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Amateur vs. Expert: PERSONA 4 #12

Letting M. Night Shyamalan guest-direct this episode was the best decision they've ever made.

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!

Kristoffer Remmell:

With a new episode of Persona 4, we see someone take a sledge hammer to those cracks in the wall of Yu Narukami that I eluded to last article. I'm really happy that they were able to find a way to explore Yu. Something I was a bit worried about is that Yu wasn't going to get much development for the anime. His stoic nature is superb for the comedy, but it was having an effect on the drama. He's been expressive at times. Everything before had been rather subtle, and now we finally get to show what the hero cares about and his fears. He was worried that his powers and this adventure were the only things that made him special. It's all sort of emblematic of how Yu seems to have to move around a lot due to his parents' work. After conquering his personal demons with the help of his friends. Yu then goes into a freakin' Persona barrage.

I want to add that I thought the transition to that sort of twisted fantasy of Yu was just so abrupt and disorienting that I honestly thought that something had gone wrong with my player. I actually paused to check if it had skipped ahead. I honestly didn't catch on to this being a delusion up until Rise left town. In a twisted way, I sort of liked that. More often, these sort of nightmare-fantasy episodes show some bright light overtaking the protagonists, waking up, then we know from the start this can't be real. This scenario really put me in Yu's place. It's also a nod to how well the episode previews handle things. They give you just enough information about the next episode, but have no sense of continuity,

I think this episode would have more impact as feeling as if this hunt would finally be over if we didn't already know this series is only half way through. That's sort of a struggle I think the series has in it's writing. From the characters' perspective, they have almost every reason to think this adventure is over. It's just your audience already knows this can't be the real killer. There's still enough foreshadowing if you were paying enough attention that proves that Mitsuo Kubo isn't their serial killer. The Investigation just aren't skilled enough detective to pick up on that. It's a bit of detachment in a normally strong series.

Nick Robinson:

Hahahah, I had the exact same reaction! I had left the player open for the better part of a day, so I assumed something was messing up, or, best case scenario, this episode just had really bizarre pacing, or maybe they ran out of time/money to wrap up the Kubo plotline properly. Thank god the answer was "D) none of the above"!

So, yeah, I really loved this episode. After having nothing but by-the-book adaptational episodes, it was refreshing to see them do a lot of original stuff, and delving into this weird alternate reality version of the plot was way, way crazier than I thought this show was willing to get. It was not a twist I saw coming at all, and when Rise left, I was confused, but I still hadn't caught on.

Remember how we both felt we had this show pretty much pegged as a shot-for-shot remake of the game after the first episode? How on earth could we have seen this coming? This episode was something like 90% completely original content, and it handled it all masterfully. It was an immensely creative, totally unique episode, and man, I can't tell you how excited I was to be surprised by this show for once. Add that to the fact that it was an action-heavy, decent-looking episode, not to mention how beautifully it was scored (that orchestral version of the battle music during Yu's Persona avalanche was incredible), and you have what stands out as my favorite episode of P4A to date. Like, by far, no contest. Great stuff!

I'm totally with you on the Kubo, stuff, though. Who exactly do P4A's creators expect to buy this premise that they've caught the real killer and the mystery's totally solved? We're 12 episodes into a 25-episode series! Do I think it's really more obvious than it is in the game? Nah, not really. But you're right - it feels pretty silly in the show, too.

Also: ditto on appreciating how gracefully they've handled the episode previews. I'm a huge spoilerphobe, and in most shows, I skip the previews entirely (no, seriously, I would cover up my eyes during the post-title screen preview roll during Battlestar Galactica), but P4A's whole static-y, deliberately vague, utterly context-free "Next Scent" sections have nailed the balance between being tantalizing and over-revealing, and that's a tough balance to strike. It's something I really appreciate about the show.

Speaking of this week's preview: I'm not mistaken in thinking that it looks like the upcoming two-parter is gonna try to knock out as many S-Links as possible, am I?

Kristoffer Remmell:

I feel the near shot for shot remake for episode one was a smart move. I'm a believer that first you grab your base then build outward. It helped to stem any virulent otaku backlash to see they weren't drastically changing the game's story. Unlike the path that Persona 3 took with "Trinity Soul". It worked well for a prologue. Then as the series goes on, they surprise us with new content. I've given up long ago trying to predict what they wont add from the game. They manage to slip slip it in somewhere.

As the audience we forget that we're outside the fiction at times. You don't even have to play the game to know this can't be the end. You find that sort of issue in any drama that starts off threatening the "destruction of everything", and we are only three episodes into the new season. Having the issue of Kubo as a fall guy is a reasonable act. They've built the plot well enough that the protagonists have enough reason to think they got their killer. They've connected him to nearly all the disappearances, he confessed, and....he's freakin' crazy.

Ohhh, yeah, Next episode is going to be S.Link heavy, but Yu's gone a couple episodes not making any links. I'm really anticipating this new episode. The preview really gives the impression that we are going to get some laughs out of this summer vacation arc. (I also never watched the Battlestar Galactica previews, or the mini montages they would have in the opening theme.) I've been adding characters to the AV wiki on an episode basis, as they appear. After that Episode 13 preview, I just went and added everyone I could find a picture for.

Nick Robinson:

Yeah, you're probably right that episode one's slavish devotion to the source material was a smart move. Like any fandom, the Persona 4 fandom consists largely of crazy people who have played through 100-hour RPG more than a few times, so the fact that they nailed hyperspecific details like the homeroom seating chart probably did a lot to reassure superfans that, yo, they like Persona 4 just as much as we do, and they're setting out to make the most authentic experience possible. Which is great for some people, but pretty boring for those of us who want something new.

What I dig about this show is the chance to hang out with these characters more and the chance to get new perspectives on old events, and this episode had both traits in spades. Even before it becomes apparent that something really messed up is going on, this week was packed with calm, quiet moments, which I think made the twist even more impactful. No matter how perceptive you are as a viewer, I think it's a slow, gradual reveal. True fact: I was pretty tired when I watched this episode, so when the empty stats screen popped up, I started thinking that I had fallen asleep and was dreaming the entire thing. Not only was it surreal, it was masterfully surreal, and it came on the heels of 11 by-the-numbers "here's the game again, but it's an anime now" episodes. It's a bold-ass move from a show that doesn't really make bold-ass moves, and that's something worth commending.

A few broader observations: I think I'm in the minority on this, but man, I really love Teddie in this show. Especially human Teddie. Like, he is SO CUTE and SO WEIRD and the voice is SO ANNOYING, and it all comes together in a way that I find way more endearing than I probably should. Teddie fighting in the dungeon made me realize something else: it's getting pretty crowded in there, isn't it? Instead of just Yu and three other characters going in, it looks like they have no qualms about the entire Investigation Team taking on the dungeon, and that's a pretty interesting divergence from the game's approach.

Either way, I think it's worth noting how great the inside-the-TV stuff has been so far. I mean, maybe it's just the nature of turning it into a TV show, but man, the dungeons are so well-paced compared to their in-game counterparts! Every time they find themselves at a Shadow, my initial reaction is "Whoa, that was fast," but that quickly gives way to relief that there wasn't a few hours of tedious dungeon-crawling before the story could move forward again.

Anyways, yeah. Great episode this week. I'm trying to my expectations for future installments because this is probably the most out-there they're gonna get for the duration of the show, but man, what a winner this one was.

Kristoffer Remmell (FoxxFireArt) is a freelance graphic artist, writer, and over all mystery geek.- Follow for news updates: @ animevice / @ FoxxFireArt

Nick Robinson (Babylonian) is a Whiskey Media intern and a journalism student. Won't you follow him on Twitter at @Babylonian? He'd be ever so appreciative!

WatanabeKazumaon Jan. 5, 2012 at 3:47 a.m.

@Babylonian said:

it's getting pretty crowded in there, isn't it? Instead of just Yu and three other characters going in, it looks like they have no qualms about the entireInvestigation Team taking on the dungeon, and that's a pretty interesting divergence from the game's approach.

Its a nice idea but I don't think its something which they really capitalize on. Most battles so far have basically boiled down to a Power Rangers style face-off, where everyone is quickly laid out before the hero inevitably steps in to make the save. Maybe the battles are inconsequential and not really the focus, buy I'd appreciate a little variety to the proceedings.

I'm with you on the Teddie thing. I always felt that sort of progression was intentional, and evident in your opinion on the character. Sure hes annoying to begin with but that's because he doesn't really have any proof of a discernible personality. I'll refrain from wading into full blown spoiler territory and save it until we reach the critical point in the story. I'd like to think I'm being considerate of those who are coming into this fresh, they do exist!

@mutha3 said:

@Babylonian said:

Still, yeah, there's probably an argument to be made that the wrecking-ball subtlety that this show typically deals in is probably more a symptom of it being anime, not it being P4A.

Hm.....Don't know if I'd agree with that.

A flaw being prevalent in a medium, doesn't make it less bothersome if it pops up in your story. 'sides, I think there's plenty anime out there that doesn't suffer from that degree of melodrama and heavy-handedness.

Agreed. There are certainly exceptions to this. That comment is way too generalized, and on an Anime site of all places!

Hailinelon Jan. 5, 2012 at 6:11 a.m.

@Babylonian said:

@Hailinel said:

@mutha3: Well, it just didn't come off as being funny, apparently. :P

Uh, bullshit! I thought that comment was hilarious, and it made me embarrassed for not noticing how melodramatic it all was the first time around. Still, yeah, there's probably an argument to be made that the wrecking-ball subtlety that this show typically deals in is probably more a symptom of it being anime, not it being P4A.

No, this is bullshit. Way to generalize. You really are an anime amateur, aren't you?

And it still wasn't funny. I indeed read it as him being serious.

FoxxFireArt moderator on Jan. 5, 2012 at 11:53 a.m.

@Hailinel:

I can understand if you disagree with his views on the matter, but there's no reason to be mocking. Someone being new to anime doesn't disqualify their opinion.

zaldaron Jan. 5, 2012 at 1:21 p.m.

@Hailinel: no actually they were not but what ever.

I think it might have been better if we saw them going into the dungeon and starting the fight rather than doing so much jumping around. Might have made it a little more obvious that it was a dream but I got more confused than was pleasant about what was going on (and this is from someone who owns and adores lain). Still very well done once they let the cat out of the bag the persona parade was also very wonderful. I laughed out loud.

you loose people if it is only the same story over again. I love the game but I know the story so I wouldn't have watched it if it was exactly the same thing again. Remember like they said in the discussion. Fandom's are usually full of crazy people...fanatics and all...so only pleasing them isn't really a good way to make good art.

So was it just me or did we see a fox face in the next episode preview? I sooo hope we do get to meet the fox.

kusagaon Jan. 5, 2012 at 2:22 p.m.

that episode was epic!

Hailinelon Jan. 5, 2012 at 5:31 p.m.

@FoxxFireArt said:

@Hailinel:

I can understand if you disagree with his views on the matter, but there's no reason to be mocking. Someone being new to anime doesn't disqualify their opinion.

He called my comment bullshit, I called bullshit on his. That's all there is to it. There's also a difference between being entitled to an opinion and stating uninformed generalizations.

Babylonian staff on Jan. 5, 2012 at 9:31 p.m.

@WatanabeKazuma said:

I'll refrain from wading into full blown spoiler territory and save it until we reach the critical point in the story. I'd like to think I'm being considerate of those who are coming into this fresh, they do exist!

Yeah, there's definitely a couple of those folks around (a few of them have even left comments), and Kris and I have gone out of our way to not spoil anything for 'em. Exhibit A: the fact that we keep referring to Naoto as a 'he'!

@Hailinel said:

He called my comment bullshit, I called bullshit on his. That's all there is to it. There's also a difference between being entitled to an opinion and stating uninformed generalizations.

I won't argue that it was a generalization - I think that much was obvious! It's not an untrue one, though. Are you seriously willing to say that anime tends to be subtle? Don't get me wrong: I've seen some pretty subtle anime (Serial Experiments Lain and some of Satoshi Kon's stuff comes to mind), so I'm not saying it doesn't exist. It can be subtle - just like I'm sure there are more than a couple of subtle Spanish soap operas or J-dramas out there. They just...tend not to be. That's not a bad thing, it's just the way it is!

I mean, look: if you're willing to defend the birdcage stuff as anything less than woefully melodramatic, I think it's safe to say your subtlety radar is maybe slightly askew.

As to it being an uninformed generalization, I'll leave it at this: I'm not as wholly inexperienced with Japanese animation as you think I am. :)

Hailinelon Jan. 5, 2012 at 10:28 p.m.

@Babylonian: The birdcage symbolism was anything but subtle, but it fits Yukiko's character and made for an excellent device to tell her story. I don't see it as something that necessarily requires mocking due to its prominence.

Anime comes in all forms. There are subtle, subdued series and movies. There are melodramas, hyperactive comedies, subdued comedies, anime with relatively realistic action and those that are explosively over the top. I would hardly say that generalizing the medium as a whole as something that lacks in subtlety is justifiable. At best, I would call it ignorance, willful or otherwise.

I mean, let's say I watch nothing but giant robot shows; everything from Evangelion to Gundam to Mazinger Z to GoLion (a.k.a. Voltron). All I would learn from this would be the general tropes of a particular genre; one that is clearly divided into its own subgenres. No one knowledgeable about giant robot shows would consider every show in the genre cut from the same cloth. On a larger scale, the only thing that something like Persona 4 and, say, Legend of the Overfiend have truly in common is their medium. Some anime productions are subtle. Some aren't. Some contain ludicrous amounts of tentacle rape. Others don't. To say anime in general lacks subtlety is a disservice to those that do take the subtle approach. You paint the medium as a whole with the traits of only some.

FoxxFireArt moderator on Jan. 6, 2012 at 12:43 a.m.

@Hailinel:

The language is a whole other matter that's between the two of you. It wasn't appropriate for either in a conversation and that's between the two of you to work out. Honestly, I think the "bullshit" comment wasn't really addressed to you as much as he was using it as a form of exasperation. I'm sure you can work this issue out.

I'm talking about just mocking someone's opinion for being new. Even if it is a misunderstanding. That's just an elitist sort of attitude. We were all new at this sort of thing at one time.

@Babylonian:

I do love to see people take their positions from a level of passion, but we all do need to keep it civil. We all just have to cool down a bit.

Also, I think soap operas have given melodrama a bad name. Why is it always used as negative.

Babylonian staff on Jan. 6, 2012 at 1:32 a.m.

Just to clarify: I was saying "Uh, bullshit!" to the idea that the comment wasn't funny, not to anyone's opinions. I promise, the tone was a lot more clear in my head!

@Hailinel said:

@Babylonian: The birdcage symbolism was anything but subtle, but it fits Yukiko's character and made for an excellent device to tell her story. I don't see it as something that necessarily requires mocking due to its prominence.

Anime comes in all forms. There are subtle, subdued series and movies. There are melodramas, hyperactive comedies, subdued comedies, anime with relatively realistic action and those that are explosively over the top. I would hardly say that generalizing the medium as a whole as something that lacks in subtlety is justifiable. At best, I would call it ignorance, willful or otherwise.

I mean, let's say I watch nothing but giant robot shows; everything from Evangelion to Gundam to Mazinger Z to GoLion (a.k.a. Voltron). All I would learn from this would be the general tropes of a particular genre; one that is clearly divided into its own subgenres. No one knowledgeable about giant robot shows would consider every show in the genre cut from the same cloth. On a larger scale, the only thing that something like Persona 4 and, say, Legend of the Overfiend have truly in common is their medium. Some anime productions are subtle. Some aren't. Some contain ludicrous amounts of tentacle rape. Others don't. To say anime in general lacks subtlety is a disservice to those that do take the subtle approach. You paint the medium as a whole with the traits of only some.

Firstly: I love the phrase "ludicrous amounts of tentacle rape," implying that there exists an amount of tentacle rape that is totally reasonable and not at all ludicrous.

Secondly: I mostly agree! I've been on that "people who call 'anime' a genre are idiots" tip for probably something like a decade now. And in a lot of ways, we're kind of saying the same thing: there's all sorts of anime out there. I think the only place where we part ways is on whether or not anime tends to be less subtle than other mediums, which is something I don't think you've really addressed.

I like anime a lot, and there are countless examples of anime of every genre and degree of subtlety imaginable, but let's be honest: the average anime film is a bit more melodramatic than the average live-action film. Is it reductive and kind of dumb to reduce an entire medium down to its average anything? Sure! But I also think what I'm saying is true.

I wouldn't even feel comfortable saying something like "most anime is unsubtle," because I simply I don't think that's the case. Even if I did, I definitely haven't seen a large enough portion of what's out there to justify it. However, as someone who's sunk countless hundreds of hours into watching anime, I feel qualified to say that, yes, in general, it tends to lean a bit on the more dramatic side than other mediums. Likewise, I'd say anime tends to be more subtle than video games, just like plays tend to be less subtle than television. Obviously, there are counter-examples to every single one of these statements. But let's not act like certain mediums don't tend to tell certain stories certain ways.

@FoxxFireArt said:

Also, I think soap operas have given melodrama a bad name. Why is it always used as negative.

I couldn't agree more. Some of my all-time favorite pieces of fiction are total melodramas: the movie Oldboy and the original Max Payne both spring to mind. It's a style, not a criticism!

WatanabeKazumaon Jan. 6, 2012 at 2:20 a.m.

@Babylonian said:

@WatanabeKazuma said:

I'll refrain from wading into full blown spoiler territory and save it until we reach the critical point in the story. I'd like to think I'm being considerate of those who are coming into this fresh, they do exist!

Yeah, there's definitely a couple of those folks around (a few of them have even left comments), and Kris and I have gone out of our way to not spoil anything for 'em. Exhibit A: the fact that we keep referring to Naoto as a 'he'!

Which is why its kind of a shame that the shows intro kind of gives the game away in other ways, like someone pointed out over on GB, Naoto is featured prominently alongside the rest of the investigation team. Yeah, maybe its not the hardest stretch to work out that she does eventually join them but still...

With that said, that is definitely a trend I have noticed in the Anime I have watched in regards to the OP. But maybe that's more of a symptom of me mostly watching a series after the fact and on DVD. Death Note is the main example I'd use in this case, it features several characters and themes well before they make an actual appearance in the show.

Apologies for the lack of using spoiler tags, the damn things never seem to work for me!

mutha3on Jan. 6, 2012 at 7:32 a.m.

@WatanabeKazuma said:

Which is why its kind of a shame that the shows intro kind of gives the game away in other ways, like someone pointed out over on GB, Naoto is featured prominently alongside the rest of the investigation team. Yeah, maybe its not the hardest stretch to work out that she does eventually join them but still...

To be fair, I think the cover art of the game did the exact same thing.

Neuroticon Jan. 6, 2012 at 12:06 p.m.

This episode was my favourite so far. I thought that they had skipped the Shadow Mitsuo fight or were going to intersperse bits of the battle with the celebration part. I only started to think that the whole thing was an illusion when they did the part with Rise moving away. The wild card barrage was incredibly awesome and I hope that its a benchmark for future battles. However, I think that everyone except Yu has been severely nerfed and the lack of ordinary Shadow battles doesn't give them an opportunity to show what they can do which is a little disappointing.

As for Kubo obviously not being the killer, the game suffered from the same problem but I'm not sure that the intention was for the player/viewer to think that he is.

I agree with you on Teddie, he's been portrayed very well so far. I liked him in the game as well but the anime is just cementing that position. I never had an issue with his voice. If anything, I was dreading hearing Rise talk since I can rarely stand Kugimiya Rie but even her less-than-dulcet tones don't bother as much as they usually do.

WatanabeKazumaon Jan. 6, 2012 at 12:08 p.m.

@mutha3 said:

@WatanabeKazuma said:

Which is why its kind of a shame that the shows intro kind of gives the game away in other ways, like someone pointed out over on GB, Naoto is featured prominently alongside the rest of the investigation team. Yeah, maybe its not the hardest stretch to work out that she does eventually join them but still...

To be fair, I think the cover art of the game did the exact same thing.

Fair point, but that was a little more abstract in my opinion.

Babylonian staff on Jan. 6, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.

@mutha3 said:

@WatanabeKazuma said:

Which is why its kind of a shame that the shows intro kind of gives the game away in other ways, like someone pointed out over on GB, Naoto is featured prominently alongside the rest of the investigation team. Yeah, maybe its not the hardest stretch to work out that she does eventually join them but still...

To be fair, I think the cover art of the game did the exact same thing.

So did the game's intro video at the title screen.

WatanabeKazumaon Jan. 6, 2012 at 2:16 p.m.

@Babylonian said:

@mutha3 said:

@WatanabeKazuma said:

Which is why its kind of a shame that the shows intro kind of gives the game away in other ways, like someone pointed out over on GB, Naoto is featured prominently alongside the rest of the investigation team. Yeah, maybe its not the hardest stretch to work out that she does eventually join them but still...

To be fair, I think the cover art of the game did the exact same thing.

So did the game's intro video at the title screen.

Top Trumps! Persona 3's intro gives away the ending, granted its a little more veiled but its there.

Yeah, a little off topic there...

YotaruVegetaon Jan. 7, 2012 at 5:43 a.m.

I would disagree on the difference between the game and the anime concerning party size. Of course the game limits the number of people you have in your party to the typical size, but in the cut scenes, they act as if everyone has been in on the fight, so I think this is consistent.

I love that the party's so big now that they don't even care about shadows, and Teddie is handling it on his own!

Also, [I totally lost my train of thought at this point. Some awesome observation was to go here]

Hailinelon Jan. 7, 2012 at 9:43 a.m.

@Babylonian: As someone that spent a lot of time studying film and literature, I take umbrage with the notion of short-cutting opinion with broad strokes. There may be a lot of anime that lack subtlety, but to paint a percentage as the whole, whether or not it's the majority, is a wasteful exercise.

But if subtlety of the medium is really in question, what is subtle? How subtle must something be to defined in such a way? You can say something is subtle, or not subtle, but the statement lacks context without clarification. The use of the birdcage is not subtle; the episode in question makes it very clear what it represents in Yukiko's life. But what about the smaller details? The things that only fans of the game would pick up on, like Adachi holding a shopping bag containing a cabbage? To anyone unfamiliar with Persona 4, that sort of detail is a non-event, but to someone that knows the game well and is in on the in-jokes of the fandom, the presence of the cabbage is a nod toward a trait of Adachi's commonly parodied just because it came form a line of dialogue that was frequently recycled to the point of absurdity.

It is true that there are many anime and manga productions that are melodramatic, but melodrama is not a sin, and different cultures approach storytelling in different ways. For a American to criticize the melodramatic nature of another culture's work simply because it is melodramatic is to leave American storytelling open to similarly broad or ignorant statements.

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