Ren Amamiya was a small town kid who’s fallen into trouble. He got sent to juvie and is now getting off for probation. Ren’s forced to move away from home and into a foster home in Tokyo, where he’ll have to lay low for a year. Ren takes up a room provided by Sojiro Sakura, a local café owner who took him in for the extra cash. Now Ren is attending Shujin Academy, a school with a truly seedy underbelly. The school’s P.E. teacher, Suguru Kamoshida, is privately beating and sexually abusing his students; a secret that pretty much everyone knows. On his way to school though, Ren meets up with Shujin Academy’s resident delinquent, Ryuji Sakamoto, and the two discover something odd. The school is now a castle infested with monsters, and Kamoshida is the ruler. The two agree to work together to bring him down.
Persona 5 made a lot of waves when the RPG came out in Japan in 2016, and then again in the West in 2017. A lot of the hype came from its addressing of social issues. Ren’s homeroom teacher Sadayo Kawakami isn’t a quirky but supportive ambassador between Ren and the administration, but a bureaucrat who would rather do anything to avoid conflict. Sojima isn’t a kindly caretaker who took Ren in to guide a lost soul towards a better path, but shoves him away in a dirty attic and tells Rens to stay out of his business. And so forth. Meanwhile, Ren never did anything wrong; Ren was only arrested because a drunkard accused Ren of assaulting him while he was busy trying to actually rape a woman.
All of these themes and plot points are present and accounted for in Persona 5 the Animation. It’s a pretty straight adaptation of the game, with some minor plot revisions, like Ren and Ryuji meeting Morgana on their second visit to Kamoshida’s Palace and them creating the route to Kamoshida’s treasure on the first day. Many of these changes were most likely done for pacing reasons: they didn’t want to spend too much time between reality and subspace per episode, and needed to split it up to strike more of a balance between the drama and supernatural elements.
Anime Vs Game
However, these adjustments to the pacing are also a major downfall of this adaptation of Persona 5. The original RPG was a solid 80-hour game. Condensing Persona 5 down into a 24 episode naturally meant some fat had to be trimmed. The animators, in this case, chose to cut down a lot of the supernatural elements. You get a short montage of the gang invading Kamoshida’s Palace. This downplays a lot of the tension that came with the dungeon exploration in the game. It doesn’t really seem like the gang performed much of a feat when you watch them just breeze through what took you hours of combat over the course of several game days in order to achieve. It lessens the impact of the battle with Kamoshida.
There are also a couple of strange additions as well. For example, there’s a scene added in where you watch Kamoshida actually beat on Ann’s friend Shiho. Maybe the animators threw this in to drive home just how awful Kamoshida’s actions really were? The game did this well enough through implication. So it feels a bit exploitative in its inclusion to just make you feel worse for Shiho than you already did. The additions just feel odd especially when they already cut out so much.
Persona 5 the Animation is recommended for diehard fans of the game who want to see how it could be adapted. For newcomers, it’d be better to just play the game. Much of the game experience comes from the tension of rushing to complete dungeons, as well as developing your relationships with the side characters and these elements are missing from the adaptation. However, if you’re not interested in playing the game but are curious about the story. Then Persona 5 the Animation is competent enough to do the job.