April 4, 2017.
I just went off duty at my job, FedEx Express. I’m exhausted, but I’m really psyched. I pull my Jazz Blue Jeep Cherokee into the parking lot at the Mall of Louisiana and dart inside… I know EXACTLY where I want to go. Not Best Buy, and sure as HECK not Game Stop… but GameWare; my local video game shop/arcade on the lower level. (Shout-out to the owner Stephen—you are awesome sir!) I walk in, go right to the shelf, and the guy at the counter knows EXACTLY what I came in for—probably because I sent a Facebook Message to him earlier that day putting it on hold and told him to look out for the nut-case in the FedEx Uniform.
I hand over my beleaguered Visa card eagerly, knowing that this will blow my budget clean out the water, but not really caring at the time. THANK GOD it’s approved. I sign the slip and quickly jog out the store, the guy at the counter knowing that he may not see me for the next couple days… unless it’s VIA Facebook raving over my latest acquisition from his shop. I get back to my Jeep, which I gave the affectionate nickname “Sonic,” and pull my latest acquisition out the blue and white bag. “I’ve got to share this,” I think. I whip out my aging LG VU10, balance the disk on my knee, and snap a picture, announcing to the denizens of Facebook:
“After a long… Long… LONG day at work, I finally got my hands on this little gem. Thanks to GameWare in the Mall of Louisiana (Buy Local!) Now to go home and see how much I can play before I fall asleep.”
I jam the disk back in its bag, shift “Sonic” into Drive, and pull out the parking lot, the Greg Ayres version of “Dragon Soul” blasting from my speakers (don’t judge me). Meanwhile, my PS3 sits idle in my room, unaware that it’s about go get over a hundred hours of non-stop use, thanks to the video game known as Persona 5.
One year later… and Persona 5 threatens to pull me into its prodigious world once again…and I would be much obliged if you would follow this young black man from Louisiana along for the journey.
Allow me to reintroduce myself: I’m Josh, I’m back, and I guarantee THIS show that ends in “The Animation” will be WORLDS better than the last “The Animation” show I reviewed here. It’s time to Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There… this is Episode 1 of Persona 5: The Animation.
We start our adventure in a glitzy casino, a perfect setting for a perfect heist. In the shadows, a figure in a long nosed mask (no, it’s not who you think it is) fires off a shot, causing a diversion for yet another masked individual carrying a briefcase to make an escape. As he runs away from the security officers chasing him, our shadowy, well dressed Phantom Thief, identified as Joker by his comrades off screen, decides that the best way to escape his pursuers is to pull a Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop and gracefully leap out a stained glass window from several stories up. Of course, he looks absolutely debonair as gravity does its work, and he lands perfectly… right in front of an ambush. Yup, several dozen guards armed with smoke grenades open fire and take our phantom thief into custody.
After some very nice looking mug shots (seriously, Joker could be the Japanese version of Prison Bae), we later see him handcuffed to a chair, his face and hands covered in bruises. The detectives in the room use our bishounen burglar as a punching bag, and they read off his list of charges: obstruction of justice, blackmail, defamation, possession of weapons, and just for a little seasoning, murder. Dang, with those charges, our bro could run for and win the Presidency. The detectives threaten his friends if he doesn’t speak up and give his name. Not wanting his friends to suffer, our protagonist gives up his name, Ren Amamiya, and the detectives force him to sign a confession. Yup. Our main character is named Ren Amamiya. No Akira Kurusu here. Just good ol’ Ren Amamiya. Akira Kurusu does not exist. There’s no such person going by that name here. Just Ren Amamiya.
While this obvious miscarriage of justice is going on, a public prosecutor named Sae Nijima walks up and requests to speak with Ren, but she is stopped outside the door. After speaking with her boss, who is reluctant to let her talk to the suspect, Sae eventually gets her way, but the guards warn her that they don’t know “his methods” and that speaking with him could be dangerous. She goes in and informs a beaten and drugged Ren that his friends were not captured, and she demands to know his objective for causing such major incidents, where he found out about “that world”, and how it is possible to “steal someone’s heart”. As Ren begins to answer, a mysterious voice rings in his head that he is a prisoner with almost no chance of winning the game and that victory is found in the bonds of his friends. The voice pleads with him to remember the events of the last six months for his own sake and the sake of the world.
And so, we rewind back to Saturday, April 9. Ren is on the subway on the way to Shibuya, remembering some events from his past—confronting an arguing woman and a man… getting arrested… standing in front of a judge who looks as though he is passing sentence. He is jarred from his thoughts by two school girls watching a video on their phone about a guy named Goro Akechi who just solved yet another case and is being hailed as “The Second Coming of the Detective Prince” and they even mention that he is following in the footsteps of one Naoto Shirogane. Yes, THAT Naoto Shirogane… Persona 4’s boy detective… that wasn’t actually a boy… though most of the town INCLUDING the police detectives couldn’t see that Naoto was a girl. “ACE DETECTIVE” indeed…
Ren eventually makes his way to the Shibuya and checks his phone to see where to go next. However, instead of Google Maps, he sees this weird red app. When he taps it, his whole world goes red and freezes… and in the distance, a bright blue flame can be seen shooting up from the street, taking the form of a winged man with a smiling face of flame. While some may freak out at this occurrence, our boy Ren just uninstalls the app and keeps it moving to his next destination, Yongenjaya. Something how these Persona protagonists don’t think nothing of the horrors that surround them. After getting directions, he arrives at the Coffee and Curry Shop LeBlanc, owned and operated by family acquaintance Sojiro Sakura. He’s not too warm on the idea of taking in a delinquent, and shows Ren his room—the dusty storage attic at the top of the shop.
While Sojiro cleans things up a bit, he gives us some exposition about what’s going on; Ren was convicted of inflicting bodily injury on someone, and was expelled from his high school. The court ordered Ren to move out to the city for a year for probation, and Sojiro volunteered to take him in and be his guardian, though he doesn’t seem that thrilled about it and threatens to throw him out if he causes any trouble. If you’ve played the game before, you know he says this fairly often for the first couple weeks. In fact, it gets so bad, you almost want Ren to say “A’IGHT! A’IGHT MO-FO!!! Kick me out! I don’t really care anymore! Just kick me out!”
Anyway, after a quick meal of instant ramen, Ren gets an alert on his phone; it’s the app from earlier that he thought he deleted. Stupid spameware pre-installed apps. But he pays it no mind and drifts off to sleep…only to immediately wake up in a tiny cell wearing prison stripes with his arms and legs shackled. Ren approaches the locked barred door and is confronted by an old guy with a long nose sitting behind a desk, two pint-sized twin girl guards outside his cell. The guy behind the desk, Igor, welcomes him to the Velvet Room; a place that “exists between dream and reality, mind and matter”. Igor is surprised that the Velvet Room looks like a jail cell, as the Room reflects the state of the visitors’ heart. Igor sees ruin in Ren’s future, but tells him not to worry; there is a way to fight it, but before he goes into specifics, Ren passes out and wakes up back in his own bed.
The next day, Sojiro and Ren meet Shujin Academy’s principal, colloquially known by my favorite YouTube Gamer Kagato The Final Boss as “Principal No-Neck”. Principal No-Neck does the same old song and dance with Ren, threatening to expel him if he causes any trouble, and asks Sojiro to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t cause trouble outside of school. Ren also meets his homeroom teacher, Sadayo Kawakami, who comes off as being either very disinterested or very exhausted. Either way, she gives Ren his School ID and tells him what to do on his first day tomorrow.
Meanwhile, it seems as though the local subway train operator has gone off the rails both figuratively, and literally, as the train speeds along the track at top speed and crashes into the station. Ren and Sojiro hear about it on the radio in his car on the way back home; during the ride, Ren asks why exactly Sojiro volunteered to take him in. Sojiro explains that he was simply asked to do it and, “for some reason,” he accepted in addition to being paid for his services. He then reiterates to Ren to keep out of trouble and keep his head down, and that if he sees anything go down, just mind his own business.
Fast-Forward to the “Current” time, and Sae is still grilling Ren. She reveals that after he started at Shujin Academy, a weird letter made with newspaper and magazine clippings was posted around the school, a calling card from the Phantom Thieves. The calling card focused on a certain target: the school gym teacher, Alumni, Olympic Athlete and ETERNAL DOUCHE CANOE, Suguru Kamoshida. Sae demands answers about what went down at Shujin… and specifically, what went down with Kamoshida?
We rewind back to April and Ren is waiting under an awning for the rain to stop. Rin notices the weird app from earlier has once again installed itself back on his phone. As he opens it, a pretty blonde girl wearing a Shujin uniform runs under to take shelter from the rain next to him. She picks a sakura blossom from his hair and complains about how the rain scatters the petals all over. Before he has a chance to reply, a car pulls up and Kamoshida (the guy in the picture) offers her a ride. He offers one to Ren as well, but he declines and Kamoshida drives off with the girl from earlier looking rather downcast.
As the car drives away, a blonde haired boy named Ryuji Sakamoto runs up trying to catch up to the car, but to no avail. As Ryuji talks to Ren (not giving him the chance to get a word in edge-wise), the app, without Ren’s knowledge, recognizes several key phrases as the two boys walk off. As Ren and Ryuji round the corner, instead of seeing the familiar school front, they are faced with what can only be described as a giant castle. Ryuji wonders if they made a wrong turn somewhere, but decides to just walk right on in; you know, like all sane people would do. Inside the castle, Ryuji and Ren are confronted by several armored guards. Ryuji asks if this whole thing is some kind of prank, but they then circle around the two boys and proceed to knock them out.
When Ren regains consciousness, he’s locked in an old school jail cell with Ryuji, who is balking and demanding answers from the nonspeaking armed knights. Just then, Kamoshida walks up, but something seems… rather off about him. For starters, his eyes are bright yellow, and he’s also dressed in a sparkly pink royal robe with nothing on underneath but a pink Speedo and a sparkling crown. Kamoshida says that for sneaking in “his castle” and speaking to the king in a rude manner, he is to be put to death by execution. The guards pin Ryuji tightly to the wall and Kamoshida begins slapping and punching Ryuji several times before he draws a blade for the final blow. Ryuji pleads with Ren to run away and leave him, but Ren is frozen in place, unable or unwilling to leave his friend behind, but not sure about what to do next.
Suddenly a deep voice rings out in Ren’s head, beckoning him to act, asking if his decision back then was a mistake. Ren says that it wasn’t a mistake; the voice accepts this and repeats the often-heard line in the Persona series: “I Am Thou, Thou Art I”. And after painfully ripping a mask away from his face, Ren shows the strength of his will and releases his rage in the form of a Persona—Arsene. The episode ends with a grinning Ren… it’s time to have some fun.
So, yeah, to say that I’ve been looking forward to this show since the day it was announced is an understatement. This show was the light at the end of the tunnel for me while I was slogging my way through King’s Game: The Animation. Week after week, I would mentally mark off time on the calendar for the blessed day that I would finally be free of that curse with its plot convenient vaginas and chainsaws, and throughout the winter season, while I amused myself with funny and adorable shows like Dagashi Kashi, How to Keep a Mummy, and School Babysitters, and while I also joined in on the latest anime-a-day challenge (#YearOfDigimon), I longed for the start of the Spring anime season when my beloved Persona 5 would finally make it’s anime debut… and the wait was prodigiously worth it.
This premiere episode captured the exact same feel and elicited the exact same emotions that I felt playing the game for the first time. I felt sympathy for the protagonist Ren, a guy who really got the short end of the stick in life and all for doing what he felt was right and was looked down upon, mostly by the adults in the series, as a delinquent. They seem to be assuming the worst about Ren, even though they have NO idea what he went through or the circumstances of his arrest and subsequent probation. They just automatically think that he’s no good because of rumor and because someone of a higher station said it was so. Make a note of this as this is one of many continuing themes throughout the game; nothing is ever as it seems on the surface.
Animation wise, this show looks AMAZING. OF course, this is from A-1 Pictures; the studio that pretty much says, “Budget? What is this Budget you speak of?” and throws money at their projects with very beautiful results. They’re really good with this whole video game-turned-anime genre, having worked on the Persona 3 movies, and Persona 4: The Golden Animation. Persona 5: The Animation stays faithful to the character designs as seen in the video game, and all the characters we meet look just like their video game counterparts. A lot of the moments that were cut scenes in the game look like they were pulled straight from the source material. There are also other little touches here and there that, while they may seem a little odd for the uninitiated, are designed to put smiles on the faces of those that have played the game; stuff like the transition scenes when we jump back to Ren talking to Sae or the subway map when Ren goes to Yongenjaya.
As far as music goes, there’s not much to say, really. They pulled a lot of the music cues and songs from the video game, and I am PERFECTLY happy with this, as the music in the game was AMAZING. Seriously, when Ren was making his way to LeBlanc Café and they started playing a little clip of “Beneath the Mask,” I was SO EXCITED. As is typical with a lot of premiere episodes, we don’t get an OP at the beginning, but we do hear our theme at the end during the credits, “Break in to Break Out,” as performed by Lyn Inaizumi, composed by Shoji Meguro with lyrics by… I swear… Benjamin Franklin. Yeah, I don’t get it either. Anyway, this song sounds GREAT with Lyn’s vocals and I look forward to seeing what the animation sequence looks like. Tell you one thing; if it looks ANYTHING like the opening title sequence for the video game, we are in for a treat. Though it would break my heart a little if we don’t get Dabbing Joker.
As is my typical practice, I won’t be able to offer much in the way of commentary about the acting in the Japanese because… well… I can’t speak Japanese! My entire experience with Persona 5 has been in English, so this is my first foray into the Japanese dialogue (Which is odd considering that I actually spent the time and data to download the Japanese audio when the game first came out…and only used it once). However, from what I can tell, it sounds great. I can’t wait to see how it sounds in English, and I REALLY hope that they don’t recast the actors like they did for some of the characters in Persona 4: The Animation. Don’t get me wrong, the acting in Persona 4: The Animation is GREAT… but the difference was noticeable. It would be a Trumpian crime against nature if anyone but Xander Mobus, Cassandra Lee Morris, Max Mittelman, Erika Harlacher played Joker, Morgana, Ryuji, and Ann in a future dub.
If I had one complaint to make about this premiere episode, it has to be that we don’t get a battle for the premiere episode. I guess I’ve come to expect that we’ll always get at least one battle or something; Persona 4: The Animation had the first battle end right before the ending credits, and Danganropa: The Animated Series had the first Class Trial completed by the first episode. This one ends RIGHT BEFORE the battle gets started. In the game, during the Casino scene, there is a small mini-battle as Ren makes his escape. It would’ve been nice if that aspect were kept in, if for no other reason than to give us something to tide us over, but ah well, you can’t always get what you want, and I guess the creators thought this would be incentive for viewers to come back later… and it works.
So, yeah. Premiere episode and I’m FULLY invested in this one. Heck, I would probably be invested in this one even if I didn’t play the game. Persona 5: The Animation is so unlike anything that’s out this season; it’s not a mindless shounen like My Hero Academia, it’s not a recurring series that REALLY doesn’t need anymore seasons or sequels like Sword Art Online and it’s not a old series passing itself off as a new one like Boruto (yeah, I said it). Persona 5: The Animation is a show that stands apart on its style alone, but there’s so much more, if I may borrow the phrase, beneath the mask.
Persona 5: The Animation is currently being streamed on Crunchyroll with new episodes dropping every Saturday at 1:00pm EDT/12:00PM CDT. You can also stream the series on Hulu, but I can’t say exactly what time each episode will drop. Also, keep in mind the game, Persona 5, is readily available for the Playstation 4 and Playstation 3 if you wanna check it out.