I hated the second season of the Psycho-Pass anime. It failed to measure up to everything that made the first season so enthralling from its open disregard (assuming it wasn't just plain incomprehension from the hack writer Tow Ubukata) of the setting's rules for cheap forced drama, to a simpering drip of a villain whose plan to collect police guns like they were Beanie Babies going out of style was unintentionally hilarious. It didn't even have the literary name-dropping, and as pretentious as it was in the first season at least it tried. The one thing the second season had going for it was the character of the new Inspector Mika, a marvellously and splendidly loathsome toadying jobsworth with an antagonistic role that was very novel compared to the genki moe of most other kawaii kohais... but saying that they did well to make someone unlikeable still feels like damning with faint praise.
Why have I introduced this review by trashing an anime when I'm supposed to be talking about a manga? To set up the positive contrast that the manga version of Psycho-Pass is a much stronger performance that washes away the bad taste left by the inferior anime follow-up and restores a lot of faith in the series.
The Psycho-Pass manga tells an original story written by Midori Gotou, who has diverse prior experience writing anime scripts including the recently-released Project Itoh movie Empire of Corpses. While the lukewarm reception of a film that struggled to think of more past the late Itoh's unfinished manuscript is not promising for writing another adaptation, Gotou has done good work in the past with the Hell-is-middle-management comedy Hozuki's Coolheadedness and she has prior experience of a setting similar to Psycho-Pass through her work on another cyberpunk show Real Drive. For a start she's recognised what the fans like and so the Psycho-Pass manga is a prequel story focusing on first-season protagonist Kogami, during his earlier days as an Inspector for the Public Safety Bureau of the Ministry of Welfare - that reassuringly bland euphemism for what remains of police and security in a world where crime is almost literally unthinkable.
Gotou has put the effort in to add her own distinctive mark on the Psycho-Pass universe and shows the difference in time in this prequel story not only in showing Kogami before he was demoted to Enforcer but also in a cast of new faces surrounding him - other recognisable characters from the anime such as Ginoza and Sasayama do appear in the background, but other than old-timer Masaoka a new crew is rolling with Kogami. This is a good thing - as well as broadening the setting there's also a subtle world-building hint in that as we're not going to see these new characters in the anime you can see how the outwardly indifferent but secretly all too partial Sibyl System resents its 'manual inefficiencies' of human operators and how often these 'dogs' are put down.
Better appreciation for the world in general is something that helps to put the manga version over the second season. While it seems absurd at first that Kogami can get ordered around by civilians to stop distressing people he's questioning, it makes sense in a society that prizes calmness and propriety above all else; and I can well believe the obsessive pill-popping and fretting over the slightest tinge of their hues shown by other characters - just see how people are constantly checking their Fitbits today. A scene where an Enforcer doesn't know how to show respect in a cemetery is another which also rings very true-to-life with our own distant, sanitised concealment of death too. The characters also do some proper detective work exploring this world, which while a fairly basic breadcrumb trail is at least more involved than the anime's second season where they stood gormlessly in front of some graffiti wondering if "W.C." stood for "Water Closet". Gotou has done better than Ubukata in correctly identifying one of the appeals of Psycho-Pass in that in a world of strict rules the audience's interest and excitement doesn't come from just blindly breaking them - you'd call it unfair on the television as much if it was sprung on you in a game - but cunningly exploiting their loopholes, and ways you can stay in the shadows in a world of total surveillance.
Natsuo Sai's artwork is competent, if undistinctive. Small panels prevent you from seeing much in the way of background or environmental detail, and he slavishly adheres to the anime's visual style with no real personal flair to mark his art out - but that still makes it an effective visualisation with accurate detail of characters and technology. You can hardly fault an adaptor for adapting.
The case that Kogami has to wrap up in this volume is a simple one with no real suspicion to sift through and that may not leave readers of a crime drama enough to chew on to feel fulfilled after finishing it, but there are hints of a larger conspiracy behind the incident. I am interested in pulling this thread to see what unravels, as the Psycho-Pass manga has begun strongly and much more in tune with the Psycho-Pass beat and I'm confident that it will continue to keep step.