PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 18 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
There was a little downtime after Futaba's heart-heist at the end of the previous episode, but this next one provides us with a more full-length break between major arcs. Unfortunately, whereas the more brief wrap-party last episode seemed to embody the more effective pacing of this show's stronger second half, this one brings all the worst habits of earlier time-killing back to the fore. I'm not sure how much space Persona 5 intends to dedicate to its upcoming storylines, but it didn't need to take up so much space with the bits covered here.
For the most part, this episode feels like a clip show. The ostensible thread connecting everything is the rest of the Phantom Thieves helping new member Futaba become acclimated to going out and socializing during summer break. There are some strong ideas here. Ren's earnestness in wanting to get to know Futaba is endearing, and it's definitely appealing to learn about this new character outside of her previous plot-mandated isolation. But in practice, not much new or interesting ground gets covered. Most everything happens through montage, particularly an early collection of gags that just comes off inexplicable for those not versed in the original jokes from the game that they're referencing.
The section with the team on a trip to the beach is probably the most cohesive this episode gets. The direction is still as snappy as ever, and the jokes work on their own much better. (I know I've been waiting a while to see that shot of Yusuke dual-wielding lobsters!) The included Futaba stuff is probably at its best as well, since we get a little more information on her mother's research into how Palaces and the Metaverse work. This works because it effectively conveys how having a Palace might ‘feel’ to someone in the real world: Surely almost all of us have felt like we're trapped in our own cognitive labyrinth before, dwelling on our worst excesses and insecurities.
However, the actual character-developing part for Futaba, where she resolves to uncover the true nature of her mother's death and avenge her, comes off less interesting because it's covering ground that was already handled in the previous episode. It is important to the story, but it mostly just reviews things we'd already learned or at least been able to figure out. This crops up again later with Sojiro doing the same thing with the same information. More development for Sojiro should be a good thing, especially with his connections to the arc that just wrapped up, but it does his character a disservice when no new information really comes of it.
There are other snippets of downtime development for the characters along the rest of the clips in this episode. Futaba's ongoing issues with social anxiety are demonstrated in an effective way, but there's also a somewhat out-of-place segment with Ann that addresses some issues in her modeling career through a scene that largely feels like filling time. The advancing ideas that work better concern the Phantom Thieves as a pop-cultural phenomenon, as well as exploring the somewhat neglected character of Morgana.
Seeing the Thieves get built up as a larger movement in the wake of their public victory against Medjed is interesting. It makes sense that succeeding against an internet-based antagonist would do better to propel them to internet-meme popularity, and it also heightens the tension of the story in a more subtle way; even if you aren't familiar with the game's story or somehow miss all the ominous foreshadowing around the next case during Sae's flash-forwards, it's clear that the Thieves are being set up for a fall. So even if this episode isn't accomplishing nearly as much in terms of story or character-building, it's at least setting the tone properly.
The slight forward momentum of Morgana's development ends up being the most interesting part of this otherwise too-light episode. The poor kitty's felt unnecessarily sidelined in the story for a while now, and this episode actually makes that a focal point of his imminent development. He's feeling less useful, especially now with Futaba taking over navigation, and the script also starts laying the seeds for his upcoming conflict with Ryuji (at least providing some foreshadowing for an element of the game's story that could come across more manufactured than necessary). The mysterious flashes to an apparent Shadow-Morgana dial up the intrigue on this front, and his conversations with Ren reinforce how much we're rooting for the little guy. This is nominally an episode about developing Futaba, but Morgana's parts wind up being the brightest spots.
Even those strong elements might not be able to salvage this episode above average territory, however. It's all just too disjointed, even by Persona 5 downtime episode standards, coming across more like a collection of bonus shorts than a cohesive or even necessary viewing experience. For a show that was doing a great job of ramping up recently, this inconsequential outing is a blow to its ongoing momentum.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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