Here I will argue that Psycho-Pass belongs to a sort of modern Gothic genre. This is a work in progress and currently an early draft.
This article is very different from the other articles that I’ve written on Geekers Keep, most of which have been reviews of crowd funding projects. Since I haven’t written anything at all in a while, I decided I’d change the pace and go with a bit of theory. I first got the idea of a modern Gothic genre in anime from a lecture on Gothic literature, by Leanna Renee Hieber, at the Steampunk World’s Fair. It occurred to me that in some cases, anime shows that I have watched have more in common with the Gothic genre than they do with the genres to which they are currently assigned.
There are many spoilers in this article. If you have not watched Psycho-Pass, and you don’t want spoilers, please go watch the show first and then come back.
Psycho-Pass is set in Tokyo in the early 22nd century in Japan. By this time, a system known as the Sybil System monitors and advisers all of the citizens. The system uses brain scans, and related information to assign a person a psycho pass and a crime coefficient which determines their mental stability and likelihood to commit a crime. Some people have crime coefficients high enough to be labeled latent criminals. These people are either forced to undergo treatment or are killed, if their crime coefficient is high enough. This is done by investigators from the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division along with enforcers, who are latent criminals who have been given an alternative to treatment, if they are willing to act as the muscle of the division. This is done to distance investigators from the violence of the investigation and help prevent them from having their criminal coefficients increasing to the point where they themselves become latent criminals.
However, this is not always successful, and was not successful for the protagonist: Shinya Kogami. He was originally an investigator, but after becoming too involved in a case, his criminal coefficient increased and he was labeled a latent criminal. The one behind the case was the antagonist of Psycho-Pass: Makishima Shogo.
The Protagonist and Antagonist
Psycho-pass is generally placed into the cyberpunk genre, but I think it actually better fits into “modern Gothic”. Cyberpunk focuses more on dystonian futures, and conflicts between individuals, and while in many ways psycho-pass does represent a dystopian future, instead of being primarily a depiction of conflict between individuals, it is more a conflict between humanity and society.
Another distinction between Psycho-Pass and the general elements of the cyberpunk genre is that the protagonist is less a manipulated individual, forced into the current position, like, along the lines of Rick Deckard from Blade Runner, and is far closer to the fallen character archetype found in Gothic literature. He was initially an inspector: a hero. But his desire to track down Makishima led to an increase in his criminal coefficient and his fall from inspector to enforcer. In addition, his actions are primarily his own, even while an enforcer. Towards the end of the series, he refuses to obey orders and escapes in order to track down Makishima.
As for Makishima himself, he fits the archetype of the Gothic antagonist. He is evil and commits clearly evil acts. He is controlling, usually having others commit his acts for him, has passion and drive: his goal is to understand the nature of people and to rid the world of the Sibyl System, and has a dual nature. While his actions are clearly evil, his goal of destroying the Sibyl System is an attempt to save humanity. This is an essentially heroic position.
The supernatural is a common element in Gothic literature. In many ways, technology counts as “the supernatural” of modern gothic material. This makes sense in many ways. Arthur C. Clarke once said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Even in the case of Frankenstein, there really was no magic. It was science, and specially medical technology, which was used to create the monster.
While technology is prominent in Psycho-Pass, with holographic projectors being utilized to produce overlays for homes, for disguises, etc, it makes up less of the visual element in these shows than it does in cyberpunk. The city itself, aside from the tower which houses Sybil System, the city, while fairly sleep and modern looking, doesn’t really exude an element of futuristic technology.
The only place we really see anything that resembles futuristic imagery is really when we see the Sibyl System itself. Compare that to visuals in movies like Blade Runner.
Gothic literature is obsessed with death. Poems by Poe, such as Lenore and the Tell-Tale Heart, Frankenstein, Dracula, are examples of Gothic literature focused on the topic. Psycho-Pass has a significant element of death involved. Clearly death occurs frequently in Psycho Pass. Murder is an element of just about every single element, and the murders are often bizarre, violent, and grotesque.
A key element for settings in Gothic literature is the castle. There are no castles in Psycho-Pass, and anything set in the modern era wouldn’t really work in a castle setting, but there is an analog. The NONA tower largely takes the place of the castle. While a lot of the events in the anime take place elsewhere, the building is depicted in almost every episode and the Sybil System itself which is a core element of the plot is housed in the NONA tower.
The final issue is what to call this genre. Gothic literature is often separated into various sub-genres, based on the literary age in which they exist. But it is hard to identify the current age, as it is still forming. Given that the internet constitutes such a large component of our age, one potential term is “Interretic.” The word “interrete” is a neologism from Latin, and combines “inter” and the Latin word for “net,” thus literally “internet.”. And so one option for the genre would be “Interretic Gothic.”