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!
Phew! Another intense episode, but I guess we should get used to it, since everything's finally coming to a head. But man, cold-opening the show in a hospital room with Dojima standing over the body of his dead six-year-old daughter? Harsh! Appropriately, they held this relentlessly dark tone for pretty much the entire episode, and I think it mostly worked. The Dutch angles during the Investigation Team's reaction to Nanako's death were a little too wacky and kind of distracting, but other than that, everything was pitch-perfect. That many of the scenes had no musical score at all was a particularly effective choice, I thought - it made Yu and Yosuke's moment outside the hospital that much more poignant, and made it probably the first Yosuke scene I've ever been able to take seriously.
The ways this episode handled some of the events were, without a doubt, better than in the game. This is the part in Persona 4's story where things truly begin to jump off: tempers flare, lives are threatened, and things are at their absolute tensest. Although the game did an admirable job, it's still a very difficult thing to communicate with just voice work and simple PS2 character models. Because Persona 4: The Animation is, well, animation, the characters are able to interact in meaningful ways. Because of this, we get moments like Yu dragging Namatame across the hospital room by his shirt or, my favorite, holding him up to the TV the way someone might threaten to throw someone else off a building. These are fantastic, intimate dramatic details that you can't really get from a game whose character models scarcely ever touch.
In particular, I think Namatame's flashbacks explaining how he got wrapped up in all this are leagues better in this show than they were in the game. In Persona 4, his side of the story is told primarily through verbal explanation and a few narrated shots of him in his room. What we get in P4A is much more dynamic: watching him watch the Midnight Channel, his facial expressions, his reactions to the news of Yamano's death, his termination from his job, his failed attempt to convince Saki that she's in danger. It's all here, and it gives me a much better understanding not just of the moment-to-moment events that transpired, but of Namatame's perspective of the whole thing. He's a much more sympathetic character now and much less an unfortunate, slightly deranged city counselman.
If I had one issue with this episode (and, inevitably, I do), it's the way they depict Nanako's resurrection. As ambiguous as it was kept in the game, it's even more strange here: in one shot, she's practically laid out on a slab, dead as dead can be, just pale and surrounded by floral arrangements and just super dead, right? And then, in literally the next shot, she's back in her hospital bed surrounded by medical equipment with a pulse and everything? What gives? "It's a miracle" only explains away so much. I want to know how that nurse reacted when the dead girl she was prepping for the morgue suddenly had a heartbeat again. Did that stand out to you as weird, Kris?
While I agree with much of the criticism that BLEACH readers had against the Fullbring Arc. What I loved about it was where it took Ichigo Kurosaki emotionally. He always fought before to rescue someone, but you never felt he really hated the person he was fighting. He was more interested in defeating them and not killing. Though, when an enemy purposefully targeted all of Ichigo's friends and family to turn against him. He was the one who suggested killing. We get that same dark turn with Yu Narukami in this episode. That little red glare of rage in Yu's eyes as he was ready to kill Namatame was intense. It really felt as if he was going to cross that line, and it still felt completely natural when later he breaks down in tears outside the hospital. The dimensions of Yu have come a long way from the blank slate he started as. Persona 4 has turned out as one of the more brilliant examples of character development in anime I've seen in a long time. Along with that stat sheet. We have watched him grow in all areas.
The Namatame interview scene did not have this same level of intensity in the game. The animated version was boosted by seeing the dark atmosphere, the look in eyes of the team that Namatame could get away with murder, and the passion behind the voice acting. Though, finally getting to hear Namatame's side starts to make sense. You could almost understand his delusions. All the people he had thrown into the TV personally survived. He just didn't know it was because they were rescued by someone else. The Midnight Channel can only bee seen at.....midnight. Though, it also raises the question who threw in Mayumi Yamano and Saki Konishi.
The revival of Nanako was an intense change given how long she had been dead, but seeing how Teddie went missing at the same time. It's not hard to put some of the pieces together. Getting to see that revelation could have been nice, but that is yet again a really cliche scene. This is handled as a bait and switch to realize the person hooked up to the machine isn't Ryotaro Dojima, but Nanako is alive again. I don't have a problem with the anime catching me off guard.
Yeah, that there's a Teddie connection is obvious - I just find the internal logic behind the inclusion of the "dead Nanako with flowers" shot problematic. Maybe it's just me, but it absolutely begs the question of what happened between that moment and her being hooked back up in a hospital room. Weird.
There are people out there who will inevitably make the argument that it was cheap to kill off Nanako only bring her back, and while I don't disagree, I also think her death brought the show dramatically to the best place it's been yet. This was the most grim episode yet, maybe ever, and it almost made me wish Nanako would just, like, stay dead. Is that weird? That's probably weird.
I'm glad to see this show finding its footing more steadily in these climactic episodes. It is, at long last, occasionally outpacing the game's handling of major story beats, which is a big deal! The actual quality of writing and dialogue in P4A might not live up to Persona 4's fantastic localization, but at the very least, I'll remember the anime's telling of Namatame's involvement when I think back to the final moments of this story. There are some stories better told in animation than by polygonal, isometrically-viewed characters, and Namatame's flashbacks were one of them. What are your final thoughts, Kris?
I can understand how the audience could look at Nanako's revival and see that as cheap, but it worth reminding that if the player in the game had chosen to kill Namatame. Nanako would have remained dead as part of the "bad ending". It was an option for the story. Her life was put into the hands of the player as it was with Yu. There was never any hint that taking the noble path would bring her back -- providing someone didn't read the strategy guide ahead of time. Their target was to find the kidnapper and learn the truth. Giving into wrath would have doomed her.
People will commonly mistake their own perception of things as the absolute truth, but that's not always the case. Truths are more often found when you take in another perspective and find it somewhere in the middle. As Sherlock once said, " -- when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?". You can see as Yu is taking what he's learned to put things in place. Namatame has never killed anyone, Kubo was the copycat, but that leaves the real killer unknown. It's someone who could approach Yu's home unnoticed several times to leave the notes, who arrived around the same time these killings started, and could possibly know that Yu was even involved. If the people watching have been paying enough attention. There is only one person who fits all those conditions. It's not as if the Dojima family has had many other house guests. The answer is elementary, but is it the whole truth?