The most stylish phantom thief has finally come to the screen. Take notes Lupin.
Okay, I’m going into this review a disclaimer that I’m a huge Persona (and Megami Tensei in general) fan. I’ve played Persona 1, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Persona 3, Persona 4, Persona Q, and Persona 5. I follow prominent lore masters like Nenilein and Fither to learn more and keep up with the news. So, since I have to fill in my review slots on this site and since Persona 5 has easily become my favorite entry into the franchise, I’ve decided to start reviewing the anime adaptation with as few spoilers as possible.
So here’s my Recap and Review of Episode 1 of Persona 5: The Animation.
The episode starts with a voiceover stating the world is heading to ruin and another stating those who oppose fate and desire change are known as Tricksters, who will rise up to deal with the distortion in the world.
We then go with two masked men causing a commotion in a casino, the one called Joker acting as a diversion as the other gets away. We see Joker stashing a briefcase acting as a treasure before he does an amazing leap through a stained glass window… and right into a police ambush.
Then we get to see police brutality at work in the Japanese legal system as he’s drugged, beaten, and then made to sign a confession as a woman named Niijima is told by her boss she won’t have much time to talk to him and investigate the case. Ren Amamiya, the phantom thief known as Joker, is relieved to learn from her that his friends haven’t been caught and then gets asked what his objective was for causing so much trouble and stealing the hearts of others. Drugged and beaten, a voice rings out in his head stating that he’s a prisoner in an unjust game, but there’s a chance for him to win if he recalls the promise he made starting six months ago.
We then get an in media res where we see Ren helping a woman being harassed and then having the book thrown at him by the justice system. He snaps out of it on the train to Tokyo where some girls are praising a famous detective prince named Goro Akechi (with a mention of Naoto from P4) before he clicks on a phone app and time freezes like he’s in the Dark Hour, where he spots an azure flame burning in the distance that expands into a column of fire before taking on the form of a burning figure with wings. Then, when his acid trip is over, he uninstalls his app and makes his way from Shibuya to Yongenjaya.
There we get the lovely background music as he arrives at the LeBlanc cafe to meet with a man named Sojiro Sakura, who’ll be looking after him for the next year of his probation. Long story short, him trying to help that woman in the intro got him a criminal record and he was expelled from his previous school. He settles in for the night to see that app back on his phone before he passes out.
Then he wakes up in a jail cell where a figure familiar to all welcomes Ren to his Velvet Room. That’s right, Igor is back and he has two assistants with him this time in the form of lolis. He gives Ren the protagonist speech and then sees him off until the next morning, where Ren goes to Shujin Academy. He’s introduced to his teacher, Kawakami, and the principal, who tells him the moment he causes trouble he’ll be in trouble.
Then we get a scene of a train crash and Sojiro comments that there’s been a lot of them lately before Ren asked why he was taken in given his record. No doubt because of all the crap being tossed on him. Sojiro admits that part of the reason is he’s getting paid and then tells Ren to keep his head down, even if he sees something happening.
We then go back to the present, where Ren and the interrogator are discussing that train incident and how after he turned up at Shujin a calling card from the Phantom Thieves appeared, with the target being a former Olympic medalist who was a teacher at the school named Suguru Kamoshida. She asks what happened and we jump back to the past to find out.
Ren’s first day of school starts bad with it raining on the way and he ends up running into a blonde bombshell who the camera just can’t help fix on a little too long before she mentions hating the rain. Then Kamoshida pops up and gives her a ride in his car to the school before a boy comes up to Ren and bad mouths Kamoshida while his phone was recording it. Their conversation basically leads to the phone app triggering some kind of navigational shift where the school has transformed into an actual castle.
Needless to say, a bunch of knights appear and take them to a dungeon cell where Kamoshida appears dressed in a cape, crown, and no pants. He refers to himself as a king and proceeds to have the knights pin Ren to a wall while he lays out the boy whose name we haven’t been given. But when he tries to kill him, the blue butterfly pops up and he hears a voice in his head telling him not to just sit there and watch.
So Ren speaks up and unleashes his Persona by ripping a mask off his face in a bloody display that results in the best magical transformation I’ve seen this season as the episode ends.
Now, my first playthrough of Persona 5 ran 107 hours and this is a 2-cour anime, so I already know they have to rush things in order to get to the meaty parts of the story and will be taking that into account for the review. I’m not even going to complain about the rushed pace for that reason. It’s a necessity.
That being said, if you made it a year without being spoiled on Persona 5 I am both amazed and feel sorry for you. The amazement comes from the fact that after Atlus tried to enforce a policy preventing spoilers, the fandom promptly followed the theme of the game and rebelled by posting it nearly everywhere, so you’d have to be completely blind in regards to Persona to not know the details. The sorry part is because unless you know those spoilers, a lot of little details the anime wisely added in will be lost in the background to you while I can’t help but relish them without telling you why.
Now, as you can tell, it’s pretty obvious the first episode sets up things so we see a character being awesome in one of the best game openings in 2017 before we get his past in a long flashback that shows how we got to that point.
The protagonist is the leader of a group called the Phantom Thieves and the events leading up to that start from six months ago, when he got a criminal record that basically spelled the end of his life wherever he was before he went to Tokyo. In this episode alone, everyone treats him like he actively murdered someone and no one is willing to hear him out. That’s a very real part of Japanese culture and don’t let those anime that show all sorts of wild and crazy things going on fool you.
Japan has a sort of public policy where you supposed to keep your head down, don’t cause trouble, and fall in line. The nail that stands up is the one that gets hammered down, whether for ill or for the better. That forced confession to that crapload of crimes that Ren was made to sign was a big deal in Japan because of the detention rights that country states they can hold you for prolonged periods and signing a confession is basically the easiest out you’ll get compared to three weeks of aggressive interrogation. If you’ve got a record and no money to grease the wheels, your life is incredibly hard from that point on, but I suppose that’s true for any country.
Moving on, I have to say they softened some of the content up a bit here. Not the police brutality of course, but in general afterwards. For example, by the first three hours in the game I hated virtually every adult in the series and majority of the student population could go suck a lemon. Here though, Sojiro somewhat less abrasive in that his advice isn’t as hardline despite carrying the same message of toe the line to avoid getting into trouble and pretending not to see anything. I loved how they used the map screen to show his transition from Shibuya to Yongenjaya, how the music fits with the area themes from the game, and the subtle references to the previous Persona 4 entry that took place a few years prior in the setting.
Overall, it’s a fine start. Some of the fat has been trimmed off, but I understand the reason the changes they made and appreciate a good deal of the foreshadowing that they put in for those of us who have played the game. We’re in for a wild ride on the rebellion train and there’s no brakes, so sit back and enjoy.