PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 24 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
I really liked Sae's casino level in the game version of Persona 5. It cleverly sets up several new gambling mechanics then tasks the player, Phantom Thief they're playing as, to cheat, rig, and otherwise circumvent their way through them. Of course, that type of subversion that works so well in gameplay might not be as compelling in a more passively-told story, an issue Persona 5 the Animation has bumped into a few times before. So in this case, it handles the gang's beating of the house by simply sidestepping all those mechanics and adapting a new story around it.
The circuitous nature of getting to that story does make this episode odd to follow at times. The opening section setting up Sae's casino-themed Palace seems to be building to its own strong story, especially as the audience should recognize this as the site of the show's ill-fated flash-forward opening. And there's definitely some compelling analysis to be had in how Sae, as a prosecutor, sees the justice system as a winner-take-all gambling setup. But that's barely there as a frame before the team backs out to plan how they're actually going to go through this thing, and the real plot concerning Futaba and Sojiro is revealed. That's a point I was momentarily excited to see the show get into, since I'm always happy for more Futaba, but alas she figures into the plot maybe less than she should.
The actual arc here concerns the oft-hinted-at concerns Sojiro is grappling with in his legal status as Futaba's guardian. We get more of her history and how it ties into their situation, which is good. It's nice to have context for Futaba's issues beyond the whole mom murdered by the Mementos Illuminati thing. But the story of Futaba being shuffled around to different family members, each worse than the last, is related to Ren by Sojiro, with only a few cuts of Futaba looking sad inserted in at different points here and in other snippets in the middle of this episode. It feels like it shortchanges Futaba's character, to have this story about her that she doesn't actually participate in that much. For much of it, her angst over the situation is just used as a device to stall the Thieves in the Palace, her analytical hacker skills not being able to surpass the gambling games due to her torrent of emotions.
Between shunting the cool new Palace off as a mere framing device and shortchanging Futaba's character development in a story focused around her, it would be easy to criticise this episode based on what it isn't. But that's something of a folly, since it does end up doing a solid job of being what it is. Sojiro's character does get some good points out of his focus, showing that he recognizes his own shortcomings in raising Futaba. And the end of the episode has a pretty major shift in regards to him, with Futaba and Ren's involvement with the Phantom Thieves being revealed. It's a suitable reveal here this close to the end of the story, fitting with the tonal raising of the stakes, and the way he deduces it does a good job of reminding us that Sojiro isn't stupid.
The other beneficiary from this episode's choice in plotting is Akechi, which is itself a good choice given my prior complaint about us not getting enough insight into him. The latter half of this episode has he and Ren resume the crime-solving partnership they embarked upon earlier in the series, and it's just as effective a dynamic now as it was then. Having Akechi on the team now means he and Ren can speak even more candidly as well, appreciably in the scene where the detective opens up to our main character a little more about his past and motivation. It can still seem like there are some gaps in his story and character that we haven't been filled in on yet, but here those read as foreshadowing and setup to more compelling points about Akechi to be revealed later. This arc seems to be about him as much as Sae, after all, and the scene at the end with him, Ren, and the chess piece is loaded with portents.
All these character-based elements come together effectively at the end in general. For all my issues with Futaba being left out of this episode for most of it, her coming in at the end and saving Sojiro's day with the social workers is a great moment, all the more heartwarming for hearing her call him ‘Dad’. And seeing her renewed resolve being able to finally beat the casino games is a good payoff to what led us to this detour in the first place. It's all an interesting choice that sidesteps the gaminess of the story in the game to give us a more character-focused telling of the events. That's an aspect this adaptation has worked well with when it leans into it, and for all the points where this episode feels like it might lack focus, trying to juggle too many characters, it still turns out a solid little drama.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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