PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
It's somewhat quaint to think that it was ever possible for Persona 5's Phantom Thieves to choose not to become Phantom Thieves, but it makes sense when you stop and think about it. The entire business with Kamoshida occurred because of personal ties that Ren, Ryuji, and Ann all had to what was happening, and they were in it to save themselves from expulsion as much as getting justice for Shiho and others. This episode reveals that the metaphysical ‘treasure’ they stole from Kamoshida's palace was actually worth real-world money, so treating themselves to a buffet and gaining a little notoriety is simply a happy bonus.
I've always enjoyed that aspect of the Persona 5 story. Despite the supernatural and otherwise ‘heroic’ nature of what they're doing, our collection of criminal kids still get to indulge in the spoils of their efforts in a more practical way. It's a good compromise to paint what they're doing as ‘good’ while still highlighting the roguish way they go about it. This whole story is supposed to be about outcasts taking out their frustrations on the world that wrongs them and reforming it in the process, and even this side perk contributes to that atmosphere.
The decision to continue dealing with the abusive adults in their world forms the crux of everything our heroes do in this episode. Sure, the judgmental grown-ups at the buffet are only baseline rude to them, but that treatment underscores the core issues they've come to realize. Kamoshida was only a symptom of a larger sickness, as powerful people continue to abuse authority. If they could fix him, why not others? It's a presumptuous idea, of course, and that's the point. In many ways, Persona 5 is a now-archetypical millennial power fantasy of sticking it to the grown-ups who screw up the world and treat you like crap in the process.
Pushing those ideas from the original game effectively is what makes this episode work. It's nice to see our main characters actually ruminate on what they can do now and the best ways to go about it. It even spurs a tiny amount of character development from the otherwise cipher protagonist Ren, as he seems slightly more conflicted than the others over the choice to go after more targets, but eventually finds himself positioned to be the team leader.
Everything else outside those ideas is table-setting for how the rest of the story is going to work, starting with the next arc. Some things work naturally, like the kids settling on a name for their team (and taking a moment to highlight how the default ‘The Phantoms’ name for the group is kind of lame), or showing that Makoto, another student at their school, will be investigating them at the behest of the principal. On the other hand, we have the revelation of Mishima setting up a fan-site for the Phantom Thieves, information that he gracelessly drops in Ren's lap while also insinuating that he's aware of his secret identity. This is one of those game elements that feels inserted by obligation, which is a shame since the concept of a message board where people can ask our newly-minted gang of antiheroes for help is so solid. It's the same with another momentary scene of Ren testing medicine for Takemi, the doctor from the previous episode, which really just sets up the idea that Ren is going to gain confidants who help him in little ways, just like in the game. Of course I love things like the Phansite and Takemi's clinical trials, and I'd want them to appear in this show at some point, but they need to be executed with a more even hand.
The other snippets this episode races through fare better. Morgana revealing Mementos and explaining how it ties into his own backstory gets the world-building right. Mementos also gives us some fun antics from the Phantom Thieves on a less-critical mission (I love that Morgana can transform into a vehicle on account of Japan having a wide subconscious perception of ‘cats turning into buses’), and establishes how they will be helping people outside of palaces for more major bad guys. This detail would do well to work as just a background element we see snippets of every now and then; hopefully the show doesn't devolve into dungeon crawls too often.
The other high point of this setup episode is formally introducing Akechi to Ren. This show has already put more emphasis on Akechi than expected, so even those unaware of his role in the game could already figure out that he'll be instrumental to later events. This fleshes him out more (including some side-conversations with Sae and other investigators that allude to his involvement) and neatly sets up the idea of a detective/thief rivalry with Ren. The atmosphere of this scene works well, though our former player avatar will need to develop more personality of his own to pull off this type of dynamic in the long run.
Largely what we get in this episode is all perfectly functional. The appealing ideas that make Persona 5 work are on full display, pretty much carrying the show this week, but they do just fine against the backdrop of all the busywork. With all these concepts and characters in orbit established, the show feels well primed to jump into the next Big Plot in the upcoming episode.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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