I view Urobuchi Gen’s writing is bold, unapologetic, and raw. Someone who writes pieces that stand out from the others, constantly differentiating himself as a writer. Imagination isn’t a quality he lacks. With the huge buzz around Urobuchi Gen‘s new project “Psycho-Pass” more than one was expecting for a new bold project to surprise more than one while others were expecting Urobuchi to shake the very foundations of current anime. All that remaining to be seen.
I came to Psycho-Pass expecting Urobuchi Gen’s “new project”, as advertized, to be an original work made specially for this season, however, I soon found from the beginning that calling Psycho-Pass original, as it stands, is a large overstatement. You see, for those who are unfamiliar with Jouka no Monshou (Emblem of the Sacred Flame) it is a visual novel fanfic by Urobuchi based on the movie Equilibrium. This piece of information is crucial for this entry. The short visual novel is heavily based on the original movie with a few changes yet basically following and using the same setting, similar characters, terminology, message, and story with slight changes to not exactly be Equilibrium again. It is indistinguishably still Equilibrium but written and narrated by Urobuchi Gen, so even when I say Jouka no Monshou to compare it to Psycho-Pass I also mean the original movie Equilibrium.
Crime, civil disobedience, and totalitarianism are the themes for both Equilibrium and Psycho-pass. Jouka no Monshou’s story is set in the future where people who don’t follow rules are considered criminals. The government sends clerics, elite law enforcement agents, as the agents of justice to eradicate opposing forces and anyone who threaten the stability of the current perfect society.
In Psycho-Pass there is device called “Psycho-Pass” that can measure how much of a “threat” to society a person is based on his or her state of mind and personality, meaning that when a person’s “crime level” goes over a certain amount of deviance and this is detected they instantly become a high threat requiring taking care of. The higher the threat level the more dangerous that person is, meaning that the police, the enforcers, are officially allowed to eliminate the target.
The same happens in Jouka no Monshou only that the latter doesn’t have such devices instead the government deems who is a criminal and who isn’t based on flimsy evidence, reports regarding their tendencies to act out, and whether or not they’ve been taking the mandatory drugs called Prozium. When the main character of Jouka no Monshou suspects his partner (another enforcer of the same agency) of enjoying his job as executioner after one of the missions, he is unsure whether or not he should report it to his superiors because his partner is such a famous and respected enforcer. This becomes the main issue of Jouka no Monshou since such acts such as having emotions and enjoyment are punishable by law.
Everyone is required to take Prozium since this is what keeps society stable. Clerics also undergo tests provided by the agency to make sure they’re regularly taking their doses. Jouka no Monshou’s story revolves around the main character suspecting his partner isn’t taking the mandatory drugs, that is, whether or not he is a “sense offender”.
In Jouka no Monshou’s world sharing the beliefs of the ‘Old world’ as well as keeping any type of instrument, books, or art related pieces to the past are punishable by law and thus not allowed in any possible way, same as being a “sense-offender” which is actually having normal human emotions. To believe in such things would make a person a criminal as it would corrupt him. Anyone who still believed, kept the beliefs of the Old world would executed since what they still choose to believe were determined to be what caused the mistakes humankind made in the past. Thus, the people are terrified and also thanks to the drugs numbing their emotions, they are put into absolute submission by their government into becoming good citizens.
Not only the two share the same themes but also similar characters – the enforces. In Psycho Pass, “enforcers”, whose abilities are said to be super human, are dangerous criminals used by a special section of the task force to hunt down other potential and dangerous criminals. Familiar? In Jouka no Monshou these agents who are called “clerics”. Clerics are elite soldiers who belong to the organization who have trained their body and mind into becoming perfect and flawless agents of judgment. Clerics are government official agents (even ranking higher than the militarily in rank and skills) who have mastered their skills becoming killing machines at the beck and call of the government to eliminate those deemed to be threats to society. They eliminate targets using special guns, katanas and by using special martial arts taught by the order they belong to perfectly carry out their missions.
The similarities are palpable. In Psycho-Pass the “clerics” from Jouka no Monshou are the “enforcers” who obey without question the orders from the agents who eliminate criminals. The difference being Jouka no Monshu’s clerics are the ones in charge while in Psycho-Pass they are the criminals who worked under the police but with still similar high abilities and with the same role – used to carry out orders and justice without question.
Again crime, civil disobedience, and totalitarianism are the themes for both Equilibrium and Psycho-pass. The system eliminates threats to society as it sees fit.
Prozium, the drug created to keep humanity from destroying itself any further, it plays the role of keeping humankind under check by getting rid of any type of desire or emotion people may have. Such effect is desired by the government to also control society. To break this rule is a crime punishable by death. People are ordered to take drugs to not stray and fall under what caused the downfall of humanity. Similarly, not only people but also enforcers are ordered to take their doses for the same reasons people do – to not show emotion and to keep themselves under full control remaining the same.
Jouka no Monshou’s justice is absolute and once it is believed that a person is harboring ideas which he or she should have, that will be unable to join society again thus the target must be annihilated. There is basically zero-tolerance when it comes to going against the law, which is exactly Psycho Pass’ point : People are judged based on their state of mind and emotion and whether or not they are threats to society. In both cases justice is absolute, both of them being carried out by special agents sent by the government.
Psycho-Pass mentions that people are susceptible to stress and the effects of drugs. In Jouka no Monshou’s world drugs are the method the government uses to keep society in check. They determined that everything that led to Humanity’s downfall was due to what makes humans human. Emotions and ideas are volatile and thus they change. As they inspired both positive and negative feelings they inspired change and conflict. When people desire things they can aim towards a goal but they can also selfishly wish for what they can’t have. Such disparity led to humanity’s downfall.
To be a “good citizen” people are forced to take these drugs to keep themselves under control. The government in charge punishes those who are found to not have taken their drugs. The fear itself of being “branded a criminal” and being eliminated by the clerics for not taking the necessary drugs make people follow the law without question. Those who don’t agree either escape or join other groups of resistance who hold the beliefs of the old world or simply don’t view taking such drugs as something natural. This is exactly what Psycho-Pass implies in the first episode. The system scares people into becoming good citizens otherwise they are to be punished, thus everyone tries to act like good citizens. The enforcers in Psycho-Pass are the agents sent to deal with criminals when they commit crimes.
By now anyone who has read this far has noticed the resemblances between Psycho-Pass and Jouka no Monshou. In other words the two stories shame similar elements, similar points, and similar type of characters. Jouka no Monshou is more of actual dystopia while Psycho-Pass is more of a dystopia in the works. If you will, approximately something of a prequel to the world of Jouka no Monshou.
However, similarities are not the real issue. I expected something new from Psycho-pass but there is little to be found that wasn’t already in Jouka no Monshou. What I’m finding is the anime version of Urobuchigen’s short VN told in more detail with small changes in some characters but still sharing the same core of the story. For that reason it is impossible to end this entry without expressing a level of disappointment by Psycho-Pass’ premise and delivery when the writer based his latest work on a fanfic he wrote based on an actual movie rather than writing something entirely new for this new project – both the original movie and fanfic being strikingly similar.
As it currently stands Psycho-Pass borrows tremendously from Jouka no Monshou to draw multiple comparisons without the need of even entering the realm of nitpicking. For those who hadn’t read Jouka no Monshou Psycho-Pass will give the impression of an original project with edgy writing and some fresh ideas. For everyone else who is familiar with Equilibrium or read the visual novel he wrote faithfully based on the movie there is limited creativity to be found. As a writer Urobuchi has earned his fame and there still remains to be seen the potential of Psycho-Pass beyond being the prequel to an actual movie. This doesn’t make Psycho-Pass a drop for me yet remains a noticeable hard dent on Urobuchi’s record as originality goes. As is stands, it’ll be difficult to see Psycho-Pass outside the shadow of Urobuchi-gen’s Equilibrium’s Jouka no Monshou for a good while.