Persona 5: The Animation was my most-anticipated series for the Spring 2018 season. The video game is one that I absolutely adored when I played through it, quite possibly even more than Persona 4 Golden, which is my favourite instalment in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, and that’s saying a lot. Upon learning that A-1 Pictures was producing this television adaptation, I knew I had to check it out.
Persona 5 is an action, fantasy series that is about a group of high schoolers who come together due to various circumstances and formulate a criminal organisation known as the Phantom Thieves. One evening while infiltrating a high-stakes casino to steal a precious treasure, Ren Amamiya—the protagonist and leader of the gang—is captured by police forces. When he starts being interrogated in a small room, the scene flashes back to the first time he arrived in the big city and the story unfolds from there henceforth.
I did write a First Impressions for the anime when it began airing, where I touch briefly on the elements that I felt the anime was going to kick ass at. Now that I have finished watching it, I can happily say that all of the things I raved about ended up staying fantastic until that shocking finale.
The animation quality is extraordinary as it captures the super stylish essence of the world of Persona 5 beautifully. The use of computer generated graphics and hand-drawn aesthetics were wonderfully balanced, and further complemented by the jazz and blues inspired music composition. Unlike most other anime, the animation quality remains consistent from start to finish, and I appreciated that very much because it does the series justice while paying tribute to the game itself. The voice acting, which was done by the original cast from the video game, is also very, very good. More than a couple of the characters have eccentric and loud personalities that are very animated (pardon the pun) and the actors were able to bring those traits to life.
Even with all of these brilliant technical things, I believe the second most important one is the execution of the narrative specifically, especially when you think about viewers who have not played the game and knew nothing about the storyline going into it. It’s perfectly presented to appeal to non-gamers, as well as being true to the original source material enough to satisfy the gamers. The inclusion of the finishing moves for some of the battles, for example, and the interesting mechanics for the boss fights translated much better into an anime than I ever could have expected, and honestly, I wasn’t expecting much in that department.
So… as an anime, Persona 5 ended up being one the best shows for the season, for me personally. It made me feel very nostalgic (mind-blowing considering how new it is) while I was watching and instilled within me a desire to pick up the PlayStation exclusive once again. However, putting aside all of the systematic titbits, the absolute best part of the anime are the messages and topics explored.
There are mild spoilers in the following section.
One of the things that the Shin Megami Tensei franchise does wonderfully is explore human nature, whether people are being murdered such as in Persona 4 or they’re being abused, as in this instalment. Humans are sensationally complex individuals. We like to say that this person isn’t complicated, that they are just an idiot or an asshole, but it’s never really that simple. There are tons of factors that affect whether a person will be violent, or introverted, or something else. Persona 5 takes an intimate look into why an individual behaves the way that they do, and that is what makes the show such a brilliant experience.
One of the earliest villains that the Phantom Thieves encounter is a coach who is abusing his athletes, particularly the girls. He’s a dirty bastard who has no qualms about beating up children, or sexualising them, to satiate his own superiority complexes. There are many school officials who know of his transgressions, yet they choose to remain quiet about it. This situation is the perfect example of multiple complex lines of thought.
Firstly, we have conservative communities who fear the shame and negative association that is tied with a scandal of having an abusive or predatory teacher in the ranks of their faculties. Not only does it make the school look like a shady place, it also represents an environment that is unsafe, weak, and imperfect. When you have a society, such as Japanese society (quite akin to many other Asian societies actually) that is all about disciplined perfection and exquisite etiquettes, abuse can be a dangerous thing. It is far easier to pretend that abuse is non-existent than to admit it as reality and face the uncertainty that the consequences of such behaviours can bring.
We see this in one of the members of the Phantom Thieves, who obtained a criminal record because they saved a woman from being assaulted. Instead of being rewarded or acknowledged for stopping predatory actions, they were in turn charged with assault and labelled a delinquent. The school and the people who allow the coach to continue abusing these kids is no different.
Then you have the kids who are suffering themselves. To be a victim of abuse—speaking from experience—is a humiliating and degrading thing. It makes you feel like you’re a weak piece of shit, like you are incapable of being independent or brave. Bravery is an association given to those who subsist with abuse rather than fight against it. The ones suffering are the ones who are ultimately judged for being the victim rather than the assholes who choose to be violent. Many of the students are afraid to speak up about what is going on during practise sessions because this stigma of being frail and cowardly looms over them like a black cloud.
Lastly, we have the coach himself, Kamoshida. His whole purpose for being the son of a bitch that he is, is due to entitlement and privilege. Since he was a star athlete and a champion, and he’s obtained some relative success as a coach, he feels that he has the right to treat his students however he sees fit; that they are the slaves to uphold his triumphs and maintain that level of superiority that he feels. His untouchability on campus makes him bold enough to openly abuse people in front of other teachers and students. This warped sense of power is something that is very common in hierarchical communities where fame is equated with superficial accomplishments.
The exploration of the causes and consequences of maltreatment is done so in a way that is forward and intense. We see how abuse affects not only the victims, but also the loved ones who are ultimately helpless to stop it. The lessons of what helplessness truly entails is a provocative and profound one. Sometimes when we feel we are helpless, that isn’t necessarily the case. Oft times there is a fear that hides beneath the surface, usually similar to the ones the victims may be feeling. The fear of admitting that this is reality, the fear of what happens in the wake of bringing such a dark and fucked-up thing into the light, the fear of being seen as nothing more than a weak-willed individual, plus many more.
Persona 5 takes similar instances such as this one, difficult subject matters (greed, corruption, grief), and tackles them in penetratingly empathetic ways. The arc that dealt with grief and how immobilising it can be, to the point where you can’t even leave the house, also resonated so fucking personally with me. I remember when my brother died, my ability to be outgoing died with him. I’ve been an agoraphobe ever since. While I have learned to live outside of the comforts of my prison-ish bedroom walls, it’s still something I struggled with daily.
The series is far more contemplative than it gets credit for being. Most of it is buried beneath the camaraderie the Phantom Thieves share, which as light-hearted as it is genuine, as well as the tons of stylish theatrics. Nevertheless, below all of that jazz, there are layers and layers of depth that are extremely relevant in today’s day and age, and that is what makes it such an astounding narrative and exceptional series.
If I undeniably had to choose one flaw for Persona 5: The Animation, it would have to be the ending. While I totally saw it coming, I know that non-gamers (and maybe even fans of the VG) will hate that HUGE cliff-hanger. There is an OVA special scheduled to release at the end of the year that should (theoretically) wrap it all up, but until then we all get to twiddle our fucking thumbs in anticipation.
Overall, Persona 5: The Animation is a spectacular series that scrutinises serious subject matters that most other shows won’t touch with a ten foot stick. Toss in a variety of imperfect, compassionate characters, tender moments of friendship, sweet action sequences, and the cutest fricking cat around, then you have one hell of a blend, my friend.
8 coffees outta 10.