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Amateur vs. Expert: PERSONA 4 #4

Now we're getting somewhere.

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:

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?

Nick Robinson:

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?

Kristoffer Remmell:

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.

Nick Robinson:

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!

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!

LifeByDegreeson Oct. 31, 2011 at 3:17 p.m.

I give it a 4/5.

There definitely is a shifting between a more sloppy handling of the animation and the more smooth action.

However- they do continue to animate the checker board pattern uniforms- so go figure.

Maybe there will be an Americanized version one day- but for now this is great stuff.

It catches the show's sense of humor quite nicely- and the main character is matching the game fairly well.

Its interesting to see how they balance some of the nicer filler for the boss battle- with some of the: "We're doing this as a plot conceit." (The wax feet- though that might tie into an attack in the game- if only indirectly.)

Not entirely sure what they're going to do with the next episode- if they're going to take the shortest distance to the end- or enjoy the ride- hard to say.

A question to the audience: Do you think they'll throw in a separate antagonist other than main Shadows or the other standard bosses from the game- the entire game?

If so- how so?

Lurkeroon Oct. 31, 2011 at 3:23 p.m.

I think I will like this column. It should be slightly condensed however, you don't want to babble too much about everything in an episode, just the things that REALLY stand out.

Turambaron Oct. 31, 2011 at 3:51 p.m.
There is much to say about symbolism in this episode, but I'll restrain it to this point.  There is a major change in power balance in terms of the combat.  The game has you pitting persona power against shadow power, winning, and subduing it long enough for the person to accept their faults.  The show flips the power structure on its head.  A person's persona is helpless against a shadow at its peak power.  In all three fights we have seen, our heroes are barely able to fight to a standstill if not losing out right, and it takes psychological acceptance on the part of the host to give them a chance. 
mutha3on Oct. 31, 2011 at 4:09 p.m.

@Turambar said:

There is much to say about symbolism in this episode,

Mostly that it was very heavy-handed and clumsy:P

Agreed on the point that a big part of what made P4's story special was Atlus USA being awesome localizers, the subtitles aren't nearly as good. One only needs to compare the bear puns in both translations to come to that conclusion... But even then, I can't help but feel that P4A can be a little silly-melodramatic at times, even by P4 standards(what particularly stands out to me is the fact that the characters almost immediately accept their shadow after one line from Yu, well, admittedly Yukiko's didn't work out like that, but still).

...Also, I think they focused on the wrong aspects of every single shadow battle so far, and didn't really hit the core issues each character was facing. Then again, that's probably just my personal interpretation of those shadow battles in-game.

Still, EP4 was probably the best so far. Its the only one EP so far that didn't have weird tonal issues and awkward comedy thrown into the mix and a valiant effort to break away from the source material a bit with the inclusion of some new stuff. Meguro(the composer for P4/P4A) continues to be awesome

Turambaron Oct. 31, 2011 at 4:25 p.m.
@mutha3 said:

@Turambar said:

There is much to say about symbolism in this episode,

Mostly that it was very heavy-handed and clumsy:P

Only as clumsy and heavy-handed as it was in the original game.
mutha3on Oct. 31, 2011 at 4:33 p.m.

@Turambar said:

@mutha3 said:

@Turambar said:

There is much to say about symbolism in this episode,

Mostly that it was very heavy-handed and clumsy:P

Only as clumsy and heavy-handed as it was in the original game.

The original had a boss that was a gigantic bird trapped in a birdcage ....

P4a starts out with Yukiko waking up in a room with BIRDCAGES. A broken BIRDCAGE rolls towards her, followed by a taunt that proclaims she will NEVER FLY AWAY. Followed by a Big bird in a BIRDCAGE locking Yukiko up in a BIRDCAGE and starting Yukiko's flashback wherein she finds an injured bird who she takes care of in a BIRDCAGE, but the bird gets the courage to break free and FLY AWAY, thus reminding Yukiko of her own weakness. So she throws away the BIRDCAGE. and breaks free from the BIRDCAGE in the present time by Chie telling her that she can FLY AWAY.

Not gonna lie here: Not seeing it

Turambaron Oct. 31, 2011 at 4:56 p.m.

@mutha3 said:

@Turambar said:

@mutha3 said:

@Turambar said:

There is much to say about symbolism in this episode,

Mostly that it was very heavy-handed and clumsy:P

Only as clumsy and heavy-handed as it was in the original game.

The original had a boss that was a gigantic bird trapped in a birdcage ....

P4a starts out with Yukiko waking up in a room with BIRDCAGES. A broken BIRDCAGE rolls towards her, followed by a taunt that proclaims she will NEVER FLY AWAY. Followed by a Big bird in a BIRDCAGE locking Yukiko up in a BIRDCAGE and starting Yukiko's flashback wherein she finds an injured bird who she takes care of in a BIRDCAGE, but the bird gets the courage to break free and FLY AWAY, thus reminding Yukiko of her own weakness. So she throws away the BIRDCAGE. and breaks free from the BIRDCAGE in the present time by Chie telling her that she can FLY AWAY.

Not gonna lie here: Not seeing it

Not gonna lie: did not feel that way about any of it. None of the shots were overly long and indulgent. Yukiko's pet bird offered a window into her normal life as well as her every day duties at the inn. All of that struck me as nothing but consistent. None of it was clumsy.

TowerSixteenon Oct. 31, 2011 at 5:18 p.m.

@mutha3:

Gotta agree with Turambar. The stuff did appear a lot, but I think there was a crucial difference between this and in-game- in the game, it was pure symbolism, a throwaway thing. Here, though, they have a backstory for the visual symbolism worked in, and the symbolism is directly acknowledged by the characters- Yukiko herself draws the comparison between herself and the bird. It crosses over from symbolism into the realm of theme.

If it were still purely visual symbolism like in the game, and all the birdcage imagery and such existed without the backstory and acknowledgement, i'd agree with you. But it's not.

AURON570on Oct. 31, 2011 at 5:36 p.m.

It does seem like they're prioritizing the animation in the action sequences over animation everywhere else. And it does feel a little redundant fighting a new character's shadow each episode, hopefully it will feel less monotonous once it gets to the actual mystery solving and gets more characters and social links on the table and starts developing them.

Rapidon Oct. 31, 2011 at 7:03 p.m.

damn it Chie just cast Bufu

Hailinelon Oct. 31, 2011 at 9:17 p.m.

I'm not really seeing any issues with the animation that others are complaining about. I'd say your stream needs adjustment. If you're going to find something to complain about each episode, find something more substantial. :P

@Turambar said:

@mutha3 said:

@Turambar said:

@mutha3 said:

@Turambar said:

There is much to say about symbolism in this episode,

Mostly that it was very heavy-handed and clumsy:P

Only as clumsy and heavy-handed as it was in the original game.

The original had a boss that was a gigantic bird trapped in a birdcage ....

P4a starts out with Yukiko waking up in a room with BIRDCAGES. A broken BIRDCAGE rolls towards her, followed by a taunt that proclaims she will NEVER FLY AWAY. Followed by a Big bird in a BIRDCAGE locking Yukiko up in a BIRDCAGE and starting Yukiko's flashback wherein she finds an injured bird who she takes care of in a BIRDCAGE, but the bird gets the courage to break free and FLY AWAY, thus reminding Yukiko of her own weakness. So she throws away the BIRDCAGE. and breaks free from the BIRDCAGE in the present time by Chie telling her that she can FLY AWAY.

Not gonna lie here: Not seeing it

Not gonna lie: did not feel that way about any of it. None of the shots were overly long and indulgent. Yukiko's pet bird offered a window into her normal life as well as her every day duties at the inn. All of that struck me as nothing but consistent. None of it was clumsy.

Gotta agree with you, here. The symbolism was consistent and offered a window into Yukiko's daily life that demonstrated how confined she felt.

Also, a friend of mine seemed to recall hearing something about supplemental materials to the game indicating that Yukiko had owned a bird at some point, though her memory of that is hazy and not necessarily accurate by her own admission.

mutha3on Oct. 31, 2011 at 9:40 p.m.

@Hailinel said:

I'm not really seeing any issues with the animation that others are complaining about. I'd say your stream needs adjustment. If you're going to find something to complain about each episode, find something more substantial. :P

Bad stream quality doesn't produce this:

He's far from the only one complaining. In fact, common consensus on the first episode was that it could look pretty terrible outside of the last 3 minutes or so. And while EP2, 3 and 4 don't look atrocious or anything, choppy animation and inconsistent art has still reared its ugly head a handful of times.

Hailinelon Oct. 31, 2011 at 9:59 p.m.

@mutha3: Yes, yes. You like that 4chan thread. I've seen the image like twenty times now.

I'm not saying that the art or animation are in any way perfect. They're just not the atrocities that some seem to be claiming. While some artistic details are lacking at points, this is hardly the worst artwork or animation I have ever seen in an animated production and people should stop treating it as a god damn catastrophe. This is absolutely nothing compared to something like the TV series Violinist of Hamelin, which had an animation budget so low that the vast majority of the series is comprised of still frames of artwork. I am not even exaggerating on that point. It is that bad.

So rather than complain incessantly about a decent level of quality animation that fluctuates a bit, I am enjoying P4A for what it is.

Babylonian staff on Oct. 31, 2011 at 10:11 p.m.

@Hailinel said:

@mutha3: Yes, yes. You like that 4chan thread. I've seen the image like twenty times now.

The reason you've seen it so many times is because it's pretty damning evidence of exactly what I'm referring to. I hope I've done a good job of saying that while the show largely looks okay, it also frequently looks like shit. Like, no exaggeration, it looks bad. There is not a face in that series of faces that doesn't look like a dumb face.

People calling it the worst thing ever are being silly, but "I'm not really seeing any issues with the animation" is just as silly a position to take. How about we meet in the middle and agree that while it looks mostly great, it also gets pretty effing gnarly sometimes?

Hailinelon Oct. 31, 2011 at 10:16 p.m.

@Babylonian said:

@Hailinel said:

@mutha3: Yes, yes. You like that 4chan thread. I've seen the image like twenty times now.

The reason you've seen it so many times is because it's pretty damning evidence of exactly what I'm referring to. I hope I've done a good job of saying that while the show largely looks okay, it also frequently looks like shit. Like, no exaggeration, it looks bad. There is not a face in that series of faces that doesn't look like a dumb face.

People calling it the worst thing ever are being silly, but "I'm not really seeing any issues with the animation" is just as silly a position to take. How about we meet in the middle and agree that while it looks mostly great, it also gets pretty effing gnarly sometimes?

What you consider gnarly doesn't really bother me that much, though. Does the quality fluctuate? Yes, but it doesn't strike me as something I feel compelled to rail on as each new episode is aired.

Babylonian staff on Oct. 31, 2011 at 10:29 p.m.

@Hailinel said:

@Babylonian said:

@Hailinel said:

@mutha3: Yes, yes. You like that 4chan thread. I've seen the image like twenty times now.

The reason you've seen it so many times is because it's pretty damning evidence of exactly what I'm referring to. I hope I've done a good job of saying that while the show largely looks okay, it also frequently looks like shit. Like, no exaggeration, it looks bad. There is not a face in that series of faces that doesn't look like a dumb face.

People calling it the worst thing ever are being silly, but "I'm not really seeing any issues with the animation" is just as silly a position to take. How about we meet in the middle and agree that while it looks mostly great, it also gets pretty effing gnarly sometimes?

What you consider gnarly doesn't really bother me that much, though. Does the quality fluctuate? Yes, but it doesn't strike me as something I feel compelled to rail on as each new episode is aired.

Me neither! Which is why this is the first time I've ever brought it up in the column. The number of "man, that was rough-looking" instances per episode is definitely on the decline, which is great, but this and Avatar: The Last Airbender (and maybe Trigun) are literally the only shows to have moments of animation so shoddy that it actually takes me out of the moment.

I mean, look: I obviously wasn't there, so I can't say with 100% certainty that the person responsible for drawing this didn't have a gun to their head and a blindfold on and had been told they had 15 seconds to draw Morooka or else they'd be murdered, but I'm guessing probably that wasn't the case. And that's just about the only excuse I can come up with for the above drawing. The gradient doesn't save it, not by a long shot!

Hailinelon Oct. 31, 2011 at 10:49 p.m.

@Babylonian: Granted, Morooka was never a handsome man (except in his own mind). I just don't feel that, at this time, it's a point worth beating to death, as I've seen in some threads and now for several paragraphs in this column. That's it, really. Sometimes, budgets require corners to be cut; just look at the later episodes of Evangelion, where the staff resorted to portraying silhouetted elevator rides that take forever as characters converse and other oddities where it becomes very apparent that they couldn't do anything more elaborate, and then the final episode turned into a bizarre minimalist, existential affair. Granted, this also coincided with the director working through severe emotional turmoil at that point in his life, which didn't make things any easier, but the fact remains that the animators had to cut corners to get things done.

chickdigger802on Oct. 31, 2011 at 10:54 p.m.

It does feel like this show has zero to no budget.

The fight scenes during the last few min of each episodes are pretty well animated, but everything else not so much...

Turambaron Oct. 31, 2011 at 11:12 p.m.

@Babylonian: I think the point of frustration that Hailinel expresses is that this particular criticism is one that is thrown at every episode, and has thus grown stale incredibly quickly. All the more so because as you yourself have mentioned, this is not something that makes the show unwatchable, but is rather just a fact of the show simply due to budget or whatever other reason one wants to give or accuse. To put it in video game terms, it would be like if there was an episodic Resident Evil game, and every chapter received the same complaint regarding the shooting. While this may be the first time you have made mention, remember that we don't exist in a bubble and this segment is one voice amongst a chorus.

Personally, I understand the point. On the other hand, I watched Macross 7 and liked it, so production quality does not phase me in the slightest anymore.

mutha3on Oct. 31, 2011 at 11:13 p.m.

@Hailinel said:

@mutha3: Yes, yes. You like that 4chan thread. I've seen the image like twenty times now.

If you've seen it twenty times, then it seems bizarre to me that you're to trying to dismiss criticism of the wildly inconsistent artwork with "adjust your stream".

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Persona 4: The Animation is an anime based upon the popular PlayStation 2 game. People are going missing in the rural-town of Inaba. A team of high school students discover a world within the TV that is linked to the murders.

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