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'Psycho-Pass: the Movie' packs heat with gore, intellect

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MARCH 17, 2016

The dystopian, cyberpunk anime film Psycho-Pass: the Movie” came to American theaters for a limited run with more grisly action sequences, philosophical heat and badassery than the original anime series has ever delivered.

“Psycho-Pass: the Movie” takes place in the year 2116, three years after the events of the first anime season transpired. In the anime, Japan is peacefully ruled by a bureaucratic computerized system called Sibyl. In the society, inspectors wield specialized guns called Dominators that detect latent criminals by assessing their Crime Coefficient, a number based upon a person’s mental well-being. If the number is high enough, an inspector, or an Enforcer (an officer who is also a latent criminal), can stun or even kill a person on the spot.

Even without prior knowledge of the anime, viewers can probably surmise that Sibyl is ethically and politically sketchy, which makes the “Psycho-Pass” franchise a wonderfully over-the-top thinkpiece. What is even more alluring about the film is the dimension of international politics that isn’t fleshed out in the anime. Though too ample in scope, the film is competent in its unraveling of a world outside Japan.

The film opens with a pulsating terrorist attack in Japan. Investigating the attack, protagonist Inspector Akane Tsunemori, voiced by Kate Oxley, undertakes a mission abroad in Shambala Float, a Southeast Asia Union country that is undergoing civil war as a military government tries to take over and implement the Sibyl System. Deep social divisions exist. Those with low Crime Coefficients are protected by the government, and those without are excluded and even punished. There, Akane encounters former colleague Shinya Kogami, voiced by Robert McCollum, who went AWOL after the first season’s finale. She finds that he is working with rebels against the military government, which they discover is up to no good.

Refreshingly, Akane appears tougher than ever. Her English voice is at first off-putting, because it feels harsher than her usual soft-spoken demeanor. But Oxley’s voice surprisingly suits Akane, who now assertively commands leadership and staunchly compromises with a flawed justice system. Her fleshed-out character is reminiscent of familiar female characters such as Dana Scully from “The X-Files,” who is as aggressively logical as she is compassionate, as well as Olivia Pope from “Scandal,” who is knee-deep in a system she despises. As a female character, Akane is also surprisingly fine by herself, something still rare in American entertainment today. Akane ultimately prioritizes justice over Shinya, who was her love interest in the first season.

There is also much to praise about the movie’s action sequences. The film is not merely visually stunning — it is viscerally enrapturing. Because its primary setting is during a civil war, the artwork is darker than ever, an intricate tapestry full of war zones, gore, guns and explosions. Driving the beautifully noir artwork is the operatic, dramatic music score, which moves along the action and instills in viewers a sense of urgency.

Additionally, “Psycho-Pass: the Movie” delivers savory intellectual dialogues. How many anime films name-drop Frantz Fanon and Marcel Proust? In the fight scenes between Shinya and his foil, the mercenary Desmond Rutaganda, we hear nuanced thoughts about the role of government and violence. As Shinya exclaims, “Mercenaries justifying their actions with postcolonial theory are annoying as shit!” Sidestepping from academese, “Psycho-Pass: the Movie” imaginatively illuminates theoretical problems through excellent storytelling. The movie’s main message? Neocolonialism is horrible.

Of course, balancing badass fight scenes and the philosophical spiels is a tall order, and the pacing occasionally felt rushed. In the condensed viewing time, the lack of “Psycho-Pass” lore in the movie probably confused those who didn’t at least watch the first season of the anime. Moreover, it would have been nice to see more of Akane’s team, because we barely get scenes with beloved characters such as Yayoi and Shion. And while there are substantial moments with Gino, who arguably grew even hotter with his new sleek ponytail, they aren’t quite satisfying.

But all of these flaws are trivial in comparison to the rigorous depth, excellent character development and gorgeous artwork that the film has to offer. Is it worth watching? For both fans and newbies, the answer is a resounding hell yes.

Contact Stacey Nguyen at [email protected].

MARCH 17, 2016