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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!

Hailinelon Nov. 1, 2011 at 6:41 a.m.

@Babylonian: That 4chan image is misrepresentative, though. It just throws those screenshots together along with silly quips. Posting that does not an argument make. It's just a screenshot of a 4chan thread that isn't even that funny.

AlKusanagion Nov. 1, 2011 at 6:45 a.m.

Anime now takes the same "we'll finish it later" view as games with patches now. The TV version is often shoddy and then usually cleaned up for blu-ray, giving people an actual reason to buy it. I expect the exact same thing here. I guess I don't watch enough modern anime though, because the show looks perfectly fine to me.

My main disappointment is that the characters don't do any fighting themselves. Half the reason Chie is such the badass she is in the games is because she can punt freaking tanks into the stratosphere!!!

Turambaron Nov. 1, 2011 at 8:52 a.m.

@Babylonian: Perhaps my usage of an episodic RE was a poor one in that case as even then, the scope is far grander, spaced out, and self-standing than what you and writing here. Think of it like...a Let's Play video series, which is probably the best video game analog to what is being written here.

zaldaron Nov. 1, 2011 at 9:05 a.m.

On the animation quality if you can notice it when it is being played on the screen than it is bad...I can't. I can only notice it when things are slowed down and you are looking at the still shots. *shrug* as such it doesn't bother me. We all have different eyes though and see different things.

TehFlanon Nov. 1, 2011 at 9:18 a.m.

At no point did I find myself watching this thinking about how bad it looked. I didn't notice any of the screenshots brought here because, hey, I was watching the episode while it was still moving. I'm not saying the animation is always super amazing, but I don't think it ever gets bad enough to be distracting, unless you're looking for it to be bad.

Turambaron Nov. 1, 2011 at 9:23 a.m.

@AlKusanagi said:

Anime now takes the same "we'll finish it later" view as games with patches now. The TV version is often shoddy and then usually cleaned up for blu-ray, giving people an actual reason to buy it. I expect the exact same thing here. I guess I don't watch enough modern anime though, because the show looks perfectly fine to me.

My main disappointment is that the characters don't do any fighting themselves. Half the reason Chie is such the badass she is in the games is because she can punt freaking tanks into the stratosphere!!!

I always take issue with this idea because I feel like most people, including me, just straight up do not know what 80s and 90s anime looks like outside of the handful of shows that are heralded by the fandom. I have watched enough Macross and Gundam to know that LOLquality has existed through out both decades for those two franchises. I'm absolutely certain the same holds true for other shows as well.

Turambaron Nov. 1, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.

@mutha3 said:

@FoxxFireArt said:

@Babylonian:

To my point about "Social Linking being a waste". I wasn't talking about with the main cast. I was talking about the side stories of basketball team, drama girl, what appears to be Ai's story, ect.. These doesn't hold any connection to the plot or the cast relationships. They will just seem to serve to be a catalyst for Yu obtaining new Arcana and thus more Persona to see later. That's why I don't see it being used as a waste of time.

Actually, I kinda agree with the bolded. Removing the non-party S-links seems like a good move to me, and one of the liberties I would have liked them to take. A smaller focus goes a long way in establishing proper pacing, especially when you're strapped for time(25 episodes, dude!). And Persona 4 had the advantage of being a game, which easily allows you to have 20+ characters without having to worry about something like screentime.

Ai is one of my favorite S-links, but I would have been satisfied with a little cameo appearance.

I think that unfortunately the creative design of the combat forces S.Link cameos. Narukami only accesses new arcanas upon the creation of a S.Link with said arcana.

The biggest problem with these S.Link episodes that I can foresee is that there will be no time to allow for them to develop. The storyline of a S.Link is one that takes the course of weeks and months in in-world time. It is the sheer length of time that you are socializing with the person that gives their development go from contrived to authentic. But we do not have enough episodes for that. The best the show can do is offer a one or two episode cameo for each S.Link, and that does little justice to the characters.

Babylonian staff on Nov. 1, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.

I think all of you guys are spot-on about them not having time for the peripheral S-Links. This show is already pretty densely packed and frenetically paced, so it seems insane to think they'll have any room left over for the extra characters who don't have a direct impact on the primary plot.

I think I'd be satisfied with a one-off, fanservicey interaction with each those characters. Like y'all have pointed out, there's an economy of time to an anime series that isn't present in a 100+ hour video game, and that's a serious-ass factor.

Turambaron Nov. 1, 2011 at 11:17 a.m.
@Babylonian: That is a very iffy proposition though.  Their cameo appearances would be purely for the sake of fans.  But it is also the fans that would be the most incensed about their one off appearances that takes away far more than it gives.  And for viewers new to the franchise, those episodes will feel like "here's an S.Link, there's an S.Link, everywhere's an S.Link S.Link"
FoxxFireArt moderator on Nov. 1, 2011 at 12:45 p.m.

@Babylonian:

Did you actually use "y'all" in a sentence in a non-ironic setting? lol Despite being from Kentucky, I try to avoid using those compound abbreviations in my sentences whenever possible while I'm talking. Sadly, I occasionally say that or "howdy" when I talk. lol I call it my southern roots showing.

I'm okay with a one off S. Link episode if the payoff is more Persona to see. I said that they don't need to take them all the Level 10. I'd more rather see growth of the main cast.

MikeFightNighton Nov. 1, 2011 at 6:22 p.m.

This episode is when the show really started clicking for me. I like them digging into more than what the game showed and how they handled fight scenes, I am no animation connoisseur but I thought it looked great, would love to see it in 1080p. Teddy i still the bearst...I'll be quiet now.

PewPewLazerson Nov. 2, 2011 at 6:40 a.m.

@mutha3: The S-Links will have to be relegated, like you say 25 episodes seems like an amount where they can afford to dedicate any significant screen-time to what were optional scenes in the games. But judging from the next episode preview they might be using it to further an alternate plot strand they intend to introduce, hopefully.

For all the debate about the subtlety (or rather the lack of) in the narrative, the Yukiko scenes still allowed for the episode to expand on the broader aspects of her problems. Maybe it doesn't need explaining, and yes the caged bird shadow was fairly blatant to begin with but I'm fine with it. I would rather they take this approach then be slavishly dedicated to re-creating the main storyline verbatim.

If anything this interpretation of the Yukiko Shadow encounter only makes me more eager to see how they depict the touchier subjects that are hopefully broached with the rest of the investigation team.

@Hailinel: The animation can fall into 'derp-face' territory at times and it maybe catches the eye with the inconsistency but as mentioned there is far worse examples out there. I wonder how many people would be focusing on this if the story about the animator troubles had never come out.

I can sort of agree with the criticisms being leveled at the series, but at the same time I feel its mostly peripheral to my enjoyment of what is up until now is only improving with each new episode.

mutha3on Nov. 2, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.

@PewPewLazers said:

@Hailinel: The animation can fall into 'derp-face' territory at times and it maybe catches the eye with the inconsistency but as mentioned there is far worse examples out there. I wonder how many people would be focusing on this if the story about the animator troubles had never come out.

I highly doubt that had anything to do with it. People were commenting on the "derp" days before the story about Jun Arai hit, besides, I and other detractors of the animation have admitted that episode 2 looks significantly better than episode 1 and that Arai's predictions were just sour grapes.

And, dude, even though there is definitely worse, Persona is a pretty fucking big license in Japan, y'know. Its already the highest selling anime of the season. Which is extra disheartening when you consider other shows like Guilty Crown(especially Guilty Crown!),Mirai Nikki and Horizon:overly long subtitle all have significantly better animation all around(well, the fact that all those shows suck kind of makes me feel less bad). On top of all that, P4's art direction is nothing short of kick-ass.

Atlus cheaped out on it, by handing the license off to AIC Astra and not backing it with the budget a show of its caliber deserves. In the end, if it wasn't for the source material supplying them with excellent character- and world design, this show would look mediocre at best, visually.

PewPewLazerson Nov. 2, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.

@mutha3: As good as P4's art-direction is, to recreate Soejima's art for the Anime is probably too big an ask. But I do definitely agree that it deserves better, no arguments there. I was just adding my take on the whole thing in what seemed an overly negative sentiment in general, not to single out anyone in particular.

Maybe I'm easily pleased, I'm just happy to see something of better quality than the crappy animation that was included in the game!

But I will say that I think Teddie on the whole looks awful in the Anime.

mutha3on Nov. 2, 2011 at 12:26 p.m.

@PewPewLazers said:

@mutha3:

Maybe I'm easily pleased, I'm just happy to see something of better quality than the crappy animation that was included in the game!

Haha, true enough.

Though, I do have a certain amount of respect for how those scenes turned out after reading up on how ghetto as hell their methods in making them were!

PewPewLazerson Nov. 2, 2011 at 12:43 p.m.

@mutha3 said:

@PewPewLazers said:

@mutha3:

Maybe I'm easily pleased, I'm just happy to see something of better quality than the crappy animation that was included in the game!

Haha, true enough.

Though, I do have a certain amount of respect for how those scenes turned out after reading up on how ghetto as hell their methods in making them were!

Are you referring to that being outsourced?

It was nice to know certain things from those scenes though, like how Kanji moonlights as a fucking giant...

Hailinelon Nov. 2, 2011 at 7:20 p.m.

@mutha3 said:

@PewPewLazers said:

@Hailinel: The animation can fall into 'derp-face' territory at times and it maybe catches the eye with the inconsistency but as mentioned there is far worse examples out there. I wonder how many people would be focusing on this if the story about the animator troubles had never come out.

I highly doubt that had anything to do with it. People were commenting on the "derp" days before the story about Jun Arai hit, besides, I and other detractors of the animation have admitted that episode 2 looks significantly better than episode 1 and that Arai's predictions were just sour grapes.

And, dude, even though there is definitely worse, Persona is a pretty fucking big license in Japan, y'know. Its already the highest selling anime of the season. Which is extra disheartening when you consider other shows like Guilty Crown(especially Guilty Crown!),Mirai Nikki and Horizon:overly long subtitle all have significantly better animation all around(well, the fact that all those shows suck kind of makes me feel less bad). On top of all that, P4's art direction is nothing short of kick-ass.

Atlus cheaped out on it, by handing the license off to AIC Astra and not backing it with the budget a show of its caliber deserves. In the end, if it wasn't for the source material supplying them with excellent character- and world design, this show would look mediocre at best, visually.

I wasn't aware you had expertise in the financing and budget requirements of an animated series. :P

mutha3on Nov. 3, 2011 at 7:39 a.m.

@Hailinel: You don't need that kind of expertise to see P4A's production values aren't up to snuff. Just a working pair of eyeballs:P

Dig Deeper into Persona 4: The Animation

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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