PERSONA 5 the Animation
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
PERSONA 5 the Animation ?

The Persona games have always been a more natural fit for anime adaptations than some of their RPG contemporaries because of how well their style maps to the medium. Basically, these games' stories are super-long and compelling anime series already. All a TV version theoretically has to do is trim out the hours of gameplay and let the story speak for itself. Much of Persona 5's play-time is spent crawling dungeons, chewing through enemies, and navigating menus. A version of the story that delivers the same punch without the grinding should be appealing to someone who wants to experience its content but lacks the time to play through a 100+ hour RPG.

In that respect, Persona 5 The Animation is mostly working because it hasn't dropped the ball in adapting its strong source story. These first three episodes cover the same ground as the opening hours of the game, down to the action-packed introduction that takes place a few months in the future, leading to a police interrogation that provides the framing device for the overall story. Between its multiple timelines and some initially unexplained supernatural elements, the first episode in particular feels like too much at once for first-time viewers. Even having knowledge of this story beforehand, seeing all these disparate elements thrown at me without any stretches of gameplay paced out for breathing room was still overwhelming.

However, it might also provide enough curiosity to draw new viewers in, and Persona 5 The Animation also happily caters to prior fans without disregarding those newcomers. The attention to detail in the show's backgrounds is impressive, from main character Ren's cluttered room to each area of Shadow Kamoshida's castle. They look great on their own, but for fans of the game specifically, they effectively evoke a ‘coming home’ feeling in their realization of the game's environments. Various early cameos by well-liked characters from the game and their accompanying sub-plots (like the flyer Kawakami drops for a maid service) pay further lip-service to future elements without drawing too much attention away from the main story.

The show's at its best when adapting parts of the game that were initially cutscene conversations. The art looks good, and segments can be directed a bit more dynamically than just being a shuffle through text-boxes. Unfortunately, when the time comes to portray the game's combat, P5A comes up a bit short. Persona fights have always been tricky to depict in animation by their very nature. Since they were originally turn-based RPG battles where characters summon their overdesigned demon servants for one-off attacks, that's difficult to animate without betraying those complex designs or losing the dynamism we expect from a good action scene. This anime is doing a serviceable job so far, but it still looks jerky in motion, and characters still generally stand around while their monsters trade attacks. It's particularly disappointing to see these famous Shin Megami Tensei demon designs not get to move very much, and this anime's depiction of Persona's trademark All-Out Attacks is especially lackluster.

The fights are hardly the best part of the show, but they've gotten by so far through the drama of their climactic reveals, because the underlying story of Persona 5 is as compelling as ever. Once all the timeline flash-forwards and supernatural dust have cleared after episode one, the story of oppressed outsider kids (and their cat) struggling against their corrupt teacher becomes pretty gripping. The first ‘arc’ of the game is still one of the best, mostly because Kamoshida, despite being such a cartoonishly evil jerk most of the time, still makes for an effective villain, committing real-world crimes that we are all too eager to see punished. His story of a man getting away with abuse because those who value his talents cover for him is becoming more and more timely these days, and the story's willingness to go to some pretty ballsy places for a fantastical JRPG makes for a surprising hook.

In that respect, the anime leverages its format to strengthen the portrayal of Kamoshida and make us hate this guy even more. We actually see snippets of his actual abuse on Shiho and the others, which lends his villainy more weight than the allegories and allusions the original game used to explore it. Shiho's attempted suicide in particular was a big moment these opening episodes absolutely had to get right. It's a pretty big shocker the first time you see it happen, and the anime version uses its strengths well to execute it in a compelling way. The follow-up of Ann's development/recruitment works as an overall payoff, putting this adaptation in a strong place for its first three-episode trial.

By its nature, Persona 5 The Animation is not going to be as immersive as the game it's based on. However, it's still quite engaging and proves eminently watchable once it gets going. Lots of exposition is still necessarily rushed through, and I do wish the fight scenes were better, but these first three episodes go down smoothly, much like the compelling opening hours of the game. I'd say that marks it as an effective adaptation so far.

Rating: B+

PERSONA 5 the Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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