「This Place Is My Grave」
This is a part of the anime adaptation that I’ve been anticipating as Futaba’s palace is one of my most recent gaming experiences where I was genuinely devastated by a game. The games I’ve played during the PS360 era hadn’t struck a chord with me like some of my favorite PS2/PS1/Nintendo games. But in 2017, this game, along with Nier Automata, had sections that were truly heart-breaking. One exchange I remember that broke me was when I was navigating Futaba’s palace, and I got into an Interrogation with one of the palace’s shadows where they gifted me an item. At the end of most of the interrogations where enemies are left intact, they often have some spiel about how they will continue to honor their unscrupulous masters. With Futaba, however, the script is flipped. Because her shadow’s manifested desires are in self-destruction, her shadows come to you as defenders of her tomb, so gaining an item means I got to hear about how they wish I wouldn’t disturb Futaba’s final resting place. I’m not sure if it was the soul-draining imagery that the palace’s theme song “The Days When My Mother Was There” brought as its emotional highs amped up the further it went along or the puzzles peeling the layers behind the mental torture that was placed on Futaba, but the way they spoke non-nonchalantly about protecting a suicidal girl’s grave left me the most teary-eyed I’ve been with my PS3.
Apologies for droning on, but the anime is a great reminder of how Futaba’s palace tells such an impactful story that, save for the desert thief chase around the beginning, is designed masterfully to tell a story of the anguish Futaba faced since her mother died ranging from how the puzzles reflected her interest in binary coding and went into detail about how she saw her mother’s death to the palace’s theme song blaring as you progress further into her palace. In the anime, much of the dungeon-crawling is placed in the backseat, but its essence remains with how the characters react to the murals of how Futaba sees the events that lead to her mother’s demise. The way Futaba’s shadow both helps the Phantom Thieves navigate through her palace and throws obstacles for them to get around also lend itself to how fascinating it is to see how her problem with letting people get close to her translates into her Metaverse palace, and at the same time, shows you the role her shadow plays in trying to encourage both the thieves and Futaba to see the truth behind the version of the story she was given. There were some aspects of the palace that were lacking in the anime like how the tomb’s reveal didn’t feel as grand, the missing thief chase on the outskirts of the town, or how they changed the location of the ecchi clothes-sweat gag from inside Morgana’s car form to the entrance of the tower, but at the same time, they made up for it by making their initial appearance in the middle of the desert funnier. They didn’t emphasize how they warped far away from the palace specifically because of Futaba’s avoidant mindset, but it did swap in a humorous Ryuji face.
Luckily, that isn’t the extent of the anime’s changes as many of its inclusions helped to give emotional impact towards specific moments that were missing from the game due to the limitations of in-game graphics or hindsight. For instance, the significance Ann plays in this episode mirrors the vulnerability that players would feel navigating through the tomb. Because she is strongly affected by the imagery of Futaba’s palace, the mural puzzles that revealed her mother’s death, and the voices that plague Futaba’s shadow, we are given more of a glimpse of how much Ann has developed since she joined the Phantom Thieves. As someone who has experienced the feeling of wanting to run away from everything and the distress that pushed Shiho to jump from Shujin Academy’s roof, it’s her empathy and her push for Futaba not to say she’ll die in her room that lets us understand how Ann’s experiences have lead her to want to use her perseverance and strength to help others push back against their cruel situations. Compared to some of the fanservicey moments she’s given, its a welcome change for Ann to be given more to work with as she has far more depth than players give her credit for. The little exposure to Sojiro might not show us all of his layers just yet, but it does brings out more of his understanding and compassion by making him less rough around the edges, allowing it to be more understandable about how his parenting style is a double-edged sword. He wants to let Futaba do as she wishes because she’s had a rough life so early on, but he doesn’t realize he should try to intervene at least to help her overcome her fears or do more to help her out now that the stakes are far higher to trying to make sure her depression does hit the manic peak it has reached within the past month.
There might not be any dialogue from her palace’s shadows, but what the anime does with Futaba’s palace and hallucinations is far more harrowing than I would have imagined. The in-game engine couldn’t entirely capture just how severe Futaba’s point-of-view was, but we are given a front row seat to the visions and voices that Futaba has faced since she shut herself in her room, and it’s entirely understandable why she’s as disturbed as she is during the period of time she’s been haunted by her mother’s death. The blame she places on herself leaves her paralyzed as her shadow starts to writhe at the same time she is left in a catatonic state in her room as the voices continue to hammer on the blame on Futaba for what she was told was “maternity neurosis” brought on by her desire to rid herself of her daughter’s neediness. Seeing Futaba’s eyes upon hearing all of these voices rush to her was horrifying enough, but the nightmare fuel behind her hallucinations hits its peak with how a ghoulish vision of Wakaba looms over her with a murderous stare piercing down at her. Seeing models writhing or portraits looking disturbed is one thing, but the anime’s direction at this point is actually getting the hang of how they should be framing their scenes, using its animated format to enhance moments from the game by fully fleshing them out to bring the most out of the emotional weight these scenes hold. It stopped us around the funny scene where Futaba assumes they can just steal her heart as soon as she pops out of the closet, but it’ll be fun to see how they get to the tail-end of Futaba’s palace where she gets the resolve to push towards the truth.