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Persona 5: The Animation Has a Chance to Right the Wrongs of its Predecessors

STARTING SCREEN | The Persona series is one that's built on deep character development, which is not a short-term anime series' strong suit.

Feature by Caty McCarthy, .

The opening of Persona 5: The Animation is familiar from the jump. The scene is set in a dazzling casino, as unknown voices chime in to guide the slickly dressed hero. He dodges gunfire as his escape is aided by his presumed friends, before leaping out a stained glass window and looking cool while doing it. (Like that one scene from Cowboy Bebop, only without the sad piano ballad and extensive flashback sequence.) Then when he lands, things go awry. It's a trap. And the leader of the Phantom Thieves is captured.

This is the same exact set-up as its video game counterpart Persona 5. It's unsurprising, given both Persona 4's and Persona 3's anime adaptations have followed a similar throughline, threading the essential beats of their stories into a concise few hours or so. Persona 4 has two anime series under its belt, one for Persona 4: Golden (the anime heavily focuses on the character Marie, who was introduced in the PS Vita version of the game) and one for the original. Persona 3 got three film adaptations.

Unfortunately, they're all pretty rough.

The past Persona animations have all suffered from one thing: being too concise. For a series built on the crux of character development, of socializing and living a somewhat normal teenage life in Japan, the Persona animations miss out on that key component. The original Persona 4 anime—with all its rough edges—is at least 26 episodes long, but even that length doesn't save it from feeling lacking compared to its video game counterpart. The characters feel underdeveloped, the plot moves at too brisk of a pace (contrary to the game's glacial one). One of the Persona 3 anime movies opens with a needless shower sequence of Yukari. Even when the anime adaptations took liberty with the source material, it hardly seemed worth it to watch if you'd already played the games.

Persona 5: The Animation has a steep hill ahead to climb. Episode One, "I am thou, thou art I," debuted this past weekend. Like the start of Persona 5, there wasn't much in way of gameplay to adapt—only refreshing the scenes that were already animated in the video game proper to begin with. Persona 5: The Animation is being animated by CloverWorks, a newly established subsidiary of A-1 Pictures who were behind the animated short for Persona 5 that aired nearly two years ago, rather than Production I.G, who handled the animated cutscenes in the game itself.

With a different anime studio backing the adaptation, Persona 5: The Animation has a chance to rise beyond the in-game cutscenes of Production I.G by doing something different, by channeling the style that oozes from Persona 5's UI. There's glimpses of this in the series' first episode, showing the familiar Tokyo subway map as the protagonist travels from one area to another. For a fleeting moment, it's almost like you're back in the game, navigating its many locales to visit and loiter in. There's even a short montage of the protagonist asking locals for directions, akin to the opening sequence in Yongenjaya of aimless wandering in pursuit of finding the hero's new guardian, Sojiro Sakura.

There are other minor discrepancies compared to the game. Chief among them is the name of the anime's hero: Ren Amamiya, which runs contrary to the manga adaptation's name for the bespectacled teen, Akira Kurusu. The anime also has to tackle the biggest challenge of all, and one of the Persona 4 animated adaptations' biggest strengths. It has to give the usually silent hero a personality.

At least the key visuals for Persona 5: The Animation are nice; they give me hope for the rest of the series.

In both Persona 4 animations, the protagonist was slightly sarcastic, with his deadpan delivery making the jock-like hero more endearing than he was in the game. Meanwhile the video game of Persona 5 was a rarity in the Persona 3-onward canon, in that the silent hero had more personality than ever before. He was a little bit sassy, like Persona 3 Portable's girl protagonist. He was unafraid to stand up for himself in times of peril. Thus far in Persona 5: The Animation, Ren's been relatively quiet, to the point that Ryuji even makes a remark about it upon their first meeting. His brashness unfurls slightly as Sojiro monologues some exposition for viewers as to why Ren's in Tokyo in the first place, before his lips become zipped again.

One episode is too early to judge how the Persona 5 anime adaptation will shake out, especially since a lot of what the show has covered thus far are in the early goings of the game, before Ren and Ryuji even escape from their first encounter with a Palace. (The episode ends with Ren awakening his first Persona, and is noticeably less brutal than its game counterpart, unfortunately.) Typically, I try to reserve judgment for anime until around three episodes in, when strides are usually hit and introductory formalities fade away. There are rare series with strong first episodes—this season's Megalo Box is among them—but largely, anime seem to take their time in doling out the goods.

For now, Persona 5: The Animation has plenty of time to grow over the course of its 24 episode run. Already, the animation quality seems to be better than its predecessors, and we're keeping our fingers crossed for not another "two Chies in one shot" situation. There have been plenty of great anime adaptations of other video games over the years, from the obvious nod to Pokemon to extended series like The Idolmaster (which captures the series' focus on character development in the idol anime format), the adequate-and-by-the-numbers Ace Attorney adaptation, and Steins;Gate (which is making its grand return this season).

As for me, I'll keep watching Persona 5: The Animation, whether it ends up being good or bad. Regardless of how I'll end up feeling about it compared to its predecessors, watching the debut episode did prompt me to redownload the game onto my PS4. Maybe it's about time I did that New Game+ playthrough and let my inner phantom thief steal some hearts again with some old friends.

This Week's Notable Releases

It's a big week for Steam Early Access games. And by a big week, I mean there are two high calibur games finally launching as glorified betas. There are also a bunch of ports, one mid-tier release, and some highly anticipated DLC on the horizon. We're speeding into a new fiscal year. I can smell the rubber burning from the tires of the industry this very instant.

  • Extinction [April 10]: Extinction is a new single-player action game from Iron Galaxy (known for Divekick, a portion of the Killer Instinct revival, and a slew of ports including Skyrim on Switch). Shortly following its announcement, the game got a lot of comparisons to the Japanese anime-manga-everything juggernaut Attack on Titan. It still stands to be seen if hacking away at giant "Ravenii" will be as satisfying as taking down giant nude people that don't have genitalia as in Attack on Titan.
  • Radical Heights [April 10]: Cliffy B is back... again. Radical Heights is a new free-to-play battle royale game from Boss Key Studios, the team behind last year's Lawbreakers. Cliff Bleszinski, of Gears of War and Unreal Tournament fame, doesn't seem to be letting Lawbreakers' unfortunate bust affect him too much, going full steam ahead into embracing a new-ish genre and injecting it with the liveliness of the 1980s aesthetic.
  • Call of Duty: WW2, "War Machine" DLC [April 10]: Call of Duty: WW2 has been chugging along with new content since it released back in November. Its upcoming DLC, which releases on PlayStation 4 for its first month exclusively, is adding a new Zombies chapter, three more multiplayer maps, and a new War Mode map.
  • SpyParty [April 12]: If this name sounds familiar, it's because it's been in development for nearly a decade after it was announced at GDC 2009 during the Experimental Gameplay Showcase. SpyParty is a game about "subtle" human behavior, with one player tasked as a Spy whose goal is to blend into a fancy cocktail party and accomplish their personal sneaky goals, while the other player is a Sniper with one bullet whose sole goal is to figure out who the spy is and take them out. The game's only gotten more complex during its years in development, and Caty's going to be taking a look at how it's grown later this week after it launches later this week on Early Access.
  • Ports Galore: There are also some ports coming to new platforms this week. The indie gem Owlboy is coming to PS4 and Xbox One. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice and Ys Origin are both venturing forth onto Xbox One. The very adorable Burly Men at Sea and deceptively cute Don't Starve are also coming to Nintendo Switch.

Mike's Media Minute

In the movies this weekend, the surprise breakout was A Quiet Place, a new horror film written and directed John Krasinski. That name probably sounds familiar to a few folks, as he spent many years playing Jim on The Office. Krasinski also starred in the film with his wife, Emily Blunt, as a family having to live in a world following an alien invasion. The aliens in question track sound, leading to a movie that plays out mostly like a silent film.

I have to wonder if this is our new normal: actors known for comedy trying their hand at horror and other genres with a great degree of success. A Quiet Place looks to be this year's Get Out. I doubt it will win awards—maybe Best Screenplay—but a $50 million debut domestically is nothing to scoff at, especially on a budget of only $17 million. (Horror movie economics are usually pretty good.) If you've been keep track at home, A Quiet Place's 3-day debut actually beat the 3-day of Ready Player One last weekend ($41.7 million).

That's not to say Ready Player One is tanking. The film had a 41 percent drop from week-to-week, showing that word of mouth is solid. It's not an amazing domestic run, but it's in line with Spielberg's other films and China is pushing the international gross pretty well. And it still has to launch in Japan.

Blockers took the #3 spot with $20 million, followed by Black Panther with $8.4 million. This puts Black Panther above Titanic domestically, which is probably the last domestic record it's going to get on this theatrical run. Avatar is the next up at $760 million and Black Panther doesn't have enough in the tank to reach that. It could get the $42 million needed to pass Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 on the all-time worldwide chart though.

In non-movie news, the CW renewed every DC Comics show it has. Yup.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

Point-and-click adventure games are often littered with dialogue. In some adventure games, sarcastic remarks and tongue-in-cheek humor are thrown at you. They're often just a tad too long in length. The Librarian, a breezy pixelated game by game developer Octavi Navarro (known for Midnight Scenes and worked as an artist on Thimbleweed Park), is an opposite sort of point-and-click adventure. The puzzles are brief and clever, the atmosphere is undeniably solemn, the art is entrancing—especially in motion. If you've been on the lookout for a short and sweet point-and-click adventure to buy up 20 minutes of an afternoon, then look no further than The Librarian, which is available for "name your own price" on itch.io for PC and Mac.

This Week's News and Notes

  • Kat just got back from PAX East, and returned with plentiful Hearthstone news (and more news on other things to come later this week)! First up: Hearthstone's Ben Brode on the game's Dust economy, and why it isn't changing anytime soon.
  • More news from PAX East 2018: Miramar is finally coming to the Xbox One version of PUBG in May, hurrah!
  • You can finally exclaim "I'm using tilt controls" with glee when you eventually play Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus on Nintendo Switch, since it's arriving to the portable-ish console with gyro-aiming—like Splatoon 2 and Doom—in tow.
  • Dark Souls: Remastered is looking pretty, pretty good in portable mode on the Nintendo Switch.
  • Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher is kinda-sorta making a comeback, but probably not in the way you want. Fisher will be making a cameo in a new Ghost Recon Wildlands update, assumedly similar to the weird revival of Predator from a couple months ago. Sam Fisher and the indefinitely available Splinter Cell mission sneak onto Wildlands tomorrow on April 10.
  • Overwatch's "Retribution" event is also kicking off tomorrow, which includes a new PvE mode and new skins, all established in the game's lore.
  • Sure, you may have heard the news that Marvel's Black Panther is now the third highest grossing movie ever in the United States, but it's got nothing on Grand Theft Auto 5, which has now grossed more money than any movie ever.
  • World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth has a release date of August 14, 2018, and Blizzard told us a little bit about the all-new Azerite gear system.
  • ICYMI: Last week I published a candid Q&A I had with the producer behind Arms and Mario Kart, Kosuke Yabuki. Here's Yabuki on the creation of Twintelle being outside of Nintendo's comfort zone: "Obviously being Japanese and working on games in Japan, when we're trying to create characters for the game and thinking about like, 'All right, well what will people around the world who are from different countries, different backgrounds, what kind of characters will they like?' It's something we worry about a lot, but obviously being Japanese and of really knowing Japan very well, it's something that is kind of hard for us to [do]."
  • When Nadia was tasked to meet the creator of Dragon Quest for work a couple months ago, it was more than just another assignment for her. It was a dream come true.
  • Nadia and Mike both offered more on Far Cry 5, which is proving to be a big hit for Ubisoft in terms of sales. Nadia wrote about the game's lovable animal companions, while Mike wrote about the game's endings and how they stack up to the series' endings of the past.
  • The USgamer Podcast: Even without any big games to cover, The USgamer Podcast persevered in last week's episode. This week, we talk all about PUBG's new 4x4 map and *shudder* Ready Player One. Also we're excited about Insomniac's Spider-Man and Dragon Quest Builders 2. Subscribe here!
  • Axe of the Blood God: On this week's Axe of the Blood God, Kat and Nadia talk about all the RPGs from PAX East, including Dragon Quest XI. Subscribe here!

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Comments 17

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  • Avatar for riderkicker #1 riderkicker 6 months ago
    I've said it before I'll say it again, Persona 5 is basically Anime Leverage. You got the sassy protagonist with the messy head of hair, you got a grifter (Ann), a hitter (Ryuji), a hacker (Futaba), and a Parker (Mona), with various extraneous characters like a forger (Yusuke), the inside (wo)man (Matoko), and the Bosley (Haru). The entire framing of the game was amazing, especially after watching the entire series, halfway in, it all clicked, and it was indeed a thrill to see what happens next. From what Caty said of the anime, it's kind of a bummer that even though they took some liberties with the game's story, it's not significantly different overall. Though I hope the Mementos specific missions are expanded.

    Aw, I thought Nadia was hosting the episode, and would like to see her take on editing a pod.
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  • Avatar for catymcc #2 catymcc 6 months ago
    @riderkicker Yeah I'm holding my reservations on it until there's more episodes out, since that's when the adaptation will get a little tricky. But I agree and definitely think P5 benefits because of its structure way more than P3 or P4, so fingers crossed that it ends up being good!
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #3 Flipsider99 6 months ago
    I think that this is just a problem for adapting stories from video games, it's really hard to get the pacing right. The Danganronpa animation had the same problem.

    The only way to really alleviate this problem is to make *significant* changes from the source material... which is what they should do. But a ton of work and is very risky because they risk alienating the fans even more if they do it wrong. I always felt like a Persona animation should have tried to draw inspiration from Jojo for it's storylines, since Personas were obviously inspired by Stands in the first place. Add more suspense and focus more on strategy based battles. But even that would be very tough to pull off.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #4 Kuni-Nino 6 months ago
    Meh. I don’t think P5’s story is one that deserves to be adapted into an anime. I can’t be alone in feeling that game started really dragging after Futaba’s dungeon. There’s great parts after it, of course, but they don’t last so long.
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  • Avatar for sevenpains #5 sevenpains 6 months ago
    Speaking of anime, takahata of ghibli studio passed away does any of the usgamer staff have any affinity for his films? I know that some early games ripped elements from ghibli movies like a boss from crystalis being the big bug from nausicia.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #6 Kat.Bailey 6 months ago
    @sevenpains I'm fond of Only Yesterday.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #7 pdubb 6 months ago
    Obviously two Chies in one shot isn't enough because Chie is the one true waifu and the only thing better than two Chies is a party full of them.

    Thanks guys, I'll take your response off the the air.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #8 SatelliteOfLove 6 months ago
    As iffy as the Persona hhhhanimes have been, it CAN be worse...

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  • Avatar for blueberryboll #9 blueberryboll 6 months ago
    I've been looking forward to it since the announcement. Haven't seen the P3 or P4 animations, but Persona Trinity Soul felt lacking in heart (...or soul?) and full of half-baked ways of presenting its plot. Edit: Watched the first episode and it felt very fragmentary and hurried, making it hard to feel for anything that happened.Edited April 2018 by blueberryboll
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  • Avatar for link6616 #10 link6616 6 months ago
    @SatelliteOfLove there is a kiseki anime?
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  • Avatar for catymcc #11 catymcc 6 months ago
    @sevenpains Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday are two of my favorite films ever, so hearing of his passing last week hit pretty hard actually. ):
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #12 NiceGuyNeon 6 months ago
    My experience with Persona has always been anime/manga first. Before I started this whole law school thing I was interning at the sound studio that handled the dub for Persona 4 the Animation and that was where I was allowed to edit dialogue, record takes, work on blooper reels, etc. It was the best internship I ever had, but it was also what introduced me to Persona and Shin Megami Tensei in general. After I finished I watched the show. Then eventually bought the game and played it and it's arguably my favorite RPG ever made.

    Same deal with Persona Q, I read the manga. With Persona 5 I'm definitely going to watch the anime first. I don't have a PS3 or PS4 and I don't intend on buying either one at any point ever, with a gaming PC it's utterly pointless minus a few experiences that I want but can live without (Bloodborne....). So unless there's a Golden-style release of Persona 5 I'm going to be content that I can experience the basic plot of it and maybe in the future dive in with a deeper look at all of the side stories that really make the game special.

    If you have played the game, the anime adaptation is probably not worth your time, but it does turn a 120 hour game into a 12 hour experience so there's also the benefit of expediency. Obviously corners are going to be cut, but you get the basic gist of what goes down.

    As for Persona 4 the Animation, if anyone is curious, the show runs for 25 episodes, but like 6 months later the true end was released to reflect the game's proper ending. That episode is not listed on Hulu, which is where you can legally stream Persona 4. As for the Golden Adaptation, it's only 12 episodes, but you should only watch it if you've either seen Persona 4 or played Persona 4: Golden. It's on Crunchyroll along with Persona 5.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #13 yuberus 6 months ago
    Having recently finished Persona 4 Golden I totally get Caty's criticisms of the game and its story. That said, I agree Persona 5 can make for a good adaptation depending on how they go about it. I kind of felt that the game lent itself to an adaptation due to how self-contained each arc is with the different villains, and lord knows the politician bit can be absolutely cathartic these days (I know it was for me).
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  • Avatar for discohospital #14 discohospital 6 months ago
    @sevenpains Only Yesterday may well be the best Ghibli film. It's tied with Kiki's Delivery Service as my favorite. It often seems that Ghibli is widely perceived to be synonymous with Miyazaki, which pains me. Takahata was at least as good a director as Miyazaki, although he allegedly worked much more slowly, and thus made fewer films (not to mention his output being generally less accessible in terms of mainstream/crossover appeal).
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  • Avatar for discohospital #15 discohospital 6 months ago
    As for the first episode of the P5 anime: the long and short of it is that they wanted to get to the protagonist's awakening scene in the space of one episode, hence the runaway train pacing. This of course isn't a problem which is exclusive to adaptations, however. It would help if the convention of hour-long first episodes would catch on, but I presume it's just not an option with TV anime most of the time.

    It should perhaps slow down a bit from here on. As for the animation itself - better than the previous ones, yes, but I.G is a hard act to follow. I'm not expecting miracles.

    Oh, and I read the comment about the protagonist's reticence as an in-joke for fans of the game(s).

    Incidentally, I named the protagonist Naoto Amemiya in both the Japanese and western versions of the game when I played - something about his personality and predicament says "rain". I believe I picked up on something the game was doing in that regard thematically (before playing it, I suppose based on the storm of promotional media that preceded it), and it seems they had the same idea (Amamiya is a variation in reading of the same kanji).Edited April 2018 by discohospital
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  • Avatar for moochan #16 moochan 6 months ago
    Hope you enjoyed my city of Boston. Sadly I couldn't get a ticket for PAX and they quickly started to really hammer security since I use to just be able to walk in without a badge. So no PAX for me this year.

    As for Persona I feel I put in so much time in those games I really don't feel like revisiting them in anime form.

    "I have to wonder if this is our new normal: actors known for comedy trying their hand at horror and other genres with a great degree of success. "

    I mean this has been a thing for a while. Jim Carry might have been one of the most successful comedian to drama. Yeah his take on horror with 24 wasn't good but I feel he can do drama (if sprinkle a bit of his comedic touch) really well.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #17 SatelliteOfLove 6 months ago
    @link6616

    Vaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaguely.
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