Hiruko father & daughter stick with the stubborn lad in his mission. Together they defeat what they have to defeat & return to find the Civil Security Agents slaughtered & their stupid selfish leader killed (yay!), which means Rentaro is in charge. He takes on the persona of a ruthless commander willing to cut anyone down who stands in his way but this is merely an affect in order to hold the broken survivors together. In the end they win the day but with very heavy losses, both numeral & personal, as well as being betrayed by political figures with petty grudges (namely Seitenshi’s bodyguards looking to see Rentaro killed no matter the overall cost).
The unexpected coda to the overarching plot is Kisara getting revenge on one of the people who caused the death of her parents as well as being responsible for the disaster with the Monolith’s collapse. This shows her damaged psyche & how far she is willing to go, chiding Rentaro for being unable to punish evil because he has Batman-like boundries.
This was a very good series, despite the lolis & hypersexualisation of the adult characters but it does deal with some very dark themes & images.
Mainly extreme violence being perpetrated against very young girls.
This is an exceptionally bloody series; with dismemberments & blood fountains being par for the course. The fact that it’s performed on young girls does make it more disturbing; more so when it’s also dealing with the idea of suicide rather than become corrupted by the viral evil that is within their bodies.
Like any good dystopian narrative, Black Bullet has a very bleak outlook but edged with hope that if one fights on things can be made better, no matter the sacrifices made. It also talks a lot about love & hope. The reason that the girls, mainly Enju & Tina, are so passionately devoted to Rentaro -declaring their intentions to marry him- isn’t about the sexualisation of children (even though that sickening does happen in the series) but is more about their hope for the future. In that they may become adults & find true love; with marriage being the greatest representation of love & the bond between two people.
In the end, this is a heavy series with more than a few issues -both in terms of imagery & plot coherence- but it is something that I do recommend if you like dystopian sci-fi with over the top action & violence. It won’t be for everyone & there are plenty to make most uncomfortable it does stand high upon the mundanity that plagued the previous anime season.
Unfortunately, due to issues with YouTube, the audio quality in the embedded video is pretty poor (the raw video is fine), so you will have to turn your speakers up a bit. The speaker also does talk very fast & with a mild lisp but does it completely off the top of his head (possibly the only conference speaker who didn’t use notes at all but didn’t see all of the presentations due to many of them them going on simultaneously).
If this video & idea proves popular, I may ask this speaker & others to do more direct to camera lectures/presentations.