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!
Just when you thought it was safe again to watch late night TV. The Midnight Channel is back. Wait a second, you mean to tell me that the murder-mystery portion wasn't finished with ten more episodes ago in Persona 4 The Animation? The rest of the anime wasn't just gong to be a dating-sim? Huh. As Yu and the rest of the Investigation Team are still having hangovers from their previous outing and all the fun that came with the summer. Naoto is pushing forward that the real killer is still out there, and willing to go to an extreme length to prove this deduction. When you thought it was shocking enough that Kubo wasn't the true killer. We finally get the dramatic reveal that our detective boy blue is actually a girl with gender identity issues. Nick and I had consciously always referred to Naoto as a boy for the sake of anyone new to the series. Romi Park was the perfect choice for the sexually ambiguous character. She's famous for voicing both male and female characters. Most anime fans would know her as the voice of Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist and Temari from NARUTO.
As a lover of mystery series, Persona 4 made me realize something I'd never noticed before. Pretty much all the great detectives in fiction are all males. There are some female detectives, but none have ever reached the same level as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Philip Marlowe, or even Batman. Why is that? There's Nancy Drew, but that's pretty much it for famous literary detectives. There's just this gap there that I'm surprised no one has ever really tried to fill. It had to be hard enough for Naoto to be taken seriously as a detective when she so young. The male dominated police probably wouldn't have given her the time of day even is she dragged the killer in hog tied and gift wrapped.
I was really happy with the art direction in this episode. The symbolism of darkness was strong in this one. My favorite moment had to be when Naoto was talking with the Investigation Team and walked up to the line of the shadow as he talked to them. When she declared her intentions of taking a bold step, she purposefully walked into the darkness. You don't get that same level of visuals in the game. It builds the drama. Yukiko is also picking up on the darkness filling the town. This is turning out to be a strong act three.
That's an interesting note you make about the voicework. I always felt like the actress they chose for Naoto in the English release of Persona 4 made it obvious early on that she wasn't just another dude, especially compared to the other male voices on the cast. In P4A, though, I think it's completely conceivable that someone could watch this and not realize that this boy detective was more detective than boy. It's hard to say for sure, since we obviously both knew going in, but I'd love to hear from someone who had no idea about the twist. I agree: they cast her perfectly!
I'm with you on the visuals this week - this was a remarkably well-directed episode. There were some killer 'shots' in there - for instance, the bit where the Midnight Channel turned off, revealing Yu's reaction in reflection in the screen. It pretty much all looked great, and even though there was a bit more 'assessing the situation' than I would've liked, it was a great-looking, tastefully put together episode overall.
While watching this, I found myself wishing a lot that a show like this had existed when I was younger. As much as I enjoyed procedural entertainment like Digimon as a kid, it would've been cool to have a good serial drama with fantasy elements like P4A to have invested in. This show is unapologetically a series, and it's crucial that it be watched in order. I respect that.
So how do you feel about the handling of Naoto's big reveal?
Well, the concept of women voicing young boys isn't only a Japanese thing, ala Bart Simpson. It just seems just easier for women to hit the pitch of a young boy over a man without sounding forced. Even now, Colleen Clinkenbeard is voicing Luffy for FUNimation's production of One Piece. I think she's doing a pretty fine job. The English version of Persona 4 had Naoto voiced by Susan Dalian. Her work in anime is limited, but she voiced Haku from Naruto and did perfectly well for that role. As you said, Naoto just stood out more next to the men voicing the boy roles. She still had to sound partly feminine after the reveal of being a girl. It would of been more jarring having her sound too much like a guy after that. The only problem I have now is that I need to keep proofreading when I write about her to stop typing "he" or other male pronouns.
The way the Investigation Team had to investigate Naoto to track her down in the Midnight Channel is what caught me off guard. Sure that's from the game, but the anime has simplified it down to using objects of that person for the other times. That's what they did for Kanji and Rise. I appreciated that touch. This is just the point in the story where Teddie's nose becomes pretty much useless, and Rise needs a role to play outside of battles.
So far, I think we've neglected an unsung star of this episode. That's once more Kanji. I did feel that part of his expanded Social Link story felt oddly disjointed with such a Naoto heavy episode. It all ties together in the end when they finally go to the Midnight Channel after Naoto. I think he realized that both he and Naoto struggle with their perceptions and expectations. While most of the team is trying to get Naoto not to fall into his Shadow's trap, Kanji wants her to work this out. It's because he knows that the rest of them became stronger and happier as people for overcoming their Shadow. It's incredibly reckless, but damn he looked so cool busting down that door.
Yeah, Kanji was fantastic. It's funny - in the game, it became irritating after a while that no one on the Investigaitonon Team ever bothered to warn anyone about the "YOU'RE NOT ME" trigger, but in P4A, where they figured it out pretty quickly, they've actually subverted that by having Kanji realize how necessary it is to face your Shadow. These characters are actually learning and developing over the course of the show, and it's a nice touch. Also: the way Kanji acts around Naoto continues to be totally adorable, and I'm looking forward to seeing how P4A's producers handle his reaction to her big gender reveal.
Yeah, the scenes with his mom felt a little irrelevant to the rest of the episode (and his "They're knitted animals, not stuffed" line felt very "THEY'RE NOT DOLLS THEY'RE ACTION FIGURES" to me), but here's the connection I see: the hospital stuff established that the only way Kanji knows how to express concern is through being super loud and angry. His whole thing is that he's kinda one of those 'misunderstood bully' types, who's so aggressively alternative and confrontational because he can't really communicate any other way. It's something we see reflected by his reaction to Naoto using herself as bait for the killer: he's not truly angry with her, just worried for her safety. They've done well at characterizing him in this show - he's one of the few characters I might prefer the P4A depiction of, and that's saying something, because I loved him in the game.
Next week's seem to close out the Naoto dungeon, but I'm more excited by the chance to see what body-modified old man Yosuke looks like. On to the next one!