Monday, October 15, 2018

The End of Persona 5: The Animation

I was going to start a different thread this week, especially since my last post was also about Persona 5: The Animation, but I finished the series this weekend and I have thoughts. Also, my next post would have been the first in a new VN Talk series, and if you've read any of those, they're multi-part affairs as I run down every route of a visual novel. The next game in that queue ended up having eight parts due to the large number of routes and I realized that, well, that's two months' worth of posts. Persona 5 isn't going to wait that long.

I also want to get this off my chest because even though I'm going to review Persona 5 for Diabolical Plots, this is all the stuff I'm not going to be able to talk about because of spoilers for both the anime and the game. You've been warned!

(As if the post title didn't give it away.)

So I'm going to talk about Akechi. It's been a year and he's still my favorite character in the game (the little backstabber).

The anime went out of its way to introduce more scenes with him, and at first I was wondering why this was necessary. There's a lot of ground for the anime to cover, and especially as the series goes on, it becomes apparent that there are a lot of filler scenes that the series shouldn't be able to spare. (Even with the eventual ending that they went with, I still think there were a lot of extraneous scenes.)

But the scenes with Akechi aren't necessarily among them.

The cameos, sure, when he's only present for a moment or two, but when he starts helping Ren with Yusuke's side story, that's when getting him involved early begins to pay off. Ren and Akechi become an interesting duo where phantom thief and detective are working together to help someone. It's actually something that I wish had been in the game, as their game incarnations are never in the position where they're helping each other out on equal footing.

It's something that's a lot of fun in other series; two people who would otherwise never work together have to do so for the greater good.

Though we do get that when Akechi joins the team in the game, he also blackmails the Phantom Thieves into working with him, which ruins any chance of them feeling like true teammates who simply have different philosophies.

And the anime has to build Akechi this way because of how and where in the story they chose to end the series. As you likely know if you've read this far, Akechi is the traitor who turns Ren over to the police and the series ends with him apparently putting a bullet in Ren's head. Akechi isn't even the big bad on the human side, with Shido calling the shots, but Shido's presence in the story has been reduced, which makes Akechi the face of villainy as far as Persona 5: The Animation is concerned, and that's why his story had to be ramped up for as much impact as possible. If you're going to end the series with the villain walking off into the sunset that betrayal has gotta hurt.

For the most part, I think the anime does a better job of hiding that Akechi is a traitor than the game did. It's not just the fact he's more of a helpful friend, but the TV format helps a lot. One the things that I noticed in game is that after Ren is captured, his friends spend time worrying about him, but Akechi is absent in all those scenes, which struck me as odd. It looks like he disappears as soon as the casino heist is done, which is like having him wave around a flag to the rest of the Phantom Thieves saying "Hey, traitor over here!"

The anime fixes this by having Akechi clearly with the thieves as they leave, and even ties in his going to Ren's interrogation as an attempt to break him out, because he's literally the only member of their team who can get access.

Also, the weekly half hour format leaves less time for the player to be stewing over potential plot twists. Persona 5 is a 100+ hour game, and Akechi is probably with the team full time for around 10 of those. In the anime, the entire joining the team and betrayal happens in less than two hours (and in the meantime he helps with Sojiro's subplot, further cementing him as a friendly).

Akechi's betrayal also feels like less of a narrative cheat when it does happen because the show does not clearly have a narrator. We follow Ren's POV in the game, so there aren't many scenes that happen without him. Theoretically everything Ren knows that is relevant to the story is something the player knows as well, but it turns out that's not true, especially when it comes to the upcoming twist.

We know from the game that Akechi's killing of him isn't going to stick. A lot of people are posting about how the anime is going with the bad ending of the game, but it's actually not. The bad ending requires Ren to sell out his companions, which he doesn't.

The path to the other two endings involves Akechi killing a cognitive version of Ren, which is exactly what happens here, and works better in the anime without the constraints of Ren's POV.

Since Ren and the other Phantom Thieves are actually aware that Akechi is joining them under false pretenses, this entire arrest and shooting is a setup. We can see the anime supports this because Sae shows Ren's phone to Akechi, which discretely activates the Metaverse Nav to send Akechi into the cognitive world where he will kill a fake Ren without realizing he made a mistake.

This works in the anime to surprise the viewer, because we're not following a particular storyteller but it doesn't work in the game because Ren knows what's happening, but we as the player do not. And it's not like this is backstory that he wouldn't be thinking about. It's critical to saving his life.

I'm not sure if anime-only viewers were fooled by Akechi the whole way through, but I think there's a better chance than with the game players. I wish that Akechi's betrayal had been a thing I was kicking myself over not noticing rather than something I was fairly certain was going to happen.

The anime goes to the trouble of adding Akechi to the end credits after his Phantom Thief costume is revealed, but doesn't update the opening credits to match, which I think is a rare misfire in what otherwise would have been a flawless cover. Granted, it would only have been for a single episode, but still, they did an entirely new sequence for the final episode so it's not like they didn't have the budget.

A special to wrap up the series has been announced, since it's clearly not over, and if they can make it a good two hours long I think that will be enough to wrap everything for real. But now that they've built Akechi up like this, I can't help wondering if Shido is going to be that compelling given that it's been his son who's had our attention this entire time.