Monday, 9 April 2018

First Impressions: Persona 5: The Animation

Persona 5: The Animation
Persona 5: The Animation is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll 

Phantom thieves are all the rage these days. Lupin III is back for a new series this season, 2018's Super Sentai series is Lupinranger vs Patranger, and then of course there's also Persona 5. One of last year's most popular video games is now receiving its animated adaptation courtesy of A-1 Pictures, who previously handled both the Persona 4 series and the Persona 3 movies. Though Persona 5: The Animation will inevitably be a heavily condensed version of the game focussing on the main storyline, it presents the perfect entry point for viewers interested in the story that might not have 100+ hours to dedicate to the game itself.

Ren and SaeRen meets Ann

Like the game episode one "I am thou, thou art I" opens during a heist by the wanted Phantom Thieves, where one of their members Joker is caught by the police and taken in for questioning. After being beaten and drugged, investigator Sae Nijima gives Joker an opportunity to tell his story.

After being charged with assault and expelled from school, high schooler Ren Akiyama moves to Tokyo where he'll live in Leblanc café and attend Shujin Academy. After a mysterious app repeatedly appears on his phone, Ren has a dream where he is a prisoner in "The Velvet Room" - meeting a man named Igor whilst there. The app then takes both Ren and fellow student Ryuji Sakamoto to a mysterious castle, ruled over by a twisted version of the school's PE teacher Suguru Kamoshida. When the pair are kidnapped and Ryuji almost killed, Ren rips off his mask to reveal a strange new power. The power of his Persona, Arsene.

IgorRyuji

While I'd definitely consider my overall Persona knowledge to be fairly minimal, Persona 5 is the one game that I do have some decent experience with. Though I may be nowhere near finishing it (I would like to go back and do that one day though!), I did at least get through the first dungeon and enjoyed what I'd seen so far. This puts me in a rather unique position reviewing the episode, in that I'm experienced enough to not be going in blind but not well-versed enough to perhaps pick on everything. Which is just as well really, as Persona 5: The Animation's premiere is a decent introduction into newcomers in that it's easy enough to follow along. The pacing is a little rushed and there's not much in the way of explanation yet, but give it time. This episode was all about setting the scene and then injecting a moment of spectacle right at the very end as a hook to keep watching.

In terms of characters we're mainly introduced to Ren, the main character of the story and the avatar the player controls in-game. Persona 5 does very well at treading the balance between treating Ren as both a character and an avatar, giving him enough dialogue to feel integrated into the story but not enough personality to alienate him from his original role. A lack of personality seems like an odd thing to praise and it probably can't last forever if the story's to progress, but for what it's worth it definitely works here! At least better than it did in the Persona 3 movies anyway. We also meet Ryuji and (briefly) Ann Takamaki, both of whom will be joining Ren's crew properly in the coming episodes. As far as supporting characters go there's of course Igor, Leblanc owner Sojiro (who seems a bit lighter than he did in the game) and Kamoshida, albeit mainly through his suitably creepy shadow version.

Shadow KamoshidaRen unleashes his Persona

What this episode really has going for it though are the visuals. Persona 5's distinct red, black and white colourscheme for its promotional visuals was both memorable and striking, so its great to see that being incorporated into its anime counterpart as well. A-1 have also done a great job translating the slick visuals of the game into 2D animation, with the opening heist sequence in particular giving off a great sense of what the whole series has in store. Similarly it's nice to see so much of the game's soundtrack ported over here since it's just so damn good. If this is how the show looks when its handling introductions, then it bodes well for when it moves onto the fight scenes.

When it comes to video game adaptations the ratio is far more misses than hits, and it's still far too early to tell whether Persona 5: The Animation can buck that trend. But for now this first episode remains a fairly solid starting point, making up for its quickened pace with great visuals and animation. If you're like me and just can't seem to find the time to sit down and play the game, this definitely seems worth a look in. Even if it turns out badly, it may just be enough to inspire you to start/go back to the game.

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