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Persona 4: The Animation
Many video game-based anime titles I've come across haven't wowed me too well considering such titles are used mostly to promote their hit game source material and these don't always transition too well in creating a quality plot for an anime series. Persona 4 is another title I add to this growing list considering it's Playstation 2/ PSP video game source material was a huge hit with both American and Japanese fans thus this anime adaptation coming about. From what I gather, the video game is notable for its mix of RPG and social simulation elements through its Social Link system where your regular interactions with your teammates and other characters allowed you to gain and strengthen the abilities of powerful beings called Personas that are used to fight monsters called Shadows within a mysterious world that can be traveled into through televisions as the bonds you establish with the game's characters deepen.|
This anime adaptation of Persona 4 takes on a mix of mystery/ action and slice-of-life comedy elements as the series mixes up episodes featuring Yu and his friends trying to figure out who is responsible for the mysterious murders and disappearances involving the TV world where they often battle enemy Shadows and gain a new ally in helping them solve the mystery like the former genre; and going about everyday activities like you would find in the latter genre. Rather than the series being prominently focused on the growing bonds that Yu establishes with different characters though, this anime adaptation appears to focus on how Yu's character becomes more open to others as he becomes more involved with the townsfolk, his friends and the relatives he stays with. This is clearly seen through the show's more mundane episodes as we see signs of Yu becoming more active, less withdrawn and willing to toss in the occasional witty line. This, and some of the show's mundane episodes, were highlights for me since there was clear development with Yu and some of the silly predicaments that he and his friends get themselves into. The show also sports some good quality visuals as they have bright colors and a good amount of visual detail with vast settings and the character designs very closely resembling how they looked from the video games.
Beyond these praises though, Persona 4: The Animation does suffer from the fact it seems to be trying too hard to be as faithful to its video game source material as possible. The opening sequences seen at the start of many of the show's episodes with Igor and Margaret are actually quite pointless in this anime adaptation as the two don't contribute anything and seem to be added on just to please fans of the video game. The Persona/ Shadow battles aren't too engaging at many points as either they seem to try too hard in adding elements from the game like gaining new cards, summon animations in the style of the video game and Yu conveniently being the only character capable of summoning different Personas; or adapting elements from shounen action titles with characters either getting up after being heavily damaged in battle and suddenly getting power boosts or upgrades to beat their seemingly unstoppable foe. While the show's various mundane episodes are usually fun to see, they add nothing new to Persona 4's main plot with the TV world and actually make that plot slow to a halt when they come along. Plus while Yu does get some reasonable character development throughout the series, the same can't be said for many of the title's other characters, especially those among Yu's group who are tacked on with differing archetypes and don't develop any further once they come to terms with their Shadows when they are rescued.
The Persona 4 video game seems like a fun little premise I'd be willing to play on my PS2 whenever I work up the interest to buy the game. But as an anime, it tries too hard to incorporate as many of its elements into the animated adaptation as possible, even if those elements aren't exactly relevant or hinder things such as plot progression, engaging action scenes and character depth. This is yet another addition to my list of mediocre and horrible anime adaptations of popular video games I had to sit through.
Last updated Friday, March 30 2012. Created Friday, March 30 2012.
Persona 4: The Animation
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(All episodes watched):
The mentions of a 'contract' and a state 'between mind and matter' in Persona 4 reminded me of C-Control and Yumekui Merry, respectively. One thing I really liked was that the freaky experience included three different people. I guess that's because if it had all been through one person's viewpoint, it might have been nothing more than an LSD trip for all I know. This way some sort of explanation will presumably be forthcoming eventually. What happened was bizarre but not so far-out that I can't make any sense at all out of it, which sometimes happens in anime. The characters seem to be likeable people with some personality to them. Yu has a fun mix of coolness yet also naivety to him. My only problem is that everything climaxing with a sort of sword-wielding warrior (and the series being based on a video game) leaves me worrying that it might devolve into a fight-of-the-week show. I hope they don't try to pass off machismo and fighting talent as the be-all and end-all of reality. But so far I'm curious about what's going on and will gladly watch more, with my fingers crossed.
I found episode two to be entertaining as well. Whenever crazy things happen in anime, I dread that I'll be left without any explanation. That's because if I have no idea what's going on, nothing registers in my brain and I quickly forget what has happened. But episode two made the situation fairly clear: something about everyone having one or more 'shadows' in this TV-land, which are the embodiment of personal fears or weaknesses, and must be defeated. Failure to do so will presumably lead to very serious misfortune in the everyday world. Plenty of questions remain unanswered, but having a basic grip on what's happening allows me to keep track of the long-term plot, and I can't fully enjoy a show without doing that. Perhaps this is the essence of a series being 'interesting'.
I guess Persona gives a different twist to the usual swordfighting in that you're fighting against your own 'bad' side; it's sort of a Nietsche-ish take on philosophy which is interesting. I bet it simultaneously provides the obligatory action and develops the characters even more. The fact the the characters are interesting and likeable is probably the keystone of Persona 4.
Episode four left me thinking that OK, the four main characters have each discovered their 'personas'--what happens now? Will they just continue to discover and seize more and more variations, giving them more and more fighting power, like in a video game? That would be repetitive and dull. Or will some sort of interesting long term plot get underway in episode five? I hope so, because I found myself getting impatient; four episodes is a long time to set the stage. Also, what's the deal with the 'Velvet Room'? Will these people ever directly interact with the four friends, or are they just being included because the video game had them?
Episode five came as a relief--instead of yet another foray into the Persona zone to collect more 'cards', this one took place entirely within the normal world, and was basically character development. It was enjoyable and a nice change from the previous episodes. Best of all, the four friends pledge to figure out who is behind the harm that is being done to people in the Persona zone, and put an end to it. This episode reassures me that Persona 4 won't just be a fight-of-the-week show and instead a mystery will be investigated and solved. One minor quibble: how do they know that someone is behind all this? It seems kind of supernatural to me.
Episode six encourages me yet again as a new character is introduced, almost certainly someone who will wind up a card-holder (or whatever the term is). The four main characters conduct a more-or-less intelligent investigation, and we get a few laughs as well (although somehow the food delivery joke seemed out of place). Again the story takes place entirely within the day-to-day world, but is about to return to the Persona Zone at the end of the episode. Now that an interesting story is underway, I have little reason to worry about things getting stereotypical, and in fact am eager to see what will happen. Clearly, character will have priority over action in Persona 4.
I don't exactly 'get' episode seven. The new character, Kanji, is portrayed as flagrantly gay when in fact he just makes 'cute' things sometimes? Is he subconsciously sexually attracted to other men? Or was his dark side mocking him and making false accusations? It isn't clear; I guess it was largely intended as a joke, but taste was lacking. Anyway, the episode was modestly amusing and moves the story forward.
Episode eight was a largely comedy episode about a school camping trip that the team takes part in. It was amusing, and Kanji's homosexuality (or lack of it--who knows?) was handled better. But I can't help feeling a little impatient for the investigation of the murders to move onwards. Surely this will be a 26 episode series, since so little progress has been made so far. That's OK with me, since Persona 4 has been a reliably entertaining series up until now.
In episode nine the investigation procedes as a person likely to be the next victim comes to town. This is Risette, an Idol singer who has become disillusioned with her busy career and the prefabricated personality that is sold to the public. This was fun; although far too many Idols turn up by chance in anime, here it was handled in a plausible manner and Risette was given a likeable personality. We can already guess what sort of issues she will run into once she is swept into the Persona zone. Perhaps it's the fact that everyone has some sort of personal weakness which they must overcome which makes them people we can like and sympathize with. The usual touches of humor also make the show enjoyable. In short, the story of Persona 4 makes sense and is interesting, the characters are likeable, the jokes are good, and the action is OK--not a bad performance for any anime. My only complaint is that the characters largely shrug off the otherworldly experiences they have undergone, and ask few questions about them.
Episode ten was a pleasant surprise as the laughable sidekick character 'Kuma' (or 'Teddie') plays an important part. Why exactly he exists had been unclear since the start and nobody bothered to ask him many questions. But clearly he deserves a little respect now--that was a nice touch. The fights are OK but not exactly thrilling; fortunately they play a relatively small part in the series. The team has managed to save numerous lives but hasn't made much progress towards solving the murder mystery. Now that the six member (seven, counting Kuma) team is complete, things may move forward more rapidly. The preview of the next episode suggests this as well.
Kuma surprises us again in episode eleven. This episode was fun, but it quickly became clear that the weird stalker guy who the main characters have attributed the serial murders to is almost certainly a copycat killer, not the person they are really after. This did not dawn on them, indeed they felt that the case was closed. That is absurd--there's a f---ing alternate dimension out there, and absolutely no explanation of how this guy could be behind it has yet been offered, yet they just want to shrug it all off?
Episode twelve had me tied in knots. Mr. whats-his-name in the Velvet Room implied that the story was coming to a conclusion, so I wondered if this might be just a one season series after all. Sure enough, the solution to the serial murders is revealed. This was jarring--the investigation had been moving at a crawl for ten episodes, then the solution is basically handed to the teens in episodes 11 and 12. But clearly the person who was responsible for the murders wasn't in charge of the Persona zone, since he fell victim to it as well. Also, what happened? Was Yu brainwashed into thinking that his friends were deserting him? You'd think the team would be asking each other what the deal was with their latest freaky paranormal experience, but instead they hold a baking contest. It's as if the makers assumed that since Persona was originally a video game, the characters won't take it any more seriously than that, even if their lives had actually been in danger. Since the serial murders had been the theme since episode one, I concluded that this was indeed the final episode, and there wouldn't be any explanation of the Persona zone itself. And then there was a preview for episode 13! I guess the murders were just a plot arc. This disjointed arc conclusion doesn't make a whole lot of sense, given the quality of the series as a whole. Well, as confused as I was, I must admit that I was glad to learn that this amusing series would continue.
The show sort of takes a break with a two-parter that has nothing to do with the Persona Zone but is fun nevertheless. Then things get back on track as the teenage detective Naoto(?) makes it clear that he is unsatisfied with the official explanation of the murders. You would think that a show which is based on a video game would have two strikes against it right from the start, but Persona 4 is so fun and interesting that you would think that it is a completely original work. Somebody must have decided that the temptation to rely on video game elements would be resisted and instead a show that was perfectly credible in its own right would be made. A sure sign of quality is that the fights play a relatively small part and instead the engaging characters, good humor, and interesting plot carry the bulk of the weight. Even 'Margaret' in the Velvet Room has started cracking jokes. The easy way out definitely wasn't taken here. Persona 4 is one of my favorite series of Fall 2011/Winter 2012.
Episode 19 has got to be the funniest episode of the series so far. This was an all-comedy episode about the Cultural Festival at the teens' high school, and was brimming with good jokes about everything from the feeble class project to the beauty contests (two of them). I was laugh-out-louding repeatedly. On top of it all was a nice plot strand about Naru helping out a girl musician with self-confidence issues (Naru's 'cool naivety' makes him an exceptional character). This episode packed far more humor than almost every episode from series which never try to do anything other than comedy. It would be a crime if you did not watch it.
The second half OP sequence is quite cool indeed. Although I didn't realize it at first, the song is being sung in engrish, which makes it possible to sing along, mentally at least. The fights are actually few and far between, but when they come, they can be pretty cool, as in episode 22.
After all the pretty obvious mistakes that the teens made early on, like ignoring how an alternate reality could have been controlled by a serial killer, Persona 4 is actually getting quite cool as they finally figure things out and the show nears its conclusion. I experienced a distinct thrill as the pieces fell into place in the next-to-last episode--not many shows manage to do that to me. The true culprit was a complete surprise, yet the show deftly set things up for the final confrontation. By all means, kick his ass!
...and, with my luck, Persona turned out to have a WTF conclusion. First of all, in the fight with the aforementioned guy, the tide turns suddenly for some reason which I didn't catch; Margaret's explanation ('a miracle') didn't help much either. A new opponent appears, but I'll be damned if he/it made much sense to me. Something about 'Children of the New Potential' is pitched to us, but I was left scratching my head. It is implied that the same problem might come about again. Well, Persona never did handle the concept of the shadow zone very well. I guess I came to think of it as more of a comedy (and a good one) than a believable supernatural thriller. At the very end an ad for the DVDs claims that there will be a 'True End episode' included with them. Will it be post-crisis wrapup, or was a half-assed conclusion intentionally included with the TV version, so that a much better one could be used to sell DVDs? It's frustrating, but I can't deny that Persona as a whole was one of the best shows I had watched in a long time. Who would have thought that so much quality would be packed into a video game spinoff?
I'm currently rewatching this show a second time, which is a sure sign of how much I enjoyed it. The thought occured to me that perhaps one reason I liked Persona 4 so much was that whereas in many shows the characters have undeveloped and uninteresting personalities, here they have no choice but to reveal a good deal about themselves, since dealing with inherent conflicts within oneself is a critical element of the premise. Watching a second time enabled me to make more sense of the convoluted mystery behind who the killer really is. The style with which this show handles itself thrills me and makes me giggle. I think Persona qualifies as one of my all-time favorites.
The series seems to be over with Episode 25, but a 26th episode (the 'True End episode') deals with an even more fundamental matter than who was behind the murders that took place early in the show--namely who created the 'Midnight Channel'? A question which may have occurred to watchers is why didn't Yu need to take on his own 'shadow', like everyone else did (a why could he use an unlimited number of Personas, while nobody else could use more than one?)? Was he perfect, and thus had no evil shadow? That question is answered here--sort of. What happens isn't exactly crystal clear--like why did he have to square off against Margaret, of all people? But it makes enough sense to be entertaining, and gives a more comprehensive wrap-up to the series.
My favorite line: "Is it just me, or are these shows getting crazier and crazier?" --Hanamura
Last updated Saturday, May 18 2013. Created Monday, October 10 2011.
|Official Japanese Series Web Site||http://www.p4a.jp/|