Y’all might have noticed by now that I tend to get obsessed with things. My latest love (don’t get me wrong, I’m still all-in for being Mystic Messenger trash) is Persona 5, which I will one day argue is one of the greatest YA games to have ever been created. So let’s just say when I finally got around to watching Persona 5: The Animation, I was slain.

Persona 5: The Animation

CloverWorks (producer), Masashi Ishihama (director), Shinichi Inotsume, Katsura Hashino (writer), Tomomi Ishikawa, Kazuma Kaneko (animation), Shoji Meguro (composer), Shigenori Soejima (based on characters by)
Jun Fukuyama, Mamoru Miyano, Ikue Otani, Nana Mizuki, Tomokazu Sugita, Rina Sato, Aoi Yuki, Haruka Tomatsu, Soichiro Hoshi, Yuko Kaida, Jouji Nakata, Yuka Saito, Mai Fuchigami, Yumi Uchiyama (cast)
Show completely aired by March 2019

Persona 5 is a 100+ hour game that, realistically, not everyone has the time for (though I still think everyone should play it, but whatever—that’s the subject for another piece). Persona 5: The Animation has distilled down the story into 23-minute episodes that are fun for the whole family. (Uh, sort of. It’s good for teens and older.) Yet, I wonder whether people who haven’t played the game will enjoy the show for all of its references.

The Persona 5 story/anime follows Ren Amamiya, a recent transplant to Tokyo with a “dark past.” We learn the details of why he’s come to Tokyo—he’s on probation from protecting a woman who was being harassed, and the harasser tripped in a drunken stupor and broke his nose (or something) and blamed Ren, who was convicted of the assault. (Cis men, sit up and take note: this is how allyship is done.) Already labeled as the “bad kid,” Ren becomes friends with “delinquent” Ryuji Sakamoto. Except on their first day of class, Ryuji and Ren accidentally slip into the Metaverse, a parallel cognitive-based universe that shows the manifestation of people’s “distorted desires” in the form of a Palace.

When people lose their way and become greedy or selfish, or otherwise take advantage of people, a Palace can form, turning a real-world building into a representation of the person’s true feelings in the Metaverse. For example, the first Palace belongs to an abusive teacher named Kamoshida at Ren’s new school; because Kamoshida views himself as king, the Metaverse manifestation of the school—his Palace—is a castle. Any Palace owner’s desires can be manifested in a symbolically (to them) important object within the Palace—the Treasure—and by physically removing the Treasure from the Metaverse, the Palace is destroyed. The (literal) destruction of the Palace, in turn, makes the person in the real world realize their misdeeds. It sounds confusing, but all of this makes a lot more sense in the show.

Morgana, a humanoid cat, explaining to Ren and Ryuji (in Phantom Thieves outfits) that "A Palace is twisted desire manifested, so making it vanish would..." Persona 5: The Animation, Cloverworks, 2018.

There are explanations throughout the show!

So, anyway, Ryuji and Ren, alongside friends that join the way, decide to become the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, going into the Metaverse to fight the “rotten adults” who take advantage of others for their own gain. The anime, then, chronicles not only their adventures in various Palaces, but the real-world effects, ultimately leading to a political and real-world nightmare in Japan.

And. I. Love. It.

I’m so deeply impressed at the way the anime captures the spirit of the game. There are little homages throughout, from using game animation at the end of battles to referencing all the side things you get to do in Tokyo, like hanging out with friends. There are scenes with Ren answering questions in class (chalk-throwing teacher and all), bulking up to boost stats, going to the doctor’s office. All of these are things you can do in the game, and their appearances on the screen flesh out the world.

Except, potentially, if you haven’t played the game.

I watched the series with my husband, who brought up the point that these references to the game may be ultimately meaningless to the Persona 5: The Animation viewer who has no knowledge of the Persona 5 world. Side plots of Ren hanging out with friends go nowhere, characters are introduced who never come back up, and though references to the game through symbols and short scenes are great, they ultimately have nothing to do with the plot. My husband asked me whether a person who hadn’t played the game would enjoy these asides, and as much as I’d like the answer to be yes, the truth is, I don’t know.

Does it make sense when Ren travels to the Velvet Room? It takes a long time for that part of the game to make sense (like, 70 hours long? Longer?), and until the end of the show, it feels like a weird aside. Is it really important for the viewer to watch how Ren can fuse multiple Personas? (Think of Personas as Pokemon: they’re the monsters encountered along the quest in the Metaverse, and unlike the others, Ren can “capture” them and bring them into battle later on. But if you don’t know that ahead of time, maybe the unfamiliar title is another deterrent.) Is it necessary to show the side-struggles of Yusuke and his art, of Ryuji trying to apologize for his role in breaking up the track team? My point is though I loved seeing these references to the game, I’m not so sure they’re working in an anime format.

Igor, a balding dude with a REALLY long and pointy nose, smirks at the camera. Persona 5: The Animation, Cloverworks, 2018.

Can the background music for this area be any worse?

Indeed, people who have played the game may find the anime redundant because of these things. I love all things Persona 5, so I found them joyous, but I hear the argument that it’s a rehashing of the game without a new spin. While I think people would have complained if it did change the content, someone who might have less enthusiasm for the game than I do might not want to sit through this retelling.

So who is Persona 5: The Animation for? Is it for the people who didn’t finish the game or for those who never picked it up? Is it for people who played and enjoyed it? Is it for mega-fans who want every iteration of the game reflected on the screen? (Yes, at least partially.)

I don’t have a real answer. Still, I do think it’s worth watching, especially now that the second special episode, Stars and Ours, finished off the show on March 23. (I’m crossing fingers that the U.S. voice actors for the game will reprise their roles if CloverWorks decides to dub it. If nothing else, it lets me relive the joys of the game without having to put in the time it demands.)

If the premise intrigues you and the length of the game is a deterrent (which, fair), the anime is worth checking out. Committing to a few 23-minute episodes and finding it’s not for you is different than putting in 30 hours into a game before the story picks up. Then you can decide for yourself whether the world is enriched for its references to the game or only hindered.

But I hope you do like it. I hope you see the joys of the story, from the realistic views of being a teen to the imaginative worldbuilding, and understand why the game is so beloved. I hope the anime encourages you to play and learn the references for yourself. And if nothing else, I hope you enjoy a good story with compelling characters and scenarios, high stakes, plot twists, and dynamic relationships. So watch it and come back and tell me—was the show for you?