Monday, April 16, 2012

Anime Review: Persona 4 the Animation

As a quick note, I'm hoping to have my little round-up of the new spring shows next Wednesday (the 25th), just a bit delayed since I don't have a crunchyroll subscription this seasons, Hyou-ka airs really late, and Funimation still needs to put up their simulcasts so I can check them out as well. So hopefully it'll be up the 25th, if not then I have no idea.

Moving along, I've never played any of the games from the  Shin Megami Tensei 'verse/it's spin-off 'verses so I was mostly unfamiliar with the Persona franchise when I started watching this. However, as I went along I also started following the Persona 4 Endurance Run over on Giant Bomb, always watching bits after the episodes had already aired, and even though I haven't finished watching them (I think I'm at part 110 out of 150-ish) that gave me a pretty good idea of the differences between the original game and this adaptation. And yes I am well-aware that the ending for this hasn't "technically" ended yet, the anime ran out of time for the "true ending" route (which as far as I understand has two more boss battles and a lot of explanations for what was going on this whole time) and went for the less informative "good ending" route. That ending is enough to wrap up the story and I really don't want to wait until August to write this review (especially since there's a good chance I won't remember enough of the story to do so) and at this point I doubt that one more episode is going to seriously effect my views here, especially since I already know all the things it explains.

Persona 4 the Animation

Summary: Yuu Narukami has moved to the town of Inaba for his second year of high school and doesn't expect to get much out of the sleepy town. When following up however on an odd urban legend Yuu and his new friends soon get drawn into a strange world inside the tv where people's darker selves manifest, often with disastrous results. But ordinary people can't simply fall into this tv world, someone is throwing them in and it's up to the investigation team to put a stop to these attempted murders.

The Good: None of the individual elements in the show are new (new student transfers in right as things start to go strange in town and only a band of teenagers can solve it) but the concept it pulled off well and doesn't feel tired. There's an unexpected amount of humor in the series (partially because Yuu mimics the original game protagonist who starts off as a blank slate and only develops a personality as the game advances which leads to some amusing socially awkward moments) which I think is important when doing a story involving teenagers (so many people forget that teenagers are snarky by nature, especially when they're stuck in a small town that half the cast doesn't want to be in). I also liked how Yuu's family (his cousin and uncle whom he's living with) got as much if not more development than some of his friends and they were involved in his life.

The Bad: The original game takes 60 to 80s hours to play through and to it's credit the pacing there works. A lot of the time there however is spent on sidequests, which end up being vital to the main plot, and it just doesn't quite work in the anime. All of the characters get quite a few scenes of character development in the game but the anime everything is reduced down to a single scene (so a number of the character's problems come off as much more simplistic than they really were*) and the show clumsily shoehorns in sidequests which aren't completely vital to the main plot. The game's plot is a bit formalistic, which again works because it's a game and it has the time to make work, but the anime just doesn't pull it off quite right. I can easily see why people wanted an anime adaption of this show but I feel like the directing was just off enough to make it not work for me. 

The Audio: The show makes use of some of the same tracks from the video game and they are quite catchy, although the second ending song occasionally caused accidental mood-whiplash more than once towards the end. An interesting effect of watching both the anime subbed and the English release of the game was that I ended up preferring some characters more in one language than than the other. I can't stand the Japanese voice of Kuma/Teddie, Naoto's voice is much more convincing in Japanese (not that the American voice acting is bad, it simply makes a twist completely predictable), and the acting for Chie's American voice wasn't as strong as her Japanese one. Although I don't plan on re-watching the series I would like to check out an episode or two of the dub to how it fares compared to the game (plus, unless one major role is recast, there will be a funny case of talking to himself and I'm curious how that will be pulled off).

The Visuals: It's certainly nice to have a fully animated series since the animated cutscenes in the original game were few and far between but the actual quality here varied quite a bit. In general the fights look interesting and well drawn but pause during one of the quieter scenes and look at the background characters, chances are they'll have a rather odd facial expression. Some of that seems to be getting cleaned up for the DVD/BR releases but very few scenes look as nice as that promotional artwork above.  

In the end the anime didn't do much for me but oddly enough the Endurance Run I mentioned earlier did. Part of the reason I stopped watching, aside from time constraints, was that it really made me want to play the game myself (never mind that it's an 80 hour game) but the anime never made me want to seek out the game. I'm not sure who this adaption was for, it didn't feel like it was for newcomers like me (since there was so much cut out and the pacing was so choppy) but it sounds like the same things I disliked were the same things that put some fans of the original game off as well. For fans and non-fans alike in the US the series is streaming over on The Anime Network and they are reporting that the original game cast will be returning for the dub, although it sounds like they first need to tell the actors about that plan.

*Kanji seems to suffer the most from this. From what I've heard, in the game his development is him struggling with figuring out if he's actually gay since he likes sewing and other traditionally "girly/gay man" hobbies or is he simply a straight man who likes sewing. Almost all of that is removed in the anime sadly, combined with Yosuke's homophobia it did not feel like a progressive show, or even a tolerant show, in the slightest.

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