It’s only once you’ve played Persona 5 that you understand why so many people found themselves excited throughout the extraordinarily long wait for it. The game oozes with style, making you feel like a dapper phantom thief just by navigating through menus. Even the marketing leading up to the game, such as lighting up Tokyo Tower in red and having the protagonist invade a concert to deliver the newest trailer only contributed to this power fantasy narrative that you can take down those who control everything. But one of the main issues in creating an anime version is the question of whether the sort of elements that allow a player to feel powerful can be effectively adapted into a situation where the player has now become the viewer.
Personally, I’d argue “Yeah, in this case, it can.” Although you’re able to change protagonist Ren Amamiya’s name and select which girls he dates and what he does with his days, the game always made a conscious decision to make you feel like you were an onlooker into his life. The very premise of the game involves you reflecting on the life of the person who came to Tokyo many months earlier with a load of baggage that you had no involvement in. From the very start of the game, Ren is sneered and jeered at for his criminal past, the result of an event prior to the point where we had any sort of control. Our only options at that point are to decide whether Ren will make snide comments or act politely in return. But with the game already referencing future events, there’s an overwhelming feeling that we are helping tell this story rather than create our own.
It’s a fine line and in this case, it worked to make Persona 5 a more effective narrative experience, even if it meant that it became more difficult to relate to Ren himself. There’s even events later in the game that imply that Ren might not even be a reliable narrator for the story that we’re experiencing. It’s a very different experience from Persona 4, in which the main character has very little backstory or established personality. This meant that it was much easier to identify with the protagonist, but it became much more difficult to build into the same sort of experience in anime form with Persona 4: The Animation as too much of who the protagonist was was based on our own projections.
Even whilst playing Persona 5, I couldn’t help but think it would be well served with an anime adaptation. The way the game controls and looks within dungeons was already effectively cinematic, so seeing how the whole show plays out with the cinematic format in mind is constantly exciting. Six minutes of the first episode have already been released, showing Ren escaping the casino and I can’t help but be excited for the rest of the show. It’s a short segment of gameplay, but it’s adapted into a series of unique and interesting shots, always making sure there’s something moving on screen at all times. A visionary director like Masashi Ishihama is exactly what Persona 5: The Animation needs to stand-out amongst its predecessors and I already have a list of scenes in my head that I want to see his versions of.
The Persona 5 game always made an effort whenever possible to make Ren feel cool and whilst this was at its most effective during the anime cutscenes, Ishihama’s anime has surpassed it. There’s a signature scene near both the start of the game and start of the anime in which Ren dives out of a huge paned window to escape from the police inside. In the game’s cutscene, the emphasis is on the perfect landing, but the anime takes the opportunity to add in a stunning shot of the window itself with a huge crack marking the point that Ren broke through. A part of being a phantom thief is creating a dramatic entrance and exit.
Conveying those ideas of reforming society and doing so in a way that captures the hearts of the people in Tokyo is a huge concern for fans of the game. Persona 5: The Daybreakers succeeded in finding an interesting way to adapt the battles with interesting red shots coupled with striking effects animation, but Persona 5: The Animation will need to present something even more impressive to convince us to get as invested in the anime as so many were in the game. And for that, I believe that director Masashi Ishihama may be the perfect accomplice in adapting the story and ideas of Persona 5 to animation.