I absolutely adore Persona 5. Yes the game has its hiccups and is one full mile away from perfect, but it’s one of the very few modern day JRPGs made with a keen focus, tender loving care and a side of coffee. From its memorable characters to its bustling recreation of select Tokyo locales, to the soul inspired soundtrack and its stark visual style, Persona 5 is one of the best JRPG experiences in recent memory. Once it was all over I wanted more, and looked to A-1 Pictures OAV PERSONA5 the Animation THE DAY BREAKERS.
Enter the Phantom Thieves, a group of pissed off teenagers determined to reform society by stealing people’s distorted hearts. The Thieves accomplish this by traversing into another world created my human’s collective subconscious desires, fighting demons using special Jungian inspired deities named Personas, stealing a “treasure” which serves as the origin of their twisted carnal and material wants in the real world. Not that you would know any of this watching the anime.
Persona 5 provides what’s one of the most diverse, well defined, richest and believable casts in recent video game history. Which is why it’s such a shame Day Breakers completely misses the mark on selling them. The protagonist, Joker, feels about right, ironic given that he’s little more than a shell for players to inhabit. His teammates however are reduced to the most basic of stereotypes. Phantom Thieve’s founder, key strategist and Miyazaki easter egg Morgana is little more than a kitty cat mascot with a treasure fetish. Eternal bro Ryuji is fairly inactive and contrarian. Sweet, insightful Ann, like that cool sister in-game, seems to be in the Day Breakers to keep her trap shut and show off her catsuit. These last two alterations are especially disappointing as Ryuji and Ann motivated much of the game’s story. Filling that role instead is Yusuke, who winds up being everything I was originally afraid he’d be, calm, sexy, smart, a little too cool for school, versus the socially awkward, financially inept lovable dork we got to know in the native title.
Day Breakers makes the very bizarre choice of following a minor villain for the majority of the narrative. The animation tries to convince us said baddie, a lockpick artist named Kazuya, is a victim who fell in with the wrong crowd. Only to reveal he’s an abusive monster and thats why the Phantom Thieves are lead to target him. The twist doesn’t have very much impact, mostly due to the animation’s failure to define rules and characters. Kazuya is more just a guy you watch until things happen.
Arguably there’s only so much of character and story you can show in what’s essentially a 20 minute advertisement. However this same group delivered P4 the Animation, a series that sold Persona 4 better than the core game due to how well it captured and expanded upon the original cast. Certain characters I found bland or ignorable in Persona 4, such as leader Yu or pop idol Rise, were bursting with life in P4 the Animation. Day Breakers couldn’t recreate the same formula for Persona 5.
A-1 Pictures DayBreakers looks starkly different from Persona 5’s ample animated cutscenes, owing to that Production I.G. carried animation duties out in game. Production I.G. has quite a bit of history and pedigree in the animation world, from the original Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion, to the more recent Psycho-pass and Attack on Titan, those are some big boots to fill. Day Breakers was never going to look quite the same. Though it also seemed as though the animation was overextending itself at times. Trying to recreate Tokyo’s cityscapes down to a T would detract from character detail, a well animated close up on an individual was easily forgotten when hit with a poorly drawn wide shot. The music is neat at least, and it ought be, since they’re all tracks straight from the game.
There is one area where the animation shines however, the protracted action sequence. As our Phantom Thieves use their Personas, magic using fragments of their psyche, to battle demons in a twisted subway setting the anime drifts into a 1970s-80s reminiscent style. Mixing hard shadows with bold colors, it recalls original episodes of Lupin the Third or Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, which are equally none too secret influences on Persona 5 and the larger franchise. It’s a nice inspired moment that goes for a similar yet different sense of stylishness to compliment the game.
This title is incredibly plot driven, and should be considered as little more than an extended game trailer as a result. It hits the viewer rapid fire with ideas, language and visuals that you would otherwise have hours to grasp. One second you’re looking at normal teenagers, the next at costumed freaks. The protagonist stares at the metaverse navigation app on his phone. A boy detective rants about arresting thieves on a talk show. Some evil burglar spouts nonsense about domestic abuse before coming down with sudden onset heterochromia and exploding into demons. Something about LeBlanc, Kaneshiro, a Phan-site and Iwai’s shop. The cat’s turned into a bus and Tokyo’s steel subway tracks seem to have given way to a skeletal rail system and wow, someone from the transportation department should really fix that. Oh look there’s a floating bank and people are ATMs now. Did that make any sense? Probably, if you’ve played about 20 hours of the game, otherwise chances are you’re very confused as to what’s happening and have zero clue as to how Persona 5’s world functions. It even fails to explain the most basic idea that drives both game and anime, how one changes someone’s otherwise tainted, shriveled heart.
Day Breakers presents what at least could be an interesting format for a longer series, assuming A-1 Pictures doesn’t just stick with the 1:1 story adaptation they did for 3 and 4. The Phantom Thieves find a scumbag via their fan network who the law can’t touch otherwise, and decide to reform said target using their questionable, ‘could be considered brainwashing’ tactics. Admittedly as I traversed the game I wondered what Persona 5 could look like as a serialized comic book or TV show where these vigilantes dished out butt whuppins and much needed social reform. Kazuya is even a side quest villain in game, you won’t spend more than five minutes on his case in actuality, but similar such side quests could provide tons of potential stories to explore in an almost Sinchiro Watanabe, Bebop and Champloo-esque fashion.
For now however the animation is a glorified advertisement. One I’m not even sure does a very good job. Only Persona fans have any real hope of processing Day Breaker’s content, and only people who played 5 will fully get what’s going on. Viewers who didn’t already care about Persona won’t wind up wanting more outside of wondering if they missed an episode or two before this. Even as a dedicated fan of both the game and greater franchise I was left wanting, sure there was a cool action sequence and it touched on a potentially interesting idea or two, but there was nothing truly gripping about it. Right now the title is easily watchable online, but it’s not must see anime, and it might even be a detriment to fans of all types, too obtuse for new viewers, spoiler filled for people just starting Persona 5, and failing to capture the magic for those in deep.