I Don’t Know Who Persona 5: The Animation is For

Too poorly paced for newcomers or fans alike.

I often joke that Persona 5, a game that took me nearly 100 hours to complete, and its “definitive edition” Persona 5 Royal, which took me well over 100 hours to complete, are too short. This has mostly been a joke about the ongoing “games are too long” discourse, but it’s also genuine, in that I feel like both times I’ve completed these games I was left wanting more game to spend a few extra days with characters I didn’t get the chance to. And it’s also in response to (admittedly understandable) criticism that Atlus’ RPG is too long. Most people don’t have the time to dedicate to a 100-hour RPG, but now that I’m rewatching Persona 5: The Animation with the newly-released English dub streaming on Funimation, I’m finding myself digging my heels into the ground: Persona 5 is a story that doesn’t lend itself to compression people are asking for.

When it comes to direct adaptations of video games into anime, Persona 4: The Animation is usually the benchmark I hold these things to. It manages to present its story in a holistic enough way that, should someone want to experience the story of Persona 4 without playing a several-dozen-hours-long JRPG, it’s a pretty decent substitute. I’ve had several friends over the years borrow my blu-ray set of the series rather than a copy of Persona 4 Golden and walk away pretty happy with it. 

This doesn’t apply to Persona 5: The Animation, and now that I’m marathoning the series, I’m realizing that I don’t really know who the anime is for. 

The frequent trouble animated video game adaptations run into is that they’re working in a significantly smaller runtime with stories crafted for a medium that is, by and large, allowed to get away with taking up more time than pretty much anything else. In fact, it’s positioned as an addition to value if a game takes large swaths of your time. The “dollar-per-hour” value judgement is, unfortunately, still very prevalent, and means we’re still dealing with games that are deemed unworthy of the asking price if they don’t meet some arbitrary number of hours invested. 

This isn’t really a commentary on Persona 5, so much as it is an acknowledgement that, as games grow in size, they don’t lend themselves to 1:1 adaptations in media that is traditionally much shorter. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, which will run you anywhere between 20-30 hours depending on how you play, was adapted into a 13-episode anime, which translates into about four hours, thus around a fifth of the game’s runtime, meaning it’s an incredibly rushed, fleeting, and shallow presentation of the same story. Persona 5: The Animation is trying to put an even larger story into a format that is only moderately more accommodating, as the series has 28 episodes, along with two OVAs that don’t add to the main plot. But it’s not enough, especially with a story with this much elaborate worldbuilding and rules.

Take, for example, the pilot. In just under 24 minutes, Persona 5: The Animation covers around 90 minutes of the game’s worldbuilding, character introductions, and just establishing the basis on which the entire game is founded. Explanations of how Persona 5’s supernatural world works are relegated to single lines, or just not contextualized at all because the anime simply doesn’t have the time to do so. 

And ultimately, that’s an issue that doesn’t really get resolved. So I can’t, in good consciousness, tell someone that Persona 5: The Animation is an adequate replacement for a game that is intimidatingly long. I, as a huge fan of the game, find myself frustrated watching it, as a story that is rich with lovable characters, interesting (if occasionally obtuse) worldbuilding, and themes that continue to resonate with me three years removed. So if it’s not for people who haven’t played the game and isn’t for people who have, who is it for? Companies looking to make a nice chunk of change on the offensively expensive blu-ray box set?

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All this being said, it has been a delight to hear the English cast’s voices this time around. Between the original game and all its spin-offs, Persona 5’s cast of Phantom Thieves has really gotten in touch with those characters, and from the looks of it, they’ve been given a lot of room to just ad lib their way through the script.

This is also notably the first time Xander Mobus, the voice actor of Ren “Joker” Amamiya, has been able to voice the character in a full speaking role, as he was a mostly silent protagonist in Persona 5 proper and its spin-offs.

In a way, I think I’ve come to realize that while I don’t appreciate Persona 5: The Animation as an adaptation or even a TV show in general, I think I can at least appreciate it as an abridged reminiscing of a story I experienced in a superior form elsewhere. It’s just unfortunate that the story the anime is attempting to tell wasn’t given the chance to breathe.

If nothing else, we at least got some sick tunes from it.