The Persona 5 anime may have missed out on their chance to make a “Phantom Thieves Save Christmas” special to coincide with the in-game calendar, but they can at least save New Years with the Dark Sun OVA that takes us from Akechi shooting Joker in the face to the boss fight with Shido. It’s a lot of material to take on within an hour, and while it is able to capture almost everything, the pacing does hinder the anime’s ability to do justice to the game, nor does it makes improvements to otherwise messier parts of Akechi & Shido’s arc.
Regulating the primary antagonist Shido’s palace to one OVA episode does take the wind out of the sails for Shido in particular. This is the guy who got Joker arrested for making him fall over during his drunken rape attempt. His presence is felt throughout the game with smaller appearances like at a hotel elevator and TV appearances, but the build-up towards Joker confronting the man who ruined his reputation was much more amped up as you dug through his connections to get through his palace. In the OVA, much of his “Cult of Personality” public persona and the nefariousness of his influence is undercut by the anime’s need to get his arc over with. That means glossing over important details that were already mulled over in the game such as Shido’s IT specialist creating Medjed and trying to put the lid on Wakaba’s cognitive psience research. The one detail that bothers me in both the game and anime is how convenient it is that both Madarame and Kaneshiro ended up funneling the yen they made from counterfeit paintings and drug money over to Shido. And with Okumura having donated to Shido in return for Big Bang Burger’s success, it is highly likely that any money Okumura made indirectly gave Kaneshiro more money and resources to work with. So the next time you do the Big Bang Burger challenge in Persona 5, remember that your purchase helped fund sex slavery! I’m also surprised they didn’t connect Kamoshida directly to Shido, but I guess he probably would’ve voted for him on his stance on women’s rights.
But back to the OVA, the pacing does call into question whether the role of an anime adaptation should be to just create a distillation of the story for anyone to enjoy or if it should expand on the story to flesh out parts of the narrative that are limited by the structure of creating an RPG. This is most glaring with Akechi’s development, which was given a little more spotlight in the anime. However, with how the OVA depicts his breakdown, it doesn’t do anything dramatically different enough to justify the larger focus on giving Akechi some fanservice moments throughout the TV broadcast. While we saw Akechi solving cases and helping Joker throughout the TV series, the OVA gives him little to work with as we see his eventual decline. It was always disappointing that Akechi wasn’t written to keep up his cold and calculated demeanor because by flying off the handle, he just comes off like a wannabe of the Persona 4 killer. But whereas the Persona 4 killer’s nuttiness made sense given how he was able to suppress his anger because of the excitement he got from his murder spree, Akechi flying off the handle into a drooling, sniveling mess came off like the writers wanted to capture that same spark.
The fact that Akechi didn’t plan very far in his goal to kill Shido does show that he’s far denser and driven by resentment than we’re lead to think, especially since his “intelligence” was all manufactured by the media and his Metaverse experience. But that doesn’t make him as likable as the series wants us to think. Much like in the game, the anime frames Akechi’s backstory and anger as sympathetic albeit misplaced. Akechi was too angry to realize that both his and Joker’s goals are close to each other, but because they really wanted Akechi to be the other side of the coin, he was written to make the worst decisions using his powers as a wild card. Instead of just outright mentally shutting down Shido or manipulating him through the Metaverse, he decided to play the stupidest game of being his patsy to help dole out mental shutdowns, making the entirely wrong assumption that Shido would let him live long enough to exact his revenge. In the process, Akechi is responsible for the deaths of several innocent people, including Futaba’s mother Wakaba and Haru’s father Kunikazu. Even though Haru was the most reasonable person in the room by acknowledging that she could never forgive Akechi for her father’s death, the rest of the Phantom Thieves go out of their way to sympathize with him. He was used this whole time and it’s easy to understand why someone would end up losing their way after experiencing all of his hardships without friends or loved ones to look toward. But the game, and the anime, both went out of their way to butter him up as a smart, well-meaning kid who should join them in fighting Shido together. It’s as disappointing in the anime as it is in the game, and the one thing that sets it apart is that the fight is shortened and they try to link Joker and Akechi with the Chess piece he gives to him. It’s half-hearted, but at least the bar was low enough that they didn’t make it worse.
The pacing also does the disservice of cutting the edge off of some of the more climactic moments in the game. Much like the build-up to Shido, the scale of the Phantom Thieves’ efforts is undercut by racing through the material. For example, Futaba hacked a television station to broadcast the Phantom Thieves’ last calling card across Tokyo. But with the anime, the scale of the event is treated less like the culmination of their efforts leading to a huge public spectacle of outing Shido and making their grand entrance, and more like another one of Futaba’s wacky plans. Similarly, Ryuji running to grab the lifeboat for the rest of the Thieves had little fanfare. In the game, it was a much larger deal because Ryuji is willing to put his all into charging in spite of his faulty leg, not to mention the sacrifice fake-out having more punch to it with the game lingering on Ryuji possibly dying. It is nice that they had Ryuji pop up earlier after the palace crumbled and didn’t have the girls beat him down for shrugging off their sadness, but it does feel less special.
It might seem like there is doom & gloom for the Persona 5 OVA, but there is plenty to like about it. Because they had to condense Shido’s palace, the anime didn’t have to linger on details that were far more excruciating like adapting all of the rat puzzles or that weird English noble that makes Ryuji resort to having the girls wear swimsuits in a bid to captivate the noble. It does lose the humor of Ann being able to trick him with her terrible acting by impersonating an aristocrat named Ann Windsor, but it was an odd inclusion in the game. They also made the Shido boss fight really awesome with how they teamed up to take on Shido’s multiple forms from Char Aznable to Senator Steven Armstrong. On top of this, they also had Joker summon Yoshitsune, the greatest husbando in Persona 5 for his ability to make everyone bow before your might and strength. Although it oddly places Iwai and Shinya into the fold despite anime Joker having barely any interaction, they did a good job at showing Mishima’s redemption as he puts himself in the scrutiny of the internet by continuing to cheer for the Phantom Thieves no matter what. Last, but not least, they included the infamous massage that Kawakami offers as a maid. It would’ve been nicer to see how Joker helps her out with her personal struggles, but for all of the times that Kawakami has been able to save us from the wrath of Morgana’s early sleeping schedule, it is awesome to see the anime pay homage to why Kawakami is coveted as both the best confidant to complete and as a solid waifu option.
The OVA made a great effort in distilling Shido’s palace in an hour-long special, but with it also come the pitfalls of not being able to capture everything that was amazing about this part in the game and neglecting parts of the game’s story that could’ve used some expansion. It might’ve made Shido into more of an afterthought and did very little to redeem Akechi, but it was a much more refreshing note to end on than the last episode on the anime’s attempt to trick viewers. There’s one more OVA in the pipeline for March called Stars and Ours, so there is one last ace in a lost hand for P5A