Naoyoshi Shiotani is the man behind Psycho-Pass, Production I.G’s psychological thriller set in a dystopian future. Presented from the point of view of newly-recruited detective Akane Tsunemori, the franchise examines the new tracking system known as a Psycho-Pass which was set up by a government body known as the Sibyl System. Used by law enforcement and society alike, the Psycho-Pass keeps track of people’s moods and emotions so that the police will know whether they are at risk of becoming a criminal or not, but the system doesn’t always work.
Shiotani directed the first and second series of the anime, as well as the film, and each medium examines another aspect of humanity and what can be considered justice. It’s a fascinating topic, and his work on the project is the reason that he is here at MCM London Comic Con. MyM Buzz had the chance to meet the director to discuss the series in more detail.
How did you first become involved with Psycho-Pass?
“About eight years ago Production I.G, the studio I work for, had the idea for a new original production anime that sort of carried on the tradition of hard-boiled anime like Ghost In The Shell and, going back a bit, Patlabor, and they asked me to be involved in that.”
It’s quite a dark psychological thriller. What was it about the story that interested you?
“I was interested in trying to express those psychological elements because people are more than just what they look like. The most interesting thing about people is what they think and what they feel, so I was interested in showing that. Also, nowadays people are restricted by intangible things like how many calories are in the food they eat so that was a theme. I created this new word for the series – the concept of mental beauty: it’s not about appearance it’s that you have a beautiful mind.”
One thing that made the first series stand out was its villain Makashima Shogo. You’ve said that he was based on the Joker in The Dark Knight. Why was he an inspiration for him?
“That’s true. It’s not that I wanted to recreate the Joker but that’s kind of the image that I was going for. The Joker in The Dark Knight was something of an unfathomable mystery, and there’s something really fascinating about that. What Makashima says in the series makes sense, but he’s very extreme. He’s kind of an evangelist and he has an attractive quality to him, and I wanted his background, his age, where he’s come from, to be a mystery, and for the same reason his colour is almost invisible. He has no colour, but he has a presence and that makes him a beautiful, mysterious figure.
“He’s kind of a Pied Piper figure – his voice and what he says has the power to draw people even though he, himself, is a mystery which is something that could be said about the Joker figure as well. It’s been around for a long time, this idea, not of tricking people but being able to draw them away. That’s the kind of character I was going for.”
Makashima Shogo was such a strong villain in the first series, how did you approach the character of Kirito Kamui in the second? Did you feel you had to step up your game to make the character better than him?
“That did come up in discussion, but we thought that it would be impossible to go down that same route and we would get lost. So we decided in the second series the criminal, the villain, should be a protagonist so that we could flip things and he could be the main character. Makashima is the darkest character, even though his Psycho-Pass is white, so we decided not to try and surpass him. Another thing is that in the first series Makashima and Kogami are two sides of the same coin, so in the second series we wanted to have someone similar for Akane.”
You were working on the film at the same as the second series, since the ideas are different how did you balance it out?
“Even though they were being made at the same time the idea for the film came first, so we had the first series, then the idea for the film, and then we decided to make the second series to fill in the gap between the first series and the film. So in the film we see Akane has grown quite a lot since the first series; she is able to stand up on her own two feet as an adult and then the second series goes back to explain how that happened, and how she develops from her own point of view.”
In the film we see Akane and the Sibyl system outside of Japan, what was it like to take them outside of their comfort zone?
“Well, in the series the system is being used in a closed society in Japan where it was created. The idea of the film was to see what would happen if we took it outside of Japan, and outside of this stable and finished society, into a world where there are wars and conflict and to see if people would see the system as their saviour or the devil. To begin with I wanted to work with the idea of that the Sibyl system would collapse if it gets too big, it works best in a confined space but the compute evolves so I wanted to look at solving the problems that this leads to and what challenges it faces.”
In the subbed version of the film the voice actors often speak English. Why did you want them to do that?
“Well in Japanese animation as a rule whether the character is Japanese, American, British, Thai or Indian they all speak Japanese because that’s what the viewers would understand, but that’s not how it works in the real world. So I thought it would be interested if characters spoke in their native language and no one had really done that so I thought that I would give it a try.”
You’ve worked on Psycho-Pass and Blood C which are dark and gritty and then on the other side you’ve made Tokyo Marble Chocolate and Oblivion Island which are cute and happy. What was that like?
“I like working on both. I think you have to flip the switch, everyone has light and dark in them and if you make only light and happy things that starts to take over and there’s no balance and then I feel like I want to make something dark. But then if you make too much dark stuff it takes over and maybe you’ll become someone scary or be taken over by fear. So I feel like making something light like Tokyo Marble Chocolate to balance it out. Unfortunately, my sponsors recently all want dark stuff, so at some point I would like to make something happy.”
You’ve said that you had to listen to J-Pop idol groups to get through making Psycho-Pass. What was your experience like working on the series?
“I was working on a climactic scene and I could feel myself almost falling into this swamp, and you start to think you might not be able to get back out again. I rely on something that’s completely different to bring me back to life, so I would be listening to J-Pop and idols while I was working on a scene where the characters might live or die. So I have these cute Japanese girl groups singing songs just to get that balance, I think it’s weird.”
So your sponsors would like you to make more dark stuff and you have said before that there are fewer animes aimed at kids nowadays. Would you like to see Production I.G work on more anime for children?
“I’d like I.G. to make more anime for children and I think they will, they make Psycho-Pass and Ghost in the Shell but they also make fantasy stuff like Oblivion Island which is aimed at kids because there are a lot of talented people there working on a wide range of genres. It just so happens that at the moment a lot more energy is going into Psycho-Pass, but I think they’ll make more children’s anime in the future and I hope I’ll be able to be involved even if it’s not always easy.”