PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 15 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
Okay, now Persona 5 the Animation feels like it's actually getting its next phase underway. Granted, the first part of this latest arc is still more low-key than you might expect, since unlike the more apparent abuse seen by the adults of previous storylines, the Phantom Thieves' new opponent is an unseen group of anonymous hackers. This means much of the episode is communicated through scenes of the characters talking, looking at their phones, or talking to each other through their phones.
Remarkably, this still works as entertaining television, though maybe that isn't surprising at this point. Persona 5 has always excelled at directing the numerous dialogue scenes of the story in interesting ways, and this is just another successful example of that. Even given that expectation, the presentation is really on its A-game this time. Lots of dynamic angles are used, there are a ton of filters accentuating light and different times of day, and the whole episode has a more subdued yet cinematic atmosphere that hasn't always been present in the show to this degree.
On top of that, the actual content of these conversations is intriguing in a new way for the story. Persona 5 seems to have changed its approach to spoilery content for this second cour. The previous half generally made it clear that our current members of the Phantom Thieves would all join at some point, so even Makoto ending up on their side wasn't really a mystery. Now, there's not yet any material in the opening or ending theme to indicate what other teammates will be joining the Thieves, meaning everyone new they meet is a potential enemy or ally. Some new characters are barely teased this time, but in general it's interesting that after previously riding the expectation that the audience for the show was familiar with its names and faces, the show is now playing more coy. In the case of this episode, this pertains to the mysterious Alibaba, who we learn by the end of the episode is Soujirou's daughter Futaba.
Admittedly, much of the ‘mystery’ surrounding Futaba and her requests of the Thieves only stays mysterious if you've completely isolated yourself from Persona 5 in the two years since it's been around. But even then, the way Persona 5 the Animation makes efforts to keep that particular audience in the dark are admirable. The mystery of Alibaba and their war with hacktivist group Medjed is compelling. Of course, once Futaba's existence is brought up, it becomes obvious that she's actually Alibaba (something that Makoto thankfully picks up on immediately), but the details of her situation remain interesting to the uninitiated.
We're just getting started, but Futaba asking the Phantom Thieves to steal her own heart is a unique place for this series' story to go, changing the stakes from their previous procedures. There's any amount of speculation that could be made about Futaba's situation that would lead her to such a request, as well as how it pertains to the legal drama that Soujirou seems to be entangled in, but her behavior also provides entertainment value in how she interacts with Ren and the other Thieves, highlighting that for all she's sleuthed out, she still hasn't figured out much about their methods. The fundamental misunderstanding she has over their heart-stealing, where she seems to think it's tied mostly to the calling card, is a funny look at how even the most analytical people can be wrong when they jump to the wrong conclusions.
For all the quiet exposition moving this episode forward, it does ramp up the tension by the end. Seeing Medjed's sample power-outage attack does a good job of selling the stakes after so many simple anonymous threats. Being focused on youth culture, it will be interesting to see Persona 5 tackle the ability that online hate groups have to affect the real world. After that, the Thieves' infiltration of Soujirou's house and spooky initial encounter with Futaba makes for an effective and funny cliffhanger. All of these threads are interesting, but things like the hacker group popping up just as Soujirou is having issues with Futaba can seem contrived if you examine them too closely. The plot's job moving forward will be to bring all those points together in a satisfying way, but it's at least laid some interesting seeds for this next arc while remaining entertaining.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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