PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 14 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
Alright, after a long hiatus, Persona 5 the Animation has thankfully returned for its second half! The staff understands that we might need some catching up after all this time, so they include a lot of recap material in this episode's plot and—oh wait, yeah that's weird. Persona 5 has aired uninterrupted since it started, yet this fourteenth episode keeps on dropping in reminders of how the story's gone so far, at one point summarizing points from just the previous episode. At times it almost feels like there was an expectation that this second cour would be coming back from some kind of break.
Format weirdness aside, this episode isn't that attention-getting, just another downtime episode focusing on Ren getting to know one of his party members, Makoto in this case. That's appreciated, since Makoto is an extremely cool character in this story, and her little arc this week makes surprising use of her unique character traits. I initially wasn't sure how to feel about the revelation that she can be a pushover in high-pressure situations, especially in light of how she turned out during her Persona awakening. But this is still the beginning of her arc and as we saw with Ryuji and Yusuke, the idea is how these teens ‘grow into’ the roles and idealized personalities behind their supernatural strengths.
In this case, we see Makoto still struggling against the unique way her role as a school authority has isolated her from the ways of the ‘real world’ as well as her peers. There are some funny moments as she makes a new friend and stumbles into an “Is this really how people see me?” situation. This all does well to set up an overarching theme of doing things because others expect you to. Makoto previously acted in her role because she wanted to please authority figures, and her awakening was a rebellion against that. Now she's taking on less hostile and lower-stakes problems, but it's still rooted in a performative desire to please.
The case of Makoto and Ren trying to protect her new friend Eiko from her host-club boyfriend isn't overly engaging, and Makoto's storyline feels like going through the motions. I like getting to actually see Makoto make a new friend, but for the first two-thirds of the story, the thematic underpinnings seem more shallow than they should be. A lot of lip-service and recap time is spent on the question of what the Phantom Thieves want to do with their lives in the future, which should be a solid hook for these developing ne'er-do-wells, but it doesn't dive as deep as I'd like, with character beats even seeming predictable, at least until the end.
So while the actual plot goes through familiar teen-drama motions, the payoff to Makoto's story ends up more potent than I expected. We've already seen that Makoto's alleged pushover nature falls by the wayside when people she cares about are threatened, so that works as a motivating factor as well. But it's mainly nice that her hard-ass student council president persona still works into how she calls out Eiko. The idea that Makoto doesn't alter her presentation because it's expected from her friend to make her more comfortable with her unhealthy dating choices does well to tie the episode's themes together. Plus the insidiously clever trick Makoto uses to catch Eiko's bad boyfriend ups the entertainment value and saves this episode from being only average.
The episode is also bookended by some Mementos Persona battles, and I'm happy that they regularly revisit that aspect to remind us of how the Thieves are still serving society even when they aren't taking down big fish. This also helps conclude the Eiko storyline, marrying the supernatural elements to the high-school drama. They also throw in a few more Sae flash-forwards, which might still be there as part of the overall recap nature of this episode, but they're appropriate anyway given the story focus on her sister. Seeds are laid for the next ‘big’ case coming up as well, so we're hooked for that upcoming plotline even if this one doesn't do anything special for us. Overall, while it feels weird that the show would use such a low-key episode to kick off its second half, this episode still works on its own.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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