Review: Persona 4 The Animation
Persona 4 The Animation may have a relatively specific appeal, but for fans of the game it’s an easy recommendation. I mean who wouldn’t want an anime retelling of their favourite RPG? It’s an excellent example of Japan’s smart attitude towards transmedia, and whilst it’s essentially a retelling of the game’s story, it is an entertaining and well-crafted adaptation of its source material.
After two playthroughs I was essentially done with Persona 4 Golden, yet still I wanted more. Persona 4 The Animation felt like a show designed exactly for someone in my position. In twenty six episodes it covers the entire story of the game, complete with all its familiar characters, locations and music, whilst adding a new perspective on the narrative, and occasionally expanding upon the source material.
The story of Persona 4 is strong enough that you can probably enjoy the anime without having played the game. It’s made great thanks to memorable characters, sharp and funny dialogue, a good sense of mystery, suspense, and a dark and subtle atmosphere. Still, it’s the game I’d recommend first.
As with Dangan Ronpa, the anime undeniably suffers from trying to tell this story in a medium it was not designed for. Twenty six episodes may sound like plenty, but the narrative has to move at a lightning fast pace to fit everything in, with not enough time left for the slower daily life aspect of the game which really draws you into the world and makes you care about the characters.
The actual mystery at the heart of the story suffers too, and it’s considerably easier to work out who the real culprit is when every other suspect receives so little screen time. It’s always obvious when an apparently insignificant event masks an important plot point as these scenes are a real focus of the anime, whereas the game was able to cleverly hide them amongst mundane activities.
Of course if you know the main story already this isn’t so much of a problem, but in contrast I did find recapping some of the game’s material to be a little dull. Each character must confront their inner Persona, which gave the game a solid structure with a necessary amount of repetition (complete dungeon, confront Persona, fight boss, ect.). This isn’t as compelling to watch, although I actually found myself surprised that these routine fight scenes were enjoyable at all, so the anime should be given credit for facing this difficult task with such competency. The battles are tolerable thanks to a strong visual flare, and they usually don’t overstay their welcome.
In comparison, the scenes where the characters are properly developed (through interacting with each other, not fighting their inner ‘Personas’) are superb, and bring even more life into classic scenes from the game. The school trip, summer holiday, and stay at the Amagi Inn make for some of the best episodes, and once the full cast has been assembled simply watching them have fun together is highly entertaining.
You might remember that the game stars a nameless protagonist who only speaks through dialogue choices made by the player. This is a pretty big hurdle, but one that Persona 4 The Animation jumps with an admirable sense of style and skill. Yu Narugami captures the feel of out silent hero well in the opening episodes (he grunts quite a lot and doesn’t say too much), but develops over the course of the show, and quickly becomes a highly compelling character in his own right (rather than a vessel for the player’s emotions, as he was in the game).What’s even better is that some of the really inappropriate dialogue choices available in the game make their way into the anime, giving Yu a really odd deadpan sense of humor, and causing him to occasionally act like a complete weirdo.
It’s also worth noting that the English dub contains the entire voice cast from Persona 4 Golden. This is slightly different to the cast of the PS2 game (Chie and Teddy were recast) but is consistent with the newest (and best) version of the game. For me personally, this is a massive plus. If the English dub is good, I’m happy to watch it, and for Persona 4 it is very good. It’s also completely awesome to have Jonny Yong Bosch (aka Lelouche vi Britannia in Code Geass) voice Yu Narugami (as well as Tohru Adachi who he played in the game).
For Persona 4 fans, there’s really nothing the anime should do that it doesn’t. Okay, the bonus Persona 4 Golden content isn’t here, but Atlus were still making the game back when the show came out, so I guess they can be forgiven. Persona 4 The Animation is a love letter to a magnificent game, and offers a fresh take on its excellent story. If you liked the game, this is a no brainer, you’ll like the anime too.
Also recommended: Persona 4 Golden, Persona 4 Arena, Persona 3 FES