Reflections on “Psycho-Pass”

Psycho-Pass takes place in a cyberpunk dystopia ruled by a totalitarian AI dictator. Cyberpunk stories are often about evading the law. What makes Psycho-Pass special is its protagonist is a police officer.

Tsunemori Akane’s job is to suppress crime. This involves suppressing violent criminals, which is a good thing. The AI’s surveillance state makes it possible to suppress crime before it happens, which is even better. Potential criminals often include punks, radicals, gays, artists, musicians, visionaries and detectives which is…

Wait a minute.


If Psycho-Pass was written in America then Tsunemori’s character arc would be a journey of disillusion. She would be commanded to do something unethical. Tsunemori would refuse. Her valiant act of disobedience would instigate a cascade of disorder leading to a revolution and the eventual overthrew the oppressive system.

Society would collapse. Millions of people would starve off-camera. Japan would plunge into civil war. Violence would permeate all corners of society.

Tsunemori had the exam scores to do anything. She chose to be a low-paid low-prestige Inspector of the Public Safety Bureau.

The law doesn’t protect people. People protect the law. People have always detested evil and sought out a righteous way of living. Their feelings–the accumulation of those peoples feelings–are the law.

―Tsunemori Akane

Tsunemori Akane’s nemesis equips potential criminals with the tools to indulge their desire to commit evil against others.

I want to see the splendor of people’s souls.

―Makishima Shougo

Makishima doesn’t care about evil or freedom per se. What he really wants to know is what do you care about more than anything else in the world? What would you sacrifice your friends, your society and your morality for?

Tsunemori values the rule of law above all else. Makishima values his individual humanity.

Psycho-Pass doesn’t strawman crime by conflating rule of law with freedom, fairness or democracy. In Psycho-Pass, the authorities routinely violate their own laws. The system is corrupt to the core.

Where Psycho-Pass really shines is the scene where Tsunemori is forced choose between law and consequentialism. Makishima contrives things such that Tsunemori wouldn’t even have to technically break the law. All she would have to do is break protocol. Tsunemori chooses instead to sacrifice the thing she loves most.

Tsunemori acts perfectly in character for herself. Makishima acts perfectly in character for himself. I empathize with Tsunemori. I associate with Makishima. I would put people in similar situations if[1] I was an evil psychopath too.

I notice I am confused. I too want to see the splendor of people’s souls. My desire is a luxury born of privilege paid for by the likes of Tsunemori Akane.

  1. I am neither evil nor a psychopath. ↩︎