12 Days of Anime #5: Self Serving Conflict in Psycho Pass

A key component of Psycho Pass is the relationship between the main villain, Makishima, and the secondary protagonist, Kougami. Since I watched Psycho Pass for the first time in Spring, I think I’m going to talk a little about that. But more than just looking at Kougami and Makishima, I am also going to look at Akane. I am going to look at a central scene of hers and explain why her arc is framed as being ‘greater’ than Kougami’s.

(The following will contain pretty major spoilers of Psycho Pass. I don’t go into much plot details, but literally how the show and major scenes end is talked about)

For those of you who haven’t seen Psycho Pass, Psycho Pass is a scifi detective story following Akane, a new detective, and her partner, Kougami, as they struggle with, and work to defeat, a criminal who exists, in a fundamental way, outside the boundaries of society. In this society people are constantly scanned and examined for ‘criminal tendencies’ and when someone’s thoughts or thought processes become ‘too criminal’ they are jailed as latent criminals. Kougami is an ex-police officer and latent criminal who it is Akane’s job to keep in check as they investigate crimes.

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Throughout most of the series, despite us primarily being presented the world through and around Akane, it is Kougami who does most of the detective work. The plot progresses through his actions. It is he who notices when a crime probably involved Makishima. It is he and his own private detective work that actively reveals who he is. And, at the end of the show, it is he who gets the face to face final encounter with Makishima. Even when Akane comes face to face with Makishima himself, Makishima ultimately ‘wins’ that confrontation. Putting Akane exactly where he wants her for his plans.

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It is probably blasphemy to talk about Psycho Pass without mentioning Yamamoto’s opening. So: here it is. Look at the central conflicts between Kougami, Makishima and Akane in beautiful pop art colours.

Hegel‘s essay on Servitude and Mastery (Or Lordship and Bondage as marxists.org translates it) describes the kinds of actions a self-conscious being must take in order to reach the next step on the path to understanding The Absolute. Hegel being Hegel means that interpretations of this essay vary greatly, including but not limited to, certain interpretations saying the exact opposite of others. I only have a base understanding of Hegel, and I’m certainly rusty, so I’m not going to argue for or against certain readings of it. My lack of knowledge of Marxist texts is also a pretty big weakness here, as I am lead to believe it has important implications in Marx’ own writings.

Instead I am bringing up this Hegellian text here as it covers a kind of conflict that is very much mirrored in Psycho Pass. Akane’s first meeting with Makishima is a pivotal part of her development, as well as the development of the show. Makishima is immune to the Magic Police Guns (Don’t worry about this too much. This is just a part of how the world of Psycho Pass works and is connected to how Makishima exists outside of it) thus she cannot use them on him. Makishima knows this. Their confrontation is separated from the demands of others, bar Akane’s friend who’s being used as a hostage. He challenges Akane, throwing her an old fashioned rifle. “Kill me. Or I’ll kill her.” is the demand.

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When a self-conscious being meets another (or arguably another facet of itself) self-conscious being there is friction. Hegel tells us that such a meeting necessitates a Life-or-Death fight. A self-conscious being is aggressively individual, for it is itself and nothing else, two self-conscious beings are explicitly sel- defeating. If we are to use this lens and look favourably at Psycho Pass, both Akane and Makishima are self-conscious beings. Both of them are aware of, to a certain extent, the rules of their society. Both of them exist, again to a certain extent, outside of it. Throughout the course of the show both of them perform actions or exist through traumas that we are told should make them both appear as latent criminals. Neither of them do. To resolve this conflict, and from it move on, it is required that both self-conscious beings wager their own lives and try with their whole being to take the other’s life. Akane in this scene fails. She cannot bring herself to take Makishima’s life.

Kougami’s final confrontation, the final confrontation the show depicts, with Makishima is far more action packed. Kougami’s ditched the police – is now effectively an escaped criminal – and is chasing Makishima with the sole goal of murdering him as revenge for all the people Makishima has killed. He ultimately succeeded. In his life-or-death conflict with Makishima, Kougami manages to kill him. Kougami, whilst still restricted by the system, is well aware of how society functions and his role in it. I don’t think it would be wrong to say he is also a self-conscious individual under the lens we are using. This time, the life-or-death conflict is resolved in one living, and the other dying. Both lives were wagered, and only one remains.

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Kougami’s success at killing Makishima is not treated as a success by the show. The entire point of Akane chasing him down isn’t just to stop Makishima. She is also attempting to stop Kougami from killing Makishima.

Even though the self-conscious beings are supposed to engage in a truly life-or-death fight, they aren’t actually supposed to kill one and other. In their attempt to bring about only one self-conscious being they are both supposed to survive. That is, they cannot gain a greater appreciation of knowledge and The Absolute without them both surviving. This may sound hypocritical, since Hegel makes it clear they both must genuinely wager their lives and attempt to take the other, but that is just how Hegel’s dialect functions. Through understanding the implicit contradictions within a state of existing itself a being can reconcile it’s beliefs and understandings about itself and the world (This is also why Hegel’s dialect aren’t really a proper methodology, but more rough descriptions on how one can further their own knowledge towards The Absolute). The subjugation of the loser in the conflict, by the winner, is supposed to be of mutual benefit despite their previous fighting. The winner gets to forward their own self interests through the loser. The loser, perhaps more importantly, gets to learn how to forward interests as they work for the winner.

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Ultimately, in Psycho Pass, Akane’s failure to kill Makishima works out in her failure. She grows from such a traumatic, and utterly terrible, situation. She learns the exact nature of her society, who and what is actually deciding what is criminal and what isn’t, and ends up stronger because of it. Her subjugation, both by Makishima and the society in general, results in her uniquely being in such a position where she can begin to chance the society for the better. Change it, without viciously lashing out at all of humanity in the name of self-autonomy. Kougami doesn’t get that. Kougami, through killing Makishima, may have provided the story of Psycho Pass with an ending, and may have gave himself the satisfaction of finally freeing the world from his clutches, but the evil that allowed such a person to exist still exists. The wrongs of the society in Psycho Pass still trap him.

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(Psycho Pass is available for streaming on Crunchyroll! I linked to an extract from Hegel’s Phenomonology of the Mind earlier in this essay, though it isn’t the main translation I studied. I am quite rusty on Hegel so my apologies for any inaccuracies or incredibly controversial readings.)

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2 thoughts on “12 Days of Anime #5: Self Serving Conflict in Psycho Pass

  1. Since you put a spoiler warning, I would have expected your audience to be those already familiar with Psycho Pass, in which case I wonder whether you’d need a paragraph giving some background on the show at all.

    Like

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