Hello and thanks for reading. This post is part of my series of articles Anime Themes An Exploration. Today I will be talking about Justice and Utopia in Psycho Pass and Death Note.This will be an in-depth topic so there will be spoilers for the shows. However, If you don’t mind spoilers this article may just put the shows in a new light if you’re on the fence about watching the shows. Regardless you have been warned spoiler alert. With that out of the way, we can begin.
You’re probably wondering why I would pair these two shows together in a discussion about justice and utopia. I paired them together because in a few ways they are similar in the themes they explore but mostly because of how they use the storytelling format to explore these themes in different ways.
At the heart of both shows is the theme of justice. How do you define it? How do you enforce it? How far are you really willing to go to uphold it in the service of creating a utopia. A fair safe and just society for everyone. They also teach lessons in how it can be corrupted and twisted and both talk about establishment vs a single person or a few.
In Psycho Pass, a system is already in place at the beginning of the story called The Sybil System. To create a better world people accepted a new type of technology that could judge human actions fairly without bias. At least that’s what the people were led to believe. Having accepted a system that can analyze and decide what’s best for you in every part of your life and protect you from criminals.
You wonder how people could accept a system like this. Obviously, it works but at what cost as we see there are no prison systems in Japan just rehabilitation centers which you could say is a nice word for prison, but it seems maybe if people is crime coefficient go down they can get out. The problem is if someone is deemed a serious threat they are immediately executed by enforcers and inspectors. Where is the morality in that, and doesn’t human life mean more?
At the heart of the show is the realization for the two main characters Kogami and Akane that the system is flawed. They come to this conclusion when a man who can’t be judged by the system Makishima Shogo commits heinous acts and is a terrorist bent down on taking the system under.
The crazy part is as the characters interact with him mostly Kogami he becomes a voice of reason to how crazy it all is. Causing the characters to look within and think about what a just society is and whether utopia is something that is actually a good thing. This is further evidenced by how shady the officials in charge are by trying not to put Makishima on trial like in our times.
He has obviously killed but won’t be sentenced to death like the other criminals who get shot up by the denominators. An interesting note is that as the series progresses and we learn more about the system we see that Makishima may be a type of anti-hero and right even if a villain.
In this case, the establishment is the bad guys. Their evil and cannot be trusted and this is further validated when we learn the society is run by a vat of thousands of brains of intellectual psychopaths. Ones that want to make Makishima part of them because he is similar.
Yet between the two main leads, Kogami ends up killing Makishima taking Justice into his own hands and is condemned but gets to live another day. While Akane learns the truth and even though disgusted believes the Sybil System is the best thing for Japan at the moment because if it were gone it would deteriorate. The establishment stands and even though Makishima had a noble ideal he perished because he was evil.
Psycho-pass shows the flaw of blindly accepting everything your government does or tells you. It is interesting it doesn’t take a stand against the Sybil System. In the movie, we learn the state of the outside world and why Sybil is crucial.
The show seems to say Sybil can be good as it shows Akane being the system is the voice of reason throughout both seasons pushing for a better sense of justice and governing but at times takes a counterpoint with Kogami. He is someone who realizes justice without connection and true accountability is a farce. Should human lives be left to a fate of a system in my opinion no?
Deathnote is such a stark contrast to this in that it follows one main lead with a few main secondaries. You have the establishment which is pretty much like our current world. Light starts off as a Kogami though in opposite respect.
He doesn’t like the current system and believes it is failing he feels the worst criminals should be executed and using the Death Note decides to take that upon himself. He goes against the current justice but is wrong not taking into account connection and responsibility. That a human life is precious and should be weighed carefully.
Thus he ends up becoming like a worse version of Makishima. Whereas Makishima was evil his ideal was a bit nobler. Whereas Light betrays good values killing more and more without concern including good people who oppose him.
He says he wants a utopia but has lost himself wanting to become a god. The establishment fights back and in the end like Makishima Light perishes. Though what remains is the force of good.
The people in Death Note take into account what Light is trying to do and the system he is trying to establish. They question and realize the right sense of values. Not everyone but the people who count like the authorities. True justice is upheld.
The ironic thing is that in both shows you have two forces that are vying to establish a new world or uphold the recent one they are currently in. Light is a psychopath and the Sybil System is made up of psychopaths. They uphold themselves like gods like Light and have succeeded in establishing a new world at least in Japan and hope to expand to the whole world, They judge without true regard for human life like Light.The difference is they were backed and secretly formed by the establishment. Though it has not been expanded on in the stories. We can assume something terrible happened in the world of Psycho-Pass forcing Japan to do what they did by necessity but does that make it right? In contrast, Light is world is still doing well. So people have more of their sanity
Justice propels both shows adding different levels to the stories as it progresses and affecting every character that shows up. With each, you come to different conclusions. With Psycho Pass it’s the understanding that terrible situations and not understanding the establishment can lead to what some might call a necessary evil.
Even if that might not be the case it is quite possible you can’t beat the establishment at least not alone because you could ruin millions of lives. So for the time being you tolerate the establishment with the hope of a better future. It also teaches that any ideal enacted through evil means can cost you dearly even for the sake of justice.
Death Note is the warning of how misplaced ideals can twist you, That power corrupts absolutely and justice can’t be placed only in one person’s hands but needs to be delegated carefully. That killing the worst criminals and making people live in fear is not the best choice for utopia and also bringing it about.
It’s interesting to note how Sybil in Psycho-Pass acts like Light but with restraint realizing they can’t make the public live in fear at least not on a surface level but they need to enhance their lives and give them some sense of satisfaction. Maybe another underlying message is several people are better than one.
Regardless I agree more with Deathnote is lessons. It’s a more optimistic approach to people rallying behind true justice and good ideals in the face of someone that presents themselves as doing the same thing.
I don’t think Akane is right for keeping quite about the Sybil System. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the peace even if it could ruin the lives of millions. If what is presented is a lie and is based off rotten foundations and inhumane things in the literal and spiritual sense.
Probably utopia is not a good thing and most likely to achieve anything like that would involve sacrificing human freedom and many other liberties such as the right to privacy. Another thing that is prominent in Psycho-Pass.
Ironically in the world today we could face a similar crisis. As technology expands what are we willing to sacrifice especially to keep ourselves safe. Can sweet promises of a better world and society make us agree to things we have not really reflected on. It is an interesting question and one who is answers could take various forms.
That will end it for my theme exploration of Psycho Pass and Death Note.