What’s it about? Deep underground, the police beat a young man they believe is Joker, leader of the notorious Phantom Thieves, before the prosecutor arrives to interrogate him. Months ago, that same young man arrived in Tokyo for the first time. His parents sent him away for a year after he was arrested for assault and put on probation, and now he’s staying with a family friend and starting at a new school. On his very first day, he and a classmate are attacked by a mysterious force and he makes a contract with an unknown entity in order to survive.
CONTENT WARNING: Police brutality; implied sexual assault.
Y’ALL. I AM SO HYPE.
I love the Persona franchise, but the anime adaptations have always suffered from mediocre animation and uninspired direction. Meanwhile, the Persona 5 game had incredibly stylish design marred by a clunky translation and lackluster animated cut scenes. When they announced that Masashi Ishihama (From the New World, Garokawa) would be directing the adaptation this time, I hoped that, finally, we would get an adaptation that was both faithful and attractive.
We did it, everyone. We did it! Persona5 the Animation looks absolutely incredible, while also remaining faithful to the source material. As someone who’s initiated into the game, it was an excellent viewing experience, although I’ve heard newcomers had trouble getting into its rapid pace.
Okay, okay. Enough celebrating. Let’s get to the feminist-relevant subjects… or lack thereof.
This is another area where knowledge of what’s to come is both a blessing and a curse. Without going into details, the game had very high highs and low lows in its depiction of women, none of which are strongly indicated in the premiere. I know what’s going on with the blonde girl and with the female prosecutor, as well as what the story has to say about the police as an institution and where power lies in society. It’s hard to divorce that knowledge from just what’s in the episode, but I also don’t want to make promises the adaptation may not keep or spoil anything for newcomers.
We only get glimpses of what’s to come and what happened before, but those glimpses do give a bit of information. The flashback doesn’t explicitly explain why Ren is on probation, but bits and pieces flash across the screen: a frightened-looking woman, a man holding her wrists, a hand grabbing his shoulder, his face with blood dripping down it, and police lights.
They tell the story that something went awry when Ren tried to stop a sexual assault and resulted in him getting arrested. He may be a criminal, but he came by it honorably. And now, despite only ever having the best intentions, he’s been abandoned by his parents and branded a reprobate at school. This gives him a motivation to rebel against unfair institutions of society.
This here, without greater context, is a double-edged sword. It’s great that our protagonist is the kind of guy who’d stand up to a potential rapist, but a male character motivated by women around him being victimized is as exploitative a plot device as ever there was. It turns women into objects to be defended rather than agents of their own, capable of fighting sexist institutions themselves. Series with the thesis “Row row, fight the power” are great, but I’m getting tired of them almost always have straight male protagonists.
The most positive sign of things to come is Sae Niijima, the female prosecutor. She strikes a strong balance between being more compassionate than the brutal male officers, expressing concern for Ren’s well-being, while still coming across as a powerful figure. She strides confidently down the hall, insisting on her right to interrogate the arrestee (although she’s supposed to be six feet tall plus heels and thus should be towering over everyone else).
Although she’s not vicious, she’s not soft either—she speaks to Ren sternly and forcefully. My only complaint? Her “smokey eye” makeup looks more like she was punched in the eye. Almost certainly unintentional, but unfortunate.
Persona 5 is the kind of story where almost everyone who engages with it will have strong opinions about it. After all, the Persona games are deeply personal by their very nature, and your experience will be affected by how strongly its central thesis speaks to you. Its strengths carry it far, but many people can’t get past its glaring flaws. I expect Person5 the Animation to follow in the game’s footsteps, given that much of the script comes verbatim from the game. Love it or hate it, it’s going to be a wild, stylish ride.