PERSONA 5 the Animation
Episode 4

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 4 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?

Disappointingly, after covering most of the story build-up for the opening hours of P5 well, this episode handles the climax of Kamoshida's story arc by sticking to the game-constrained rails as tightly as possible. Adapting cutscenes and their dramatic escalation worked previously thanks to the skillful direction of content that was already interesting. But when the time comes to take on virtually any other element of the game, the anime comes off way too rigid in its interpretations. For starters, there's an over-long explanation by Morgana about how the calling card makes the treasure appear, with a resulting time limit for the thieves. However, all this talk of obvious game mechanics is substantially less interesting when you're not engaging with them as a player. This easily could have been skimmed over, but P5A seems insistent on being too faithful to its source material at times.

This is also present in all the other prep before the party takes on the dungeon. We see Ren and Ryuji shop for new weapons in an airsoft shop, and Ren gets some healing items dumped in his lap by a passing doctor. For what it's worth, Takemi's appearance is actually a highlight of this section, since her immediately intriguing personality comes through without this being a straight adaptation of the game. But it still feels like a deus ex machina for a problem that doesn't ultimately matter, since Ren and the thieves don't use any healing items once the adventure is underway. Similarly, the anime works in a moment with Ren constructing tools at his desk that don't get used either, seemingly just there to acknowledge that this is something you do in the game.

You might think that this issue would be alleviated after the prep work is done and the actual heist gets underway, but you'd be underestimating P5A's commitment to detail. We then get a montage of the characters sneaking around busting enemies while they chat about their code-names. This portion really contributes to the whole Let's Play feel of the episode, in that we're seeing people just push through the game as they talk. It gets the story across functionally, but an adaptation should strive to leverage the strengths of its medium, rather than adhering so closely to the beats of a different format. Persona 5's animation still looks generally good, so it's frustrating to think of how the pedestrian direction is holding back its dramatic impact.

And even the visuals come up short for this episode's big showpiece: the fight with Shadow Kamoshida. I understand the constraints that most anime productions are under right now, but limitations aside, going with CGI for his monstrous form was an ill-advised decision. This design was done in stylized CGI to begin with, being from a PS4 game and all, but taking that route with the anime only highlights how its visuals come up short against the source material. The fight itself proceeds along the same rote path as the rest of the episode, complete with turn-based attacks and breaks for healing spells. The climax of the battle does try to build some drama out of game over/restarting mechanics, but even that just leads to introducing the Persona fusion gimmick in an unsatisfying way.

After all this, the story still has the solid payoff of its source material. The focus on Ann versus Kamoshida and the resolution of her feelings are handled extremely well, and seeing the terrible teacher get dragged on multiple planes of existence for his crimes is as satisfying as ever. This stuff is Persona 5 the Animation at its best; if only it could figure out how to make the journey there more interesting.

After this first case is wrapped up, we get a flash-forward to later in the story, showing teenage detective Akechi talking to the assembled team of thieves in the future and hinting at their next case. (Because this show needed more shifting timelines; Sae and her interrogation didn't even appear in this episode!) As convoluted as it makes the storytelling, this is still an engaging flourish that embraces the way an anime adaptation can play with the narrative's presentation. Moving forward, the show should deploy more unique touches like this, instead of feeling so much like a Let's Play of the original game.

Rating: C

PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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