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Amateur vs. Expert: PERSONA 4 #21

> You walked partway home with Naoto.

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:

If there is anything these sort of mystery-drama series have taught us as an audience. It's to never make a promise with a child about doing something in the future. It will always come back to bite you in the ass, and something bad will befall said child. It's a great narrative tool to create tension, but it really breaks your heart when the child is so loveable. Everyone in the Investigation Team made a promise with Nanako of some kind. This kid is in serious peril. There's another unspoken rule. Don't trust anyone who drives a truck. They'll always abduct someone.

For as much as this was about Nanako and Yu. I feel that Naoto really stole the show in several scenes. The drama of her car conversation with Chie, and how she was so collected in breaking down the evidence in the police station. Having a detective really pays off when you need to tie up twenty episodes of story threads. Easily, my biggest disappointment of the episode didn't fall in the animation quality or the plot. It was in Yukiko stopping Chie from kicking down that door to free Yu and the boys.

While we always knew that Yu and Dojima were eventually going to come to a head with Yu's involvement in the case. Somehow the payoff felt lacking. Yu so casually tries to explain what he's been doing in a TV world to his uncle. You can't blame him for not believing something so fantastical. What made things worse is that there was a TV in the interrogation room. You want to give the man proof. He should've walked up to that screen and put his hand in. That would knock the skeptic out of anyone. I guess he could have also shown Dojima his phone, as well. Only an anime super hero would have that many cute women on his speed dial.

Nick Robinson:

Completely with you on how great Naoto was this time around. The assessing-the-situation scene, the car accident scene - she stole the show in all of them, and it's clear the makers of this show have a soft spot for the character. Considering this episode was the culmination of months of weird tension between Yu and Dojima, it almost felt like a Naoto-centric episode, but I'm not complaining, because they pulled it off with aplomb.

Like you mentioned, there are some pretty gaping plot holes around the interrogation room stuff. Likewise, there were a bevy of drama-draining technical hiccups this week: poor animation, occasionally mismatched music, not to mention, uh, no actual crash sound during the car crash. It's minor stuff, but it detracts from what was otherwise a tense and dramatic episode; for instance, the moment where Dojima passes Namatame in the other lane was an excellently paced and executed scene.

I've alluded to this before, but it's as true here as ever: I don't typically dig the self-serious episodes of P4A, but this was one of those rare exceptions. They effectively communicated a very real sense of urgency in all the police station scenes, and even though I already knew roughly what would happen, they totally managed to hold my attention. That's quite a feat!

Kristoffer Remmell:

Not sure any real favoritism is given to Naoto. She's just playing her role of the great detective. As the series is nearing the end, you need someone that can start tying your plot together. I do have a tip for anyone who wants to play detective with this one. Be sure to watch it again There is one character who does something suspicious in this episode. It's hard to catch, becasue it isn't anything he said. It's what he doesn't say.

I'm not so sure that it's fair to describe much of what we saw in the interrogation scene as plot holes. People often expect answers to all their questions right away. Something is only really a plot hole if it's never answered in the series. If the issue is eventually explained. It wasn't a plot hole. It was foreshadowing. I just felt Yu trying to so casually explaining something so insane to Dojima was careless. Especially when he could have given him some seriously proof by just walking over to that nearby TV. As far as the car crash. It's much more jarring to have it suddenly cut away, because your audience is expecting a sound. It creates more tension for people to wonder if he stopped in time. It's the subtle differences between using an exclamation mark or a question mark.

The final act is drawing ever closer with episode 21 in the can. All the months of getting to know and care about Nanako is really paying off, because now we're put in Yu's place that it's someone we know, rather than all the characters we just met. The threat has never been higher, but Yu now has a strong team of friends to back him up. Still, that may not be enough this time.

Nick Robinson:

Right! Yu was explaining the TV stuff in a way nobody ever actually would. It was silly and frantic in that Twilight Zone "I'M NOT CRAZY, YA GOTTA BELIEVE ME" way. As far as Yu's refusal to just show Dojima his powers not being a plothole - maybe you're right and that is totally explained in the game. As of last night, I've got something like four episodes of the Endurance Run left (I know, shame on me), so I guess it's possibly covered there. If it isn't, though, I have no problem calling that a plothole. Like, the TV is the only other object in the room! I understand that they wanted to have it there for Midnight Channel purposes, but you can't have it both ways. I mean, to be fair, this was a logic gap that totally existed in the game, too, but it's no less stupid here. Slavish devotion to your source material can be problematic when the source material is occasionally a teensy bit dumb.

I think it's also worth noting how dark this episode was, in every sense of the word. Visually, it was all nighttime and shadows, and what was lit was pretty much grey. It made a great shorthand for communicating the "playtime is over" tonal shift from last week's episode to this one. As far as the crash itself - the scene was fine, but the lack of a actual sound during the crash was a little stupid. Whether it was a stylistic choice or not, it's massively distracting, especially everyone onscreen absolutely would've been close enough to hear the crash happen. Maybe it would've worked if they'd cut to another scene or another location, but as is, I found it jarring in all the wrong ways. Also: the fact that some of the artists apparently can't be bothered to draw the characters' goddamn eyeballs next to each other is a little distracting, too.

Man, it's starting to freak me out that the series is ending. As someone who experienced P4 more or less in real-time with the ER, running through the whole thing over the course of a few dozen 25-minute episodes is totally crazy to me. That feeling from the first episode that it's all moving way too fast has worn off, but only slightly. Among all this grim and heavy plot stuff, I do take solace in knowing that there are a few funny moments left after the climax. I know this story already! Is it too much to ask that we get back to hanging out with the characters? (Editor's note: Yes, I know that it's too much to ask. Shut up.)

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!

PerfidiousSinnon March 14, 2012 at 8:30 p.m.

@Babylonian: Comparison shots between TV and Blu-Ray:

http://seventhstyle.com/2012/01/25/persona-4-blu-ray-facial-differences-compared/

http://seventhstyle.com/2012/02/26/persona-4-blu-ray-not-just-hd-in-name/

It's not night-and-day but definitely a nice improvement.

FoxxFireArt moderator on March 14, 2012 at 8:54 p.m.

@Hailinel:

So, you're berating Nick for being too critical of the series, and don't like that I praise the series in ways you don't like. I love talking about how they incorporate stuff from the game into the story, because I love it. I never thought they'd be able to make all of this work.

@Turambar:

Thanks, now I don't feel as left out.

@Babylonian:

But we all know the true enemy is the one within. Also, clowns.

FoxxFireArt moderator on March 14, 2012 at 8:57 p.m.

@PerfidiousSinn: Oh, those are cool screenshots. It's amazing the weird touches and changes anime makes for home release. I remember seeing shots fro Code Geass R2 that added a jacket to Kallen for only one scene.

Still, many of those changes look really positive. I just couldn't excuse that episode 6 had so many still images of characters not even blinking while dialog was happening off camera.

Hailinelon March 14, 2012 at 9:24 p.m.

@FoxxFireArt: No, that's not it at all. Nick has been overly-critical and overly-repetitive in his criticism of the animation as noted in a more detailed fashion, but he has also been overly-critical regarding aspects of culture and fanservice that if anything, do a disservice to the material and his words a disservice to the people watching it.

Your contributions have been, in general, fine. You make some good cultural notes, but otherwise these columns are nothing more than episode recaps. There is no depth to the discussion, no poignant criticism in the analytical sense. Mostly, you and Nick both focus on moments that stand out in one way or another, label them as good or bad, maybe elaborate on why you think they're good/bad for a paragraph or less, and then move on. There's no deeper context to the discussion. For fans of the game that have already pondered and discussed the plot in depth, and who are interested more for how the anime interprets the game's events than the actual outcome of the series, these columns are of relatively little relevance. They're fluff. I say this not to be mean, but because that's what these pieces ultimately feel like. They're fluff that does little more than make a few baseline comments regarding the episode in question and, barring comments like those made by Nick last week, don't invite much in the way of conversation.

From my experience, the best columns produced are typically those that follow adventures in the TV World, particularly following a major Shadow encounter. There's a lot of depth and reasoning behind these Shadows the way that they're designed and how they perceive the slices of personality that they're born from. These are the columns that tend to draw the most responses and the most constructive discussion in part because there's obviously more up-front to chew on. However, even in an episode where little in the way of action happens, or where more of the discussion in the column gets aimed at things like the animation quality, there's still plenty of detail and material to mull over. But you guys don't touch it, and that's what I find so disappointing. That's why I entered the comments of this particular column doing the internet equivalent of flipping tables. I saw too much wasted potential, and I was tired of it.

For what it's worth, I'm not burning with so much annoyance now as I was when this whole conversation started. But my disappointment remains. I would love to see the two of you go deeper. Not necessarily Inception-levels of depth, but deeper than you have been. Ignore trivialities, do some research, and just go at it. Give me something to think about instead of regurgitating the episode's events. That's really all I ask. Maybe this is the wrong column and venue for this, but that's all I really ask of you two.

mutha3on March 15, 2012 at 1:07 a.m.
@Babylonian said:

@PerfidiousSinn said:

I think the animation quality for characters is a point worth repeating. I know the animators are under a lot of pressure and don't have much time to clean things up, but there's a disconnect between the battle scenes and environments looking mostly great, and the character's faces looking consistently weird.

Maybe it bugs me more because I've spent hundreds of hours playing the game, but the faces are off, often. At least they're being fixed up for the DVD/Blu-Ray releases, but I do wish they had more time to make the character art look great.

Wait, is that really happening? I had no idea some of the lazy animation was being corrected for the Blu-Ray release. That rules! Where'd you hear it?

Yeah, I guess the insane profits they've been making of this show finally brought the goods.
 
That horrible 1 minute of nonmotion in episode 9/10 is now gone based on a niconico video clip of the improvements! The show's still not much of a looker, but at least the derpfaces seem to be severly decreased. 
 

 @Babylonian said:

Yeah, that would've been less annoying. We've talked before about how Yu is more or less the perfect protagonist in this show, and if they'd at least illustrated that the thought occured to him to use his magical powers in front of his skeptical cop uncle, it would be a little less irritating. Maybe there's a case to be made that he wasn't thinking clearly because he was worried about Nanako?



Seeing how Yu was desperate enough to go all "I AM A MAGIC HIGHSCHOOLER WHO GOES INTO TV'S ", I don't think the lack of attention is a valid excuse. Its just the writers messing up, big time. This was one of the most irritating things about P4's story to me right there alongside

(ER episode 118 spoilers)
Babylonian staff on March 15, 2012 at 9:17 a.m.

@Crowwing said:

Uhh....about the whole, no crash sound when Dojima hit Namatame's truck....well....it was kinda that way in the game as well.

The scene is right at the beginning.

Just saying.

The thing is, they aren't being graded on their ability to imitate the game, they're being graded on their ability to make an effective and compelling drama. (Technically, they aren't being graded at all, but you get what I mean,) Watching that clip from the game, it works, for whatever reason. Maybe it's the fact that in the game the Investigation Team is far enough away not to hear the crash, maybe it's the fade-to-white right before the crash at the end of the animated cutscene. Whatever the case: in the game, it works, but in the show, it was awkward and felt incomplete.

@Turambar said:

@Babylonian: For the sake of making my previous post a bit more useful, I'll give an example of what you could have written to address the visual issue in this episode in a better way. Simply saying things look bad is a bore, especially when you've done it a dozen times already. Offer alternatives that would have made it better without saying simply "learn2drawbetter". For example, for that scene, they could have used different camera angles, doing closeups of Yu and Naoto's faces, thus negating the need for the drawing of multiple silent background characters. While the lower torsos of the back ground characters might be still in the shot, drawing them with slightly less detail but still looking good is easier than drawing faces, and animating them slightly makes the entire scene fine. Further, utilize flash backs. They do one with Nanako saying she doesn't open the door for strangers, but when Naoto says that she was surprised at how quickly she was thrown in after being chloroformed, instead of drawing custom animation of Chie interjecting, use a flashback of Naoto saying the same thing after she was rescued. Simply criticizing something over and over in identical fashions isn't interesting to read. Being able to offer well thought out alternatives like I did above gives the criticism more value. If you value visual quality so much and have some experience with other shows, you can also draw examples from other shows that used the alternative you're proposing. All of this makes for more entertaining, informative, and insightful writing.

I'm actually a little surprised to hear this. You guys want me to talk more about the visual issues this show has? Because the consensus from you guys in the past has been that dedicating even half a paragraph to it is overblowing the problem!

Put another way: I'm not an animator, I'm a critic. I'm not here to suggest alternative ways for them to hide their budgetary issues, mostly because I'm not an expert on that stuff, but also because they aren't listening. It's totally something worth going into in the comments, though!

I think you're onto something - those all seem like they'd be valid ways of disguising the issue. The fact that they're going back in and putting everyone's facial features in right place for the Blu-Rays is definitely a step in the right direction!

@Hailinel said:

Your contributions have been, in general, fine. You make some good cultural notes, but otherwise these columns are nothing more than episode recaps. There is no depth to the discussion, no poignant criticism in the analytical sense. Mostly, you and Nick both focus on moments that stand out in one way or another, label them as good or bad, maybe elaborate on why you think they're good/bad for a paragraph or less, and then move on. There's no deeper context to the discussion. For fans of the game that have already pondered and discussed the plot in depth, and who are interested more for how the anime interprets the game's events than the actual outcome of the series, these columns are of relatively little relevance. They're fluff. I say this not to be mean, but because that's what these pieces ultimately feel like. They're fluff that does little more than make a few baseline comments regarding the episode in question and, barring comments like those made by Nick last week, don't invite much in the way of conversation.

I dunno, man. I think we've gone out of our way to make sure these aren't just 'episode recaps' - we're not here to summarize the events, we're here to discuss our feelings on them. At the same time, we're also not here to write doctorate-level theses on the minute differences between the anime and the game, either. These are quick-and-dirty weekly opinion columns we're talking about here.

@Hailinel said:

For what it's worth, I'm not burning with so much annoyance now as I was when this whole conversation started. But my disappointment remains. I would love to see the two of you go deeper. Not necessarily Inception-levels of depth, but deeper than you have been. Ignore trivialities, do some research, and just go at it. Give me something to think about instead of regurgitating the episode's events. That's really all I ask. Maybe this is the wrong column and venue for this, but that's all I really ask of you two.

With all due respect, I think it might be. Look at any other Watch & Learn-type article on the site - it's a lot like what we're doing here. I'm still not fully clear on what sort of depth you're looking for, exactly, but it's no secret that these sort of brief, fast, off-the-cuff reaction articles are, on some level, inherently superficial. We go in-depth where we can and where we see fit, but if you're looking for high-depth, very academic writing on P4A, I'm afraid we're going for something a bit more subjective than that.

That said, it's something you can feel free to go into in the comments. We're here to spurn and encourage discussion, and so far, it's working - these are among the most commented-on Anime Vice articles, period! So give me a for-instance: what's some of the hidden depth from this week's episode that you want to discuss?

Turambaron March 15, 2012 at 9:36 a.m.
@Babylonian said:
@Turambar said:
@Babylonian: For the sake of making my previous post a bit more useful, I'll give an example of what you could have written to address the visual issue in this episode in a better way. Simply saying things look bad is a bore, especially when you've done it a dozen times already. Offer alternatives that would have made it better without saying simply "learn2drawbetter". For example, for that scene, they could have used different camera angles, doing closeups of Yu and Naoto's faces, thus negating the need for the drawing of multiple silent background characters. While the lower torsos of the back ground characters might be still in the shot, drawing them with slightly less detail but still looking good is easier than drawing faces, and animating them slightly makes the entire scene fine. Further, utilize flash backs. They do one with Nanako saying she doesn't open the door for strangers, but when Naoto says that she was surprised at how quickly she was thrown in after being chloroformed, instead of drawing custom animation of Chie interjecting, use a flashback of Naoto saying the same thing after she was rescued. Simply criticizing something over and over in identical fashions isn't interesting to read. Being able to offer well thought out alternatives like I did above gives the criticism more value. If you value visual quality so much and have some experience with other shows, you can also draw examples from other shows that used the alternative you're proposing. All of this makes for more entertaining, informative, and insightful writing.

I'm actually a little surprised to hear this. You guys want me to talk more about the visual issues this show has? Because the consensus from you guys in the past has been that dedicating even half a paragraph to it is overblowing the problem!

Put another way: I'm not an animator, I'm a critic. I'm not here to suggest alternative ways for them to hide their budgetary issues, mostly because I'm not an expert on that stuff, but also because they aren't listening. It's totally something worth going into in the comments, though!

I think you're onto something - those all seem like they'd be valid ways of disguising the issue. The fact that they're going back in and putting everyone's facial features in right place for the Blu-Rays is definitely a step in the right direction!

I personally would rather you not talk about the visuals, but this is your blog, not mine.  You write what you want to write.  And if you want to be a critic, then write criticisms that is conducive to good reading and writing. The point of it all is you are achieving neither thus far through formulaic repetition.
Turambaron March 15, 2012 at 10:02 a.m.
@Babylonian said:

With all due respect, I think it might be. Look at any other Watch & Learn-type article on the site - it's a lot like what we're doing here. I'm still not fully clear on what sort of depth you're looking for, exactly, but it's no secret that these sort of brief, fast, off-the-cuff reaction articles are, on some level, inherently superficial. We go in-depth where we can and where we see fit, but if you're looking for high-depth, very academic writing on P4A, I'm afraid we're going for something a bit more subjective than that.

This is an example of what I really wish this blog, along with what a lot of the other Watch&Learn columns on this site would be like, though the fact that this is an almost unrealistic bar to expect everyone to achieve is not lost on me.  It's not academic thesis level writing (though I have read one on the undertones of Japanese imperialism in Diebuster, and if you guys can pull something like that off, it'd be pretty amazing.)  But it does show a degree of knowledge of not just the show itself, but the genre, character archetype, and medium as a whole, and the fact that you are taking advantage of that knowledge to form opinions. 
 
Yes, you can claim my example is unfair.  Gundam has a long legacy, and the capacity for cross textual analysis there far surpasses a new franchise like Persona 4.  But other shows depicting teenagers in conflict with the supernatural exists.  There is even another Persona anime.  The material is there for you to draw from, and the potential for fan wankery is actually extremely welcomed.  You guys just need to be willing to exert the effort to do so. 
Hailinelon March 15, 2012 at 8:55 p.m.

@Babylonian: Obviously, this is the episode where the drama really ramps up. It's the episode after all that adapts both the interrogation scene at the police station and the pursuit of Namatame. As someone that's played the game, I knew that both of these events were bound to occur and from a technical standpoint, both are presented in a fashion that excels in this medium; it really, honestly helps the drama now that Yu is a fully voiced character, rather than a character that serves as a partial cypher for the player's own actions.

Take the interrogation scene. In the game, the player isn't even required to tell Dojima the truth. They can choose to avoid telling him about Personas and the TV World, but the end result is still the same; Dojima becomes disgusted with his nephew and leaves him locked in the interrogation room. Here, the plot hole is more prominent in the game than it is in the anime. In the game, Yu is not voiced in this scene. There is no text that lets us know exactly what he says or the tone in which he says it. It's even more ludicrous that he doesn't simply stick his hand in the television in the corner of the room to prove his point.

In the anime, however, Yu is of course voiced, and we hear him tell Dojima the truth with sincerity and conviction. He still doesn't stick his hand in the TV, but judging from the tone of his voice, it seems like a moment that Yu wanted to prepare his uncle for. He cares for him and doesn't simply want to freak him out by doing something that should be impossible. But Dojima of course thinks that Yu's tale is absurd, expresses his abject disappointment, and leaves before Yu can convince him otherwise.

This episode is actually a showcase of emotion that in the game, Yu is never capable of expressing. He wants his uncle to understand what's happened and to believe him. He becomes worried and downright anxious for Nanako's safety after he sees her on the Midnight Channel and enters a point of despair.

The interrogation scene had to be one of the hardest for the writers to adapt. I'm sure that they must have been aware of the gaping plot hole that is the TV; fans of the game have pointed it out ad nauseum on message boards. It's quite possibly the single biggest and most glaring flaw in the game's narrative. But this adaptation has striven to remain faithful to the source material, and as a result, this scene exists in the anime as well. So with all of this being said, the writers did the smartest thing that they could have done in adapting the scene without rewriting it entirely; bring out Yu's emotions.

It is this emotional quality that separates Yu from the game's player character. For all of the comedic moments that have played off of his origin, from various scenes using dialogue choices taken straight from the game (especially the more ridiculous ones) to his stone-faced expression as he was sent flying into the river, what truly sets him apart are the qualities that he could never express in the game. And this episode is exemplary in depicting that fact.

zaldaron March 18, 2012 at 7:07 p.m.

sorry you can't accept some arguments against Japanese culture but neither Babalyonian or me subscribe to cultural relativism (there is a college thesis concept for you) that excuses things simply because it is part of someone elses culture. If this was a teenager comedy I would not want my 15 year old watching it *shrug* but then I consider things like komodo no jikian as utter utter trash. Obviously you disagree, I like the people passing back emails and the fact that one of the people knows the game and one doesn't. I played it through once and that was enough (I do have a life, job and family after all) but I can still comment on parts of the game I thought were bad...like the no sound on the car crash and Yu not showing his power...I actually screamed at the TV during that scene in the game "THERE IS A TV IN THE ROOM WHAT ARE YOU DOING" Perhaps they did the best they could have done without writing the event entirely but I would have been happier if they had done so really. Simply removing the TV from the room would have been nice.

I also agree that I would like a little more intellectual depth but I would want that in the watch and learns sometimes also. There is Yungian philosophy behind the things in this show...it would be great to talk about that. At least in the Yu Yu articles we get comparisons to professional wrestling and in the Eureka ones we get discussions about how the episodes fit into a longer narrative and I expect the end will hopefully generate some nice philosophical discussion. But as I think I have said before I read journal articles about the metamorphosis of the japanese girl from girl to hyper girl and battling beauty (that is a great one by Mari Kotani and probably could be applied to chie...actually a discussion on how Chie, Nanoto, and Yuikio represent different female archetypes and how the changing role of women in Japanese society is effecting their birth rate and the rise of 2D vs 3D girlfriends might be interesting...I may work on that actually..any interest from other commentors?)

Hailinelon March 18, 2012 at 7:16 p.m.

@zaldar: I wasn't aware that you were qualified to speak on behalf of .

zaldaron March 18, 2012 at 7:55 p.m.

Of course I am not. I am just going by what I have seen him say before and he can certainly correct me if I am wrong.

But now to the real reason for this reply. For an example of the kind of analysis I think Hailinel and I actually are looking for look at Tom's discussions on the Akira manga. The one on the fourth volume is extraordinary.

FoxxFireArt moderator on March 20, 2012 at 4:14 a.m.

@zaldar: @Hailinel:

I'd love to go into the deeper aspects and the subtext, but not every episode deserves that level of detail. I think I've tried to address some of your issues in the next Persona 4 article that's just been posted. If there is something I enjoy about an episode. I'm going to want to bring it up.

Though, I don't see who we help be not talking about the latest events in some way. This isn't like what Comic Vine and Screened were doing for a while on The Walking Dead. That was mainly just listing down the plot events of the episode.

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