PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
If nothing else, there's something to be said for playing to your strengths. Persona 5 The Animation seems to know by this point that its capacity for exciting spiritual battles is diminished, while its ability to dynamically depict the Phantom Thieves planning their heists is an odd strength in its presentation. As such, depicting the heist of Madarame's treasure, which takes up merely half of this episode, is structured around working within those talents.
The dynamism of the anime's presentation is at least present from the beginning. Madarame gets his calling card, and there's a neat visual juxtaposition of Yusuke being privy to that. From there it's smart cutting straight to the execution of the theft over explanations of it, which keeps things moving along. Viewers will likely enjoy the cute visual of Morgana tied to the crane for his daring wire-drop, and it's also easy to appreciate the anime skipping over the more mundane dungeon-crawling gameplay that led to this whole escapade.
Skipping over the unimportant segments of this mission keeps this episode moving along well. There's good cinematography tying everything together, and the staff seems to understand that we don't need to see every step of every Persona battle carried out, and that this anime wasn't that great at depicting them to begin with. In fact, the Persona battles seem to have reached peak lip-service in their portrayal this episode, with only stills of the super-powered spirits appearing for cordial magic projections. The actual character animation at least looks sharp and effective throughout.
But it all still succumbs to the main issue this arc has had of just moving just too fast. The most readily apparent casualty of this pacing issue is the focal painting ‘Sayuri’. Notably, the painting's unusual facial expression was a key point brought up multiple times in game dialogue at this point of the story, but here they barely find a second to mention it for the first time before unloading the major spoiler about that detail. It conveys the information we need, but there's little time to let any pathos land in the way it should for this plot to work on an emotional level.
At least the purpose behind Madarame's villainous machinations on ‘Sayuri’ are as effective as ever. For all the herky-jerky pacing of reveals, this anime version of the story does at least get Yusuke's part in the whole affair right. The revelation of the crimes Madarame committed to claim that painting absolve Yusuke of any guilt over taking the alleged artist down for his myriad sins. Yusuke's delivery is still just as stirring as any of the other big Persona moments, and it almost retroactively sells the rushed revelations of moments prior. The lukewarm combat depicted by the animation won't aid the excitement factor of the ensuing boss battle, so its most exciting element is Yusuke painting over Madarame to blunt his senses, which is still depicted with a modicum of dynamism.
After all that, Yusuke's actual resolution does feel as rushed as anything else. The same revelations that help him cut ties with his mentor also wind up making his myriad issues feel resolved too quickly. For all the souped-up crimes they heaped on him, Madarame's confession comes off not unlike a rehash of Kamoshida's, even if I did enjoy the anime-added detail that not much of the average public was interested in the downfall of the plagiarizing painter.
The rest of the episode is the expected Persona cool-down from a major game-changing arc. It's another case where I'm torn about the time being utilized, given that segments of the dungeon being skipped over actually contained some valuable characterization for Yusuke and his perception of the ‘Sayuri’ painting and Madarame. It feels imbalanced, especially given how much of the remaining time is spent on semi-humorous segments about welcoming Yusuke into the fold and having him room with our protagonist Ren for a day. But even that ends up highlighting the anime's strengths, as we get a few whiffs of characterization from Ren, as well as content that reinforces the ‘outsider’ status of the team, particularly Ann.
Execution aside, there are some excellent ideas in this episode, borne out of what worked about the source material. Perhaps it is a consequence of adapting non-episodic source material that discrepancies in the presentation creep through. Mashing together these tonally disparate portions of the plot will come off somewhat disjointed, but that's to be expected when trying to chop a 100-hour game into half-hour chunks. Sure, the ultimate thesis of Madarame's behavior and Yusuke joining the Phantom Thieves comes off as a rehash of points made by the first arc already, but that works alongside more welcome elements such as a noticeable increase in Sae's flash-forwards and the interesting details of Morgana's situation. Some viewers might still be wondering why the anime hasn't properly given us Ren's criminal backstory yet, but this episode of Persona still makes all its diverse story beats function. Leaving out janky Persona battles lets us just focus on what does work about this anime adaptation.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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