W a r n i n g : This essay analyzes the complete plots of two very good animated stories, Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass. If you enjoy science fiction and you have not watched these shows, please do not read this essay until you have completely watched these shows.
Spoilers await below.
In the real world, we recognize that many fictional characters on TV have particular demographic characteristics because marketing priorities outweigh fictional plausibility. For example, many science fiction stories feature highly accomplished African-American computer specialists, even though African-Americans are under-represented in the higher ranks of the computing field. Likewise, many visually attractive female TV characters are given lesbian relationships simply because visual images of attractive women playing at lesbian intimacy are a proven way to sell a lackluster TV show.
Two recent science fiction shows, Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass, have presented dystopian worlds that initially look somewhat alluring. Shin Sekai Yori presents a society where humans have abandoned most technology and live a pastoral existence, but this society uses psychic super-powers and strict censorship to hide sinister secrets. Psycho-Pass presents a sleek, gleaming, ultra-modern world with customized consumerism and holographic entertainment concealing totalitarian injustice. Both shows lead through darkness, disappointment, and sacrifice to end with qualified hope.
Shin Sekai Yori starts out with a young girl, Saki, who has a bit of a crush on Shun, a talented boy. She displays a typically feminine blush when he touches her hand in Episode 3.
There are a few hints of childhood crushes until Episode 8, which depicts how this society strongly enforces bonobo-like bisexuality.
While many prurient sci-fi stories feature bicurious girls, a society that enforces more-or-less mandatory gay sex on boys would be regarded as dystopian by many male sci-fi fans. It is not clear that most boys in this fictional society suffer from this, but Saki jealously defends her lesbian girlfriend from a male romantic rival, who clearly feels deep distress.
As the story progresses, Saki concludes that her society is evil and that there will be no hope until society changes. The society is not entirely dominated by women, but there are many important female authority figures, including a sadistic judge who sentences an important character to be tortured. In the final episode, Saki marries a long-term friend, but the marriage inverts Japanese sex roles: in Japan, the bride is supposed to blush; in Shin Sekai Yori, the bridegroom looks considerably more flustered than the bride.
The series ends with Saki in a stable, prosperous life, waiting to carry her pregnancy to term and hoping that her society will be better in the future. This fictional happy ending is in stark contrast to Japan’s actual demographic future: in real life, Japan is undergoing demographic collapse.
The protagonist of Psycho-Pass is a bobbed-haired gamin who recently graduated with the highest possible grades and test scores. She becomes a police officer because few people in her over-civilized society have the aptitude for police work. She has considerable heterosexual tension with the lone-wolf anti-hero. Most of the men in her department get demoted and punished for showing ordinary male assertiveness. Two lesbian police officers in her department are a couple; they have no hopes of promotion, but they stand little risk of demotion. They pose no threat to the system. Male officers, by contrast, are loose cannons who are punished for light infractions. The boss of the department appears to be a woman in late middle age (until she is revealed to be an android); apparently a female chief of police is seen as more politically sustainable than a scary male police chief. The senior detective of the police force gets demoted because of his masculine loyalty to his ideals, but becomes more ethically confident.
The main antagonist is a brilliant criminal genius who reads obscure books; he is both a philosopher and a criminal mastermind. The lone wolf anti-hero sacrifices any chance he might have to be with the protagonist in order to fight the antagonist.
After the climax, the denouement reveals that the lesbians are still a couple, the main character has been promoted, and the lone wolf anti-hero is an international fugitive from justice who has begun reading obscure books, much like the antagonist whom he killed. The unjust social system is still firmly in place. Both the protagonist and the anti-hero have resolved to resist the injustice of the system, but they have sacrificed their chance at romance with each other.
Both Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass present dystopian societies that repress traditional masculinity. Shin Sekai Yori presents a world where traditional masculinity is not a realistic option: all boys will have to undergo enough homosexual experiences to prevent them from ever being traditionally heterosexual. By contrast, Psycho-Pass has several extremely masculine characters who are apparently heterosexual, but who are so focused on their masculine pursuit of violence that they apparently have no time for romance or sentimentality; all of these characters are marginalized as criminals, and two of them end up dead. I suspect these anti-masculine dystopias resonate with male Japanese viewers precisely because those viewers feel that Japan represses their masculinity.
Japanese society is frequently sensationalized in international media for the small fraction of its male population that actually commit sex crimes; subway gropers and lecherous teachers are standard tabloid headline fodder. It is also no secret that the Japanese television audience has many soushoku danshi – grass-eating boys who have given up on achieving high salaries, successful marriages, and other traditional attributes of Japanese masculinity. It is less well-known that Japanese society engages in witch hunts against ordinary men who show the slightest signs of masculine assertiveness. Two sci-fi series, Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass, can be interpreted as social critiques of how current Japanese society undermines and suppresses traditional masculine sex roles. At present, Japan has many alienated men and a sub-replacement birthrate. If Japan can continue its repression of traditional masculinity but maintain a sustainable birthrate, it might drift toward a world that resembles Shin Sekai Yori; otherwise, it might develop an uncanny resemblance to the centrally-planned, computerized totalitarianism of Psycho-Pass.