PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 27 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
Three months later, PERSONA 5 the Animation picks up right where it left off! Obviously the show, much like the game, couldn't go on without its main character, so after a brief tease of reactions to the supposed suicide of the leader of the Phantom Thieves, this new anime special immediately makes clear that Ren did in fact survive his apparent encounter with Akechi. After that, a whole lot of explanations are in order. The one-two punch of having to loosely recap the scenario of an anime that ended a season ago and explain the labyrinthine plan the Thieves enacted to stage Ren's death makes for a rather clumsy introduction to what should be a triumphant return to the screen for this franchise. Nearly ten minutes have passed by the time our heroes are done explaining everything to Sae, and then we cut to Akechi's side of things where another five minutes of exposition are doled out. If you're invested in the story and setting of Persona 5, this will at least be baseline interesting material, and it does work in setting the new status quo for the story moving forward, but I feel like there could have been a more balanced way to jump back into the action for a series that left us hanging for so long.
But the juicy bits of all this exposition are indeed juicy. Obviously we already knew Akechi was evil, but learning that he's been working at the behest of ever-present background politician Shido gives more context to the over-arching villain plot. Shido does fall victim to this anime series neglecting his character in ways that the game were better at communicating. As such, the revelation of his position does come out of nowhere, once again highlighting that neglecting Tora's plot-line in the anime was ill-advised. However, the further revelation that he's the assaulter who got Ren arrested in the first place ties him all the way back to the beginning of the story, timed well with Ren realizing this at the same time as the audience.
Unfortunately, all that time spent recapping means the pacing of other parts of that story must be sacrificed. The biggest casualty is everything related to Shido's Palace itself. The idea is still incredibly cool, with the Diet building on a massive cruise ship that Shido steers through ruined waters. But the revelation of how Ren figures that out from remembering his previous encounter with Shido is unforgivably glossed over; that was an important moment that sealed the connective memories of the characters, and this version virtually skips it. Furthermore, much of the exploration of the Palace is covered in montage format as usual, glossing over major sub-boss battles and particular challenges from the game (though in the case of the mouse-transformation maze portions, some players may be happy not to have to revisit those.). This narrative choice is a little easier to swallow given this special's more unique format and presentation, but it still smacks of having to get everything in under the wire.
They do try to pace things out better in regards to the final confrontation with Akechi, appreciably given how much time the anime spent on him. The biggest issue is that we've only just gotten to know Akechi's true nature, so the real revelations about his character and motivation feel like they're piled on at the last minute after so much obfuscation. It's particularly egregious in the case of the most major reveals about the character—that he has the same Wild Card powers as Ren, and Shido is actually his father. It's awkward that the series spent so much time teasing and building up Akechi as a character only to vomit out the biggest twists about him just before ending his story. The central ideas are at least extremely solid, selling the contrast that he and Ren had as detective and thief, different kinds of ‘heroes’, and you can feel the direction striving to do as well as it can. There's a terrific use of the recurring chess piece detail that was exclusive to this anime version of Persona 5, and it still mostly works because of how much the anime has sold Akechi to us at this point. It's just too bad the pacing forces it to go by too fast, and then we're on to Shido.
Shido's politics are an odd element of this story. It's worth noting that in the original game, his exact platform was rather ambiguous, while a few more details are given here. His talk of reestablishing the country, making it a powerful nation that others will bow to, definitely smacks of the right-wing nationalism that was accelerating worldwide as the original Persona 5 was released. Despite this, PERSONA 5 the Animation stops short of detailing or indicting Shido's policies; rather it's the actions he committed to get his position that make him an adversary for the Phantom Thieves. Shido's crimes are not seen as a means to his removal for any great reasons; they are just the end themselves.
While Ren's personal connection to Shido's actions does lend enough of a revenge angle to keep things compelling, that unwillingness to commit to any deeper reasons for opposition still speaks to the overall issue Persona 5 has had in its later sections. The establishment being opposed feels too generic for the commentary to land with any significant punch. As Okumura was a detached stand-in for big business, Shido simply represents the evils of politics in general, an effective cipher for whichever side the audience happens to think is the problem. To the writing's credit, one aspect that does land as hauntingly realistic comes right at the end; even after confessing his crimes on live television, Shido's supporters still deny any wrongdoing and rally around his campaign anyway.
The actual fight against Shido also feels like it goes by too fast, with the heroes clearing through his various forms with relative ease. The direction of Persona fights still isn't great, but the art and animation are quite nice-looking with some flashes of brilliance. Yoshitsune's attack is extremely cool, and they even threw in Alice for the hardcore fans watching. But it still feels like it's over with too-little fanfare, as the induced collapse of Shido's Palace provides more tension for the characters' escape. This extra episode pointedly ends on that final twist of Shido retaining support, signaling that something is wrong on a much larger scale and setting the stage for another special episode to conclude things for real in another three months. This ‘Dark Sun’ special functions as well as the rest of the Persona 5 anime in continuing the game's story in digest version with a few of its own flourishes, but I can't help but feel the big pacing issues holding it back would have been smoothed over with a more standard episodic structure. We'll have to see how the ending turns out.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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