A story about group of people who are great at pretending.
I had some things to say about Great Pretender, but then I watched the final arc and had to throw all of that out of the window. Kinda. When it comes to that arc, some of its problems weren’t actually new, just dialed up to eleven. But either way, it was a significant step down in quality. I didn’t watch the show in time for my 2020 ranking, but if I had, the first half would’ve finished in a respectable fifth place, behind Akudama Drive. Adding the fourth arc, however, would’ve dropped it all the way down to ninth.
I was really expecting to like Great Pretender more. It seemed right up my alley, and it was getting rave reviews. I know many people loved everything except the ending, but I can’t say I ever really loved it. It was all right, but there were always these little things getting in the way of my enjoyment.
On the positive side, the show looked really good. The bold, flat colors used for the backgrounds were very striking and fit the mood. I liked how it showcased the characters speaking various languages. Most of the time, the cons themselves were pretty clever. The first storyline actually threw me for a loop several times and was easily the strongest of them all in that regard.
What brought it down for me wasn’t one specific aspect, but there’s a few things that bothered me. The first is that I never grew to care about the characters. They were fine, although Makoto was a bit annoying, but I wouldn’t say I was ever really rooting for them. Maybe it’s because they didn’t have much of a goal beyond fleecing whatever jerk they were targeting that particular time. The few attempts at fleshing out the characters didn’t help much either. For example, I liked Cynthia’s backstory and how it tied into the story. It worked for that arc. But did it make me see her in a different light? Not really.
It might also be because the stakes never felt that high. The main characters always seemed to be in full control of the situation. Occasionally, the show tricks you by having the rest leave Makoto (and by extension the viewer) in the dark, which is something that actually started to get on my nerves as time went on. The one time something went horribly wrong (with Dorothy), it wasn’t even because they made a serious mistake. They just got implausibly unlucky.
And that brings me to the key point. What makes or breaks a show about tricking people is how believable the tricks are. I wasn’t expecting the show to be super realistic, but there were so many parts that made me go “ehhhh”. And a lot of those were, of course, in the fourth arc. It started off like your usual story arc, but then kept going, piling on layers and layers of complexity. But instead of being wowed, I just got kind of… tired of it. It introduced a lot of questionable elements, and I couldn’t see any satisfying way for it to end.
And satisfying the ending was not.
Initially, after I’d just watched the last two episodes, I was sort of dazed and confused. I didn’t have good feelings about it, but it was so overwhelming that I couldn’t really process all of it. But the more I thought about what happened, the more I started disliking it. And now that I’ve had some time to let it sink in, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ending is just straight up bad. It’s absurdly convoluted for no reason, to a stupid degree. It whitewashed literal child traffickers. It brings back all the villains from earlier arcs, but now they’re allies, again for no reason. But the worst part is how it treated Makoto. Pretty much everyone in his life lied to him, including his mother. Laurent and his father got him involved in their revenge plot without telling him anything. He was made to believe he’d watched two of his friends die, that his father betrayed him, and that he’d killed his father. He was traumatized and isolated. He spent weeks or months with the traffickers, losing his sense of morality, to the point where he was personally auctioning of kids.
And then… he just sorta got over it. He just had to vent for a moment, that’s all. Everything’s cool now.
The only good thing I can say about the fourth arc is that you don’t have to watch it. The first three work perfectly fine on their own, and no ending is still better than what we got.