PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 23 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
Persona 5 continues to play coy with its future story direction as this episode seemingly leads us into the show's final act. Akechi has obviously been important to the story from the get-go, with the anime adaptation spending even more time hinting at what he might do in the future. However, aside from getting involved in some of Ren's extraneous affairs a couple times, an audience unfamiliar with the game couldn't make many guesses as to what his role will be, save for that single flash-forward indicating that he would make contact with the team of Phantom Thieves later down the line. This episode is about finally getting to that payoff.
And it is a strong payoff, to be sure. There was always the possibility of Akechi joining the team, but it wasn't clear-cut, and even when he does join up at the end of this episode, the circumstances surrounding this decision are still obtuse, almost to the point of frustration. We've waited a long time for more insight into Akechi's character, particularly given his strong public persona, so that facade remaining intact can feel like yet more stalling. The detective does drop some information at the very end of the episode, indicating that he has as much personal reason for getting into the heart-stealing game as the other kids, but we're still left with suspiciously little information on his true nature.
I've been considering the issues I have with this adaptation for a few weeks, but with the season winding down it might be time to highlight the story's overall pacing problems. Without giving too much away, there's still a lot of story left in the Persona 5 narrative, likely more than two or three more episodes can contain. I can't find anything indicating that the series plans to run past that, save for the next-episode previews indicating we might go at least past episode 27, but it's hard to say for now. As-is, the show seems poised to reach a finale of sorts after this new plotline concerning Akechi and Sae.
This all contributes to the impression that this episode spent more time resting on its laurels than it should. A school festival story is a staple of many anime regardless of genre, in this case contributing to the atmosphere of dual lives that Persona 5 is trying to sell. And there are a couple cute moments in this slice-of-life montage, like Ren trying to sneak-attack a student working a haunted house the same way he might a Shadow in the Metaverse. But other than those snippets, it's all very droll and procedural, seeing the team stand around talking about having fun and paying lip-service to the contrast of the investigation closing in on them without actually doing anything until at least halfway through the episode. The way so many shots directly crib from the game's versions of events only contributes to that phoned-in feeling.
Once Akechi does take the stage halfway through to contribute some movement on the investigation front, things thankfully pick up. Everything about him in this episode seems dedicated to fleshing him out more on the eve of him joining the main cast, from seeing him lose his cool over eating spicy takoyaki to getting more insight into how his public investigation of the Phantom Thieves has evolved. Having him play off Makoto for large portions of this episode is a good character choice as well; there are layered parallels to their characters, from their connections to Sae to the fact that they were both able to deduce the identities of the Thieves.
That's right, Akechi has figured out who the Thieves are! Moreso than Makoto's discovery, this event is dropped as more of a big twist, feeling like a payoff to that cornered tone that has been following the Thieves for a while now. It plays into the mystery they're trying to keep up around Akechi's intentions, since his method of getting Ren and the others to work with him is presented as rather ruthless blackmail. This will hopefully pay off even stronger as we learn more about Akechi, and despite the time they spend meandering before this reveal, it does provide a strong setup for the next arc.
Anyway, I still can't help feeling like Persona 5 has spent enough time on setup already, and the perfunctory pacing of this episode did little to quell those concerns. Some strong plot payoffs aside, there wasn't much to this episode otherwise, with little time spent on how the other main characters feel being put in a pinch like this. Even Ren, who actually has something of an established relationship with Akechi, gave little indication of his feelings on their new dubious alliance. Akechi's an interesting addition to the main cast and I'm intrigued to follow this storyline with him, but I wish the show felt less like it was merely along for the ride at this point.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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