PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 16 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
The Futaba arc of Persona 5 makes for a strong halfway point in the story not just on its own merits, but because of how unique it is compared to the typical formula. The shake-up in the hacker enemy this time is interesting, but more interesting is the nature of Futaba's Palace itself, fully revealed in this episode. If you're familiar with the preceding games in the series, the setup is much closer to the deep-dive battle-action psychology that had to be enacted on prospective party members in Persona 4, down to a sympathetically symbolic dungeon and an emotionally extreme shadow-self. In that respect, even with all the heavy themes being thrown around this time, the execution of Futaba's story comes across like a breath of fresh air after seeing things done by Persona 5's playbook so many times in a row.
This episode was inevitably going to run into a format issue. The slow revelation of what Futaba has been through and the impact it had on her was communicated in a particular way in the game; the hieroglyphic pictograms seen in this episode were puzzles that the player slowly unlocked and solved, with each piecemeal revelation carrying a lot of weight. It certainly isn't fair to compare the different formats of anime and video games to each other, especially given the tighter schedule a two-cour show like this one has to run on. But with that in mind, it's apparent that the quicker, montage-based format Persona 5 the Animation opts for simply isn't going to be as intense an experience.
Unexpectedly, the anime version recognizes its format shortcomings and makes up for them in new ways. The show ends up making use of the other characters in the story in new ways, particularly Ann. This is a great choice for a lot of reasons, least of all because Ann has had little to do with all the other new party members coming in lately. At first glance, putting her at the forefront of recognizing Futaba's trauma might seem to be simply a compensation for that reduced screen-time, but once Ann zeroes in on Futaba's wish to quietly commit withdrawn suicide over the guilt she feels for her mother's death, the connection becomes much more clear.
Of course Ann, who already went through these issues with Shiho way back at the beginning of the series, would draw the line at letting Futaba throw her life away over something that wasn't her fault. It's a smart touch that shows that, even if she hasn't had much to do lately, the writers haven't forgotten about Ann at all. Connecting her to Futaba is another one of those clever storytelling choices the anime can make on account of not being dragooned to Ren's viewpoint at all times, and it helps the threads connecting all these characters feel more fleshed-out. On top of that, the episode throws in a wordless communication between Ann and Makoto partway through, solidifying the bond they formed a few episodes back and building off the shared guilt they surmounted regarding Shiho's situation. It's not the same type of impact as the player stumbling onto Futaba's trauma firsthand, but it does provide an emotional climax in a way that only anime can. It's basically exactly what an adaptation should do in these circumstances.
All those choices make this episode as good as it is, but it helps that the foundation is still as solid as Persona 5 the Animation has been for the past few weeks. This arc brings a lot to the table besides just Futaba's issues, also teasing elements of what Soujirou has been dealing with and dropping tantalizing hints about the scientific side of the Metaverse's backstory. We see rumors of the Thieves' looming showdown with the hacker group and the potential country-wide consequences spreading through the school. Things like that and the aforementioned cognitive psience backstory make this whole plotline feel like it's opening up the world of Persona 5. The Thieves are no longer kids living out a fantasy just to help society; they're interlopers in a much bigger plot that they're barely beginning to understand.
This episode breezes by with all these elements, to the point that its fast pace might be the only big flaw I can cite it for. Even if it's useful for getting the team in touch with Futaba, the plot with the hacker group Medjed feels too much like mere background noise for how much it's emphasized. Besides that, even though it's compensated for in adaptation, it still feels like the sources of Futaba's trauma are glossed over too much, given their emotional weight. Granted, we're still not done with this plot, so it's possible that element will get the intensity it needs for a proper cathartic release next week. Hopefully that next episode also wraps things up enough to leave some downtime for reflecting on the myriad backstory elements introduced here. But those are concerns for next week. In terms of properly utilizing its characters and the emotional connections between them, this episode was a winner for Persona 5.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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