PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 20 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
Persona 5 the Animation's steady increase in quality as the arc ticks along is one I've come to expect at this point. What brought us to this point in the story were contentious elements ported over from the source material that the show is gamely trying to reproduce effectively. As with last episode refocusing the reason for Morgana's departure around his dissatisfaction with the team's lack of drive instead some drummed-up disagreement with Ryuji, this episode uses the conflict to drive up the stakes of the Thieves' latest case and introduce new players. I think the idea was that by downplaying the conflict between Morgana and the others, the show hoped to paper over how much of a frivolous annoyance the whole plotline felt. It mostly works, but there are still several bumps along the way.
The show's execution is strong in this episode, for one. I quite liked the way the beginning of the episode forewent any sort of background music to drive home the awkward atmosphere resulting from Morgana's disappearance. The episode in general looks good, with some great character animation in bits like when Futaba's hacking is shown, and a surprising range of expressions out of Morgana's cat form toward the end. This excellent focus on crafting characters pays off even more with the newest addition: the mysterious and magnificent Beauty Thief, Haru!
Haru's introductory scene and all her dialogue is framed as a hilarious anticlimax, with the possibility that she's the black-masked background bad guy barely being bandied about before being blatantly brushed back. The animation of her character and delivery of her voice actress are all on-point to make this scene land, which is important since it could come off as annoying if it hadn't worked. It all sets the stage for Haru sharing her debut spotlight in what's otherwise a focus episode on Morgana's character. Haru's a comparatively late-game addition to the party that can sometimes have trouble standing out among all the established party members, but this episode does its best to endear her to the audience, and I think it succeeds.
The dedication to character focus in this episode does mean some of the potentially interesting details about the Palace and its ruler, Haru's food-company CEO father, is still being pushed to the background out of necessity. The episode barely has time to mention the robots seen in the symbolic space-factory as examples of how Okumura treats his workers, before the sociological implications of that need to be put on pause to introduce Haru and deal with Morgana. Okumura in the real world does get a little more exploration, introducing Haru's total wad of a fiance in order to help other parts of the plot move forward. However, the lack of time to examine the real-life issues behind his actions betrays the ideas that made Persona 5 so strong at the beginning. A more character-based focus probably makes more sense at this point, but it does rob the series of some of its distinctive thematic edge.
It doesn't help either that the character stuff still has its issues this episode, despite the anime's attempt to smooth over some of them. For all the work the show seems to be putting in to downplay the pettiness of Morgana's issues with the team, making it apparent that this was all a minor detour to introduce Haru to the team, it still ends up artificially extending the group conflict longer than necessary via a bullheaded disagreement with Ryuji. It feels like a real ball-drop after I'd been happy to see the anime avoid this kind of frustration. The ultimate resolution, with Morgana admitting his own limitations and deciding to come back for his and Haru's sake anyway, does somewhat right the ship here. I like how the team coming together illustrates the ideas of how inner and outer conflicts among groups interact. The problem with Haru's fiance puts everyone's issues with each other into perspective, and Haru herself turns out to be a positive stabilizing influence on the Thieves now that the band's back together. That's strong conceptual stuff, I just wish the story hadn't relied so much on characters being petty jerks just to steer the plot to this destination.
I think this is still a case where the good in Persona 5 outweighs the bad. Haru's already gotten some great characterization, and resolving the issue between the group and Morgana puts us in a good place to take care of the actual Palace-based plot next episode. The show was even quick to remind us of the issues with the Phantom Thieves' growing notoriety and keep Akechi in the picture, seemingly setting him up to cross paths with the Thieves in major ways in the future. But there's still an element of frustration in the show's focus choices within its running time, and with the series' episode count rapidly running out and a lot of game content still to be covered, I do have concerns that Persona 5 the Animation's priorities could run into more of these kinds of issues in the coming episodes.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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