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.
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.
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!