「I am thou, thou art I」
You definitely saw this coming. With the acclaim and success of Persona 5, an anime adaptation wasn’t a matter of IF, but WHEN. Flashforward to today, the first episode of the anime exploits of Amamiya Ren (Fukuyama Jun) is out, and it’s as good as you would hope it would be, despite not being too friendly to newcomers.
I have always been partial to the animation that happens within the in-game cut scenes where they devote 30 seconds to animating small segments of the game, especially since the Persona 4 TV anime had some wonky faces. Any concerns of art hiccups from this adaptation, however, were alleviated as much of the art is polished, detailed, and true to how the game’s anime cut scenes looked. The Persona 3 movies were more gorgeous, but for a TV show, it looks far better than expected, and did a lot to help convey how the characters behaved. The latter point is especially promising in how it opens up the potential to do justice to the game’s emotional core in later scenes.
As far as the story told within the episode, it did a decent job at making the first two hours of the game fit perfectly with an anime aesthetic, but could’ve explained details better for the viewer. In the game, you play through Ren’s flashback where he startles a drunk politician to stop him from trying to sexually assault a woman, and is arrested for causing him to lose his footing and trip on his face. This section is limited to a couple frames of animation as Ren sits on the subway. Similarly, a series of unusual train accidents are merely sped through instead of what the game did by having reminders wherever you went that conductors have been randomly losing their minds, causing a string of accidents to occur.
The anime relies on Sakura Sojiro (Nakata Jouji), the owner of Cafe Leblanc who agrees to give Ren an attic to stay in while he does probation at the only school that will take him, to give us most of this information. However, there’s only so much for Sojiro to shoulder when the game was all about creating a sense of atmosphere around both the string of accidents and Ren’s delinquency. Even though the latter would be easier to evoke once Ren makes it to school, the episode tries to give us crucial material at brakeneck speed, rushing too quickly to let any of it soak in. Important aspects such as the game’s storytelling mechanic of flashing back and forth from Ren’s past to his arrest later on, or his contract with the Velvet Room prison are also lightly touched on, and create a jarring shift rather than letting us know when we’d have to switch between Ren’s past and the Interrogation Room where prosecutor Niijima Sae (Kaida Yuuko) is pressing him on the events of his past. By the time we learn about how the Nav app sent Ren and fellow delinquent Sakamoto Ryuji (Miyano Mamoru) to a far-off world, it just brings a lot of confusion to those trying to get a feel for the world the anime is presenting.
If you have played the game, however, it does a serviceable job at making sure that it both adapts scenes from the source material and give nods to players who know what’s up. Rather than just seeing in-game character models staring at their phone, it’s awesome to see how the Nav is able to pick up on what palaces exist based off of the code-words Ryuji happened to say. I also appreciated a more outright mention of Shirogane Naoto from Persona 4 being the Detective Prince before Goro Akechi as well as the Kujikawa Rise billboard and an early bird cameo from doctor extraordinaire Takemi Tae. There was a small nod towards teacher Kawakami Sadayo (Fuchigami Mai), and why she would have the pamphlet that fell out of her pocket, but sadly we didn’t get to see her fluffy hair up close. There was also a longer conversation that Takamaki Ann (Mizuki Nana) had with Ren during her introductory scene before gym teacher Kamoshida Suguru (Mitsuya Yuuji) picks her up.
There is a lot of promise to the first episode. All of the scenes from the game look amazing in anime format, and the new additions don’t do anything to derail the material. Unfortunately, the pacing does race too quickly to let much of the material soak in, so those who are unfamiliar with the video game will have to piece the details together either through video playthoughs of this part of the game or careful, spoiler-free material. I’ll try to explain much of the details week-by-week carefully to make it easier for those who have a hard time understanding what’s happening, but hopefully, it won’t be too much of an issue with later episodes. For now though, I’m excited to see where the show goes from here, and how they’ll adapt some of the more hard-hitting moments in the game.
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And remember, they are all best girls.