PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
Madarame's already been revealed to have done some pretty bad things, but this episode keeps piling on more crimes. Among them, and a key point of Yusuke finally rebelling against him, is that he faked the theft of his famous painting ‘Sayuri’ and used that notoriety to sell copies on the black market. Yusuke makes a point of condemning this cash-grab motivation, but it's the sort of thing you might look slightly at when it's addressed in a tie-in anime to a hugely popular video game. Not that Persona 5 doesn't have artistic merit, but I don't think anyone watching this show is pretending that the anime doesn't largely exist to hawk blu-rays and keychains.
This whole episode is one of incongruities. It's another case of functional execution, where characters and concepts are introduced to move the plot along at a respectable (and perhaps too fast) clip, but the storytelling's impact is left in the lurch. Sure we get a decently funny little introduction to the reporter, Ohya, and Yusuke's Persona-summoning gets covered just fine, but a lot of the deeper character and emotional work gets passed over.
It could be a case of skewed priorities. This episode was willing to get creative in how it adapted concepts and events from the game: Yusuke's artistic sense is singled out as an ability that helps that Phantom Thieves past some previously impassable puzzles in the palace. This is a clever little idea that plays off the new character in a storytelling sense that might not have worked as a game mechanic. It's a pity that the same level of revisionism couldn't be applied to elements of another event in this episode, when Ann agrees to model nude for Yusuke as a decoy.
Luckily, as in the source material, Ann has no real intention of stripping down for the distraction, and her over-clothed contingency plan is still a funny visual. Rather, it serves to highlight an issue in how Persona 5 treats some of its characters. Ann's story was specifically about her choosing not to sexualize herself in ways that made her uncomfortable or be taken advantage of by others for her body, regardless of the reasons. It's one of the elements that made that first arc so strong, so it comes off incongruous when the Persona 5's camera insists on lingering over her catsuit-clad rear in every episode, or when her teammates pressure her into stripping down for a plan that could probably use a few more drafts anyway.
This is where the power of adaptation could come in, perhaps choosing to write Ann as comfortable and willing to go along with the plan from the start (highlighting her model sensibilities that she mentions), or even having her specify that she has no intention of actually getting nude, which would go a long way toward reinforcing the respect that Ann supposedly earned in the previous arc. Instead, the show just comes across like it doesn't care about Ann now that her development in that storyline is over.
A good third of the episode is spent on this scene, leaving us with less time than we needed for Yusuke's portion to land with the proper impact. That's too bad, because the setup is so effective. Madarame is effectively Yusuke's father, or at least the strongest paternal figure in his life. A betrayal on this level should be a major shift for Yusuke that reverberates through the whole episode. It also represents another nice uptick from the previous arc; unlike Kamoshida, who everyone already reviled, Madarame is Yusuke's loved one, so the scale of conflict has been increased. But the episode just doesn't take the time to milk that dramatic impact. Lip-service is paid to their connection, and Yusuke's streaming tears might come across stronger if they were on screen for more than a few seconds, but that's not what we get.
Even if the emotional elements are off in this episode, all the nuts and bolts of the storytelling are still in working order. I am concerned that the shifting timelines of the plan described in the opening minutes might lose people not aware of what actually happened in this part of the game, but the basics are still comprehensible. The fighting in this episode wasn't bad either, perhaps because Persona use was kept to a minimum. Yusuke's dramatic debut was of course the exception, because any reiteration of Arsene Lupin needs a Goemon, and we got some nice shots showcasing the painter's unleashed dramatic side, even if the Persona's actual abilities were delivered in another awkward jump-cut.
But pure functionality isn't enough for a series that made its name on being so stylish. Persona 5 the Animation has had some solid episodes of exposition and setup the past couple weeks, so it's disappointing that it stumbled when the time came for the dramatic payoff. I'm not sure what type of timeline they plan on adapting these events across, but this episode was proof that they could stand to slow down and explore the more impactful moments of the story instead of working to cram absolutely everything in from the game version.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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