This article contains spoilers for the new Scott Pilgrim Takes Off Netflix series, Neon Genesis Evangelion movies, and (eventually) the Persona franchise. Please be aware of potential and specific spoilers.

I see itI need to reexamine if I have grown up or not.

(It has been like two years, please enjoy the sequel to that Chipmunk lamentation.)

Let us recap: it has been said that my generation is better at identifying advertising-as-advertising. We immediately recognize when Jon Hamm is looking at the camera and telling us to go buy Lucky Strikes. However, my generation has had to learn to not be an absolute sucker for He-Man looking at the camera and hocking all his playsets and toys, because we have been trained from a young age to listen to our heroes regarding both downed powerlines and action figures. And many of us (this author included) have had to learn that just because some authority tells us “this is next step in the canon” or “this is aimed squarely at your interests”, that said product may not actually be at all worthwhile. Knowing exactly how Han Solo got his name is not going to make you happier, and it is best you start acknowledging that the only reason you thought that might help was because a billion-dollar corporation was trying to fleece you for twenty bucks. Knowing what Ant-Man is up to because it might allude to Black Panther’s future is similarly a waste of your precious time on this earth.

As a result of recognizing this sage knowledge, I have tried to live my life in such a way that I am not a “mark”. Despite the fact that this has likely made my life less enjoyable, I spend my time actively on guard on behalf of my precious wallet, and keep a watchful eye on any product or service that is deliberately trying to exploit my massive, throbbing nostalgia. I often fail (you put “Mega Man” in front of anything, and I will consume it without a second thought), but I believe I am at least mindful of what I recommend to others. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, but, by and large, I genuinely have faith that I am an informed consumer, and I do not sloppily recommend spending hours on some piece of media just because it makes a reference to the Virtual Boy.

So, naturally, I must now discuss the newest Netflix series that has absorbed my thoughts, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.

(Here is where the spoilers take off)

This is not Scott PilgrimScott Pilgrim Takes Off initially appears to be a retelling of the “Scott Pilgrim canon”, which is a story that has been told with minor variations across a graphic novel, movie, and videogame. However, by about the end of the first episode, said canon diverges wildly, and Scott loses his first fight in the franchise. The next scene after that is Scott Pilgrim’s funeral. Suffice to say, the story of how Scott Pilgrim beats seven evil exes and gets the (or “a”) girl would have to be radically changed when Scott Pilgrim is, ya know, dead. Shortly thereafter, it is revealed that Scott Pilgrim might actually just be MIA as opposed to KIA, so Ramona Flowers, Scott’s would-be girlfriend, adopts the role of detective to discover where Scott has taken off to.

And, to the credit of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’s writers, this is brilliant. The “evil exes” were always a focal point of the Scott Pilgrim universe, but we only learned details about them from their various fights. That works, because all of them were always going to end their bouts metaphorically murdered, so humanizing them was maybe not a priority. But in a story where they are actually going to survive their introductory chapters, the “investigation” framing allows us to learn much more about these characters that have existed in an uncomfortable stasis for the last twenty years. Lucas Lee is more than a skateboard now! And his eventual friendship with “Gordon” is welcome! So much of Scott Pilgrim Takes Off’s run time decides to ignore the “main cast” that has already had three separate feature presentations, and focuses on the “villains” that were formerly little more than enigmatic douchebags.

And if you are going to make the villains the featured players, then you have to make the protagonist the villain, right? Ramona eventually discovers the man who kidnapped Scott Pilgrim was Scott Pilgrim.

TwirlyIn what coincidentally matches to our thirteen-or-so years after the release of the movie, the future Scott Pilgrim has a fight with his wife, and decides everything would be better if he never dated Ramona in the first place. So he plucks Young Scott out of the timeline during his first fight, and… Well… He apparently does not have much of a plan beyond that. Typical Scott. So Young Scott is returned to his proper place in time (give or take enough time to fail at making a movie about his precious little life), and Future Scott… goes even crazier. He trains for years to defeat himself (?), and then returns to smother his relationship in the crib as a cataclysmic-class “boss monster” that bears a bit of a resemblance to that time Ryu had a really bad series of model-swaps. Old Scott probably would have kicked everyone’s ass right off the planet (things escalate quickly in this universe), but Future Ramona shows up, merges with herself into Super Ramona, and assesses the situation. While it is a grand, dramatic moment that not only ties up Ramona’s arc, but also the arc of the whole Scott Pilgrim franchise, it also boils down to this image…

I am 30 or 40 years old

Super Ramona is a woman of indeterminate age (technically we could do the math of synching up Scott’s stated 47 with Ramona’s age that was revealed in volume 4, but let a lady have her secrets), but she is absolutely an adult that is well past her 20s. And she assesses a (young) Scott Pilgrim, the titular hero of the franchise, and calls him a “stupid kid”. And it is not an insult! It is an objective fact! He still has a whole lot of living to do, and, at this point in his life, he may as well be a toddler. Ramona is looking back at the man she loves at the time she fell in love, and all she sees is a desperate infant. All those fights that seemed so important? All those adventures and life or death struggles that got them to “now”? They were the playtimes of babies, no different than a child crying over fallen alphabet blocks or a lost blankie. It was significant “then”, but now looking back, Ramona recognizes no epic war, only immaturity.

Take your heartAnd, as someone who once identified wholly with Scott Pilgrim, I am right there with her. Hell, I had to stop myself from typing “as someone who once unfortunately identified with Scott Pilgrim” because I feel an overwhelming urge to remind everyone within earshot that I am not that guy anymore. I might have been in my 20s! I’m better now! I swear!

Scott Pilgrim Takes Off pulled off the amazing feat of telling its audience they are great and good because they have spent the last decade(s) noting that the protagonist is a dummy. That’s right, viewer, you realized that Scott Pilgrim the 20 something is a loser! Good job! Here’s Ramona the enlightened 40 something agreeing with you and giving you a gold star. Buy all our playsets and toys!

And I would think this was an isolated incident if not for the fact that Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, the confusingly named fourth and final movie in the Neon Genesis Evangelion saga, had the exact same ending.

Okay, it is not exactly the same, but what is a future version of yourself other than an overbearing father who is willing to inflict apocalypses on the world just to get what he wants? Sachiel in Heaven, both of these situations are even prompted by an older man completely incapable of being emotionally honest with a woman (even if said woman is a giant robot now). But whatever the root cause, the moral is the same: get your shit together, be a better person, and all those things that seemed so important (whether they be fighting exes or unknowable cosmic monsters) will fall by the wayside when you understand what really matters (pleasing women with strange hair colors).

And I know that this is media aimed squarely at me, because I can contrast it with media that is aimed squarely at other demographics.

Not todayHere is your introductory math lesson. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (Volume 1) was released in its native region (Canada?) on August 18, 2004. Persona 3, the game that first introduced us to the “Persona formula” (after two Persona games that did not remotely follow the same pattern) was released on April 19, 2007. Basically, these are two media properties starring young adults that released a meager three years apart. It is reasonable to state there are people who can firmly say “Oh yeah, that came out when I was in high school/college” for both franchises. So Scott Pilgrim would be 23 in 2004, and 42 in 2023. That tracks with 40-something future Scott. Meanwhile, Akihiko, the “senior” boxer boy of Persona 3 was 17 in the 2009 of the 2007 game (calendars are weird), and now in 2023, has been seen at a maximum age in videogames of… 20 in Persona 4 Arena. But! He got all the way up to 27 in an anime streaming series! So he’s almost out of his 20s!

I can relate to 30- or 40-years old Scott Pilgrim and Ramona (more so Ramona [dammit, there goes that compulsion to remind everyone I am not like Scott anymore]). Akihiko is still, and apparently always going to be, a “stupid kid”.

Hey, that is Persona’s thing. That decision has been made. Persona 3 was faithfully set in 2009 with a group of teens that were randomly thrust into saving the world. Persona 4 makes its hero teens dedicated detectives (as “their plot” was basically a murder mystery), and the calendar was starting in 2011. There was even a cameo from a “senior” Persona 3 character or two! But this was about the point where Atlus realized two things: they cannot allow anymore aging, and they needed Persona’s protagonists to be anything for auxiliary material. The cast of Persona 4 would work perfectly in a light novel or some manner of Pheonix Wright-esque adventure game. They barely make sense in a rhythm game (there is at least one musical idol in their gang), or fighting game (they did technically fight monsters, I guess). So Persona 5 made two course corrections: the year is indefinite (even though it is clearly 2016), and the heroes are a group of thieves. There! Thieves can do anything, from a dance contest to sudoku puzzles, as there can always be an excuse of “we need to do x thing because it will help us get closer to the target”. Just ask the Lupin III franchise! They’ve been pulling that nonsense for almost sixty years! And the lack of a calendar year involved means nobody else in the franchise-universe has to be “aged up” when everyone plays together. And it sets the precedent that Atlus never has to involve a year ever again! Everybody wins!

The cast of Persona 5 can be the teenage cast of Persona 5 literally forever, and they can experience any opportunity for adventure that comes their way. Want to toss them a variation on the Dynasty Warriors franchise crossed with a summer vacation? Well here you go! You’ve got Persona 5 Strikers.

Avoid the spotlightsTo briefly address the actual featured game du jour, Persona 5 Strikers is 2020/2021’s offering for “franchise + Dynasty Warriors”. The Phantom Thieves are anxious to enjoy our hottest months through a bitchin’ road trip, but things quickly go awry when corrupted hearts and ambiguously corrupted AIs start going haywire across Japan. Rather than slowly exploring psychic palaces like in an RPG this time, all the fantasy action happens in “jails” that are meant to simulate whole cities, and there are enough shadows to get an anti-Phantom Thieves protest going. And, while this could just be a simple Warriors “press the attack button seventy billion times” affair, the Persona origins do shine through. All levels are surrounded by “investigation phases” where everybody talky talks forever, stealth is encouraged when possible, and there is a general undertone that you should be solving your problems with brains, not brawn. In fact, that final point makes the game much more like a “traditional” action game than a Warriors spinoff, as finding alternate paths and locations to hide from/trap enemies necessitates some innovative level design. And a jump button! Sorry to say it, but the average Dynasty Warriors map can be described as “boring field” for about 90% of the game, and that is (luckily) rarely the case for these Strikers.

While it is always good to see “brain over brawn” emphasized in a genre that is usually known for being braindead, sometimes it is hard for this 30- or 40-years old player to buy it. The Phantom Thieves are stylish, cunning bandits that always find their treasure with a smile and a cheeky calling card. They also routinely have trouble sussing out the culprit when he is standing around shouting, “I am evil!” at every third passersby. And our debonair thieves routinely get into whacky hijinks, so we must spend twenty minutes examining what happens if Morgana gets to touch a boob. And all of these items are there because it is what happens when you have a group of teenage protagonists. They have to act like teenagers! And, as someone who can dimly remember being a teenager like remembering facts about the War of 1812 (I think a president was involved?), I have a hard time relating. Hell, I have a hard time thinking of these heroes as “clever” or “suave” because they are teenagers! Joker is 16! He is barely old enough to blackmail his teacher for being an underground maid! How am I supposed to take him seriously as “smart”!?

And it’s not like I can look elsewhere in the Persona franchise. All modern Persona protagonists apparently aren’t even allowed to hit 30!

VROOMBut I can believe Super Ramona, a 30- or 40-year-old woman, is smart. I can believe Shinji, absorbing the knowledge of his multiple existences and utilizing the voice of his 60-year-old author, is speaking truth to his father. I can believe “smart” coming from characters that present as my age or older. And I then pat myself on the back, because I listen to the smart people, I agree with the smart people, so I must be smart people. I am not a foolish teenager like Joker, a cretin who thinks he knows everything; I am wise and aged and actually do know everything.

And then I buy a new Scott Pilgrim t-shirt, because I have to support the franchise.

Because I am a smart grownup.

SBC #19 Joker & Persona 5 Strikers

Joker in Super Smash Bros Ultimate

He's the little guy

  • He any Good? He has guns and a dagger and a magical sidekick. You would think something in there would add up to being more memorable. Guess his forward special is the way to go. That whole “Persona meter” thing is neat, but I do not think I have ever once had it activate at an opportune time.
  • That final smash work? Could it have ever been anything but All Out Attack? It is a very straightforward excuse for everyone to cameo, and otherwise a pretty simple little “event” smash.
  • The background work? Mementos brings us what we all really wanted from a Persona representative: bangin’ music. The change in colors according to tunes is delightful, but some of the cameo characters feel a little off. I would hate to explain why Ann is standing around posing in a cat suit to someone unfamiliar with the franchise. My mother would not approve.
  • Classic Mode: Joker versus the Shadows. Everyone is in their dark palettes to simulate the random battles of Persona games. You could claim that the light-colored allies that join you after every shadow fight are meant to simulate how Personas graduate from Shadows in some of the Persona titles, but the whole thing starts with Kirby and Mr. Game and Watch. You cannot tell me those characters have “shadow” selves. They just exist! At least the final fight against the hands has a change of venue.
  • Smash Trivia: Most people know that Joker’s English voice actor is Xander Mobus, the announcer for Super Smash Bros (and the voice of the hands). But! The Japanese voice actor for Joker (Jun Fukuyama) is the Japanese voice for Fire Emblem’s Roy. So “Joker” is pulling double duty in the east and west.
  • I saw him coming

  • Amiibo Corner: Oh my god, Becky, I mean, uh, gross, look he’s just so… black. Those red gloves really stand out when the rest of your character’s outfit is so dark. But at least we got a cool, translucent blue stand out of the deal. And look out! He’s got a knife!
  • Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? Persona 5 Strikers was the big boy that was supposed to get the Persona franchise on the Nintendo Switch. And it did! So we could theoretically claim that Joker and all his buddies only exist in Smash Bros. thanks to Persona 5 Strikers! However, practically every other Persona game has appeared on the system since then, so it is more of a trivia thing at this point…

Joker in Persona 5 Strikers

  • BLAMMOSystem: Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4. Can you believe that Persona 5 was on the Playstation 3, and now this is accessible on the Playstation 5? Further proof of aging.
  • Number of players: The Warriors titles are usually pretty easy to adapt to multiple players, but this one is very much a single player experience.
  • Favorite character: Having access to the full party practically from the start is vaguely overwhelming, and makes it difficult to recognize the difference in playstyle between the different characters. That said, Makoto gets to vroom vroom around on her pope bike, so that leaves an impression.
  • Original the Character: The guest star Phantom Thief is Sophia, who fills the hole in the original roster of “redheaded girl” (before P5 Royal) and “robot”. She is easily my least favorite archetype (android creature that repeatedly asks the human protagonists “what is wuv?”), but her “emoticon mask” and combat yo-yos at least make her a worthy member of the cast. And, in true “anime movie” tradition, she has a deep connection with the antagonist of the story… and now will never be seen again.
  • What’s in a name: I am not going to delve into the mythological relevance of our AI being named Sophia, and assume this is all based on that Hanson Robotics AI that has been creeping people out since 2016.
  • And the other guy: Making Jean Valjean a Persona spirit is simultaneously the best and worst idea this franchise has ever had. I will not be elaborating on this further.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: While this game is stylish at all times, it is damned near impossible to get decent screenshots thanks to 70% of the screen real estate being dominated by menus and notifications. You don’t notice it during gameplay! And that’s great! But when you are dicing up still screenshots, it is terrible. The Xenoblade franchise has a similar issue.
  • Did you know? The English voice recordings were delayed due to 2020’s COVID epidemic, and the majority of the audio was recorded while the actors were isolated and “working from home”. Good thing everybody involved already performed like twelve billion hours as these characters for Persona 5!
  • Would I play again: I very much enjoy this take on the Warriors formula. That said, it took almost eight hours to get to what I would consider “the second level” (of seven!). This is definitely one of those games where I have fond memories, but revisiting it feels like a major undertaking…

What’s Next? We need a Sega mascot with a little more speed, so we are going to zoom through 2023 with Sonic the Hedgehog! Please look forward to it!

GET IT!?

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