(Ed. Note: Spoilers aplenty to Persona 5 and its anime counterpart)
When the dub for Persona 5 The Animation was announced, I was happy. I’d watched a few episodes of the sub and–me being the Persona and Persona 5 non-hyperfan that I am–played through the vanilla game and Royal a total of at least four times. I was excited to hear Joker have more lines than “I leveled up” and shouting Persona names. I wasn’t happy about the $300 price tag Aniplex placed on the Blu-Ray set. Look, I love to support anime and its creators the right way. But $300 is a bit too steep for my blood.
Enter Funimation, who has a working agreement with Aniplex. Last week, the anime streaming giant dropped P5A on FunimationNow and, like any fan curious to hear Joker say more, I checked it out. I remembered that, while watching the sub, I thought the animation–especially for moments such as All-Out Attacks–was kind of funky at points. It wasn’t the worst animation I’d seen in an anime, nor did it make me say “[eff] them (Persona-using) kids.” It does have its moments of “for real?!”
The dub doesn’t completely remove the animation gaffes. Nope, not completely. However, it does allow for fans who grew accustomed to the dub cast to see key moments animated and voiced by Xander Mobus and company. Plus, let’s be real (since I know crapping on P5A is still considered “cool”): 9/10 times, the animation is pretty good. Is it Miyazaki every episode? Hell no, but it’s better than hyperfans have given it credit for.
I don’t watch anime just for flashy images. I watch for stories and characters. With that in mind, Joker/Ren’s characterization reminds me a lot of what I’ve seen of Yu from the Persona 4/Persona 4 Golden dub (both in-game and the anime). He’s kindhearted and a great leader, but we get moments where he gets off some great comic relief lines or snark.
For example, hearing him interact with Ms. Kawakami during her afterschool maid gig made me chuckle. In fact, that whole episode, “Operation Maid Watch” was hilarious to me as it was one of the funnier sequences of the game itself. Hearing Xander Mobus and Max Mittelman bounce off each other as regular teenagers who double as world-changing Phantom Thieves was a nice chance-of-pace from Joker’s silent protagonist persona (pun intended) in the games. Same with hearing Joker be the straight man to Yusuke’s eccentric artistic endeavors. And Joker’s interactions with Makoto. And–well, you get the point. There’s something about hearing a voice put to dialogue choices you’ve made a few times that makes my soul smile.
To continue on characterization, viewers get an expanded look into the Phantom Thieves–even if you maxed out their confidant levels in the game. For example, we have some more scenes that go into Makoto’s family history, including more about her father. We get to actually see Ann in the hospital with Shiho, post-Kamoshida’s Palace, versus her disappearing for a bit in the early parts of the story. Speaking of Shiho, there are some added elements to her character that help flesh out her arc as well. Morgana and Haru are also given their fair share of screen time to talk about their combined arc. And their combined arc is less about Morgana and Ryuji and more about everything the cat, the ape and Noir go through in this arc.
All in all, I appreciated what they added into the series and (some of) what they condensed.
P5A is a solid series if you want a Cliff’s Notes version of Persona 5 with new Lyn/Shoji Meguro music. I mean, any time you put 100-to-200 hours of gameplay into the equivalent of thirty 24-to-25 minute episodes, you’re going to have to cut some storytelling corners. I haven’t really noticed anything overly important to the general story getting chopped. No, you don’t see Joker build a long-term, fleshed-out friendship with the shogi player or the fortune teller or the gruff model gun store owner with a heart of gold. Futaba’s awakening takes minutes versus most of the time the Thieves are in her Palace. Additionally, there are some moments in the series that are out of order when compared to the game (Phan-Site owner Mishima meeting with Ohya after the Phantom Thieves defeat Shadow Kaneshiro instead of before, for instance).
The pacing, though, is still decent.
Is it perfect? No, not at all. But it’s good enough to keep the core of the story intact without sacrificing the emotional meat of the whole thing. This is Persona we’re talking about, not Dark Souls. When you’ve played the game, you’re more likely to notice it being off. If you’re coming in fresh/unaware of P5, you’re given a great overview of why millions of fans have fallen in love with it over the past few years. It’s kind of like Persona 5: Abridged without the fourth-wall breaking spoofy nature that comes with abridged series–even though “Last Surprise” is used in some quirky ways.
In short, I’d recommend it. However, I’d suggest playing the game (and checking out all subsequent materials) as well since a lot of the nuances and things that breathe in additional life for P5 are left out for the sake of keeping the story short-ish.
TL;DR – Persona 5 The Animation is a faithful adaptation of the base story of vanilla Persona 5. The animation isn’t as terrible as some’ll have you believe. Finally, hearing Joker speak >>>