Persona 5 the Animation – 01 – You Meddling Yet Stylish Kids (First Impressions)

Amamiya Ren has a lot going on. After a casino heist that goes perfectly according to plan…until it doesn’t, he finds himself arrested, his mugshot taken, and thrown in an interrogation room where he’s beaten and drugged.

Finally, something of an advocate arrives in Niijima, who assures him no one else in his crew was caught, but if he wants safety she’ll need honest answers to questions about the reason for the heists, along with what he knows about the “other world”, and how its possible to “steal hearts.”

Then a blue butterfly descends and informs Ren that while he’s a “prisoner of fate” whose future has been all but sealed, there’s still a slight hope of victory if he meets certain conditions regarding the “memories of his bonds” and the “promise of the truth” he and his friends tried to achieve.

That’s all painfully vague gobbledygook if you’re neither a dedicated Persona fan or haven’t played the Persona 5 RPG, being spouted from a butterfly, talking to an MC who is defined not by any outwardly discernible personality traits but simply by the circumstances that unfold around him and the choices he makes within them (in other words, the generic RPG protagonist).

I’m no Persona expert, so I came into this fully prepared not to know much about who anyone is or what the heck was going on, but I feel a perspective neither informed nor influenced by the source material to be useful in assessing whether an anime adaptation can stand on its own as entertainment.

In that regard, Persona 5 The Animation has its appeal. The production, led by A-1 studios, is clean, crisp, and vivid. The setting is confident; the Tokyo it depicts feels like a real, churning metropolis in which individuals can easily get lost and where reality itself may bend just around a corner. The soundtrack contributes to the immersive experience.

If I were to guess, the person who stops a man from assaulting a woman in a brief flashback just before the six month rewind was the incident that got Ren in trouble and kicked out of his own school. He’s gotten a year of probation, and during that time, an old geezer named Sakura who runs a cafe of the same name has offered him a room to live during that time.

All Ren has to do is keep his head down and his nose clean for that year and he will be back on the path to respectable adulthood.

Naturally, our Prisoner of Fate has trouble staying out of trouble, thanks to a suspicious red app icon appears on his phone, which he opens to reveal the otherworld that exists in the same space as the ordinary one. He also dreams of the Velvet Room (which is in the form of a prison), and meets briefly meets a gobliny dude, Igor, whom I remembered from P4.

Additionally, the new school he’s attending has a gym teacher who is not a good guy, even if one of Ren’s female classmates has no trouble accepting a ride from him. Ren also meets a blonde male classmate who spouts a bunch of stuff about kings and castles, which the weird app on Ren’s phone records.

Before long, the two classmates are in a castle, locked up in a cell, and ordered to be executed by the castle’s king, the gym teacher in an utterly ridiculous get-up. When the “king” tries to kill the blond guy, Ren has a choice: run or fight, and after some hand-wringing, decides to fight (naturally), summoning his Persona, Arsene.

Because I had almost identical impressions to this first episode as the 00 preview special “The Day Breakers”, I’ll simply repeat my verdict from that review, in keeping with P5’s penchant for timing back and forth through time:

Watchable and mildly diverting, but all surface. I can imagine myself spending dozens of hours as the bespectacled protagonist in the P5 RPG; I could even probably watch a good portion of its anime adaptation, should it get a full cour or two down the road. I’m just…not sure I either need or want to.

Basically, as good as the show looks and sounds, there’s not quite enough to keep a non-Persona fan/player like me around. Your mileage may vary.

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Persona 5 the Animation: The Day Breakers – 00

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What Is It:

A 24-minute anime special based on the Persona 5 RPG due out in Japan later this month and in the US next February. It follows a “story-of-the-week” format to introduce the “Phantom Thieves of Hearts”, who investigate an online tip to bring down the leader of a gang of cat burglars who also beats his little brother.

They do so by dropping him in the “perceived world”, summoning their Personas (powerful allies) to defeat his, and purging his heart of arrogance, so back in the real world he rats himself and his gang out to the police, and they’re promptly arrested.

Why You Should Watch:

If you’re a fan of the franchise and have been eagerly awaiting its 20th anniversary offering, this special may well pump you up for the games’ upcoming release. Sadly, I’m only a tourist in the world of Persona, having only caught the first 14 eps Persona 4 when it aired 2011 before I sorta lost interest (Reviews here).

I was actually surprised how similar the style of 5 is to 4. The jazzy, jaunty score, slick fashion, rich, lived-in Tokyo setting (a little Drrr!esque), and the seiyu Horie Yui are what drew me to 5’s predecessor. But that was a full-length anime; this is just a special that serves as an appetizer to the RPG main course, which I won’t be playing.

Why You Shouldn’t Watch:

If you’ve played or watched Persona and weren’t impressed, The Day Breakers special likely won’t be changing your opinion. For all the detail in their outfits and surroundings, the characters are painted with only the broadest of strokes. The protagonist is a nameless cipher by design, and because no one else distinguishes themselves, it’s hard to get emotionally invested in anything.

I was also, ironically, less enamored of the “perceived world” than the actual world, which was dominated by goofy carnival and masquerade imagery that frankly isn’t all that interesting. It’s like it’s trying to be darker and edgier than it’s actually willing to be; very PG-13.

Similarly, while he’s only one of many baddies to come, the guy they chose to be the villain in this special was trying too hard. The sudden shift in his character from something that might’ve been more gray (and interesting) to all-out evil was laughably jarring, more appropriate for Scooby-Doo. Finally, while it sounds better in Japanese, “Phantom Thieves of Hearts” is a painfully lame name for the party.

The Verdict:

Watchable and mildly diverting, but all surface. I can imagine myself spending dozens of hours as the bespectacled protagonist in the P5 RPG; I could even probably watch a good portion of its anime adaptation, should it get a full cour or two down the road. I’m just…not sure I either need or want to.

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Persona 4: The Animation – 07

The more the gang learns about Tatsumi Kanji, the more they realize he isn’t the tough delinquent he appears to be. In the TV, Teddie’s nose leads them to a bathhouse where Kanji is holed up, but it’s a very threatening and uncomfortable place for Yu and Kosuke. Even with four personas, the shadow’s a tough cookie, protected by masochistic bodyguards who absorb physical and magical attack. Yu has to use the power of the velvet room to merge two personas, while Kanji himself brings down his own shadow. Kanji then joins the gang.

We can’t believe we’re saying this, but we actually missed Teddie and the TV world. We’re also glad they switched things up a bit. The gang has numbers and plenty of brute force, but Kanji’s shadow is a horse of a different color. He was like one of those RPG bosses who’s a tough nut to crack, because your usual tactics prove ineffective or even beneficial to the enemy. He takes everybody out of their comfort zone, even managing to get under the skin of the prim-and-proper Yukiko by insulting her outfit of all things (Yukiko was particularly fun to watch this week). Heck, even Yu flinches once or twice, which is a lot for him.

Another nice plot device (for lack of a better term) was the cute phone strap Kanji made by hand for a little kid. It’s a symbol of his love of “cutesy shit”, and his intense need to be accepted – even if it’s as a tough – brings him inner turmoil that boiled over this week. Seeing that strap made him step back from the shadow’s taunting and accept him as a part of his personality. He admits to being a pansy for lying to himself and creating the delinquent persona as a shell to hide behind. Finally, this episode still had plenty of comedy, but managed to balance it with the drama more than last week.


Rating: 3.5

Persona 4: The Animation – 04

Chie and the guys’ search for Yukiko leads them to her other self. She is torn between two psyches: the girl like the bird she rescued and lovingly cared for, heir to an inn that is also her cage, waiting for a prince to come and rescue her, and the side that wants to break out of that cage and fly away, like her bird eventually had the courage to do. When Yukiko rejects her other self, she only makes matters worse, but as keep the shadows at bay, Chie confesses the jealousy she felt for her that kept her from seeing her problems. That everyone has a dark side, but one can only acknowledge it and move forward, which Yukiko does, gaining a persona in the process.

And so, the last member of the quartet graduates to persona-hood. The group may have gained strength after each received a persona, but the foes within got stronger too. After all, these are themselves they’re battling. It does no good to cover your ears and yell “la-La-LA-i’m-not-listening”; that’s a surefire way of letting the other self take over, and no one wants that, because frankly, they’re all bitches. But all they’re ever capable of telling is half-truths, as they’re only half of a whole themselves. Harmonious union is required if one wants themselves a persona. And not die.

This episode really taught us a lot about Yukiko (the second inn-heir this season) and her inner struggle. We like what we learned, too. We feel like we’d previously seen her through her “prince” Chie’s rose-tinted, somewhat envious lenses, because she’s more socially anxious than we’d thought, being more inclined to save an adorable baby bird than prattle on about irrelevant crap like most of her peers. Living seemingly only for the inn and family started to weigh upon her, and that birdy was always there as a kind of mirror to her predicament (btw, we’re also glad the birdy didn’t die, but just flew away ^_^).


Rating: 3.5