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!
Rise has landed in Inaba, and so far, I'm really pleased with how they're handling her character. The opening stuff gave us some good insight into her situation and why she wants out of it - no one acknowledges or talks to her for that whole first scene, and it really helps to sell her complaint that they treat her like a doll instead of a person. It actually communicated it better than Persona 4 did, I think. Her budding relationship with Yu is totally adorable and nicely set-up (if a little accelerated - she sure did start with that Narukami-kun / Narukami-sempai stuff awful quick, didn't she?). That opening "OH MAN IT'S A STALKER" stuff was a bit silly, but they characterize Rise as being intrigued by Yu seemingly having no idea that she's famous, which is a great way to kick things off with them. So, yeah! Good stuff!
Unfortunately, this episode was wildly uneven visually. A lot of the time it looked fine and a couple of times it looked incredible (the super-intense alternate opening comes to mind), but just as often, it looked pretty bad. This week was loaded with those completely still, three-frame-animation "this is a character talking and we're not gonna move anything but their mouth for 45 seconds so settle in!" moments, and for me, it's hard not to be distracted by that. They weren't particularly ugly shots, either - they were just incredibly static. I guess the silver lining is that if you're the type of person who spends a lot of time staring directly at the subtitles, it's possible you won't even notice, but I imagine that once the show gets dubbed, it's gonna be pretty tough not to notice that P4A occasionally moves like a shoddily-produced Flash animation.
Still, all that stuff is ultimately superficial, and I did enjoy this episode quite a bit. As I begin to get into the rhythm of this series, I'm finding that the characters are growing on me (the ones not named Yosuke, at least). I know I said it last week, but Yu especially seems to get more entertaining every episode. His dry sense of humor is the funniest part of this show, and as time goes on, it looks like we can verify those predictions that the show will characterize him more and more as his stat screen begin fills up. What's your take on this episode, Kris?
I do agree that the first minute of the episode really sells just how horrible it can be to live as a pop idol, but I still have a hard time feeling too much sympathy. To be idols, you pretty much have to pursue it. It's not similar to Yukiko, where she was born into the family inn. Still, she's a teenage girl, and did you hear when filming that commercial was set for? 8 to 4 AM! I take it the child labor laws are pretty liberal. I can't blame her for wanting to get away from that. I didn't find Rise's use of honorifics all that odd. It's polite speech to use them. Not using them can be very rude. It would mean more is she was using his given name.
As far as the opening, it's interesting that the song "True Story" is actually credited to Rise Kujikawa. Though it also notes that the actual singer is Rise's voice actress, Rie Kugimiya. It's cool that she's both the VA and the singer, but even Yukiko's VA, Ami Koshimizu, has performed songs for series. If you ever get the chance check out "Platinum Soul" or "One More Chance".
Uneven is a very diplomatic way of describing the animation this episode, I would say lazy. Far too often the scenes were just still images with mouths moving. The eyes weren't even blinking, and whole parts of dialog were happening off camera. The background extras were better animated in scenes than the main cast. That opening scene with Rise was really well animated, but I wonder if they spent their whole budget for this episode on the small chunk. You had a good description of comparing it to a Flash animation in many scenes, like when they caught the stalker. These sorts of things happen in anime for two reasons. It's either poor episode direction, as in the infamous Gurren Lagann Ep. 4; or budgetary issues, as with the later season of Neon Genesis Evangelion. We're only nine episodes into a twenty-five episode series. Since the DVD/BD are already being sold in Japan. I'm really hoping that they invest in fixing this episode before it's market release. There is some precedent for that. Code Geass R2 had some rather significant changes made to the animation after it aired on TV, but that was still well animated to begin with. I'm crossing my fingers, but not holding my breath.
Getting all that off my chest. The episode had a lot of good story beats. That's just what made the animation quality so annoying to me. I don't feel Kanji stood out so well in the game as he does here. Both he and Yu work well together as characters. One of my favorite lines was Kanji telling Yosuke to calm down while he stared at Rise's chest. Then there was Yu complimenting Chie's legs. You may have noticed that there was no Arcana card acquired in this episode. Yet, that scene with the manager, Inoue, was part of Rise's S. Linking in the game. That whole scene felt awkward as they put such an emphasis on Kanami replacing Rise in the movie. "Oh no, not Kanami Mashita".........だれ? (Who?)
I have to imagine this is the result of budgetary issues, right? Like, it's hard to imagine that this is their ideal look for the show. I've definitely used the word "lazy" before to describe this show's occasional less-than-stellar animation, but at a certain point, you have to think that if it were up to the creators, P4A would look a whole hell of a lot better than it does in most of this episode. What a bummer this must be for them!
As far as them fixing the show for the Blu-ray: that would be nice, wouldn't it? Bakemonogatari, the only other show I've written about for Anime Vice, had a similar situation where there were straight-up entire scenes missing from the TV airings, but they went back in and fixed it for the BD release. Hopefully that happens here, because, man, that "assessing the situation scene" in the first half of this episode was SUPER rough. Those 30-second-long, completely still shots where it's just three characters who aren't moving any part of their bodies except for their mouths have got to go.
I'm definitely no expert in Japanese honorifics, but my understanding has been that when "-kun" is used by a girl towards a guy, it's usually because they're emotionally attached to him. She's known Yu for, what, a day? I was surprised to hear her bust out the "-kun" business, but it's also possible I don't know what I'm talking about. School me!
I wish I had more to say about this episode, but besides the animation hitches, it was mostly just a pleasant episode of character introduction. I think I might like Rise more here than I did in the game, which is the first time that's happened since P4A started. Next week looks to be suitably nuts, too. What are your closing thoughts, Kris?
I know that others have criticized the animation before this, but I've never had a problem with it until now. My understanding is that the PS Vita version of Persona 4 is scheduled for release just around the same time this series is staring to close. That's been promising more animation and voice work than the original, and I'm starting to suspect they'll be just lifting assets from this anime for the game. Personally, I'd be happier to learn it was coming to PSN, because I wont be buying a Vita. The way you seem to feel toward Rise in the anime. I feel the same way about Kanji. They just stand out more.
The honorific "-kun" is said when referring to guys by any gender if they are either equals or under your station by age or rank. It can also be used when talking to women in the workplace. It's not at all surprising that Rise calls him either "-kun" or "-san". Either are basic courtesy, and don't imply emotional attachment. Everyone on the team already says "Kanji-kun". If you would like further education on honorifics. Just check out the page I created on Anime Vice for them. Did you notice this episode how Rise seemed surprised Yosuke and Kanji didn't use an honorific title? That's very rude to do with someone you don't know well. Yosuke and Yu do it, because they have a partner-like relationship. Though, they use family names. Chie and Yukiko are childhood friends and use their given names. A great series to follow in learning about honorifics would be Detective Conan, but only the Japanese version. The localization of the manga and anime ripped all of that out for the U.S.
In closing, I'm really saddened that the seriously spotty animation work has distracted our attentions from a lot of good story beats that were in this episode. It just couldn't be ignored. An anime series should be "animated" better than your average web comic. If I want long still images. I'll read a manga. If this is the only episode that has this issue, It can be forgiven, but I'll be ecstatic to learn they will reanimate several of these scenes. It's just disconcerting that this is happening so early into the series. I'm still looking forward to episode ten, as well. Now, to toss it to the readers. What are your thoughts?