After months of anticipation, PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION finally arrived this spring anime season. Based on PERSONA 5, the smash hit JRPG from 2016, the anime comes hot off the heels of the games international, award-winning popularity. With the game’s spectacular combat, exceptional characters, and emotional story, it’s only logical for an adaptation to follow. While it may seem like PERSONA 5 is just your typical JRPG, there is much more to it. The game and the entire series as a whole tackle real emotional and psychological problems many can relate to. Despite its over-the-top appearance as a JRPG, PERSONA 5 has important underlying themes and messages about coping and recovering from trauma.

For the uninitiated, the PERSONA series is produced by game company Atlus. Centered on groups of high school students, each character has a Persona, a powerful being connected to the soul and desires of the user. With the powers and assistance of the Personas, you play the game through infiltrating Palaces. Palaces are the manifestations of the darkness and desires present in one’s heart, negatively affecting that person and those around them. As you progress and take down the boss in each, you also see the causes of that person’s psychological state and some stories end up more jarring than others.

Spoilers for PERSONA 5 and PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION follow.

P5 game protagonist (Akira) and Arsène Lupin, his main Persona. | Image: GameTyrant

The Depth of PERSONA 5

PERSONA 5’s plot tackles the emotional and psychological situations each character goes through. Ren Amamiya is the protagonist, a transfer student at Shujin Academy. When he arrives, he quickly finds himself caught in a mass plot of corruption, violence, and of course, Personas. As the story goes on, Ren forges friendships with characters such as the delinquent Ryuji Sakamoto, the mysterious feline-esque creature Morgana, Ann Takamaki, and many more. This leads to the formation of the Phantom Thieves, a team of Persona users that seek justice by defeating Palaces. When the Thieves succeed in defeating the boss of each Palace, its owner undergoes a change of heart where they confess to their crimes, giving closure to the wronged. This plot point gives the player access to multiple targets in the game, bringing many instances of physical and mental abuse into focus with each crime.

Adaptations of video games can sometimes cut out certain moments and details that make the original spectacular. PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION is only five episodes in, which means there is still potential for the series to show that this won’t be the case. The options to thoroughly explore the stories about abuse and loss are always present in the game. So, these finer details and character interactions should be given a lot of spotlight in the anime. Let’s take a look at a few points and characters that the anime should make sure to focus on.

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The Kamoshida Saga

In PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION, the first Palace belongs to Suguru Kamoshida, Shujin’s gym teacher. As Ren begins his studies at Shujin, he discovers that Kamoshida has been using his authority to abuse the students on his volleyball team. Craving the attention and power that he used to have when he was an Olympic athlete, Kamoshida makes sexual advances on students and punishes them through rigorous sports practice. Discovering this, Ren and his team aim to infiltrate his Palace in order to stop his evil reign. The entire ordeal tackles the problems that stem from sexual and mental abuse, as well as what can cause someone to act this way.

Kamoshida’s palace is arguably the most important, providing backstory and motive for Ryuji Sakamoto, Yuuki Mishima, and Ann Takamaki. Ryuji was a former member of the track team and one of the star players. But once he saw how Kamoshida was treating students, he decided to take a stand. In retaliation, Kamoshida broke Ryuji’s leg, forcing him to retire. After that, the track team disbanded. Ryuji’s name is tarnished as he’s ridiculed by the student body.

Fellow classmate Mishima faces a similar problem as Kamoshida, having been a punching bag for the teacher on more than one occasion. With a history of being bullied in middle school, the added trauma makes Mishima feel useless. As the story progresses, we see this resentment take form in his actions with the Phantom Thieves, seeking those who may have wronged him as potential targets.

Kamoshida and Ryuji go face to face in PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION
The vengeful Kamoshida and Ryuji face-to-face. | Image: Aniplus

Facing Their Demons

Thanks to Kamoshida, Ryuji and Mishima face doubt from not only their peers but also themselves. The abuse of power from one person can cause mental and physical anguish — something that is seen commonly in everyday life. However, Ryuji and Mishima begin to take back their respect and self-esteem thanks to the Phantom Thieves. Ryuji becomes the first member to fight alongside Ren with his own Persona. In doing so, he realizes he can no longer let the past get to him and should work to help others. He still goes through moments of self-doubt, but he works towards overcoming the past. Mishima works through a similar process, finding purpose in assisting the Phantom Thieves through their website.

It’s easy to sympathize with these characters, especially if you were ever bullied. It’s not easy and sometimes it can be near impossible to get over, but there’s hope. Ryuji and Mishima managed to better themselves by facing their past traumas, one step at a time. It’s that growth that we hope the show expands on. Viewers should see it’s not impossible to grow after traumatic experiences. 

It also may be hard for some to open up about abuse, but PERSONA 5 lets you know that you’re not alone. The lessons one can gain from them are important, as well as the hope one can feel from them. With Kamoshida’s Palace arc drawing to a close in the anime, there’s still time for them to explore their inner demons more in future episodes.

How PERSONA 5 Tackled Abuse

Also heavily involved with Kamoshida is Ann Takamaki. Her best friend Shiho was on the volleyball team. Already having her own confidence issues, Shiho felt at home with the team. However, Kamoshida took advantage of his position of power to sexually abuse her. Not satisfied, he then blackmailed Ann into going out with him, threatening to cut her friend from the team if she refused. This ultimately led to Shiho attempting to take her own life. The event has lasting repercussions and leads to Ann joining the Phantom Thieves to bring justice for Shiho.

Ann discusses her experience with Kamoshida in PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION
Ann sits with Ren, discussing Kamoshida. | Image: Aniplus

At first, Ann is scared, lost, and unsure of herself after the tortures she faced. Sexual assault and mental abuse are serious issues. Victims may feel weak from the attack, and even guilty. Ann experiences these feelings because of Kamoshida, constantly fighting with herself about whether she’s doing the right thing for Shiho and herself. However, once she meets Ren and vents about the situation, we see her resolve in ending the chain of abuse. PERSONA 5 sheds light on some of the thoughts that might go through the victim’s mind, a subject that should be discussed more in the anime.

The game also isn’t afraid to look at the causes and effects of this kind of travesty. Through Ann, we can see that there is not only sorrow, but also a possibility of overcoming this, becoming stronger, and even helping others who may suffer similarly. What sets Ann apart from some of the cast is her willingness to sacrifice everything to help her friend. Shiho and Ann both suffer the worst of abuses from Kamoshida. But even in the darkest of hours, Ann strives to overcome and expose him, so others don’t suffer the same fate.

PERSONA 5: Societal Issues and Accepting Change

Futaba’s Lament

Futaba Sakura is a fan favorite that has yet to appear in PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION. She is extremely vital to the team. At first glance, Futaba may seem like your standard shut-in computer geek, but her backstory is incredibly important. Her mother studied the causes and effects of cognitive shutdowns, the very thing that causes fatal accidents in PERSONA 5. However, when her mother is killed by a car, Futaba is blamed for the incident. After years of living with various family members who blamed her for the death, Futaba’s finally taken in by Sojiro Sakura, her mother’s boyfriend. The years of torment and guilt turned her into a shut-in afraid of both herself and the world.

PERSONA 5's Futaba scrolling the net.
Futaba is rarely seen not scrolling the net. | Image: Twinfinite

PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION will inevitably cover Futaba’s backstory, there is no doubting that. Our hope is that they don’t gloss over the connection between her and her mother. Many people have dealt with familial loss and have felt guilt and resentment for it. What sets Futaba apart is how she actively seeks help from the Phantom Thieves, diving into her own Palace. After shutting herself off from the world, she breaks her silence to seek a solution to her problems. As the Thieves struggle through her Palace to find answers, Futaba talks to her inner self. She figures out her own inner workings, remembering the past and realizing the death wasn’t her fault. By the end of her Palace’s arc, Futaba is helping to take down her own boss, beginning her healing process.

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Learning It’s Not Your Fault

What makes Futaba so important is the depiction of loss and grief in her Palace. Some viewers may relate to Futaba’s loss, as death is something we all experience. The circumstances may vary for everyone, but at one point we’ve all thought “did we do enough?” With losing a loved one, you may feel you never spent enough time with that person. You may even feel that your final moments with them may have caused pain or something unpleasant. Loss and depression are only natural in situations like these, as is clearly the case with Futaba.

The struggles in her heart, from memories of her mother to the wishes of atonement, are all relatable. But, as she finds herself working with the Phantom Thieves, she accepts that not everything is her fault. Futaba undergoes a healing process that takes time, thanks to her new support system. The realization that everything isn’t your fault also circles back to Ryuji, Mishima, and Ann’s experiences. They all suffered torture from Kamoshida, but through time and help, they’ve begun to ease the blame away from themselves. Being able to talk to others helped lessen their load, allowing them to grow and take back their lives.

The healing process isn’t easy, but because they were all able to talk to someone, they were able to take the first step. It can be therapeutic for others to see this process in the anime. Especially if they are going through something similar. Viewers can learn from these characters and confront the trauma they may have with confidence.

Faith in PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION

PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION has potential to be one of the best shows this season. The game dives deep into the types of trauma that most have trouble approaching. Newcomers can see what makes the series phenomenal while seeing that they are not alone with their own turmoil. PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION should be a prime example of how a popular media can tackle larger, serious issues. Loss, sexual abuse, and mental health are all sensitive subjects that should continue to be discussed extensively as the show goes on. 

Not only will viewers get an excellent show, but they will also get to see that they aren’t alone with their struggles. You should go into this show expecting a thrill ride, but also expecting something that will tug at your heartstrings.

PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION
The Phantoms Thieves are ready for action. | Image from PersonaCentral

Its easy for most adaptations, no matter the medium, to lose some of its heart in the transition. The Kamoshida arc is proving that PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION is an exception. The arc of Ryuji, Ann, and Mishima can resonate with most viewers and the introduction of Futaba will surely follow suit.  Hopefully, the show can breathe new life into every story without overlooking the details that made the game great. With bold topics and examinations of the human mind and spirit, PERSONA 5 THE ANIMATION is sure to reach a larger audience for the better. If you’re not already watching, give the Phantom Thieves a chance to change your heart.

Feature image courtesy of PlayStation.

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