PERSONA 5 the Animation
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?
Well this was a pleasant surprise! A downtime-focused episode of Persona 5 about the boys seeing their teacher in a sexy maid costume could have been filler of the most disposable order. Even at its most benign, I was honestly expecting this episode to just run through the motions of the confidant-development scenes from the original game. But instead of coasting on its predefined structure, this episode of Persona 5 the Animation puts solid effort into its intertwining ally-development stories, resulting in an impressively solid half-hour of anime.
All the same, the main draw for many viewers will still be Kawakami in that maid outfit. The character is popular among fans of the game, and the contrast between her perpetually-exhausted personality as a teacher and her ostentatious sexy-maid side-job, as well as the backstory that reconciles those two halves, makes her understandably compelling. Kawakami's origins don't actually get explored in this episode, so her actions in the present have to define things for viewers, and it surprisingly works. Her voice actress vacillates between her personality extremes well, often in the same scene, and there are some great little touches like the special effects of her heart hand-sign.
Kawakami's portrayal and interactions with Ren make her scenes in this episode work where they have gone astray. At first, the scheme that Ryuji (and later Mishima) drag Ren into might make the kids come off as creepier than necessary (an issue this series seriously needs to be judicious about given the villains our heroes have confronted so far), but it quickly becomes apparent that they have no idea what they've gotten themselves into when calling a "maid service". Ren's reactions especially are funny and endearing; Kawakami's always in control of their poorly-planned perversion plans, and when she discusses things with our main character on even footing later, the sexual tension is completely dropped in favor of empathy.
Those discussions turn out to be the really important parts of the episode, as they circle back around to the other Operation Maid Watch participant, Ryuji. Ren had already gotten to know Ryuji earlier in the series, but with Kamoshida deposed and the track team reforming, he's got more development ahead of him. This is where the episode's clever use of Ren's relationship with others comes through, as our main character gets information about his friend's situation from Kawakami as well as discussions with Ryuji himself. It makes the exposition feel less monotonous and develops several characters through one storyline. This is effective, economical storytelling that builds off mechanics and elements from the game without presenting them in a rote procession.
Ryuji's resulting story is strong as well. Unlike Kawakami, whose arc has only just begun, most of Ryuji's hang-ups are actually resolved this week. This gives a sense of progress to the main cast, especially since the more noble qualities Ryuji uses to work out his situation with the track team were developed during with his time in the Phantom Thieves. Those developments help this episode tie into the overarching plot, feeling less like filler while demonstrating that the story can be entertaining even without thieves in sexy costumes using magic ghosts to punch people. The mini-mystery over how the track team is being managed actually comes off more compelling than the way Madarame's revelations were dumped onto us in the previous ‘main’ arc.
This episode also looks quite sharp, even with its more modest ambitions. The direction is strong, using effective montages near the beginning to sell the daily life phase of the Phantom Thieves' world. Many incidental NPCs and elements from the game are shown off, but rather than being simple shout-outs for prior fans, they also help add flavor to the story's world. The direction of Ren's first encounter with Kawakami in her maid personage is extremely well done, with lots of quick angled cuts and depicting the characters' faces through window reflections. The staging in some scenes perhaps too blatantly recreates the way those shots looked in the game, but it doesn't detract at all from the storytelling, and some fans might be more amused by the callbacks than I was.
Given its pedigree, Persona 5 the Animation didn't have to come out this hard for this little one-off storyline, but the effort on display is appreciated. Perhaps it's because the staff is as fond of Kawakami as the fans, but whatever the motivation, it was nice to see them actually give the character her due for a moment in the spotlight. That Ryuji, Ren, and the more everyday elements of the story all were elevated as a result is simply an enjoyable bonus.
PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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