PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 26 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
The plot of Persona 5 pushes the audience to look for answers, especially amongst the various conspiracies that have sprung up in the story's second half. Some solutions to the mysteries of the show are just barely alluded to in this last episode of the TV run, but it turns out the most shocking revelation is a more meta one: With the broadcast wrapping up and several hours of play-time from the source game left untouched, how was the show going to go out? It turns out to be ‘With a bang’, literally. Yes, PERSONA 5 the Animation makes the somewhat bold choice to end its initial run on the ‘Bad Ending’ of the original game, with Ren shot in the face and the traitor to his party riding off into the sunset. How that works out for the actual presentation of the story is a mixed bag, but that's just the ending; the rest of the episode has other material that works and doesn't work in different ways.
Aside from recapping the flash-forward events of Ren's capture from the first episode of the series (adding in details suggesting some measure of actual mental time-travel on the part of Ren's recollection is involved) the rest of this finale is focused on all the fallout. While the Thieves' interdimensional crimes have always shown off their effects on the ‘real’ world, it's still interesting to see how more unconventional events in the metaverse cause reactions from the public and the press. Showing the news coverage and the reactions of Ren's confidants helps to drive home what a shock the lead character's capture actually was.
There is the issue that the confidants haven't gotten quite as much attention in this anime version that might need for the emotional side of their reactions to Ren's capture to land. This is especially apparent in the case of Tora. The character's social link was relatively important in the game, and ended up tying into the main story to a slight degree. Here, it's almost as if the anime staff forgot about him until the last minute, so he had to be thrown in shortly in the previous episode, and now here he's talking about Ren as if he's known him the whole time, and getting a scene to himself setting up some of the political elements that will be important in the story's future. There's a dissonance to the anime's utilization of this character when the audience hasn't known him until now, and it makes the storytelling come off as clumsy.
There's some other clumsiness in setting everything up to get knocked down this episode, not just borne out of the anime adaptation's choices either. Sae wrapping up her interrogation of Ren brings a nice capstone to this whole nominal framing device, especially now that we know who Sae is and what her involvement in the story has actually been. The big idea is that outside of the stealing of her Treasure, the time spent with Ren has ‘rehabilitated’ Sae in the way the Thieves usually seek to, setting her back on the right path as a prosecutor. But the change in her character with regards to Ren still seems to come too suddenly, with her seemingly deciding to support him feeling like more of a flip in character than was warranted. It's an aspect of her that should be explored as the story continues, of course, as well as explaining how the Thieves' plans all fit in with her interrogation, but the nature of this finale means that aspect ends up feeling cut-off.
So what ends up holding all these loose ends together is, expectedly, Akechi's part of the story. It makes sense, the anime has focally used Akechi well for a while now, and this arc was about him as much as Sae. This episode plays any unsuspecting endearment the unaware anime audience may have for Akechi for all it's worth. That's right, in case you hadn't figured it out by now or didn't know from playing the game beforehand, Akechi is the sell-out on the Phantom Thieves. Granted, his position in the story and process of elimination compared to the other characters meant that as soon as the possibility of a traitor was floated, he was the most likely suspect, but the show has still done an admirable job of deflecting suspicion, honestly I'd say better than the game did. This episode keeps that going right up until the end. His supposed planned rescue of Ren seems to play into his role in the story so far, the audience expecting it to work as a capstone to his development and bond with the team over this arc. Making sure you never see it coming is the way the anime so effectively sells the shock of Akechi shooting Ren in the face at the end.
So now we round back to the subject of that ending. As mentioned, this is based on a ‘Bad Ending’ from the game, which is a clever way to wrap the show early for the broadcast. And I am impressed at how hard the show commits to this as the finale, complete with final-episode credits over Akechi's menacing slow-walk. There's already been confirmation that the real ending of the story will get covered in a special at the end of this year, and those familiar with the game of course even know how Ren's untimely demise here will get circumvented for that. The problem is that even as an exceedingly clever way to abuse the limited episode count, the result means the story of this actual episode ends up feeling hollow and unsatisfying. None of the mysteries powering the world of Persona 5 are close to answered yet, and indeed more are raised at the end here. As much effort as the show expended on setting Akechi up, it can seem frustrating to the audience to turn everything they know about him on its head with no answers offered until later on. There was some strong, clever stuff in this episode, but it ultimately feels unfair to just drop this giant shock in the audience's lap, then tell them they'll get an explanation by waiting three months. (Or just going and playing the game instead.)
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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