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!
Quick aside: you may have noticed that this week's installment is a bit late. Rest assured, this is due to a bevy of technical problems (read: Nick spilling tea on his laptop), and won't affect our schedule for covering this week's episode. Meaning that, yes, you'll be getting double the Amateur vs. Expert this week! Hooray!
Okay, I'm a tad confused. When did our Persona 4 The Animation, a scifi-action/murder-mystery series, turn into such a serious family drama that every series that LIFETIME and the CW (formerly the WB) produced ever wanted to be? It was a great episode filled with drama that took me from sad, to angry, and to down right heartbroken at times. In this episode, all the drama and tension of Nanako and her father, Ryotaro Dojima, has come to a head as her father's obsession with work as a police detective has crossed a serious line.
This episode did a spectacular job summing up the Nanako/Ryotaro S. Link stories without making it seem too rushed. These were stories that were scattered throughout most of the in-game year and served as a tool to let the player get to know Nanako. The anime made up for the abbreviated time line by adding in scenes such as Nanako's detective adventures. If anything, we've gotten to know her more than either Rise, Yosuke, or Naoto.
Where I think the anime actually improves the story is in the constant voice acting. In the game, I always thought Dojima was being a jerk to his daughter. but hearing how sad Nanako was and detached Domija acts to his own daughter. I honestly wanted to deck him. It's not that I can't understand his motivations and personal struggle, but he acts like such an ass. Yu had Dojima dead to rights there at the end accusing him of once again trying to run away. And that scene where she's crying and asking her father if he hates her. God, I wanted to hug her.
I have a soft spot for kids. For whatever reason, the impact a heartbreaking scene will have on me increases like fifty orders of magnitude if a child is involved. Great example: I tried watching the first episode of Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai last year, and nearly cried like two or three times. It's that severe.
So you can imagine how this episode was something of an emotional rollercoaster for me. The difference between this and AnoHana (which, incidentally, I never watched again) is that the heartwrenching stuff in AnoHana felt kinda cheap, whereas in P4A, it's totally earned. The buildup to this episode over course of the show has been subtle and believable, and all Nanako's anxieties about her inattentive father makes perfect sense for a kid her age.
I thought they handled all this dicey material mostly well, and as a result, many of this show's best serious moments so far are were this installment: the "Is Dojima my real father?" scene, the conversation at Aiya between Yu and Dojima about Chisato, the climax at Samegawa River. It was all excellent.
Even the brutal (albeit bloodless) hit-and-run in the cold open was a good fit for this week's tone. I guess my only real complaint would be how they ended the episode with one of those big, corny shared family laughs at something that isn't actually funny. It felt right out of a crappy 90's sitcom or something. Still, that's a small quibble. This is probably the first unfunny episode of Persona 4 I've ever loved, and that's a big landmark for me!
I loved the episode as well, but I find all this heavy drama makes it harder to rewatch. I can only take so much heartbreak. That's more a testament to how effective the writing is at creating an emotional involvement to the characters. The funny episodes I could want nearly endlessly. Though, I think that says more about me than the actual episode.
Having this hit-and-run at the start of the episode worked as a narrative tool to drive Dojima to these sudden extremes. It tore the scab off his old wound. The game had the luxury to dished out these moments slowly through the months. Sure, it's all wrapped up quickly, but all the non-Investigation Team based S. Link stories have been summed up in one episode. Why should this one be any different? When sit-coms sum things up in this way. It's because the events wont be carrying over. Getting to know characters for Persona 4 always leads to something more eventually.
The only thing that left me kind of left me scratching my head in this episode was that opening bit with Margaret. I mean, was she asking us to 'multiply' with her? I'm so happy that they almost always open the series with the Velvet Room. Just something about that music is so welcoming.
Yeah, the scene with Margaret went right over my head too. When in doubt, I just chalk it up to it being a joke that didn't translate, but that can only explain away so much weirdness.
For all the melodrama, this episode had some good, relatively subtle touches around the main action that help secure it as a favorite of mine. The "Every Week is Safe Driving Awareness Week" banner hung outside the police station; the way they kept Chisato's face artfully obscured in every picture we see of her; the TV show about a lost penguin returning home triggering the big conversation between Yu and Nanako. For such a dark and dramatic episode, it felt like things were actually a bit more understated than usual, and I appreciated that.
With this episode in the rear view, I'm honestly super excited to see this show return to a lighter, sillier tone with the beauty pageant stuff. That section of the game is a well-loved, with good reason - it's about as fanservicey as I've ever seen a video game get. Onward and upward!