PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 21 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
With the Morgana situation sorted, it's finally time for the Phantom Thieves to tackle the whole Okumura issue that's otherwise been looming as the main 'threat' of this story arc. If all of the other character stuff made that part feel underplayed, like Okumura and his apparent shady business practices weren't as big a deal as previous Palace owners, it's probably not just you. The bad boss has been treated practically as an obligatory background element of the situation up til now, an acknowledgement that the Thieves have to be hunting down a big boss for the other moving parts of their story to work. With those parts either resolved or on hold now, the Okumura situation has to be dealt with in as lackluster a way as its back-burner status would imply.
To be sure, there are some good points to this episode, mostly in the character work. The anime's treatment of Haru continues to be one of its stronger assets, still giving her interesting personality elements and letting her grow effectively through this episode's intensifying plot. I enjoyed the detail about her admiring TV heroines growing up, explaining some of her quirks we've already seen when she's in Phantom Thief mode. And her Persona awakening is as strong as all the others so far, really selling Haru as a cool and stylish character more than ever before.
In addition, this episode dives into the more serious implications of Haru's role in taking down her father. Other characters involved with the villains generally found themselves liberated in taking them down, but in Haru's case, her father being outed as a criminal will immediately cost her livelihood and have difficult social consequences for her. Allowing her to acknowledge that and decide to go along with the plan anyway provides more layers to her character. Slipping in the detail that she had previously left requests on the Phan-Site to steal her father's heart for the good of the company's workers is also a nice little way to mitigate any implications that she's only doing for her own sake, justification enough though it be.
There are also strong points to Haru's father's character. Even if the macro level effects of his crimes are woefully underexplored, he at least comes across as an effective villain thanks to how he treats Haru both in his real-life and Palace Shadow iterations. It could be seen as too little too late, but it gives Okumura some sort of impact on a similar level to the more menacing enemies our heroes have faced so far. Having characters like Ann react with empathetic anger at what Haru is being put through by those in power strengthens her character too, and I would say overall that the anime's treatment of Ann has endeared her to me more.
But those positive snippets can't cover for all the places this episode lacks in telling its story. The main issue is the missed opportunities in dealing with the broader elements of Okumura's evils. Previous enemies the team faced were able to act as demonstrations of the societal problems they embodied by impacting the characters in similar ways. Ann was being abused by Kamoshida, Yusuke was being used by Madarame, etc. But Haru's problem with her father forcing her into marriage is a separate issue from his exploitation of workers that the Thieves are taking him down for. Consequently, we don't get any demonstration of this exploitation beyond the characters briefly remarking on it, along with the allegorical worker robots that don't get much to do in this episode. When the heart-changed Okumura does confess his crimes at the end of the episode, it sounds like there are interesting ideas there that could have been explored. Surely the inhumane working conditions described are relevant to the gruesome practices of many major corporations today in real life. But instead, those work-environment criticisms are treated as mere window-dressing. We know Okumura is selfish, and we're told he treats his workers badly, but it's not enough to make that part of the conflict personal.
The already-limp Persona 5 battle animation reaching a low point in the fight against Okumura doesn't help that ‘meh’ feeling either. Okumura himself doesn't even participate, instead sending waves of mecha mooks at our heroes for a rote turn-based battle where one side hardly seems to be attacking. There are a couple cool cuts of animation, but overall it feels like a bland montage. The aftermath of the fight thankfully throws in some plot twists that finally command our attention. The mere idea of the character has been slowly drip-fed in with each arc, but the black-masked Metaverse traveller finally appears this time, finishing off Okumura's shadow in a shocking fashion. And the fallout of that action, in a final scene that interrupts the now-customary Phantom Thief after-party scene, finally drops the other shoe on that long-hanging issue of the Thieves' public popularity. Even if that twist was perhaps too telegraphed, Haru's horrified reaction to her father's death makes great use of the connection between those two characters, giving the show the dramatic shot in the arm it needs to carry us into a hopefully tighter storyline.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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