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AKA: Persona4 the ANIMATION, ペルソナ4 (Japanese)
Genre: High school mystery / comedy / action / drama
Length: Television series, 25 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Content Rating: 17+ (death, murder, violence, fan service, suggestive themes)
Related Series: Persona Trinity Soul
Also Recommended: Case Closed, GOSICK
Notes: Based on the 2008 PlayStation 2 RPG Persona 4. A port on the PlayStation Vita, Persona 4: The Golden, is in the works.
Rating: Four StarsFour StarsFour StarsFour Stars

Persona 4: The Animation

Synopsis

Due to his parents being away on business, Yu Narukami is sent to live his second year of high school in the countryside of Inaba with his police detective uncle, Ryotaro Dojima and his daughter Nanako. Soon, after Yu hears reports of mysterious murders pop up in Inaba, he watches something on the T.V. at midnight called the Midnight Channel, where he learns he can travel through TVs. Not only that, but he can summon mystical forces called Persona in the world inside TVs, using them to fight the evil Shadows that inhabit it. Soon Yu and his new friends from Yasogami High School band together to find out more about the murders, saving the people thrown into the T.V. world to die.


Review

I'm going to summarize the opening line as short as I can; Persona 4: The Animation is the first video game anime I've seen that I've enjoyed from start to finish.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, the plot of both the Persona 4 game and the anime revolves around the Midnight Channel, which happens on certain days at midnight (as explained above). A video of a person is shown, as they've been thrown literally into a T.V., where they soon after die. And it's up to a bunch of spunky teenagers to save them by going into the T.V. world, all while wearing awesome-looking glasses. The plot has many twists and turns, with a surprise reveal that's built up from the beginning of the series all the way to the end.

Our main cast are a likable, memorable bunch, each with their own little perks. Yosuke, for example, is a city guy getting used to living in the country, where his being son of the manager of the biggest town in store - Junes - has earned him disdain from the family businesses. Chie is a tomboy who likes kung-fu movies and eating meat, but also has a soft, protective side. Kanji is a delinquent who looks/talks tough as nails, but secretly likes stuffed animals and knitting. And later character Rise is a cute idol star taking a temporary departure from the idol scene to settle down in town with her grandmother, where she has to worry about another, even younger star taking her place during her absence.

But perhaps the most memorable character is Kuma (Teddie in the English game). Voiced by Kappei "I'll do anything for money, no matter how weird" Yamaguchi, the scared anime mascot reject looking Kuma lives in the T.V. world, where he lives all alone until Yu and co. show up, offering to help him fight the Shadows. As the series progresses Kuma's character is revealed a whole lot more, even getting a little bittersweet at times. (He also gains an alternate form later, but I won't spoil anything.) Yes, the writing in Persona 4: The Animation is so good, you'll even feel bad for something that looks like THIS:

Aside from all the characters from the original game, the only real addition to the anime is Aika, a noodle shop girl who arrives every now and again to provide our heroes with food. While she doesn't add much as a character, her deadpan tone and inexplicable ability to show up near anywhere makes for a few amusing gags.

Now AIC A.S.T.A. could have just taken the game's plot and done a simple game to anime transition, but they didn't. Instead they hit every major plot point and even the dungeons, doing a surprisingly good, abridged version of the whole game's plot in a mere 25 episodes. From Yu getting his Persona in the first episode to the ending, AIC A.S.T.A. got every plot detail down, which I was happy with. They even have the original music from the game by Shoji Meguro, who also did the new opening/ending themes for the anime, all of which fit perfectly into the series. Very rarely does the anime branch out into its own material (Aika aside), though the few things that are added fit in perfectly. (Except the obvious Milky Holmes parody episode with Nanako, but that's still cute enough to get a pass.)

For all the cool things in Persona 4: The Animation, it's a shame the series is based on a video game, and thus automatically suffers due to conversion. While the plot follows the anime, sometimes it follows it too close; there's little surprise to be had to those who already played through Persona 4. And for all the building up they do of the characters and their Persona, very rarely do they ever fight with them after the first half. Dungeons, which take several hours to complete in the original games, are glanced aside 15-20 minutes each in the anime. It feels incredibly rushed, as do the episodes about other Social Links in Yasogami High School just there for completion's sake. Social Links with the main characters are completely brushed aside too; after a character is introduced, they never got another episode highlighted, and just become part of the main group.

The animation is also bare-bones; talking heads are the norm. And in an attempt to adhere as close as possible to the in-game cutscene character designs, every character's bottom half of their face has a red glow to it, like everyone is horribly sunburnt. It can be occasionally distracting, especially in the series' more serious moments.

Despite those shortcomings, Persona 4: The Animation is about as good an adaptation of the video game as you could hope for. It's also worlds better than the near unwatchable Persona Trinity Soul, too. I do think the series could have been 13 episodes longer to focus on the Social Links of the main characters, but I'm content with what we already got. If you like action comedies, as well as mystery in your anime, be sure to check it out.

And since Carlos is also a big fan of the game, as well as seen all of the anime himself, I'll let him chip in his two cents:

As avid fans of the game (a true bright spot in a long-time franchise often laden with downers), my wife and I were really looking forward to this series. What I really appreciate here is that the anime is not only very faithful to the source material, but expands upon it in some ways, delving even more into some aspects the interpersonal relationships between the characters than the original work. Even better, the protagonist Yu Narukami seems to be the aggregate of all the quirkiest possible choices you could make in the game, so while there are certainly times he's a grade-A badass, he is also a refreshingly weird, utterly likable character. Even late-game characters like Naoto Shirogane (one of my personal favorites) don't get short shrift here, and the inclusion of an anime-only character (Aika, the Chinese-restaurant girl) leads to some brilliant sight gags and feels a worthy edition to an already fantastic cast of characters.

There are some potentially disappointing aspects here - the pacing is often breakneck, leaving me to wonder whether folks who aren't steeped in the game's minutiae are going to appreciate or understand everything being portrayed here. There are times that the anime follows the game almost too closely, even down to how the episodes are framed, and even in one case, which characters are essentially omitted from this iteration of the story! (Sorry, Yumi Ozawa fans ...) The animation degrades fairly severely at times - characters have a tendency to go off-model in non-action scenes, which is particularly upsetting when it's a character like Yukiko or Rise who is supposed to be attractive. There's a lot of reuse of game music, with a lot of the newer stuff dancing over the line into corny Engrish territory.

But none of that detracts enough for me to bring it down to an "average level" series - these are characters we've grown to love and enjoy over the past few years, and we really had fun with this version of the Persona 4 story. While flawed art and animation and questionable directional choices bring this down from being the very best, the core strengths - an enjoyable cast of characters and a fantastic story - make this light-years ahead of the vast majority of video game anime, and light-eons ahead of the travesty that was Trinity Soul.

Debated between three and four, but went with four. A good series even without knowledge of the video games, but some aspects are skimped too much for non-players to get it. If you fail into this category, maybe cut off a star.Tim Jones

Recommended Audience: Not a show for the young ones. Murder is a constant factor in the whole series, and with it some gruesome violence at times. A couple of episodes feature lots of sexual innuendo, too! Viewer discretion advised.



Version(s) Viewed: Anime Network stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (25/25)
Persona 4: The Animation © 2011 Index Corporation / Persona 4 The Animation Production Committee
 
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