The prologue sequence to Psycho-Pass (33 episodes, available on Hulu) is a barrage of clichés. We get a heavily populated cityscape filled with robots and advertisements lifted from Blade Runner. Atop the city’s tallest tower, Spike Spiegel doppelgänger Shinya Kogami battles through his wounds against a mysterious albino figure. This is his destiny, or so we’re told. Don’t let this opening fool you! “Crime Coefficient,” the first episode of this Japanese sci-fi police procedural, has plenty of originality to offer.
A lot of the episode focuses on necessary world-building and exposition. In Psycho-Pass, citizens are routinely scanned by the omnipresent Sybil System, an AI that can algorithmically determine your likelihood to commit a crime. This likelihood is a number — the coefficient of the episode’s title. If it gets too high, the police are alerted. Having receiving such an alert, rookie Inspector and audience-surrogate Akane Tsunemori reports for her first case, a hostage situation in an under-patrolled block of slums. Her backup consists of her humorless boss Ginoza and two Enforcers, Tomomi Masaoka and Kogami (the prologue is a flash-forward). Enforcers are latent criminals, people with high crime coefficients and de facto dangers to society. Rather than be locked up, the police use these people’s intimate understanding of the criminal element to corral new offenders.
Armed with a Dominator — a sidearm complete with a crime coefficient scanner — Tsunemori and Co. search the slums for their hostage. The episode is tense and well-paced. All of it takes place in the slums, with the exception of the prologue. The characters are given enough development over 25 minutes to pique interest and leave room for intrigue. Exposition is consistent, but interlaced decently with the plot. The real hooks for viewers here are the implications and questions raised by the show’s premise. Is it wise to let an AI be judge, jury and executioner (Dominators have a lethal mode) for an entire society? What factors go into determining a crime coefficient? Is rehabilitation possible if criminality is determined by biological probability?
The third act gets especially nasty when the police rescue the hostage, only to be told by Sybil that she is also a threat to society. Her time with her captor (and rapist) has pushed her over the edge; lethal force is authorized, please aim carefully. There’s a great scene between Kogami and Tsunemori that undoubtedly jades the charming neophyte. How many more cases can Tsunemori handle before her own crime coefficient starts to rise? Is it possible that the Enforcers are former police detectives that got too close to the psyches they sought to subdue? And how does the Sybil System deal with a sociopath, devoid of moral compass and the apparent biological keys used to determine criminality? If you have a taste for cynical, gritty police drama, sociological themes wrapped in a sci-fi sheen, and guns that pop people like balloons, you’ll definitely be tuning in for Psycho-Pass‘s next case.