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!
Seems a bit hard to think up much of a quick summary for how Persona 4 The Animation Episode 4 turned out this week. I think one phrase that comes to mind is, "symbolism abounds here". This episode had some pretty heavy drama in both character and action. As you pointed out before, Nick. They aren't just throwing in parts of the game, but going deeper. We get that with all the flashbacks the episode had of Yukiko's life at her family inn. She's a high school kid who works really hard at the inn and is often surrounded by drunks on vacation. What young teen wouldn't want to escape that? The Persona 4 game never really sold how hard it was for Yukiko at home. This is the first time we've seen a shadow in clothes different from the original. I can see why she's depicted as a princess when there are all these Cinderella issues floating in her life. When the Shadow transforms, she becomes that bird trapped in a cage.
It's again impressive how much of the battle from the game they worked into the episode. It's all little touches that are nice nods to the fans of the game. The pose they take when summoning their Persona, the chandelier being used, and how Pyro Jack absorbs fire attacks. The quality of the voice acting is really impressive. I think viewers can see in Yukiko's performance why Ami Koshimizu is one of my favorite voice actresses.
A theme is starting to arise as they deal with the Shadows. It's basically, "So what?". The series seems to be trying to say, "So what if we're all horrible people? We can still be friends." That makes sense. We can't be perfect, and we don't need to be. You think I'm off base there?
Sounds about right to me! And yeah, I really enjoyed this week's episode, too. After last week's tease of the fact that, yes, they're willing to step outside the boundaries of what's explicitly shown in the game, I was seriously looking forward to see what they did this time around, and I wasn't disappointed.
I'm finding that the stuff I'm getting the most enjoyment out of is exactly that stuff, too. Seeing what Yukiko's day-to-day life at Amagi Inn was like, for example, was really neat and helps paint a better picture of where the character is coming from.
I'm also digging the action scenes a lot, too. From Chie destroying three Shadows in one kick at the start of the episode to the more explosive business when they confronted Yukiko's Shadow, they're really killing it in terms of keeping the combat scenes fluid, fast and exciting. And yeah, like you said, little touches like Pyro Jack absorbing the flame are great.
Unfortunately, the excellence of the action only stands to exaggerate how downright poor the animation looks at times. This show's animation quality ranges from "hey that looks pretty good" to "whoa, this is worse than season 1 of Avatar," and it's not something I'm adjusting to. The animation of human characters looks occasionally lazy and frequently pretty damn choppy - in the aforementioned Amagi Inn part, I had to rewatch the moment when that one guest fell over drunk like twice before I could figure out what even happened, not to mention the really bad-looking four frame long dancing guy animation in the same scene. Maybe I'm being nit-picky, but I don't think so: this show is sometimes pretty ugly. Or am I just imagining all this?
They aren't shying away from giving the character's more depth and back story. I did like that shot of Chie taking out the three in one scene. I thought one of the biggest challenges this series was going to have is to make the boss fights from the game look exciting and dynamic when animated. So far, they haven't disappointed. We've had some steady action, but that may take a break for a while now that everyone is rescued. The actual investigation for the murder begins. I don't want to get into a habit of talking about the preview of the episode to come, but I think that Ai Ebihara's going in for a kiss on Yu. Next episode may be dipping into more of the Social Linking from the game. Under normal circumstances, I'd call that a waste of time, but the more links Narukami makes. The more Persona we could possible see. That doesn't mean they all have to be explored to Level 10. Unless we're talking about Chie.
It's not just you. Others have been talking about it in some of the comments. I'm amused on a level how critical people are getting over still images from "animation" or of scenes of little consequence. Even in your description, you said you watched a scene twice to figure out what some drunk in the foreground was doing. I don't think we can fairly criticize it for looking choppy. We are just streaming this off the internet and not the optimal version seen on Japanese TV. A lot of scenes look beautiful. The battles, and that scene of Chie and Yukiko surrounded by the fire was awesome. It's all of this is why I can't wait to see this on Blu-ray. The only thing I found oddly jarring was that forward shot of Margaret. I'm only used to ever seeing her from the left profile.
I gotta disagree - I think some of these animation flaws are pretty significant. These aren't small background characters we're talking about here; these characters the focal point of their scenes, and it's pretty distracting to see them animated with all the fidelity of South Park characters. This isn't negligible stuff we're talking about here - I specifically recall a scene in episode #1 where it looked like the animators straight up forgot to draw Dojima's nose. Likewise, the reason I had to rewind the scene with the drunk dude in this episode was because he was dead center in the shot and Yukiko was laughing at him directly, yet I had literally no idea what had happened! Even the main cast has moments where they look lazily drawn. If it was all peripheral characters (other students in the hall, etc), that'd be one thing, but don't skimp on animating the protagonists, dudes.
I don't buy your excuse about the online streaming, either. If the problem was that the show looked too compressed or whatever, that'd be a different story (even though we're both watching it in 480p), but that's not the issue - it's not as though Hulu drops frames of animation or randomly makes shows appear choppy. Furthermore, the excellent, smooth action scenes are proof positive that the show can look good, it just often doesn't. There are corners being cut here, and unless they go the Shaft route of making radical animation changes for the show's disc release, it seems unrealistic to hope that the show will look much better in the future.
As grateful as I am that they're giving these characters depth and backstory, it's got me thinking about what's missing and what would improve the show for me. Right now, I think the only thing left is the writing. This version of the show feels a little bit cheesy and melodramatic sometimes, which has me wondering how much of my Persona 4 enjoyment is owed to Atlus' fantastic localization team. The way the English-language versions of these characters were written in P4 made them seem real, human and consistent. These subtitles don't hold a candle to that, and as a result, I'm finding it a bit tougher to connect with these characters. It also has me wondering if simply obtaining the game's English voice cast is enough; if it's written by an entirely different group of people, I can't imagine it 'feeling' right, y'know?
And speaking of Margaret, I feel like Igor's lack of original VO is really gonna stand out if they insist on starting every episode with a Velvet Room moment. They're falling into a pattern of having Igor say "WELCOME TO THE VELVET ROOM" the same way every time, before Margaret speaks up and actually says something pertinent to the plot. I get that the actor's death is a restraint they've been saddled with, but you'd think they'd choose to work around it, not highlight it by having him speak in every single episode, right?
Still, I don't want to get too caught up in the negative, because I really did like this episode! It was as painstakingly detailed as ever (I love that Yukiko threw her bird cage away in the same trash area where Yosuke crashes his bike in the game); Teddy was adorable, as always; the inclusion of the fan-favorite Groucho glasses scene was great. I've really started to look forward to P4A each week, and given the circumstances, I think this show is as close to perfect as we're gonna get. I do have to part ways with you on the "Social Linking would be a waste of time" position, but that's because my priority in this show is the characters and how they interact, not the Personas or the combat. Still, I wouldn't enjoy one without the other, and so far, they're striking a pretty decent balance of the two. I can't wait for next week's!