「Stars and Ours」
And so, our Phantom Thieves finally reached the end of the game, where they must change the cognitive distortion of society itself in order to free the people of Tokyo from resigning to a state of apathy. While there were some exclusions from the episode such as learning directly from Kamoshida, Madarame, and Kaneshiro that having their hearts stolen made them give up on thinking for themselves all-together, the last OVA faithfully captures the Phantom Thieves’ final battle against the malevolent deity, Yaldabaoth.
To be frank, it was a little disappointing that the game’s final hand was to have the Phantom Thieves’ ultimate gambit be to use the power of their bonds to reinvigorate public opinion and force society as a whole to reform. After Persona 4, especially after Arena Ultimax, it was easy to get burnt out about the idea of another fight where friendship and courage save the day from a reality-destroying deity. What the series’ fifth installment added didn’t change this formula much other than the added twist of trying to wake up the sheeple. It’s one of those things, along with the “rotten adults” angle that did feel like I was getting too old for these Rated M games. But while it can get overbearing at times, the edginess and youthful spirit of Persona 5 does allow for the dive through Mementos Depths to have some fun twists along the way. For instance, the final boss fight against Yaldabaoth is defeated when Arsene evolves into Satanael, a massive persona that uses its gun to shoot Yaldabaoth in the face. For the goofiness that tends to come from using the power of good to conquer evil, the last section at least skips the pretense of being taken too seriously by giving us the ability to shoot the final boss with a big pistol. It also hits at that tender side with how your friends come together to support you. Seeing Mishima go from a coward to a keyboard warrior on a power trip to the one powerless friend willing to fight for you both in Mementos Depths and in juvie is inspiring. It isn’t explored as much in the anime, but Kawakami going from resenting your presence as a delinquent to making sure she can do whatever it takes to help cover for you and support you from the sidelines shares that same distinction.
While Akechi’s identity as the traitor was a surprise, the main twist is far more of a jaw-dropper with Igor being a fake. It was a reveal that many could have only noticed in hindsight since some would have believed that his voice only changed to honor the late Tanonaka Isamu and there would be no way for new players or anime viewers to know that he is never seen doing any of the fusions himself like in past games. It was a startling twist, however, to see that the Igor that you’ve been following the whole time was a fake who imprisoned the real Igor and split his current assistant Lavenza into the two girls that became Caroline and Justine. It was a clever way of diverting attention away from the Velvet Room’s grand secrets by having much of the plot occur in the outside world with the story’s scarier villains being scumbags in the real world. That way, details the Velvet Room and the grand ploy Yaldabaoth made to have Ren and Akechi compete with each other in a rigged supernatural battle for supremacy would only surface when the situation comes full circle when the stage is set for Mementos as the Phantom Thieves’ final target.
The final months of the game after they defeat Yaldabaoth is where the OVA drops the ball. Because they opted to take on Ren’s point-of-view, they just show him immediately take Sae’s offer to turn himself in and use his time in the Velvet Room to time-skip towards his release. This leaves out much of the remaining Phantom Thieves’ involvement in trying to gather info for Ren, the impact that came from Morgana’s presumed death, and the dedication that the remaining confidants, especially Mishima, had in trying to get Ren freed from juvie. They were also limited from being able to depict some of the key farewells, Ren going in to see both Morgana and his friends again, and the latter part of Ren’s drive back to his house where they take the highway towards a vacation spot where they can spend time before they give him one last send-off. It’s easy to understand why everything didn’t make it, but it does reflect on the anime as a whole with how disappointing it has been in showing just how strong his bond is with his friends and other confidants.
Persona 5 the Animation has had quite the rocky road. Between the severe drops in animation quality, plot changes that elevate Ren’s involvement with Akechi at the cost of character development for Yusuke, Sojiro, and Futaba, the lack of any real connection that Ren has with any of the confidants, shoving stronger confidant stories like Kawakami’s, Takemi’s, and Iwai’s onto Drama CDs, and putting the actual end of the game in two OVA installments, there are several flaws and missed opportunities that make the anime hard to recommend. While the anime had moments where it stepped up to the plate and improve in quality, the poor job they did with Kamoshida’s palace ended up defining the public opinion of how Persona 5 the Animation would turn out. It was unfortunate that my last final impression back when the final episode of the TV anime aired was steeped in animosity because of their decision to end it at Akechi’s traitor reveal, but it’s hard to justify pulling the show off the air so quickly just because it’d be easier to air two hour-long OVAs than make four episodes and possibly some more to help give Ren more time with his confidants.
That being said, I did prefer it to Persona 4 THE ANIMATION because it stayed consistent with the game’s tone. Whereas P4‘s anime tended to get too overly comedic to get the general tone of the game, this anime does put in the effort to make sure that they are able to capture the game’s story without adding any unnecessary details or tonal shifts. In fact, the anime is actually great with the material it does add as it fleshes out details that are otherwise missed or neglected in the game. Events like the Summer vacation and Hawaii trip give far more of an impression that Ren and his friends are generally very cool with each other, enough so that they would personally hang out with one another even if they weren’t going to Mementos or palaces. It’s weird to say, but Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is amazing because it builds on this and makes it so that the characters have more time interacting with not just Joker, but themselves as well (the moment when Joker convinces Makoto to spar with Yusuke was outright hilarious). While the anime doesn’t go as far, it does give them far more to work with in the sense of giving a positive impression of what their friendship looks like.
Again, it’s hard to recommend the anime considering that there is too much that needed to be there that was either left out, skimmed through, or botched. It gives a good summarization of the game’s plot though and does a decent job at giving the Phantom Thieves more of a connection with each other. If you want the full story behind Persona 5, I’d point towards getting the game or watching a “Let’s Play”. But if you want to give the anime a shot to see scenes from the game come to life, it’d be worth watching to compare and contrast how it fares with your experiences of the game. There’s a holiday episode coming up that encapsulates the magical time of Valentines Day (“Hooooooooo boy!”), but until then, we’ve got Persona 5 Royal to get excited about.