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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!

arch4nonon Oct. 12, 2011 at 7:03 p.m.

I'd just watch Giant Bomb's endurance run of Persona 4 rather than this anime adaptation.

Darokion Oct. 12, 2011 at 9:04 p.m.

@The_Great_Skenardo said:

@Babylonian: That's actually exactly what happened with the manga. It has the same character development wheel, and as that gets filled out more and more as the series progresses, the protagonist's character actually starts coming to the fore. Especially as December rolls around...

Could not be happier hearing this. When it was mentioned earlier I was hoping this was the direction the show was going to go in, and hearing the manga did it gives me hope the anime will follow suit. As much as Yui/Charlie is a cipher, they need to fill that cipher with a personality for an anime or manga to work. If you're right, they realized that, which should greatly benefit the show down the road.

audio_defecton Oct. 15, 2011 at 12:57 p.m.

Just got through watching it and I can't wait for more. Seriously, I think it will keep the new comers to the series interested. The character designs are pretty awesome.

Levanceon Oct. 15, 2011 at 1 p.m.

Did ya hear?, it seems that two persons working in the project resigned, because the pay wasn't fair, and sometimes even delayed

DrGreatJobon Oct. 18, 2011 at 11:39 p.m.

Okay, this is dead-on Persona 4, but I realized that I don't even like Persona 4 without Jeff and Vinny. Those two guys have great interaction and commentary. While I enjoyed the story and characters of the game, it was made all to clear while watching this episode that this anime will not be for me. Still, seeing something so faithful to the source material is refreshing.

Hailinelon Oct. 18, 2011 at 11:43 p.m.

@Levance said:

Did ya hear?, it seems that two persons working in the project resigned, because the pay wasn't fair, and sometimes even delayed

That has yet to be corroborated, nor has it made any impact in the shows quality thus far if true.

gamermatt8on Oct. 22, 2011 at 8:41 p.m.

I like the episode but i don't like the way they are doing this. If someone who didn't know anything about Persona 4 watched this they would be lost. It moved way too fast trying to throw in as many plot points as possible as quickly as possible. If you know the game it is easy to keep up with but I feel it would be better if they had more than just -plot point, transition, plot point- I say they should move slower maybe add in some of the scenes they may have seen as filler. Even possibly go to the length and add in some original events that they think would fit into the plot of the game. Also I was excited at all of the game tie ins as well, specifically the stats screen and the day transition. They should definitely expand on Yu's character in this too. It felt like he was just standing there watching plot happen throwing a line or two in whenever. It didn't real like he was really involved to me. Igor's eyes are nightmare fuel. Also I just loved how he unzipped his jacket while fighting as if he had gained the right to do it now that he had power.

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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