Persona 4: The Animation is a twenty-six-episode anime series based off Atlus’ excellent JRPG. As someone who loved Persona 4 Golden on the Vita I was naturally curious to see if its cartoon adaptation was any good. Coming into the series I expected the answer to that question to be a resounding no as video game animes have a reputation for being notoriously bad. Sonic the Hedgehog’s anime appearances have been sub-par, I thought the Street Fighter animated movie was poor (although heaps better than the Jean Claude Van Damme live action disaster) and I couldn’t believe how badly Disgaea was butchered when Oriental Light and Magic used its evil sorcery to turn it into a dumb cartoon.
Thankfully director Seiji Kishi (whose previous work includes the touching Angel Beats) has managed to buck the usual trend by delivering a product that lives up to the reputation of its source material. Persona 4: The Animation is presently available to buy thanks to French anime distributor Kaze in collaboration with the UK’s own Manga Entertainment. Box one (of three) contains the first nine episodes in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack made up of two DVDs and one Blu-ray disc. Although I normally watch animes on DVD, on this occasion I used my PS3 to play the Blu-ray as Kaze’s choice of packaging is just asking for trouble. The DVDs are stacked atop of each other, inviting scratches, not to mention that I fear snapping them in twain as they are fastened tightly in place via clips on the DVD border. Thank goodness that the Blu-ray is stored using a traditional spindle.
Unlike other video game anime adaptations that go off tangent, Persona 4: The Animation accurately follows the events of the JRPG that spawned it. Things kick off with high school student Yu Narukami relocating from Tokyo to the small town of Inaba, were he is staying with his uncle and cousin whilst his folks spend a year working abroad. Yu doesn’t get much time to settle down before he gets embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer who is tossing victims into an alternate dimension accessible via entry through a television screen (perhaps that’s why my mom always warned me that sitting too close to the TV is bad for you.) As one of the select few able to enter the inhospitable TV world, Yu and his friends take it upon themselves to track down the murderer, save those he kidnaps from harm and battle the other world’s evil shadow creatures with the aid of powerful summons known as Personas.
The anime does a grand job emulating the look and feel of the game by including music from the JRPG’s soundtrack, recreating locations that players will have visited in the software incarnation and featuring a plethora of creatures that console adventurers battled back when the PS2 original came out. There are other neat touches too, that fans of the game should recognize, such as the use of the familiar yellow calendar to denote the passage of time. For the most part the visuals are of a good standard, although I thought the way in which the animators drew the character’s facial features was a little off. Not a big deal though and you do get accustomed to it as time goes by. Besides who am I to criticize the appearance of the characters when I myself haven’t been blessed in the looks department.
Out of the nine opening episodes the filler ones, were Yu joins the school basketball team and the humorous class camping trip, were amongst my favorites as they had me in stitches. That’s not to say that the main story focusing on the paranormal murder mystery is bad, but things start slow on that front as the narrative is forced to introduce the ensemble cast, as well as explain how they all got their powers. This leads to the early episodes falling into the repetitive cycle of Yu entering the TV world, battling the creatures that dwell there and then dealing with how his classmates gain the ability to summon a Persona after confronting a shadow doppelganger of themselves. This wasn’t too bad in the original video game, as it was all interspaced with hours of gameplay, but the show doesn’t have that luxury as it is forced to condense those events within a handful of episodes.
It’s not all bad though as, despite the limited running time, the anime is able to give a different take on some of the game’s story beats. The best example of this is the manner in which it handles Yukiko’s backstory. Via flashbacks it shows how the character is being groomed into following the footsteps of her parents who run a local inn. It’s a path she isn’t sure she wants to follow. The cartoon uses the image of a bird entrapped in a cage as an allegory for the pressure she is feeling, which ties in nicely with the eventual form her Persona takes.
The show’s strongest area would have to be its characters. It’s great spending time with them as the banter they share is always entertaining and there’s a strong sense of camaraderie amongst the group. I especially liked how the writers handled the protagonist Yu. In the game he doesn’t have much of a personality as players are expected to dictate his actions. The anime presents him as a cool and composed character that doesn’t get phased by anything. This could potentially make him into a dullard, but that’s not the case as Johnny Yong Bosch’s vocal performance manages to inject life into the character. The fine job he does in delivering Yu’s lines should come as no surprise given that he is an accomplished actor whose previous work includes Vash (Trigun), Kaneda (Akira) and erm the Black Power Ranger.
Overall I am very pleased with how Persona 4: The Animation has turned out. Like the game that inspired it, the show manages to get the mix of action and comedy just right. The segments in the TV world are filled with exciting battles, mirroring the game’s tense dungeon crawling levels. On the flip side the character interactions, based on the social link cut scenes, are always a hoot. As a fan of the game I am having a blast seeing the game’s story unfold as a cartoon. That’s not to say that the anime doesn’t manage to stand on its own feet. One of my friends who is not acquainted with the game has watched a few episodes and was similarly impressed.
My only gripe with the series is not with the anime itself, but Kaze’s decision to release it across three combo packs. Being the skinflint that I am I would have preferred collecting the series on two three disc DVD sets. Given how domestic anime sales are so low I cannot however blame them for bundling the Blu-ray transfers together with the DVDs. As the series is so good and they managed to secure the original Japanese audio (absent in the American region one version) on this occasion I won’t begrudge them too badly for pillaging my wallet.