「My Name Is Beauty Thief!」
This chapter of Persona 5 has the distinction of being one of the least enjoyed sections of the game for two reasons; Okumura’s palace itself, which I will delve further into next week, and the conflict between Morgana and the rest of the Phantom Thieves. Much of the momentum is broken based on how much time is spent trying to convince Morgana that he is a far more valuable asset to the team than his insecurities lead him to believe. It doesn’t help that Ryuji spends a majority of the time going against the group by being half-hearted enough about his initial apologies to tell Morgana things that would obviously make him angry. After days of chasing after him and spending as little time as possible on building up the issues that come from the trap that is set up for the Phantom Thieves to chase after Okumura, it takes a kick from Haru’s abhorrent fiance, Sugimura to get everyone to appreciate Morgana, and get him excited about being a part of the Phantom Thieves again.
Luckily, this is one of the cases where the anime’s pacing, despite being at breakneck speed during parts that matter, works out in favor of an otherwise drawn-out section of the game. They are able to take all of the events of the arc, distill it into one episode, integrate plot-relevant matters like Haru’s introduction, developments with Okumura prepping up for his first attempt at running for office, and foreshadowing the inevitable downward spiral as Akechi observes the group from afar. They do a decent job at getting other confidant characters involved with Ren’s pursuit of both knowledge and mental wellness as he contacts Ohya for information and is pulled aside for a tarot card reading from Chihaya. Although he doesn’t end up taking the soul stone that acts as your 100,000 yen fee to start Chihaya’s confidant story, it is good to see that we might get some nod to Ren getting to the bottom of why she has to contend with selling these stones for her business.
Morgana has been more sympathetic in the anime considering that we don’t hear him constantly demeaning Ryuji, which allows this arc to come off as far less obnoxious as it doesn’t come at us under the pretense that Ryuji’s behavior wasn’t because he finally saw his window to get back at Morgana for every “Oh Skull, you’re pathetic!” that he’s heard for the past five palaces. With the anime having restraint in showing Morgana and Ryuji being constantly at each other’s throats, it gives the audience breathing room in understanding exactly why Morgana would see Ryuji’s insults as a sore spot when his anime equivalent has been less mean-spirited towards Ryuji’s boisterous or thick-headed side. It is hard to be mad when they make Morgana’s emotional faces adorable for the anime, but the build-up within the past couple episodes has been effective in showing how much it weighed down on him that the likelihood of him being human was getting slimmer by the day.
Haru might have been too late of an addition to make as big of an impact in the story or cast roster, but the anime’s adaptation of her introduction does offer promise to help flesh her out in ways that the game’s limitations weren’t able to provide. Her moral compass solidifies that her reason for helping Morgana was because she felt like the Phantom Thieves’ escalation had caused them to become too clouded to give Morgana the assistance and reassurance he truly needed. Some of her funner aspects also come out within the episode as her attempt to take on the role of the Beauty Thief is stunted by how much she tries to make up for her lack of direction by overacting the scenario she worked out with Morgana. Additionally, using the Phantom Thieves as an outlet for letting lose gives her the opportunity to vent to her new friends about how she can’t stand Sugimura, who was set up with her solely as a means to build a political dynasty for her father’s benefit. I’m looking forward to seeing how they pull off her future growth as she makes her grand escape from her father’s influence.