It’s been a long week. All I could think was, “man, that birdhouse looks comfy. And it might be the only building in this school up to OSHA standards.”
After seven years of spin-offs and rereleases, the next numbered title of the Persona series is upon us. And boy, does it look exciting. The (very deliberate) homages to Lupin III are quite appealing to yours truly, but let’s not downplay the allure of the shaken-up combat and socializing system or stylish animation courtesy of Production I.G., either. Perhaps most intriguing is a statement from the director, Katsura Hashino, during one of the earliest interviews for the game.
“[A lot of people today are] stuck between a rock and a hard place, emotionally speaking: on the one hand, they might not be keen on living by the same rules and values that defined previous generations, while still lacking the will to go out and actually break those barriers down themselves. That dark side of society is a central pillar to the game we want to make with Persona 5.”
Sounds great, right? The Persona series, and the franchise from which it was born, have more or less carved out a reputation as pushing against the traditional mindsets and chosen subject matter of the JRPG. Which is true, and the series remains a breath of fresh air in many regards. Nonetheless, reading about a game that purports to be about breaking free from old values leaves me with one eyebrow firmly raised for one reason: the director’s last outing, Persona 4, shot itself in the foot with nearly every “progressive” theme it attempted to tackle.
Once upon a time there was an unlucky girl, starring in a very unlucky game called Rule of Rose. It was passed on by several publishers while trying to find homes outside its native country, brewed in a controversy of accused lolicon content that was quite untrue, and sold so few copies as to be one of the rarest PS2 games on the market today. All of which is a shame, because in the moments when the game shines it reminds me of the very best adolescent anguish allegory parades in Utena and the uncanniness of Silent Hill.
Christophe Gans’ adaptation of Silent Hill is one of the better videogame films out there, a title as honorable and unchallenged as “Best Logger Using Only Teeth” or “Suma Cum Laude: Class of Infant Punching.” Most videogame movies of that decade were directed by Uwe Bolle, is the point. At any rate, what we have here is the beginning of the fan-helmed SH products, a well-meant but rocky period that came to a screeching halt with Homecoming (no doubt this film’s dire financial straits did nothing to help the situation). They tend to be characterized by some good ideas and a pet interest in putting a spin on some particular set of themes from the existing works, as fans are wont to do. And that fact helps the film come dangerously close to working in some respects while dragging it down irreparably in others, leaving us with a pretty, bewildering mess.
I’m also pretty sure Christophe Gans thinks he made a feminist horror movie.
I know that anime is something of a flagging industry in recent years, and there’s been a major upswing in merch and secondary publications to offset that fact, but I draw the line at outsourcing the emotional bond that theoretically drives the plot. And the names and characterizations of several secondary cast members. And any but the most bare-bones plot revelations necessary to keep the plot moving. I was really burned by K, is what I’m saying.
C’mere internet, I need to explain a thing
It’s my own fault in some ways, as someone who’s continually looking for a repeat of the perfect guilty pleasure high that was Descendants of Darkness despite knowing how rarely supernatural pretty people fests can handle their one-cour runs. And years of keeping up with the gaming community have trained me to expect being nickel-and-dimed for content (the most egregious example being we’re-not-a-MMORPG-we-swear Destiny, whose approach to plot best is summed up as “I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain this to you”). In fact, a lot of series I love commonly practice the release of world-building material and character tidbits outside the main story (see: Pacific Rim and Tiger & Bunny, among others). I can even, now and then, get behind the idea that additional content (paid or in some other way specially acquired) is a way for fans to invest more deeply in the show or to return to a story that had reached its conclusion. When you need a roadmap to decode what’s going on as it’s airing, we need to have a talk.