「I Want to See Justice with My Own Eye」
As the road to the third palace is being paved, Episode 10 keeps in the best and the worst of this arc’s beginning while also smoothing over some of its transitions. Since Akechi has appeared earlier as a patron in Leblanc, it comes off as far more natural for Akechi to single out Ren or be particularly focused on him and his friends instead of having him be gravitated towards him because that’s what fate dictates. We still get the infamous “pancakes” line from Akechi so they definitely didn’t skip a beat there, though they did help to blend in new details to give future events foreshadowing like introducing Togo Hifumi in-person as a celebrity invited to the TV station or having Kawakami scold Mishima for getting too close to Employee Only sections of the building. It all helps to set the tone for the rest of the game as Akechi keeps Ren and his friends within his cross hairs.
Also in hot-pursuit of our Phantom Thieves is the true star of the episode, Nijima Makoto. Although much of the more exciting aspects of Makoto’s growth look like they’ll be coming up in an episode or two from now, 10 marks where her resolve to stay on the rails of authority starts to waver. While she begins stalking Ren with only a large manga magazine as her line of defense, she finds herself on the opposite end of justice by having to be pitted against the Phantom Thieves. Her own definition of justice is challenged as the principal keeps pushing for her to find out who they are, yet, as she blackmails the Phantom Thieves into hunting down the mafia boss that’s been targeting students from Shujin Academy, she also finds herself at odds by having to align herself with the same authority that fought to protect Kamoshida and stamp out a movement that could potentially take down more abhorrent members of society. Ann’s pushback against Makoto as the head of the student council left impotent in the face of Kamoshida’s corruption helps kickstart the building resentment for authority that would eventually cause Makoto to find her own justice away from the powers that be that tell her to stay in line or else.
This episode also introduced us to Shinjuku, the red light district where Ren finds out the identity of mafia boss Junya Kaneshiro. They retained some of the best aspects of the area like the beginning of Ohya’s confidant, the introduction of her favorite bar’s owner Lala Escargot, and the debut of Mifune Chihaya, whose new VA Terui Haruka takes on the impossible role of filling in for the late and great Matsuki Miyu. She does a decent job, but this particular arc has the distinction of having lost the seiyuu for Chihaya and Kaneshiro, so it is a detail that sticks out after playing through with the Japanese voices.
However, the largest issue with the episode is what they didn’t leave out though with its worst characters, the two flamboyantly gay men of Shinjuku, making their appearance. Their existence is solely to be laughed at as they aim to take Ryuji out for a hot night out against his will. While they made sure Ren didn’t make light of Ryuji’s assault, they didn’t shy away from making it worse with off-screen smooching sound effects or having them tackle him to the ground. Not only is it a dramatic set-back to have a comic molestation scene in light of how serious Ann and Shiho’s sexual harassment was at the hands of Kamoshida in comparison to Ryuji getting assaulted by two burly gay men, but it does a disservice to the narrative itself by taking a story about fighting back against an unjust society when its only gay characters are comical molesters brought into the story twice for laughs. In the same franchise that has Kurosu Jun and the ambiguously bi Tatsumi Kanji, it is the hugest step backwards imaginable. And Lala is nonetheless an engaging character who has fun banter with Ohya and treats Ren fairly, so it’s less of a problem with the game’s opinion of LGBT people or drag, and more an issue with the reasoning behind the need to have a comical scene involving predatory gay men. Honestly, the game and the anime would have been better off excluding the characters because the outdated humor of gay sexual predators was really unneeded, and goes against much of what makes Persona 5 such a great game.
But outside of that, it was still an enjoyable episode with much of the important details retained and thankfully shortened for better cohesion. As an example, it made far more sense for the show to cut to Makoto showing Ren’s friends the evidence of them blurting out their activities as the Phantom Thieves right after her argument with Ann. It cuts to the chase and also cuts Ryuji some slack when, in the game, the complaints of his loose lips are tied mostly to the phone call he made to Ren right when Makoto showed him the recording where Ryuji left the incriminating message of wanting to meet up at the Phantom Thieves hideout for Phantom Thieves such as themselves. The same thing can be said about Akechi’s on-air interview and Ohya giving Ren information in exchange for starting her confidant as it helps to condense the need for information overload while naturally blending the extra details into scenes where they would fit.