Psycho-Pass lacks real detective work. And yes, this is a good thing.
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
– The Tao of Pooh
While the gift of foresight may sound like a godsend to the average person, especially to those employed in law enforcement, the ability itself tends to lead to some serious consequences in myth, literature, and film. Commonly tied to fate and ill omens, fortune-telling is often portrayed as a temporary, auspicious form of aid which often leads misfortune, death, or irrationality. Even worse, a developing dependence on these “fortunes” can often lead the protagonist or his allies to a state utter mindlessness and the unquestioning acceptance of these as authority figures. Instead of developing a personal code, those led by prophecies fall into the trap of self-imposed obedience, never questioning the plans which center around them.
Although the universe which Urobochi Gen created is rife with sprawling new-age metropolitan life, the world of Psycho-Pass is ultimately one defined by its main plot device and core component: the Sibyl System. The font of 22nd century technology, the Sibyl System is what ultimately decides the futures of the citizens. From their occupations to their status as criminals, the Sibyl System predicts it all. No longer is a human brain necessary or a personality required; the Sibyl System does all of the critical thinking for the populace. However, as hi-tech and technologically advanced as the Sibyl System is, the mechanism relies entirely on personality calculations and the gauging of a human being’s worth, things which our culture often perceives as uncountable, to predict the future. There is no “100% guarantee” to its predictions, and yet, the citizens gobble it up as if it were candy, allowing the system to decide their own careers and the future of predetermined criminals. It’s glorified fortune-telling.
The Sibyl System’s name is a rather direct hint towards the show’s core themes. Among the Greek and Roman world, Sibyls were special fortune tellers who, rarely moving from their home base, were known for the euphoric, rambling predictions, and were said to be envoys from the gods. Many fortune tellers in the ancient world are widely suspected of having received their prophecies by use of hallucinogens. In fact, the Oracle at Delphi is rather famous for having stood on a sulfur duct while reading out prophecies to visitors. Despite this, many famous leaders utilized the advice of the Sibyl’s, regardless of what was said due to the ancient people’s extremely superstitious nature. The relationship between the public in Psycho-Pass and the Sibyl System is rather similar: regardless of the suspicious advice or predictions fed to them from the Sibyl System, the public still chooses to follow the advice. Like the series of augurs and magicians before it, the Sibyl System only emits a false air of intelligence and fails to give legitimate reasons as to why such prophecies will occur.
Now, this poses an interesting juxtaposition between real detective work and calculated predictions. Naturally, detectives excel in the art of investigation (which is just… beyond obvious). However, detectives are only able to gather concrete evidence and formulate theories until after a crime has been committed since clearly, a crime cannot be investigated if it has yet to be committed. It’s not very difficult to see why the Crime Coefficient rating system is so appealing to the public. After all, if a crime can be predicted, it can be stopped. However, if the crime is stopped beforehand, there’s no real way to prove that the crime will in fact happen. Furthermore, before one actually commits a crime, he or she is by all means in innocent, meaning that the apprehension of such an individual is a clear violation of their rights. The conflict between moral obligations to the “innocent” and the unquestioning loyalty to a 22nd century prophet are the two themes which drive the anime.
All claims of knowledge rest upon four different, widely accepted “ways of knowing,” or in other words, how we “know” what we claim to “know.” Organized from most to least time-consuming, these “ways of knowing” are empiricism, logic, authority, and intuition. Detective work is largely based on the first two, empiricism and logic. Detectives gather information and observe phenomena with the use an investigative process (empiricism), and use logic to connect these events together in a rational, clean way in order to solve a mystery. Because physical evidence is gathered and reconstructed in a meaningful manner, detectives are able to link important events together, place criminals at the scene of the crime, and prove the innocence or guilt of the crime scene’s main suspects. However, the detectives in Psycho-Pass stray far from the norm and rely on the two other methods: the consulting of an authority figure and primal instinct and intuition. Unlike logic and empiricism, intuition and authority are far less reliable in an investigation. Unfortunately, these two methods suffer enormously if given a faulty source and can hardly be considered reasonable ways to investigate a crime.
Because of this, the characters in Psycho-Pass are actually pretty terrible detectives.
First off, an authority figure such as the Sibyl System cannot be consulted in the line of detective work since it completely lacks physical involvement with the case. Ultimately, the Sibyl System is a prediction machine which uses Crime Coefficients to determine the possibility of a crime and not the crime itself. It is not an eye-witness; it is a seer. There aren’t any investigative procedures to be done since crimes have yet to be committed. Although the Sibyl System is culmination of decades of technological advances, the machine is far too smart to understand anything, and makes preemptive calculations to gauge human nature and measure the worth of human beings. On top of this, its predictions dissuade independent thinking within the populace by promoting conformity and reliance on the machine.
Among the detectives in Unit 1, Ginoza stands out as the lone voice of the Sibyl System. Of all the characters seen so far, he’s clearly the most extreme: he’s an automaton, completely dependent on the Crime Coefficients to make solid judgments of other suspects. His hatred is entirely focused on those with high Crime Coefficients, making him rather ineffective when gathering evidence in the field. Since Ginoza’s loyalty has ultimately made him subservient, and since the Sibyl System lacks the ability to give eyewitness accounts, he is ineffective in the field.
However, completely instinctive and linear thinking is also heavily dissuaded, as the series also gives focus to one of the main things that the Sibyl System lacks: intuition. The Enforcers specialize in utilizing their high levels of intuition and human instinct to riddle out crimes. In episode three, we see Kogami’s and Masaoka’s intuition as the main draws to their detective abilities. While Masaoka uses his instincts effectively and waits for an observable phenomena, Kogami takes this to an extreme and forces a result from the factory worker to speed up the detection process. Instead of using proper, orthodox methods, Kogami and the rest of the Enforcers use instinct to solve their crimes, true to their name as the “dogs” of Unit 1.
While intuition is fairly useful because it allows us to tap into “emotional wisdom” and provides the quickest solutions, it’s fairly counterproductive in the line of investigation. The goal of all forms of scientific observation is objectivity, and crime investigation is no exception. As we all know, intuition is highly subjective and dependent on the individual and whether we learn intuition is not something which has been debated since the days of Descartes (Cogita ergo sum) and John Locke (tabula rasa). While psychological tendencies are important to note in a case, having a physical murder weapon or trace of DNA will almost always be far more valuable to an investigation. Regardless of how good the instinct of the enforcers is, they still lack the ability (and willpower) to gather evidence and string together logical, rational conclusions. This all comes into play during the club scene in episode 4: instead of closing off the exits and taking the time evaluate the suspects at hand, the “dogs” decimate the crowd with their Dominators and attempt to sniff out the criminal.
Finally, all forms of reasoning relies heavily on the mental state of the thinker himself. The ultimate goal of an observer is pure, unbridled objectivity, untouched by the subjective filters. When we observe the observer, we must question their motivations, their state of mind, and their biases. Remember: even the detective can be the felon, and the point of view from which the show is presented to us, matters. Psycho-Pass’s police force is riddled with dogs like Kogami, desperate for excitement and the drawing of blood, and machine men such as Ginoza, unable to think for themselves. Such men are too biased, too unfit, and too incompetent to serve as detectives, no matter their skill with a gun.
This is why a girl as woefully average as Akane is introduced as the beginning of change for our police force. Free from the Sibyl System and wise enough to reason on her own, she makes her own decisions, independent from gaps in logic, both internal and external. An individual with average traits and balanced abilities, she chose her own path as an Inspector and remains as the single link to our generation, only inhibited by her lack of experience. In an age where everything is decided by an extreme, she is a progressive, a thinker.
- Just for the record, yes, I do believe the shocking lack of detective work on both sides is an intentional ploy by Urobochi Gen. It’s a rather interesting way to spin the series and I definitely don’t think he’s an idiot.
- I happen to like the show a lot. Moral dilemmas are always interesting to me.
- Words which start with “P” are beautiful.
- PSYCHO-PASS IS DEFINITELY NOT MOE