Life is a fickle and unforeseeable force. Many people throughout the years have tried to grasp destiny in all it’s unpredictable glory but have failed to be able to bend and shape it at their will. This is something that may, for all intents and purposes, be impossible but that doesn’t mean anything bad for us in the world of the living. Day by day we live our lives, not knowing what is around the corner but all the while hoping it is something good. If it is destiny’s desire for you to do something, chances are, you are going to do it.
Now put aside beliefs for just a moment and try to imagine a world filled with lives dictated by an immeasurable force. This force manipulates each and every one of us ever so slightly. It’s tender, so much so that it doesn’t even seem like it is there but it is and it’s walking with you hand-in-hand down a path you must take. There may be many splits in this metaphorical path but no matter which direction you take…you will still arrive at a certain place at a certain time and be a pivotal player in a certain situation all of which is the will of this invisible force. Is that scary? Yes, somewhat. For Yu Narukami…it is a reality. One that will take him from being just another normal teen to a hero of legend who will go down in history as the man who saved this great world. All thanks to destiny.
Based on the game of the same/similar name, ‘Persona 4: The Animation’ follows the story of you…erm, excuse me; Yu Narukami who has just moved into a small, fictitious town somewhere in rural Japan. Both his parents have had to move away on business and Mr. Narukami has been sent to live with his uncle Dojima and cousin Nanako for an entire year until his parents return home. His arrival coincides perfectly with a mysterious string of murders all occurring within the small town of Inaba. He, alongside some new friends he makes at school, hear of a strange urban legend called the ‘Midnight Channel’ where, at exactly 12am on any given rainy night while looking into a switched off television, you will see the face of your true ‘soul mate’…this is not the case.
After certain unbelievable events, the group soon figure out that they can travel into a spooky realm within the TV. Here dwell malevolent creatures called ‘Shadows’ but with the power of a ‘Persona’, something each of the main characters obtain after facing their ‘true self’ in the TV world, these monsters are nothing but canon fodder. The group soon find themselves wrapped up in a cereal murder investigation that they feel only they can solve seeing as the killer appears to be throwing his victims into the TV world to be devoured by their ‘Shadow’ selves. It is now up to Yu Narukami and his buddies to beat the ‘Shadows’, save the town from this killing machine and making more friends along the way. Welcome to ‘Persona 4: The Animation’. Welcome to Yu Narukami’s heroic destiny.
This Anime has a lot to live up to. It is based on an ATLUS video game that spans 50+ hours and it is crammed into a 25 episode series. Something you should know about the video game is that it is a JRPG that mixes elements of social simulator-type games with the pure old-school goodness of a dungeon-crawler. The game relies on you, the player, going around town and leveling up ‘Social Links’ which not only tell a deeper story of the game and it’s characters but also helps in combat. There was absolutely no way the Anime adaptation of ‘Persona 4’ could tell the same story as the game and, although it tried it’s very best, absolutely fell short of the mark.
Unfortunately, because of the length difference between the game and the Anime, the series didn’t really get a chance to allow you to fully appreciate each of the individual characters, something the game almost prides itself on seeing as it is almost entirely story driven. What I felt was strange about the Anime was that it often chose to focus on the ‘less important’ storylines of the game, trading more pivotal scenes of ‘Social Links’ for an episode where nothing really happens. Even in saying that, I do have to give credit to the development team for trying their best at showing both the serious and fun-loving side of the game’s story.
Yu Narukami, who is the game’s silent protagonist, had quite a funny personality in the series but it was unfortunately down-played by the monotone performance of Johnny Yong Bosch who provided the voice for him. That’s not to say Johnny Yong Bosch is a bad voice actor at all, clearly he was given notes on how to read Narukami’s lines and unfortunately they were notes that made the character boring. The other characters’ voice actors/actresses performed admirable with most of them reprising their roles from the English dub of the video game. Some dialogue lines were written terribly but luckily the voice acting kept them afloat and stopped me from a continuous loop of cringing and eye-rolling. Troy Baker also reprised his role as Kanji Tatsumi for the first handful of episodes that he was in but was quickly swapped out due to, I assume, other work commitments.
Matthew Mercer, the voice of Levi from ‘Attack on Titan’, took over the roll of Kanji for the remaining episodes of the Anime but could not live up to the performance of the legendary Troy Baker. Once again, that’s not to say Matthew Mercer isn’t a good voice actor, he’s proven himself to be another superstar in the industry but following up Troy Baker is something I’m not sure anyone could do. It wasn’t so much his actual voice that took away from Kanji’s character, it was that I feel as though they took a step back on writing Kanji’s dialogue…it just didn’t feel like Kanji after Mr. Baker left. Instead, it just felt like ‘tough guy’ which we all know is not the truth of his character. It goes much deeper than that.
What I felt was a fantastic touch to the series was the inclusion of the original game’s soundtrack. It honestly tied the whole series together and, even though it was full of holes, made it feel as though this truly was ‘Persona 4’. It is a soundtrack I tracked down, bought and listen to constantly so, as you can imagine, hearing my favorite songs while watching the show really put me in good spirits and helped me to enjoy the series even more. What makes it even better is that the tracks were featured unchanged and used in appropriate scenes, in some cases the more seriously-toned tracks were used for comedy and, even then, it was utilized brilliantly.
As a true ‘Persona 4’ fan, hearing the musical beauty of Shoji Meguro should have you pumped and ready for some awesome action but it seems like A-1 Pictures got a little lazy when it came to battle sequences because they were few and far between, and when they actually did show up…they were over within the minute. There was not one fight scene that lasted more than two minutes and the ones that I thought would do that was just broken up by more talking. To give audiences the true ‘Persona 4’ experience there needs to be a perfect blend of story and action…this was far from a perfect blend. Overall I was mostly unimpressed with the animation quality. It felt ‘underdone’, for lack of a better term, and left me wanting so much more than I was given. It felt rough, unfinished and rushed. Even the action sequences didn’t get much of an upscale in animation quality, apart from the absolutely final battle and, even then, it lasted barely two minutes.
What I was happy to see was that the actual release came with some decent extras, something not a lot of Anime releases come with nowadays. It featured the director’s cut version of episode one, a short drama titled ‘Jikken-kun’ and a feature called ‘A Brief Lesson on Izanagi and Izanami’ that tells the mythological story of the Japanese legend duo who are believed to be the creators of the fine country and inspiration for Narukami’s very own Persona as well as somewhat of the overall story. The rest of the extras section is populated by the usual Japanese trailers, promos, TV spots alongside textless opening and closing sequences. That stuff is pretty standard.
‘Persona 4: The Animation’ does its very best at bringing the ‘Persona 4’ video game experience to Anime watchers the world over and, in this day and age where the game isn’t as accessible as you’d like to think, a series adaptation would be perfect for people out there who want the full story of ‘Persona 4’ but cannot get their hands on a copy of the game. Unfortunately I would not recommend this to people who aren’t already invested in the story behind the game. For me, someone who has completed the ‘Persona 4 Golden’ PlayStation Vita game, I found a great deal of enjoyment simply seeing things I’ve already seen but on a different medium.
I liked watching certain scenes play out differently but I also was disappointing when other scenes weren’t executed as well as they could have been. I would soon tell somebody to buy a PS Vita and track down a copy of the game before I would say to watch the Anime but it does come as a complimentary extra to the series. ‘Persona 4: The Animation’ targets quite a niche audience, it’s only their exact demographic that will be able to fully appreciate this series. Still, it has some redeeming qualities like a good sense of humour, some slightly above average voice acting and a couple of key episodes that will have you thanking yourself for watching through it. ‘Persona 4’ has leagues of depth and plenty of things to learn from it, ‘Persona 4: The Animation’ doesn’t feature it all but it’s a damn good place to start.
Is it your destiny to buy ‘Persona 4: The Animation’? Head over to the Madman Entertainment site to grab yourself a copy.