Spring 2018 First Impressions: Persona 5 The Animation – Stylish But Illegal Teens Found Roaming Inside Your Heart

After a heist turns south, Ren Amamiya finds himself in police custody, drugged up and forced to confess to his crimes. It all started six months ago when he arrived in Tokyo after being expelled from his school due to a crime he didn’t commit. His parents sent him away to the city to stay with an acquaintance, Sojiro Sakura, in the hopes that he would stay out of trouble during his year-long probation period. On his first day of school, Ren and Ryuji Sakamoto, his new classmate, are running late due to a train delay. But when the two finally arrive at the school they are instead greeted by a castle reigned over by a strange, otherworldly version of the school’s gym teacher, Suguru Kamoshida. He threatens to execute the two of them, but at the last moment Ren calls upon the power of Persona that awakens inside him. What is this new power, where have they been taken, and what dark secrets will they uncover?

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I’m a massive Persona fan. I played Persona 5 last year and, despite the wonky and uneven translation, I absolutely loved it. However, my feelings for the various anime adaptations of the series are a bit more complicated. I thought that the original Persona 4 anime had some significant pacing issues due to spending too much time on the opening months, and dropped it about ten episodes in because I knew seeing the ending rushed would frustrate me. I could only get through one episode of the Persona 4 Golden anime because of how it was basically the Marie show, and she was easily the weakest part of the game for me so I had no interest in following it. I actually really liked the Persona 3 movie series because they planned their time better and kept a consistent level of animation quality throughout because there wasn’t such a stringent deadline.

I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about Persona 5 so far. The first episode moved at a decent pace and knew which bits to condense and cut to give new viewers a good experience while giving plenty of glimpses at things to come to series regulars. While I would love a longer series that could fully explore everything the game has to offer, I know that isn’t feasible and I think that 24 episodes could work for this story so long as the series remains this tightly plotted. This episode felt slightly rushed to me but I can understand why they would want to cut down this part of the story to get us to the meat of the plot faster.

Part of the reason I’m more optimistic about this adaptation is the fact that Seiji Kishi isn’t involved. He directed both Persona 4 adaptations, as well as other game adaptations like Devil Survivor 2: The Animation and Danganronpa, and while he has directed better series I find that his attempts to direct video game anime always ends up in a phoned in, by the numbers series that isn’t really memorable. Persona 5 is instead directed by Masashi Ishihama who was in charge of Shin Sekai Yori, one of my favourite shows of all time, and storyboarded and animated Erased‘s beautiful ending sequence. He has a very unique and imaginative visual style, and although that will probably be toned down for this anime to keep the game’s aesthetic recognisable I believe that his influence will still give the anime more of a creative flair.

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You can always count on Persona to have great music, and this entry is no exception. The adaptation uses plenty of music from the game’s soundtrack and I loved hearing some of my favourites in the first episode like Behind the Mask, which is one of my favourite pieces rivalled only by the rainy day version which we will hopefully hear later on. After watching this episode all I wanted to do was listen to the Persona 5 soundtrack on repeat. Has Shoji Meguro ever made a bad soundtrack? I doubt it.

One advantage Persona 5 The Animation definitely has over the video game, at least for English speakers, is the quality of the official translation. Despite my love for the game even I have to admit that the translation was really uneven and at times, especially early on in the game, it was sometimes hard to tell what was going on because the language used was so vague. If you haven’t played the game and want an idea of how weird the translation was in places, there’s a whole website that explains some of the problems using examples from the text and how they could have been fixed. I didn’t notice any particularly egregious errors in the first episode and there were certain parts that I remembered being badly translated in the game that seemed a lot better here.

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Despite some minor nitpicks that I had as a person who adores the game, this was a solid opener for Persona 5 The Animation. The animation is great when it needs to be, the art direction is great and evokes the charm and flair of the source material, and it’s all tied together by Shoji Meguro’s incredible soundtrack. I’m definitely up for following Akira Kurusu Ren Amamiya’s criminal adventures over the next six months. That’s if I can wait that long… I’m getting a real urge to start playing the game all over again. If only I had that kind of time to spare!

Highlights:

  • Masashi Ishihama’s involvement guarantees a certain level of style
  • The scene where Ren’s persona awakens is still incredibly hype
  • Official translation quality is better than that of the game’s

Lowlights:

  • The series won’t be long enough to encompass literally every moment of this game
  • Initial introductions to Ann and Ryuji are very fleeting

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