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Anime Amateur: PERSONA 4 #1

So far, this show is a perfect recreation of the source material. But is that a good thing?

Welcome to Anime Amateur, a feature where yours truly (Nick Robinson, Whiskey intern) comes out of anime-watching retirement and jumps into the deep end with some of the stranger shows the world of Japanese animation has to offer. Join me as I try desperately to find my bearings in this strange and often beautiful land. My goal? To filter these shows through a decidedly non-otaku perspective. Let's dive in!

If you're reading this, odds are you're as big of a Persona 4 fan as I am. I'd even be comfortable guessing that more than a few of you don't consider yourselves 'anime people.' As you might have gathered from the title of this feature, neither do I! But for many of us non-Japanophiles, Persona 4 is sort of the exception that proves the rule; it's a distinctly anime-ass thing, but, for some reason, it captured the imaginations of many of us who otherwise wouldn't give most JRPGs the time of day. There's something truly special about Persona 4, and even if our fascination with it is just repeat exposure effect, it seems like this is an affliction many of us are stuck with.

Which helps explain the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the Whiskey Media community when the Persona 4: The Animation was announced. An animated take on one of our most treasured story-driven games, with all the dungeon-grinding bits replaced by action scenes? Who wouldn't be excited?

Well, it's here, and thanks to The Anime Network, it's being simulcast both in Japan and here (with subtitles). Convenience! Here's episode 1, for your viewing pleasure:

So, how is it? It's...all right! I think!

Here's the thing: This show is a lot like Persona 4. Like, a lot. If this first episode is any indication, they've used the PS2 game as a show bible, and the anime is alarmingly faithful to the source material as a result. The shelves in protagonist's bedroom, the buttons on Chie's jacket, even the homeroom seating chart (Sleeping Student is still conked out right behind the empty desk): virtually every detail of Inaba is reflected perfectly here.

This is a still from the show, not the game. Yes, seriously.
This is a still from the show, not the game. Yes, seriously.

And the P4 fanboy in me is beside himself. This first episode gave me a taste of the feeling I imagine Star Wars diehards had when they first saw the Episode I trailer; every time I recognized a person, place or thing from the game, I was elated. Which was something that happened a lot, because holy shit does this show ever cram plot points in!

If the Endurance Run is any indication, this first episode of P4A condenses over 90 minutes of pure story into a 25-minute episode. In one episode, we're introduced to the Velvet Room, the Dojima family, the adultery scandal, the concept of the Midnight Channel, shadows, Personas, Chie, Yukiko, Yosuke, Morooka, Teddy, Young Detective and at least a dozen other characters and locations. The resulting show is packed to overflowing with details, eager to fit every reference in, but ends up feeling a bit shallow as a result. What we have on our hands here is, so far, the Watchmen movie of anime: something so perfectly, unflinchingly loyal to the source material that it might actually be worse for it.

For me, the strongest part of Persona 4 was always the characters. In its 100+ hours, the game made ample time for its cast to just hang out between investigations. My worry is that if P4A continues to be a frantic Cliff's Notes of the game's main story beats, it'll miss what made the original stand out for me.

Get used to this blank expression: you're going to be seeing a lot of it.
Get used to this blank expression: you're going to be seeing a lot of it.

Also, can we talk for a second about what an awful anime protagonist Charlie Tunoku Yu Narukami makes? Like, he has literally zero personality traits. In the game, he works great a proxy for the player, but as a main character of a television show, he's about as charismatic as the paddle from Breakout.

I mean, let's try for a second to understand what this show would be like to someone who has no idea what Persona 4 is. Seriously, imagine it. Did you see how confused the person you just imagined was?

Look, there's a part of me that'll be satisfied if this show continues to be nothing more than a shot-for-shot anime version of the game. I've even seen some folks complain that the way Yu summons his first Persona is different from how it went down originally. And I'm not gonna lie: when I yelled at the screen after seeing that Yosuke was in the trash can but not rolling around in the trash can, I was only half-kidding. There's a reason Persona 3 fans reacted as cooly they did to 2008 series Persona: Trinity Soul: it had nearly nothing to do with the game, and it seems like Atlus got the message.

But what we've got here isn't even a retelling - it's just a telling! I definitely plan to keep watching, but right now, I'm not certain that this show has a ton of value outside "Hey, it's Persona 4! Again!"

So what do you guys think? Is this what you wanted out of a Persona 4 anime? If any of you are completely new to Persona 4, what was your reaction to this first episode? Let us know what you thought in the comments!

Nick Robinson is a Whiskey Media intern and a journalism student. Won't you follow him on Twitter at @Babylonian? He'd be ever so appreciative!

ReyGitanoon Oct. 10, 2011 at 12:27 a.m.

I had the exact same thoughts after watching this; it's great to be able to visit Persona 4 again, but outside this select group of Persona 4 fanatics, I don't think this anime has legs to run on.

jasonbrazeltonon Oct. 10, 2011 at 1:15 a.m.

I loved the first episode, besides Teddie's voice which was reminiscent of Ebisumaru's in Mystical Ninja Goemon. It set the pace of such a long game perfectly for a television show, both highlighting the main plot and hinting to the social links/aspect of the game. Never really knowing for people outside of the P4 hype, I can't say much for it having legs, but it has me looking forward for more.

newmarcomon Oct. 10, 2011 at 2:11 a.m.

I have so many mixed feelings about what I watched. I wish it wasn't so accelerated with the plot points to fully appreciate the in-your-face fanservice. I hope there is a non-game side story episode with the main cast at some point.

amomjcon Oct. 10, 2011 at 4:31 a.m.

Having never played Persona 4 (and refusing to visit an old system like the ps2) I am excited to watch this after I get the baby all ready with her morning routines. Being like much of the source material is a great thing and if more of the audience and publishers put this out, I think it could draw a crowd.

ComicMan24on Oct. 10, 2011 at 5:26 a.m.

As someone who had never heard of Persona 4 until a few days ago here in AV, I checked the first episode and it was interesting. Can't say that it was great but it was only the first episode. At least since I haven't played the game, I will be surprised by the plot.

Groundingson Oct. 10, 2011 at 5:59 a.m.

As a big fan of the game and anime in general, I agree with everything in this post and hope they slow the pace a couple of notches down. It would had been perfectly fine to omit some parts of the fan service because it looked unnatural. Like Yosuke spontaneously wanted to go to the toilet. They might as well added the trio making a hard land into the shadow world, but they didn't. A major plus is the music cues hit perfectly! From the intro music to the battle theme.

Ronarinon Oct. 10, 2011 at 7:28 a.m.

To be fair, Persona 4 is somewhat known for that long introduction scene and how long it takes to get into the first battle. Perhaps they're just rushing through this part to move it along.

Also, about the main character, my theory is that he is meant to be completely shallow and boring. Hence his status, like all of us when we came to Inaba, all stats at their lowest. As the plot progresses perhaps so will his bravery, emotion, and so on.

Just a theory, of course.

Daniel_Newton moderator on Oct. 10, 2011 at 7:48 a.m.

I think it's great that you're covering this series Nick, should bring a bunch of people over from Giant Bomb who ordinarily wouldn't drop by, and give everyone a place to discuss each episode.

I haven't watched this yet (might watch it later today) but if they change things too much Persona 4 fans will go nuts, so they'll have to be careful with it, should be interesting.

LifeByDegreeson Oct. 10, 2011 at 7:54 a.m.

@Ronarin That makes sense.- Though I hope it doesn't take 3 seasons to get him high enough for his character to be enjoyable- or at least reasonable enough to stay quiet.

I'm fine with the pacing of the action and story points- I do believe that the best parts of Persona 4 are the characters. I think the art style they're using- which is closer to the traditional - more serious/deadpan style in the older Persona games- is a weakness in this respect- as the more laid bakc more comic strip like imagery that occurs in the conversation portions is more what I want out of the show.

That may be more to the fact that this is a show built first and foremost for Japan.

Perhaps my dream of a more cartoony version of the show with the American voice actors will come true one day.

Catolfon Oct. 10, 2011 at 8:29 a.m.

Okay, I'm going to sit and say I enjoyed the persona 4 endurance Run. But I will also said I didn't enjoy Persona 4 as a game. I still don't. All the characters everyone seems to love 'Chie/Yosuke" i honestly can't stand. (except Kanji.. Kanji should have been the lead I say!) I didn't like them and wanted rid of the the moment it began.

Here's the problem:

I LIKED this anime. Yes it's following the rails of the tail of the game but It could be the change of VA that is making me like the characters I normally despise. I'm not Japanese VA buff, i can't tell you one VA from another, but something about it makes me a little more in favor of them..

They made Chie CUTE with her VA... it's just hard for me to fathom her as cute.. it breaks my brain. Her English VA made her sound more tomboy, thus more brash and for me annoying. Yet her VA here (and most likely in the JP version of the game) was damn right adorable.

I'm sure i'll grow to dislike Yosuke cause you can't make a douche cute but i digress..

I like this. I want to see where they are going with it and in all honesty I think Persona 4 will make a better anime than game (at least for me) so i'm eager to continue to watch as Yu gains more stats (and if you noticed most of Yu's responses are from his in game responses.. so..XP) and turns into a more likeable character, but I see why they did it, and it's interesting.

Babylonian staff on Oct. 10, 2011 at 10:01 a.m.

@Ronarin said:

To be fair, Persona 4 is somewhat known for that long introduction scene and how long it takes to get into the first battle. Perhaps they're just rushing through this part to move it along.

Also, about the main character, my theory is that he is meant to be completely shallow and boring. Hence his status, like all of us when we came to Inaba, all stats at their lowest. As the plot progresses perhaps so will his bravery, emotion, and so on.

Just a theory, of course.

I love this idea. If their plan is to have Yu emerge as his own character over the course of the show (which they kind of have to do, if they plan on incorporating any of the romances), I think that's brilliant.

mutha3on Oct. 10, 2011 at 10:11 a.m.

@Babylonian said:

@Ronarin said:

To be fair, Persona 4 is somewhat known for that long introduction scene and how long it takes to get into the first battle. Perhaps they're just rushing through this part to move it along.

Also, about the main character, my theory is that he is meant to be completely shallow and boring. Hence his status, like all of us when we came to Inaba, all stats at their lowest. As the plot progresses perhaps so will his bravery, emotion, and so on.

Just a theory, of course.

I love this idea. If their plan is to have Yu emerge as his own character over the course of the show (which they kind of have to do, if they plan on incorporating any of the romances), I think that's brilliant.

That would be pretty badass, but... I mean, come on, so far this thing has pretty much been a carbon copy of the game.

Put me down as another person who enjoyed the show, but realizes it probably isn't any good when looking at it from a critical perspective. This adaptation loses the most important and competently handled parts of Persona 4: characterization and atmosphere. So far, Yosuke and Chie have only shown their respective dumb anime gimmicks and it hasn't shown us anything that made the characters seem more human than anime trope(I think Nanako is the biggest victim of this, though).

Also, this director sucks! Remember how tense and mysterious the first entry into Mayonaka was in the game? Welp, have a bunch of piss jokes instead that don't fit what is going on at all and completetly ruin the tension. The director seems to suffer from ADD and from what I heard of Angel Beats, that show has the same awkward mood swings.

(on that note, jesus christ, like half the episode was urinal jokes involving Yosuke. Of all the stuff they cut out, they kept and emphazised THAT?)

AURON570on Oct. 10, 2011 at 11:41 a.m.

I have pretty much the same thoughts. I remember when P4A was announced I thought, "You know..I probably wouldn't check this out if I hadn't watched the endurance run." I'm pretty interested to hear what a person who has never been exposed to has to P4 say about the show.

Little_Socrateson Oct. 10, 2011 at 11:45 a.m.

Those familiar with Angel Beats! (the director's previous work) know we didn't get much character development in that show for a little while, but it wound up having an awesome protagonist and supporting cast. I have a feeling Persona 4 will go that route shortly; at this breakneck pace, they could probably finish the entire series, true ending included, in sixteen episodes with every plot detail hit and no character development beyond the main plot. On a second viewing, I thought it was a totally reasonable pace.

Those less familiar with Persona 4 seem more worried than I do, but Nanako is already adorable and Chie is already more likable than she is in the game. These things bode well for the future of the series. Also, the MC stats screen that appears at the midway point implies he'll become more confident and personable very soon. He does begin the game as a dumb, quiet, somewhat rude individual.

Marshal Victoryon Oct. 10, 2011 at 12:09 p.m.

Never played the game. Know nothing of the source material. But liked the episode.

GlenTennis staff on Oct. 10, 2011 at 12:23 p.m.

I liked it.

Deep, I know.

chickdigger802on Oct. 10, 2011 at 12:37 p.m.

Biggest problem I have is that this show obviously has a pretty low budget. Not much movement at all and the effects are pretty meh. And for the most part, the first eps of a show is where you go all out to get the viewers.

I'll keep watching it, but my expectations are pretty low.

MeatSimon Oct. 10, 2011 at 1:17 p.m.

I am gonna keep watching even though I know it's just gonna be Persona 4 again at a faster pace and with very little differentiation.

Winterneton Oct. 10, 2011 at 1:47 p.m.

All I need from Persona 4 is the Endurance Run. In fact, I'm going to watch some episodes just for fonzies.

selfconfessedcynicon Oct. 10, 2011 at 1:53 p.m.

I was so pumped for this. And youknow what? I'm really happy! :D-/-<

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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