This is anime review 11
Based on the popular PS2 title, Persona 4 The Animation, is another adaptation that had me intrigued. Initially, I had heard of both the game and series from a friend. I had tried to watch it awhile back, but at the time, I was too tired and put it off until recently. I haven’t played the game, and this review only covers the first series, NOT Golden Time, so be sure to keep that in mind. I wrestled with my true inner self while formulating my thoughts on this show; was it BEARY-good, or did it leave me disappointed?
For this anime, explaining each character in any sort of capacity beyond their generalities is really unnecessary. For the most part, each character is a one-dimensional trope until they have battled their “inner selves.” I can buy into each of them being somewhat realistic, but on the whole a majority of the cast was fairly bland and generic.
There were some unique cases where the character was either extraordinarily exaggerated or strategically dulled down until appropriate. With these cases, the characters didn’t feel unnatural, but instead effected the pacing of the story.
The most notable characters in the series that warrant discussion are: Yu and his family, Naoto, Kuma/Teddy, and Kanji. While the other characters were at least entertaining, these characters had a bit more going on for them.
Starting with Yu, the male lead who is sent to live with his Uncle Ryotaro, and cousin Nanako for the school year. Since he is the protagonist, which would be the player in game terms, Yu is generic since he’s meant to be a stand-in for the viewer. Normally, this is noticeable but nothing too surprising. In Persona 4’s case, it’s done with such exaggeration that it’s almost comical.
Johnny Young Bosh does an excellent job breathing some life into Yu’s otherwise non-existent personality which makes the character work surprisingly well. This is especially true with Yu’s interactions with Ryotaro and Nanako.
When the show focuses on this family dynamic, it not only brings out some characterization in Yu, but was also the most interesting and well written portion of the show. This holds true particularly for Nanako, a character some people really hate (“Everyday is great with your Junes~” can you blame them?).
There’s more to be said about this family dynamic, but I’ll get into that more in the story section. Past that, Yu has many friends, which for the most part aren’t worth getting into. However, as I listed above a few of the characters managed to be interesting for one reason or another.
Naoto is a great child detective and prodigy. This alone is interesting enough, but not too spectacular by itself. The main reason I bring this character up as one of interest is solely for how cleverly they casted Naoto in the English dub. I don’t want to spoil anything, but for those that recognize the voice actor early on should be wise to the character. Also it was nice to hear this voice actor in something again.
Next up is Kuma, or Teddy as he’s called in the dub. Where do I even start with this character? While many dislike Nanako for her Junes jingle, Kuma is even worse. While he’s obnoxious in either dubbing, you better really enjoy bear-based puns when he’s around. If you watch it subbed, they are in the subtitles, if you watch it dubbed, he says them.
Teddy is by far the worst character in the entire anime. He isn’t a worthless character, but he certainly is annoying. He’s around far too much in the first half of the series, making one stupid bear pun after another, but mellows out and becomes more likeable by the second half.
Initially, I didn’t see much value in his character and thought he was really only there to guide the characters through the “TV world,” as well as being comic relief. However, he does get his own arc (sort of) and by the end was a decent character. That doesn’t excuse the (forgive me) unbearable overuse of this character in the beginning.
Lastly, there’s Kanji. While on his own this character isn’t worth mentioning, he gets mentioned because of the controversy surrounding his character. Personally, I don’t think it’s as bad as some claim, but I agree that his character was handled poorly.
This is spoiler territory, but it’s pretty minor, and overall fairly irrelevant to the actual story. Kanji’s inner self is portrayed as a stereotypical homosexual male, which isn’t the issue. The issue is with how the other characters respond to that and how the “jokes” come off as insensitive at the very least. I didn’t feel insulted by the handling of Kanji’s character (note I’m not a homosexual or anything), but watching his arc was uncomfortable.
Based on what I know of the game, this is the anime’s fault, as this character wasn’t adapted well. Considering everything else seems to be adapted extremely well, Kanji is a bit of an anomaly. I’m really unsure how they managed to portray his character so badly, but it wasn’t a deal breaker by any means. His arc was a little uncomfortable, and his character had potential to be more interesting than he was, but this is something to be aware of when coming into the show since it did really bother some people.
As I’ve mentioned, everybody else is pretty unimpressive. They do their jobs and manage to make a diverse cast with a well rounded range of personality and tone. This is fitting for the show’s message of the value of fostering relationships with many people and helped alleviate some of the more boring sections of the show.
The story of Persona 4 can be split up between to halves. The first half consists mostly of battles, slice of life, and introduces the characters and mystery that they are trying to solve. The second half shifts focus, but still retains some elements of the first half. However, it’s more focused on character drama and slice of life. This isn’t a bad thing like it may sound, I actually found the second half infinitely better than the first.
For the first half of the series I was bored. The animation was beautiful and the action scenes were great, but not a lot was actually happening. A good portion of the first HALF of the show is exposition that doesn’t even really go anywhere until the last stretch of the series. It is necessary for understanding the show as a whole though.
What really hurt the first half of the show was the overreliance on Teddy. His jokes get old really fast and he tends to use the same jokes over and over. I love puns, but Teddy almost had me drop the show all on his own.
In addition to this, the action scenes that are within the first half felt way too short. There isn’t a whole lot going on in the first half so these scenes are much needed. They all look fantastic, but they just don’t last. I don’t think the show should have artificially made the show longer, however, the first half is dull enough it could have afforded some more involvement.
The biggest problem with the first half of the series is that they “solve” the mystery way too quickly. It’s so obvious that this “end” is a red herring it’s not even funny. The characters are smart enough to realize this, but they don’t do anything about it. “Good job, solved the case time to go home.” They all seem to say. It was just so incredibly stupid.
I know I harped on the first half a lot but the ideas and themes presented in the first half are well done. I like the idea of the “TV world” and fighting one’s true self. These parts were genuinely interesting, but they make up such a small portion of the first half it was fairly difficult for me to keep watching. That’s a real shame since the show actually picks up quite a bit.
It wasn’t until the more filler type episodes came around at about the half way point that I started to really get into Persona 4 The Animation. At this point the show emphasizes the importance of social links and shifted its focus onto Yu’s family. This was a smart move since the story was staring to stall by this point.
Particularly, the two festival episodes were my favorite in the entire series. The only other episode set that came close contain massive spoilers, but if you’ve seen it then you know which ones I’m referring to. When the focus was on the characters, particularly the family dynamic, the show was at its height and more than made up for it’s more lack-luster first half.
Other than these episodes, the second half bounces between solving the actual mystery and slice of life moments. There is a bit of the first half formula at play, but it is by no means the focus and doesn’t feel like a battle of the week type show any longer. I enjoyed this second half and didn’t get bored part way through like I did in the first half.
When the mystery is finally solved, I felt it was a good conclusion. I think there are enough clues during its run that somebody attentive enough could derive the solution, but just subtle enough not to be obvious. I was able to figure it out, but not until the second half of the show, which is where I think most people could solve it before the reveal.
After this, the show continues on to do the “true end.” This wasn’t impossible to follow but definitely needed the context of the game to be best understood and foreseen. This is the only real gripe I have with the show’s second half but it was a minor annoyance at worst.
Overall, Persona 4 has a great story but a rocky start. If you can make it through the less interesting first half, then there is a worthwhile show beyond the surface. The story definitely contains nods to the source material and oozes by the book adaptation. In some ways this hurts the anime, but it’s impressive regardless.
Animation & Sound
The animation quality for this show is fantastic. The scenes within the TV world are of particular note. The way that everything had this muted tone and mimicked an old tube TV display was impressive. Additionally, when the scenes didn’t look like this they were vibrant without being obnoxious. In this regard the show impressed me.
I don’t really have much else to say for the animation. It looks good. The scenes in the real world aren’t as fantastic, but that makes sense since they don’t need to be. The character designs seem to be true to the game, making the characters easy to identify. Easily one of the best aspects of the show.
Musically, the show boasts, what I would guess, to be music from the actual game (considering this adaptation is pretty true to the game from what I hear). Otherwise, it features English opening and ending themes (the second ending is Japanese though). The first opening is catchy and looks great, but not really my cup of tea. The second opening I liked better from a music perspective, but the visuals weren’t as good. You can view both openings in the video below.
I don’t own the music or video.
The endings were ok. The first one was more like the first opening, similar in tone and feel. The visuals weren’t great but that’s not as critical in an ending for me. As for the second ending theme, it’s a lot more mellow and I enjoyed it. Overall, nothing to write home about personally but I think some people would really enjoy the music here.
The voice acting was pretty spot-on. As mentioned, Johnny Young Bosh is the star performance, knocking an otherwise dull Yu out of the park. The rest of the cast is enjoyable and did well. Despite not really liking Teddy, Sam Riegel was probably the best fit for the character. No complaints from the dub for me.
Score & Where To Buy
Giving a score and recommendation for this series is tricky. This is mostly due to the fact that this is an adaptation, and one that seems to adapt the story almost verbatim. That’s why I am going to give two recommendations: one for those who haven’t played Persona video games, and one for those who have.
For those who haven’t this show is a solid 6/10. It would be higher but the first half just isn’t that interesting. The animation is great throughout, but a show needs to do more than look pretty. Thankfully, it manages to get there, though it takes a good chunk of time to do so. Therefore, this is a show you could afford to pass. Personally, I’d recommend playing the game if you and then come watch the adaptation afterwards. There seems to be more enjoyment there for those who have played the game than not.
If you have played the game though, then this adaptation is very true to the source material based on what I’ve heard from the community. Odds are you have already watched this, but if not, this is supposedly the best adaptation of any game to anime. Had I played the games, I’d give this series closer to 7 or 8/10 with the recommendation to watch it. I don’t think it’s quite there for most to want to buy, but if you enjoy the series it is available.
Persona 4 is available for purchase at Rightstuf for $53.99 on DVD or $94.44 for the collectors edition (both DVD/Blu-ray and other goodies). This show is licensed by Sentai Filmworks but features the Aniplex price tag since they had a good hand in it, so it’s pretty expensive. Again, I wouldn’t buy this if you didn’t know you liked it.
This was my second video game adaptation review, my first being Danganronpa and I’ve got to say they get me pretty interested in playing the games. Unfortunately, this title would have benefited from me playing before watching. Have you ever watched an anime adaptation of a game without playing the game first, and what were your thoughts? I’d love to hear in the comments below.
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