By Patrick Larose
The police procedural is to me what grilled cheese is to most people—it’s my comfort food. The narrative beats and structural format hit me like a good song with that experience of getting to watch some jaded but good-hearted cops push through the morbidity of the every-day murder and the explore the personal frustrations and weaving webs we create just in carrying out our day-to-day lives.
Despite real life police corruption and brutality, the police procedural has become a type of populist fiction—a warm and faint promise of good people in the places you want them and exploring the problems and conflicts that arise on the every day. Whether that’s the interpersonal tension of a suburb or the abuse and entrapment down to sex workers, they can shift between the different levels of our Western social-economic realities in a way that most genres can’t.
Do they often do this poorly? Definitely. The average procedural is usually pretty blunt and ill-informed but that potential and promise still hang there, keeping the form alive indefinitely.
The police procedural format is what made me interested in the first season of the Psycho-Pass anime and it’s a genre that isn’t often utilized in that medium. Sure there’ll often be anime about detectives investigating a singular string of crimes over a particular season or, like Ghost in the Shell, investigate multiple small mysteries within their hyper-specific purview. Never have they provided as broad of a cultural slice into our relationships with crime the same way that Western procedurals do.
Psycho-Pass was different. Psycho-Pass was a tried and true cop procedural but this time with a dystopian future angle. This force would be the villains in any other story as the police monitor and murder people based on their emotional states and all enforced by violent criminals.
Instead, Psycho-Pass anchored its focus on Akane Tsunemori, a newly assigned inspector to the force and one driven by optimism and an eagerness to prove her worth. By following her and her work within the “Sybil System”, we get to learn with her the imperfections of her society and the police’s troubling role within it. This was a science fiction series that gradually worked the viewer through the motions of just how really broken and horrifying this dystopian was and we got to see a protagonist react and grow from this information.
As much as I liked Akane as a protagonist, Shinya Kogami became the break-out character. He was enforcer—one of the violent criminals taken from their cells to chase down other criminals—but he used to be a legitimate cop in the exact same position as our inspector Tsunemori.
Kogami was aloof, cynical and with a Sherlock Holmes-esque intelligence. He got naked frequently and all these things strung together filled the outline for every over-popular fictional character in existence. He was Wolverine. He was Dirty Harry. He was BBC’s Sherlock. He’s a jerk that’s super smart and handsome who always gets the guy and is the best at everything even if he has a temper and doesn’t play by the rules.
I didn’t like him.
The first volume of this manga shows Kogami before all his cynicism. Rather than Enforcer Kogami, he’s Inspector Kogami and leads her own squad of enforcers as they investigate cloned organs and mysterious deaths within a private hospital.
The manga wants us to pay attention to how different the character comes off as he doesn’t yet understand how broken the system he works in really is. The manga wants to hang that dramatic irony of the future over everyone’s head, inching us towards the event that’ll turn a rookie investigator to a broken and violent man.
Yet even though the manga strips him of his cynicism and resentment, they don’t opt to give him anything in their place. He’s more akin to a walking cardboard cut-out than a character as he explains every clue and stays silent as his burgeoning cast try to fill in the personality void with their own quirks.
The results feels almost like a just dessert—empirical proof that Kogami wasn’t as interesting as everyone thought. The flaw in removing the character and placing him in the prequel story is that it ignores the reason the character worked in the original series, to begin with.
Kogami served as a potential parallel to Akane as she has to face the reality that their violent work might dig so deep into her skin that she’ll never get out. He was a mystery to unravel of how a cop becomes a criminal in this world and his subdued and quiet personality made him stand out from the other Enforcers. His character was interesting because his character had a narrative purpose within the story being told and the static nature of his personality made him a constant in Akane’s expanding reality.
The manga, unfortunately, reeks of a cash-grab. The central mystery doesn’t explain much about the world or provide any vulnerable character with which to hang the stakes of the mystery.
The pages take our detectives from empty room to empty room, finding physical pieces of evidence and announcing them aloud. There’s no one needing defending, no aspect of the world to mine for its weird details or others' personal connections to it which in turn defeats any idealism or intrigue that works within the police procedural genre.
The investigators never quite figure out an explanation for why anyone should care about organs potentially being stolen and no one is around to vouch for the murder victims. The story never tries to say anything about how the hospitals and medical realms of this world really affect or engage with its people. There’s corruption to be revealed but said corruption never that seems to impact anyone in the story.
This is a mystery without a consequence—a crime without any palpable victims which makes the investigation like flipping through note cards in a blank white room. There’s an intellectual mechanism with the mystery, hard facts and situations to build a coherent structure, but the process then becomes only intellectual. None of it matters because there’s no one in the story for it to matter to. This becomes only a criminal without victims pursued by police protecting no one.
Without those people, without those needing protection and help—there’s nothing to justify even the existence of an operating police force. So by the end of the book, there’s no police story because there’s no one needing to be protected or served.
Psycho-Pass: Inspector Shinya Kogami vol. 1
Writer: Midori Goto
Artist: Natsuo Sai
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics