Persona 4: The Animation review

Sigh.

You know, it’s Murphy’s Law. Here we are on GTA V D-Day, and the postie brings precisely sweet Fanny Adams to my door. Well, screw it. Have another review, I’m good for it.

As anyone who knows me knows, I’m a massive Persona 4 nerd. How much of a nerd, you ask? Well…

Image

Yes, I own Persona 4, and Persona 4 Golden, and Persona 4 Arena’s artbook. Yes, I forgot to put them in the shot.

Yeah, suffice to say I can remember all the characters’ names off by heart and know all their respective colour schemes. But anyway.

Persona 4 started out as a fantastic turn-based JRPG at the end of the last console generation in 2008. Released for the PS2, it’s fanbase was comprised of fans of Persona 3 and new fans who took to its lively, jovial look at hanging out with friends in Japan and fighting monsters inside televisions, with none of the depressing suicide overtones of the last game.

What is fascinating is that Atlus – the creators of Persona – were able to make the story and environments relatable even to Westerners. Nothing was overly out of place besides place names and cuisine, as opposed to the more ‘realistic’ depiction of Tokyo in the Yakuza series. I dunno, maybe it’s because it’s about small town Japan and I don’t exactly come from a city, but come on:

Play ping pong with pretty girls until their robes fall open! Oh Japan.

Regardless, Persona 4 became so popular that it was adapted into a 26 episode anime television series. Was it a faithful adaptation? Well… yes and no.

The story of P4A, as with the game itself, follows second year high school student Yu Narukami as he is sent to the countryside while his parents are abroad. Though he quickly overcomes the initial adjustment problems of making friends and settling down in a strange new place, there are far greater things to worry about, as a series of grisly murders begin, and Yu discovers that he has the power to enter televisions at will. He also gains the power of Persona, the strength of heart to fight the darkness within… or something like that.

Soon, it becomes clear that his friends are in danger, and Yu and his pals must form a team to enter the TV world and fight the malevolent forces within that put the whole world in jeopardy, in between eating huge bowls of noodles and being goofy.

Such a concept worked in the game because both the dungeon crawling RPG and slice-of-life dramedy elements worked in tandem – the more you hung out with your friends, the more powerful they and their awakened Personas became. In the series, they have slightly more trouble justifying having both elements – though you could of course argue that the series is supposed to appeal more to people who have experienced the game first.

However, even that theory is flawed – at times there is too much exposition, at times too little. Things happen in the animation at a great rate of knots, so there is less time to explain much of what goes on. And even then, in the middle of the series there are two episodes that exist solely to explore non-essential elements of the story. Now, crack covering is fine when you’re giving a paraphrased version of an existing story, but two episodes telling the same story from two different perspectives is just boring and tiresome.

But we do get Detective Nanako. That’s pretty funny.

That said, when the series knuckles down and refocuses, it is a very accurate retelling of the game. Dungeons are mercifully cut to just the final boss encounter, which helps the story flow better, and even some of the ‘downtime’ episodes are handled extremely well, especially the field trip to the city from Persona 3. KING’S GAME!

Another letdown for me is the overall animation of the series. Persona 4’s anime cutscenes were gorgeous, fluid pieces of art:

But in P4A (somewhat understandably) things are a little more rough:

It still looks pretty good, with bold colours and strong outlines that make things pop, but its a lot less fluid. I found myself wishing there could have been a few extra frames in a lot of places.  I mean come on, even anime series from a completely unknown franchise have nicer looking animation! Manyuu Hikenchou looked better, and I think we all know how that turned out.

Thankfully, the series is saved by fantastic audio. Environments are matched with their in-game soundtrack counterparts and most of the cast of the English dub return to voice their characters. But again this is where the series hits a stumbling block. Several characters have different voices from their original game appearances, something that first changed in Persona 4 Arena. Now personally, I don’t have a problem with the new cast, but I can understand that some folks may take issue with the switching, so I’m mentioning it.

Erin Fitzgerald and Sam Riegel are both fantastic as Chie and Teddie respectively, and Matthew Mercer – who takes over as Kanji midway through the series – does a convincing Troy Baker impression. The rest of the cast include such voice acting greats as Yuri Lowenthal, Laura Bailey, Amanda Winn Lee and even a guest appearance by Vic Mignogna. And lest we forget:

meetingvicCAGIFIEDsmall

There is no truth, only Cage.

So, what rating do I give Persona 4: The Animation? Well, much as I love Persona, I can’t in good conscience give the series a 10, or even a 9. It’s just too flawed. But there is good stuff in there, and Persona 4 is still a great story, with memorable characters and genuinely warm and funny moments, so I can’t condemn it too much. Persona 4 is a complicated, long story – it was never going to comfortably fit into 26 episodes!

Everyone needs a little soda and dango downtime.

In conclusion, I give Persona 4: The Animation a verdict of…

NOT GUILTY

An excellent tale of the power of friendship over adversity, Persona 4: The Animation shines bright in many areas, but – putting aside my fanboyism – flickers in the visual department, and often collapses in on itself in less focused moments. Still, it’s an excellent way to experience a great story without having to spend hours grinding dungeons in the game. Happy viewing!

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