Welcome to Amateur vs. Expert, a new column wherein noted anime layperson Nick Robinson (Babylonian) squares off against anime savant Kristoffer Remmell (FoxxFireArt). The goal? To take our two columns, Anime Amateur and Anime Examiner, and combine them for your reading pleasure. Let's get started!
Really Investigation Team, did you not hear anything I've been saying in these past few episodes? Stop making promises to do things with an adorable child. With all those promises everyone made previously, and she barely survived the Midnight Channel world. She just starts feeling better, and what do they all do? Yu wants to get her Christmas presents, the girls want throw her a party, and Kanji want to make knitted-animals with her. She already had enough death flags waving around. They had to go and make it worse. GOD, that moment at the end where Nanako says she's scared. The wave of emotions that hit you in this episode can be overwhelming. I was excited, sad, heartbroken, angry, but I still feel completely entertained.
I really have to hand it to Japan that they are certainly not afraid to spend hours making you care about a character just for the purpose of killing them off in the most tragic way possible and breaking your heart. In these dramatic series, no one is ever safe from danger. They did it with Nina Tucker and Maes Hughes in Fullmetal Alchemist and L Lawliet in Death Note. You never get that in Western media. More often, they will make someone seem as unlikable as possible before offing a character.
Once more, I have to applaud Persona 4 the Animation for finding more ways to integrate the combat from an RPG into the plot of the game. Before this series, I would have never thought it even remotely possible. It made for great drama when Taro Namatame was able to turn Yu against his friends. He really makes for the Investigation Team's ultimate threat. Not only does he know all their weaknesses. He has a Persona perfect for exploiting them. In the end, Yu heroically overcomes the control and defeats his then possessed friends with the Kohryu -- who is a four card fusion -- and Sraosha. Both of which are the Persona you can only create after maxing out the S. Link with Ryotaro Dojima and Nanako.
Even knowing what was coming, the ending to this episode was totally devastating. It's such a quick turn, too, right at the end of an episode after like ten minutes celebrating how they just narrowly averted tragedy. Our emotions are not your plaything, Atlus! Augh!
I'm absolutely with you - the combat was excellent this week. The episode began a little abruptly, but those first few minutes were super intense and visually fantastic. The whole fight looked great, really. I sometimes forget how much I love P4's designs, and Namatame's Shadow is one of my favorites. Just so unapologetically weird-lookin'! The way Namatame puppeteers the Investigation Team not only made for great drama, like you pointed out - it also a great metaphor for some of the later revelations in the game. Really smart stuff.
Speaking of the combat, I think it's pretty neat that the entire Investigation Team is there during battles in this show. In the game, you could bring a maximum of three others, but having all eight team members around for the boss battles makes things, well, twice as intense.
The stuff between the beginning's combat and the final scene was great, even if it didn't look quite as hot as the rest of the episode did visually. I think they made the right call by making some dramatic cuts in the game's "self-pity in the hospital" scene. They turned it into yet another Naoto-centric moment (one of two huge ones this episode), and it was for the better, I think. Seeing Naoto and Kanji share a moment that is actually genuine instead of just played for laughs was a wonderful change of pace.
To date, all the Shadow forms have had a deeper meaning behind them, but the rules were kind of broken this time. Previously, it was the Shadow that attacked the team after being rejected by the original. Namatame himself was taken over by the Shadows and there wasn't any real personality change. The design really did reflect Namatame's twisted ideal that he's been some savior. It sort of reminded me of a Muppet mixed with one of those Easter Island Moai. The cold and metalic nature of his delusion is reflected in the red-mechanical halos. Ticking through like clockwork and controlling.
Naoto is suffering from what some call the detective's dilemma. She's been so focused on solving the case that she's thinking she has abandoned the human element that Nanako was in danger. It's easy to get lost in solving the puzzle. To be a detective you almost have to separate yourself so you're not so emotionally involved that you're blinded by your passion. The detective prince is young and still finding her balance. Though, she's being too hard on herself. She was fighting just as hard to save Nanako, and the proof she's fine is how upset she is with herself. Naoto was also right to question Namatame. Not everything is lining up, and they've already had enough false leads thanks to Mitsuo Kubo. If Namatame thinks he's been "saving" people, why did the threatening letter talk about killing someone if Yu kept saving the abducted?
The only thing that felt off to me for the episode was such harsh skips in time. Suddenly between scenes, a week or more would pass. It's been used before, but it feels like there was more in this episode. As someone who knows the game, I'm aware that little to nothing happened in those gaps. It was mostly free time to let the player build up social links and level up. As an audience member, I'm left wondering what possibly happened between those weeks. Nearly all series use them, and Persona 4 is more stylizes than having "one week later" flashed across the screen. It calls to mind all those real life police files shows I've watched. Police may go weeks at a time without any leads, but fictional dramas, such as C.S.I. or Law & Order, give the impression that these sort of complex problems are solved within an hour. I know people in law enforcement who hate C.S.I. for that. These skips are a touch of reality brings that I really appreciate.
I didn't actually find the jumps in time terribly distracting, but then, maybe that's because I have next to no concept of this show's calendar timeline. If anything, I think the way it's handled in the game is much more distracting; there's really no elegant way to transition from from "Nanako's in the hospital!" to "Let's go hang out with the hot nurse at the hospital!" Here, at least, the narrative is coherent and unbroken, even if it's all happening a bit faster than would be realistic.
What I keep coming back to, though, is that this episode was able to wring genuine emotions out of me, even though I totally knew what was coming. Nanako's sharp decline in health and eventual death are every bit as shocking. It's easy to come across as cheap when using child tragedy as a plot device, but one of the things this show has kicked ass at is legitimately endearing the audience to Nanako as a character. Everything about Yu melting down in the hospital is pitch-perfect, because it's exactly what we're feeling: NO! NOT NANAKO!
As deftly as they handled Nanako's final moments, I'm hopeful and excited to see their take on the Namatame interrogation scene. I reckon some of these kids are fixin' to be pissed. Well, there's one way to find out!