PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
After several strong episodes that seemed to be doing everything right in terms of making entertaining anime out of this game's source material, Persona 5 the Animation feels like it's playing catch-up this week. We've gotten Makoto's awakening out of the way, so all that's left to do is take down Kaneshiro. We get another Sae flash-forward, appropriate given the revelation that her sister joined the very thieves she's investigating, and she specifically has Ren cut straight to explaining how Kaneshiro was finished.
All told, it's probably for the best. The dungeon-crawling mechanics that were so compelling as gameplay hooks in Persona 5 perhaps don't make for interesting television. Fortunately, the way the anime has learned its own strengths and weaknesses over the past few episodes is still apparent here. The show makes good use of depicting Makoto's character development alongside her contributions to the group. The result is a highly entertaining montage that economically communicates this arc's developments while also remaining entertaining television.
There are a lot of little elements to appreciate in this opening section. Seeing Makoto realize that her authoritarian position at school has left her unable to connect with her peers is an interesting path to set her on now that her pre-awakening hangups have been resolved. The other important point is showing her make up with Ann, since their bonding leads to increased synergy in battle symbolized by a baton-pass high-five maneuver, which has layers of importance both to this series and anyone familiar with the aforementioned game. The point with Makoto and Ann is particularly enjoyable in this context; Persona 5 the game placed the player in Ren's shoes, so character interactions were mostly between him and other characters. As such, getting to see Makoto and Ann bond with just each other in Ren's absence is a unique treat that this adaptation can offer.
As long as we're making comparisons to the game, however, let's come back to that high-five maneuver. P5A actually hasn't been too overt in adapting its game mechanics to screen, but the attack-combo baton-pass trick that was so instrumental to gameplay finally sees a proper inclusion here. It seems to be built off the aforementioned high-five Ann and Makoto share, so it tries to feature a character-driven reason why the Thieves are all slapping each other's hands between turn-based attacks on a boss, but then I got to thinking that I only appreciated its inclusion because I recognized it from the game. For anyone experiencing the material for the first time, it may seem somewhat baffling. At least it fulfills its job of making the Persona battle more interesting, but it still feels like an odd thing to throw in just for the sake of aesthetic halfway through a show.
The battles need all the help they can get, honestly, since there's just no getting around how rough Persona 5 looks this week. I've criticized the static nature of the battles before, but generally as long as an episode looks functional, I find it difficult to dog its visuals on a week-to-week basis. Unfortunately, this episode was just extraordinarily wonky. Between consistently off-model characters, some distance shots that were still drawn too roughly, and full-on easily noticeable animation errors, there was definitely a sense that the production cut things too close to the wire. The irony is that the loose nature of the animation was less noticeable in the battle scene, which was also burgeoned by that high-five gimmick and smart direction that made good use of the whole space of its arena, another element that the anime could pull off more effectively than a turn-based video game. So it almost felt like the way the episode was constructed was covering for its visual shortcomings, which at least speaks to strong foresight from the team, but hopefully everyone's caught up better next week.
Everything else in this episode worked as well as usual for P5A. Finishing Kaneshiro so quickly feels well-paced, providing an effective cool-down period. There's more thematic diving into what the Thieves get out of their activities, explicitly spelled out as ‘a sense of satisfaction’. Meanwhile, Makoto's development ends up right where you might have expected, with her now being empowered by her membership in the Thieves enough to feel like she's making a difference without needing to defer to her school position's duties. We even get a well-framed scene of her speaking with Sae at home, selling the tension in their relationship now that we know they're on opposite legal sides. Finally, the possibility of the Phantom Thieves' powers being abused is given a more concrete push with the revelation that there is another interloper in these mental playgrounds, setting the stage for a more long-term arc that the characters may have to deal with. Story-wise, this was probably the strongest Persona 5 has been in wrapping up a major bad-guy arc, which makes it more of a pity that the visuals struggled to keep up this week.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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