Interview: Persona 5 The Animation at Anime Expo 2018

by Gabriella Ekens,

At this year's Anime Expo, Persona 5 the Animation's director Masashi Ishihama and producer Kazuki Adachi were kind enough to agree to a one-on-one interview with Anime News Network regarding their newest project. One of the most popular anime of the past season, Persona 5 the Animation is an adaptation of the acclaimed JRPG, which finally received an English release April of last year. The game's anime adaptation, Persona 5 The Animation, began airing last season, and was a big presence at this year's convention.

Several hours before their big panel, I arrived to converse with the guests regarding what it takes to turn a Persona game into an anime.

ANN: What were the challenges of adapting a game with as strict a chronology as Persona 5? How do you adapt this story?

Adachi: Since this is a really popular game worldwide, the main thing is that we need to satisfy everyone. Therefore, we need to work as a team, and so we end up playing the game together, as a team. Yes, the whole hundred hours. From this, we have to create a protagonist, since unlike the game, an anime needs a main character to do things for us. So we choose a name, his characteristics, his personality – and even then, the storyline still has to fall into place. That part is the challenge, but again, we overcome it – it just requires that everyone work together.

Mr. Adachi, you also produced the Persona 3 and Persona 4 anime adaptations, yes? Has adapting Persona 5 been any different from making those?

Adachi: In the sense of creating an anime, 3, 4, and 5 have had basically the same flow. The main difference would be in the staff. For example, Mr. Ishihama is directing this time. We do have a few animators that overlap, but the majority are new staff. So every single time, when we sit down to make a new anime, our focus is to go above and beyond the previous Persona adaptation. We believe that this one is the best.

For Mr. Ishihama, how much do you follow the game's animated sequences when directing the same sequence?

Ishihama: Since the game has its own animated scenes, it'd be easy to just transfer these over to the anime adaptation. However, many people have already seen these scenes, so we instead want to make something that goes beyond expectations. Therefore, scenes that have already been animated are more challenging for me.

For example, what would you say are the most significant changes between the opening casino scene in the anime and the one in the game?

Ishihama: Actually, that would be the biggest spoiler. However, the easiest way to explain it would be that, if you look closely at the scene in the game compared to the anime, something is missing. But that's not equivalent to saying that we just added something… This may be tangential to the answer, but in the game, the animated sequences aren't stitched together, as there's gameplay or cut scenes in between them. What we do here is pick up all of the missing pieces and stitch everything together.

Mr. Ishihama, what would you say is your visual style when it comes to directing openings?

Ishihama: Obviously, the opening animation is what sets the ground for the show as a whole, what sets its color. If you listen closely, you'll notice that I focus on the music in my openings.

Actually, I believe that you've mentioned before that you learn how to sing the opening song to an anime before storyboarding it. Do you feel that this helps synchronize the animation?

Ishihama: Yes, I do that, to the point where I can sing the song perfectly! Persona 5 the Animation's opening lyrics are in English, however, so it took me a while to learn them.

You're known for integrating the opening credits into the animation itself, like how the Animation Producer's name is written on a calling card in the Persona 5 opening. What is your inspiration for this?

Ishihama: There are two reasons why. The main one is that I want to acknowledge the staff on a show. They work hard, I want people to know who they are – in a cool way. And also, their names are going to be on there anyways, so rather than leaving them as basic text, why not make them a part of the visuals?

Do you plan on directing more episodes of Persona 5 the Animation yourself?

Ishihama: Yes.

Before you go, I'd like to ask one more question about that group playthrough you mentioned, which seems like a very interesting experience. Can you tell me more?

Adachi: The people who are in charge of writing the script, including director Ishihama, those are the people who play the game together. This is because they want to incorporate aspects of their experience - for example, that this boss was difficult, that this part was fun – into the anime.

A few hours after this interview, hundreds of Persona 5 fans gathered in and around the convention center's jumbo-sized Petree Hall for their panel, PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION STEALS ANIME EXPO. Promising free gifts, behind the scenes chat with director Ishihama, as well as a “super-secret appearance by one of the Phantoms,” the panel would play to a packed house, with the line to get in stretching far beyond what even that cavernous room could hold. Hundreds of people waited in an outdoor extension line for a chance to get into this panel, which had already half-filled by the time all the premium pass holders got through the door. (By this point in the day, the temperature was well over 100° degrees Fahrenheit, so congoers may have been looking forward to the AC as much as the panel.) At the entrance, cosplayers dressed as the Phantom Thieves handed out raffle tickets and paper masks. Finally, when all of the seats were filled, the panel began.

Following some trailers, the bulk of the panel's scheduled hour was taken up by Q&A with Adachi and Ishihama. Questions were sourced from fans on twitter, following a set of special queries - best boy, best girl, and favorite moment in the show. Adachi and Ishihama's answers here would be compared to the results of an online fan poll, which were being announced for the first time at this panel. For the males, Ishihama selected Ryuji, saying that, "he's the type of friend who will never backstab you." Adachi, meanwhile, chose main character, Ren, on the basis that he is “the perfect human being. The public poll winners were, in ascending order, Goro, Yusuke, and Ren. As for the women, Adachi selected Futaba, while Ishihama went with Ann. In his choice, Ishihama said that, “when I was playing the game, Makoto was my favorite. However, when I started making the animation, my heart changed.” Adachi proceeded to elaborate on the initial Makoto love, saying “obviously, everyone loves Makoto, who arrives at the end of the first season. However, in the second season you'll all meet Futaba, who is cute and smart, but harbors a dark past.” All three of these girls were also represented in the public poll, in which Futaba ranked third, Ann second, and Makoto first. (As for Haru, we'll see if the Phantom Thieves' final female gains some traction with the fans once the second season starts airing.)

But it was the third question that resulted in the most uproarious result from both the public and panelists alike. The public poll's results started, predictably enough, with moments of action spectacle – here, Yusuke's persona awakening took third place, while Ren's took second. First place, however, went to a fairly low-key bit of comedy involving one of the show's many side characters. It was, of course, the infamous “Becky” scene, which should be familiar to anyone who's played Persona 5 or saw the anime. Of course, what makes the animated version of this scene so endearing is that they made Ren say the “jokey” dialogue option from the game – specifically, the one where he claims to be a dad in an attempt to dispel Kawakami's suspicions regarding his youth as a potential john. This was a move straight tout of Persona 4 The Golden ANIMATION, which traded in these sort of metatextual gags about the experience of playing Persona. In tune with his audience, Adachi also selected this scene, saying that “everyone chose it while playing the game, so we had to include it too.” The audience howled in agreement. (I also cannot deny this claim, having played the game myself.) As if in willful defiance of this rampant meido thirst, Ishihama concluded the segment by selecting a homey mid-season scene of the Phantom Thieves (up to Yusuke) enjoying a hot pot as friends.

The proper Q&A followed:

AUDIENCE: You've been producing all of the Persona anime series. What differences did you find producing Persona 5 the animation?

Adachi: The Persona 3 and 4 anime were both made years after the games were released. For Persona 5, however, we began the animation while people were still making the game. So it was a different process, and we got to work alongside the game's developers. This is also why the animation was able to come out only after 2 years.

How were you chosen as the director for Persona 5 the Animation?

Ishihama: Maybe I looked bored enough? I mean, maybe they were like – hey this guy looks bored, let's give him some work! (laugher)

How did you adapt the game into an anime?

Adachi: The main difference between game and animation is that in the game you are the protagonist, but in this anime you need a protagonist. So we start there, creating their name and personality.

Ishihama: On my side as director, they told me to make it so I made it.

How did you decide on the protagonist's name?

Adachi: It was very, very difficult. Of course a lot of time went into this one, we chose the kanji to match the character, give it a melancholy look, make the first name one kanji.

How did you decide on the personality Ren Amamiya would have in the anime?

Adachi: We wanted to make someone who, by day, looks like an outcast at school, but at night, becomes hot.

Why did you decide to give Akechi Goro more attention in the anime compared to the game?

Adachi: Simply put, he's cool, and he has a rather dark side, which means that I want to use him.

Ishihama: Without Akechi, I think it would be a very boring animation indeed. He's actually a very important, crucial person, right? Beyond this point is top secret.

How did you decide which side stories and confidants to feature in the anime?

Adachi: In the game we have a main story, and then we have the support system. We want to put as much from that in the anime without making it seem like overkill. However, we are definitely having Becky in there - that is a must.

Ishihama: As you play the game, you realize that there is no side story that's irrelevant at all, how ever there are some stories that are an absolute must, and together with the Producer they decided on a flow.

Adachi: Of course there's one main thing we can never put in the anime, and that is the protagonist hanging out with all the ladies. After all, if we did do that, wouldn't he be a really bad guy?

If you guys were the directors of a Hollywood live action movie adaptation of Persona 5 the Animation, which actors would you cast for the Phantoms?

Ishihama: I don't know any actors or actresses from now, but in my mind I'm thinking River Phoenix.

Any funny or interesting behind the scenes stories?

Adachi: I was able to go watch the voice actors involved, and before actual recording they do a test recording where they get to do whatever they want, and sometimes they do it with too much style, and the director gets to tell them to calm down, but getting to see the voice actors act friendly and professional with each other was a lot of fun. Jun Fukuyama and Mamoru Miyano are good friends.

Afterwards, a Morgana mascot suit came out to greet the crowd. A number of posters were given away to fans who won a ticket raffle, and with that, the panel came to a close. As parting words, Adachi said, “Honestly, I'm both speechless and heartwarmed to meet so many Persona 5 fans,” while Ishihama offered a succinct “I love you.”

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