OP3: 「Dark Sun」 by Lyn
「I Won’t Let It End Here」
I didn’t think I would be writing about the anime ending this weekend. With the Morgana bus traveling to other episodes hinted at ones much further down the line. They even animated the second OP after all this time. However, they pulled the rug out from underneath everyone by regulating the anime’s continuation towards an OVA at the end of the year. Instead, anime-only viewers have the delight of seeing the part of the game where Akechi shoots Ren in the face. Yup, that’s how the game ends…
Except it plays out like this in the regular good ending of the game and we’re only three quarters of the way through the story. Part of the hazy memory that he has with Futaba and Morgana regarding a plan triggers a response from Ren to have Sae show Akechi his phone, resulting in the scene playing out as it is in the anime; Akechi shoots the guard and then triumphantly shoots Ren, ending the Phantom Thieves’ story on a down note, or so it would seem. The bad endings in the game that result in Akechi also shooting you are either if Ren took a deal with Sae to reveal the names of the Phantom Thieves/Confidants or if you don’t reach the deadline for palace and have Ren give incoherent answers about a hypothetical fail state that cause Sae to walk away without helping Ren.
I clarify this because the ending of this episode isn’t any of the game’s bad endings, but rather how it normally plays out. But without context on anything following the shooting, it is bound to create a lot of rancor with anime-only viewers. In fact, it would seem like an incoherent way to end the show considering that, without any of the scenes afterwards explaining how Akechi was never on their side to begin with, it seems like a completely out-of-the-blue way to end it with his betrayal and cutting off the entire section just like that. If you’ve played the game, you know what happens next and why Ryuji smiles and says “Just kidding!” But as a standalone anime, having Akechi shoot Ren in the face, walk away to the final dungeon’s music, and Ryuji smile in the darkness comes off as entirely confusing.
It has a hard time distinguishing itself between being an anime created for fans of the game vs. an anime created to bring the game’s experience to television, so it ends up creating an ending like this that doesn’t take anyone enjoying the anime for its story into account when it’s all so slapped together. Did everything Ren plan amount to nothing? Does Akechi ever escape the hallway? Is Ryuji the mastermind? It’s a level of incoherence you’d expect from an original anime with too many cooks in the kitchen, but the video game had its entire story planned out. If the twist that the directors have was “We’re just going to end it when Akechi shoots Ren and then let viewers wait for an OVA to answer the questions that we left out by not adapting the remaining 25% of the game,” then it placed too much value on the twist of the interrogation being that Akechi was the traitor all along. Almost anyone could’ve predicted that since him being the traitor was the least significant of the twists of that night alone, but it rode so much on the traitor’s identity this late in the anime that it didn’t reveal the juiciest part of what happens after.
Not only does the ending feel like a lazy, slapped together attempt to troll the audience by making its ending sequence incoherent for newer viewers, but Ren’s bonds with his confidants also feel unearned. By this point in the game, you’d have interacted with each of your confidants to the point of being at least halfway through their routes. With the anime, most of these characters have barely even reached Rank 2 of their confidant stories, so it’s odd to see all of the confidants look stunned or concerned for Ren’s arrest when he hasn’t had a deep conversation with most of these guys. It was neat to see how they tied in Toranosuke to the upcoming election against Shido, but it’s also strange to hear him so inspired by the Phantom Thieves and Ren when he only held an umbrella for him at that point. “This kind young man sheltered me from the rain once, so I want to run for his sake and the Phantom Thieves!”
There were some interesting tidbits in addition to the Toranosuke’s election woes such as Makoto’s point-of-view when Ren gets arrested, Akechi meeting with everyone to take it upon himself to “save” Ren, and, as always, seeing more of Sae Niijima is perfect. However, the sour taste comes from the notion that not only has the anime ended at this specific point in the game, but they subsequently announced an OVA, possibly to rush through the last chunk of the game. There’s a level of cynicism from all of this because of the anime’s investment in Akechi’s story and the idea that they framed it in such a clumsy cliffhanger that it only begs to question how much stock did Cloverworks take in turning the anime into Akechi’s show at the price of the viewer’s understanding of the game and its universe.
Persona 5 the Animation was an adaptation with a tall order to fill: condense about 100-120 hours worth of gameplay and story into an anime. While they ended it before the party got to explore the final two palaces, they took up the challenge of trying to do justice to about 75% of the story. Did they accomplish that? Well, it depends.
For all intents and purposes, there were plenty of growing pains with how sloppy the Kamoshida arc was handled and how the art looked. It turned off a wide range of viewers, and what was intended to be the strongest arc of the game that drew players into playing further made a lot of viewers’ minds up on whether they actually wanted to continue watching the anime. The problem with the animation never really went away as there were only select moments when the artwork didn’t look off-model. It would ultimately be the anime’s most damning indictment that drove many potential viewers away and looked like an aspect that would never be solved without the possibility of Bluray edits.
How the anime told the game’s story looked like it was improving with Madarame’s arc, but the show’s pacing was clearly a double-edged sword. Mediocre moments like the summer trips, beach scenes, and culture festival did touch on some of the events of each rather than skim through them. They also made a more concentrated effort to have the characters hang out more and treated them like actual friends instead of casual acquaintances. Ann and Makoto’s friendship in particular was a high note in the anime as they had very cute chemistry together as Ann helped Makoto come out of her shell to enjoy going out on shopping trips or enjoying things without worrying about the others. However, great or important moments were cut short or denied of any of the gravitas that they should have had such as the events of Yusuke’s and Sojiro’s confidant routes. Confidants in themselves were underutilized, and though it might be to help tell the rest of the story without bogging down the pace of the story, the anime did very little to show that Ren was making a positive change in their lives, and only told their relationships from the one-sided perspective of merely helping Ren with his dungeon-crawling.
With the impact that the poor artwork had with the animation quality, the breakneck pacing’s negative affects on the storytelling, and the lack of development for most of its main cast, the Persona 5 anime felt far more half-hearted than it needed to be. It is difficult to tell such a massive story, but with the amount of planning that had to have happened, these elements should have been more finely tuned to prevent the quality in storytelling and animation from deteriorating to the extent that it did by the end of the anime. The decision to regulate any final moments towards an OVA is also an insult that spits on the face of anyone who had followed this show expecting to at least have the story fully told to them instead of outright cutting it off right when the OP was finished and around the same time the last ED sequence hinted towards the anime reaching beyond 30 episodes. I guess we’ll have to wait until December to find out what exactly Morgana and Futaba had up their sleeve and why Ryuji seems so excited in the final scene.