Warning: The following post will contain juicy spoilers. Juicier than the primest of rib.
Hiya, ladies and gents, the Inverseman here to review Persona 4: the Animation. Being an adaptation of the hit game from 2009, does this anime adaptation stack up to the game? Let’s find out!
Plot: So Yu Narukami is the new kid in this suburban/rural town coming from the big city. When he arrives he’s welcomed by a string of serial killings and nobody knows who did it. By forging bonds with the friends he made and using the strange power of Persona from within the TV world, this makeshift investigation team will come together and solve the case.
The story moves at a typical clip. We get through a leg of the plot and Yu forges a new bond a day, one for each of the 22 major arcana in the tarot. Usually this involves Yu and his buddies meeting the next person about to be kidnapped by the killer and thrown into the TV world. Then we get a glimpse into the target’s issues and problems. When the team goes into the TV world, the team finds the victim confronting his or her shadow and doing a poor job of it. The team fights their shadow, the victim comes to terms with his or her shadow and gets a persona, and a new party member is obtained. In between episodes of dungeon hacking are episodes chronicling plot events such as the school camping trip and Yu building bonds with other people around his school and his community, solving a problem-of-the-week each episode.
The thing is that this layout works great for the actual game, but can turn out to be a bit formulaic in an anime execution, but if that kind of episodic regularity is your thing then it’s a plus. Persona 3 and Persona 4, unlike other RPGs have this kind of beat to them where once a full moon or some regular time period you know when it’s go time and you choose how to schedule your in-game social life, which is naturally difficult to illustrate well in an anime unless you do make it episodic. That’s not to say each chapter’s contents are ill contained in each episode. There’s a certain relief and self-contained feeling in each episode where in one episode you know something will happen and a new social link will be made.
Not to mention, the writers try to at least mix up the formula on a few occasions. Inserting the “bad ending” to the game when Mitsuo’s shadow sends Yu into an alternate timeline where his bonds and friendships fail was one way to end what we all saw coming. While in some of the early and middle episodes, some social links felt jabbed in, later on it gets a bit more natural, albeit rushed, such as when while at Yukiko’s inn, Yu sees Yukiko confront the tabloid journalists. Changing up the layouts and themes for some episodes, like the Nanako episode, gives a much needed breath of fresh air.
The main issue with the series is that it creates a “you had to be there” feeling if you haven’t played the game. If you played the game, then the anime is pretty good, you’ll get a kick out of it. Each week is like a little refresher of what happened in the game, and each social link provides a nice abridged recap of all those many hours of socializing you did. However, if you didn’t play the game, seeing things like Naoki Konishi’s grief will seem tacked-on as filler and even the main party members’ issues will not feel as deep as someone who went through the whole social link. Certain hilarious events like the king’s game, which was a complete riot for me, will probably still be hilarious for those who have yet to touch the game, but extra little things will get to those who got to play the game that others won’t get much meaning out of, like why Yu chucks paper cranes everywhere. (One of Yu’s part-time jobs that you can take in-game is volunteering to fold 1000 of them)
On the other hand, one of the biggest benefits of having an anime is seeing lots of things come to life that you can’t really see in the way the game is laid out. Who would have known our main character has a thing for going overboard, getting drunk off the atmosphere, and revealing his toned abs to his disturbed peers? Can’t see that in just a few 3D models and text. Persona fights are quick and snappy, not dragging on like a battle shonen. This was one factor I had no clue how the writers would handle, since it’s hard to visualize how spells and skills would be cast. In the end, it was kinda like Pokemon, but with damage to the Persona transferring to the user. The tastiest parts are the ways animation illuminates certain parts of the game, like how much more sinister Adachi becomes in his fight. He summons The Reaper and just teleports projections of himself everywhere to give the party grief while he and his persona take on Yu one-0n-one.
It is the little things that really spice up what to most viewers will feel like recap. From Yu’s ringtone choice to the way they show you the date change to Nanako’s obsession with watching episodes of Loveline the magical girl detective. The music is a mix of Shoji Meguro’s own stuff made just for the anime and lots of in-game music and sounds. The animation gives our silent protagonist a bit of character in his stoic yet quirky ways, and you can see how he starts off with essentially no lines at all to being quite talkative towards the end. Even going on the class trip to Tatsumi Port Island meant hearing the Persona 3 soundtrack for the entire episode.
By the way shippers beware, the writing staff has a small thing for Kanji X Naoto, make of that what you will, but it’s cute to see the big lug get flustered in a couple spots only to be trolled to infinity by Yu and Yosuke. Of course the entire voice cast from the game is back for the anime, so you can expect good work from the cast once again. Speaking of characters, new things will surprise viewers such as how extensive the Aiya! Chinese restaurant is. And those little things add up to make a fine experience for the initiated.
Join me next time when I embark on a journey to the meat dimension.
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