I could honestly count the amount of animes I’ve enjoyed on one hand. Usually the sense of humor does not mesh with me; I become annoyed by the fan service or I get frustrated in how nonsensical it generally is. Psycho-Pass is a rare exception. Even season two, where it sags in quality, is enjoyable (on a level) and interesting while bringing (somewhat) new things to the table. In the end though, I wonder to myself: maybe the expectations were too high for Mandatory Happiness to hit.
Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a visual novel based on the anime Psycho-Pass. Whoah, whoah, whoah, before you run out the door screaming “NOT FOR ME!”, hold on. I know the word “anime” triggers horrifying flashbacks to Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z and hentai.
Remember a paragraph back where I listed the things that get on my nerves in a Japanese animation? Psycho Pass, the anime, has none of that. What it has instead is a dystopian cyberpunk world involving enforcing predicted-criminals Minority Report style. People get a mood-ring color and a criminal-psychology score. If the colour gets too dark and/or the score gets too high (often both), you get put into jail for life or blown up on sight. What makes you deranged in the eyes of the system? Well, it isn’t fully understood and there are a lot of loopholes. There’s more, but the editor is tapping his foot in impatience for the actual review of the game.
You play as one of two new characters. Your picks are a female inspector who recently lost her memories, and a male enforcer who is hunting for a woman from his past. If you’ve already taken a crack at guessing the big plot twist of both, then you’ve taken the bait. This bait that is rubbed into your face forcefully full-out with the grace of a nuclear bomb. Due to said facial exertion, it become irritating incredibly quickly how blithering the cast are about this connection.
Beyond this frustration, the reality is that the two characters make for an interesting experience. While the main plot we get is largely the same, you do get to experience it from two very different angles. These include radical changes in the decisions you get offered and noticeable new scenes to read. It makes for a delicious slice of replayability.
Although, of course, this is only as good as the main plot. It is based within the events of season 1 (after about the 8th episode) and does make references to the prior events. Fortunately, without spoiling the anime, it stays mostly true to the established plot. There is the odd hiccup every so often; a major one being no reveal of whatever happened to the newly introduced characters between this and the 9th episode of the anime. Overall, it is mostly true.
Where it begins to waver is the newly added content. One such addition is the antagonist, who is an AI program called Alpha. Without going into spoilers, the motivation is severely lacking. Those who are hunting for an intellectual opponent with a motivation rooted in philosophy (like season 1, 2 and the films) will be disappointed as it is pure basic self-interest. He is semi-sympathetic in his drive, but it just lacks the thought-provoking dialogue the prior material presented.
Overall, besides this, the plot is inoffensively forgettable, usually. Sadly, it never manages to propose something intriguing or dramatic, instead usually being just functional. The only exception is an unusual appearance of a comical moment that clashes with the typical tone of Psycho-Pass. This comes in the form of a curry scene that raises enough contradictions and lore problems to feel written by a guest writer randomly. The best comparison to said scene would be like someone doing a Monty Python skit halfway through Schindler’s List.
Besides the sudden dip in quality, while not necessarily bad, the plot does betray the strength of the original anime.
There is a similar feel to how choices work. It is the standard affair of every so often being prodded to make a decision that can have consequences later. The main problem arises from how it is possible to get locked into a bad ending no matter how hard you try, and to have no idea why. I tried going back to the prior choice and trying the other two options, but both still sent me doomed to a bad ending. It was pure luck that I found two endings after a good few hours of applying head to wall over and over.
The overall score for Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness is a 5.5/10. While I walk away unable to say I had a bad time, I struggle to say it was a particularly memorable one. It ends up unable to function as a welcoming mat into the series, as well as incapable of shrugging off disappointment from fans. Instead, it functions as substance for those who hunger for more. Even then, said substance is akin to punching handfuls of breadsticks down your gullet. I can’t help but feel it is better to sneak to another visual novel wine-bar and just get drunk on the cheapest vinegar-tasting booze they have. Although, there is nothing to say you can’t be the visual novel fan equivalent of a bum and live off breadsticks and hobo wine.
A PS Vita Review Code for Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness was provided by NIS America for the purpose of this review