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!
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.
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?
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.
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.