A lackluster adaptation for one of the most anticipated, lustrous games in recent memory.
Persona 5: The Animation might be one of the most anticipated titles of the season, because it's the anime adaptation of Persona 5, the latest and long-awaited new entry in the Persona series, and one of the best JRPGs to come out in recent memory. After seeing the success of Persona 4: The Animation and its golden sibling, you have to imagine that the powers that be were chomping at the bit to get an anime adaptation of Persona 5 out the door.
It's unfortunate, because a great game is getting its name tainted by a sub-par adaptation.
Doing a Season to Taste on Persona 5 is different from most shows because the source material (in this case, the game) has been out for well over a year now, and as someone that's played through the game, I'm well aware of the plot, the characters, and how the story unfolds. For those of you that haven't played the game, though, let me give you a brief summary. And don't worry, this article will remain spoiler-free, in case you want to watch the show or play the game.
Our protagonist, a high-school aged boy named Amamiya Ren, has his life take a turn for the worse after being falsely charged for assault. As part of his probation, he transfers schools and through a series of chance encounters, eventually learns about things called Personas, Shadows, the Metaverse, Palaces, Treasures, and a whole lot more. Ren and his newfound friends at school form a group called the Phantom Thieves that, using the proper nouns listed above, try and change people's hearts.
Did that summary make sense? Because unfortunately, if it didn't, you might have a bad time when it comes to watching the anime.
I'm going to say it straight. Persona 5: The Animation has not done a good job of telling its story. When watching the first couple of episodes, it really didn't feel like there was much of a story being told at all. Instead, it felt like I was watching a select 40 minutes of in-game dialogue and cutscenes that got animated and put in a highlight reel. This is an absolutely terrible way of portraying introduction. Persona 5 is a 80-hour game, and the first two episodes basically covered the first 5 hours. But here's the thing; they didn't condense those 5 hours. They chopped up those 5 hours into two episodes worth of small segments that don't really flow together well.
As a result, if you didn't play the original game, watching Persona 5 isn't a fun viewing experience. Hell, I played the game myself, and the pacing of the show threw me for a loop. It feels like the show expects you to already know what's coming up, so your brain can fill in the gaps between the chopped-up animated segments. In fact, I'm convinced that the target audience for this show isn't people that are interested in Persona 5's story; it's for the people that have already played the game and want to see their favorite game animated.
Here's a good example. In the game, there's a combat mechanic where you get rewarded for stunning all of your enemies. This is called an "all-out attack", and it's a special move that has its own unique in-game animation. The anime itself has a scene in episode 2 where we see the characters use an all-out attack, and it does a good job of making the reference to the original game and the original animation. However, if you don't get that reference, you're looking at ten seconds of randomly stylized video with a random freeze frame at the end. It probably does not click in the mind of a person who hasn't played the game before.
There's plenty of other things about the show that are like this (the eye cut-ins, the transitions between places, the multiple perspectives, the ending sequence, the episode cards, etc.), but I won't go over them all here. As someone who has played Persona 5, I did find those references and homages to the original game enjoyable, but to an average viewer they're going to feel out of place.
Persona 5: The Animation feels like a love letter from Persona 5 fans to Persona 5 fans. You can tell that A-1 really tried to stay faithful to the original game, and the show rewards you if you can pick up on those queues. However, in making the target demographic specifically "Persona 5 fans", the show has suffered. The storytelling and pacing are such a mess that not playing the game before is a death sentence, and it even harms the viewing experience for those that have played the game. This is all rather unfortunate, because a game like Persona 5 deserves better.