Persona 4 the Golden Animation
Episodes 1-7

by Miles Nelson,

Persona 4 The Golden Animation is an anime adapted from a port of the popular Playstation 2 video game for the PS Vita, but with an altered story and new characters. The original Persona 4 is considered by many to be an excellent example of the JRPG genre, with a fun battle system and interesting story and characters. Its popularity was substantial enough for there to be not one but two anime made based on it: The Golden is the second. I have never played the game or seen the first anime, but I heard good things from friends about both and was excited to review the new series for ANN. Unfortunately, Persona 4 The Golden has proven, in its first seven episodes, to be very difficult for new viewers to understand, much less enjoy.

The first episode begins with the arrival of high school student Yu Narukami in the small town of Inaba to stay with his uncle Dojima and younger cousin Nanako for a year. Yu is portrayed as a cool, quiet young man who is quick to make friends at the local high school. One night, he tunes into the mysterious midnight channel and soon finds himself struggling against surreal monsters in a dream world along with his new friends. When it looks like their fate is sealed, Yu summons a strange avatar called a Persona and destroys the monsters in a surge of amazing attacks. He smiles, turns to the camera…and then the series drops everything pertaining to the mind-blowing weirdness just shown. For the next few episodes, none of the characters discuss what they saw in that otherworldly place; we aren't given any explanation for the monsters, the Persona, or any of it. Instead, the series shifts into a slice-of-life show about Yu and his friends engaging in teenage hijinks like going to the beach or starting their own band. While this sudden switch of focus is extremely confusing, the adventures of Yu and friends are moderately fun and enjoyable, with some laughs to be had every episode. There's just one problem: the Midnight channel plot from episode one is still going on, it's just not being shown to the audience. Episodes will introduce new characters out of the blue, with all the other members of the cast acting as if they've known them all along. Past events that were never shown are referred to constantly, and when the story finally focuses on the Personas again in episodes six and seven, the viewers have no frame of reference for what is going on. As someone new to the franchise, I can only conclude that the creators cut out the parts of the story that were shown in the first anime (even though that was made by a different studio) and only showed the parts of the story that were unique to the PSP version. The result is a series that has massive parts of it cut out and is almost incomprehensible on its own.

The only element of the plot that feels complete is the arc of Marie, a character not featured in the first anime/PS2 game. Marie is a reserved, curious young woman with amnesia, so most of her story arc concerns her attempts to recover her memories. Marie's not a badly written or annoying character, but she is fairly boring compared to the other characters. It's the other members of the cast that feel the most interesting, from softhearted tough guy Kanji to likable doofus Yousuke to meat-obsessed Chie. They're the ones with the most consistently funny antics that form the most entertaining parts of the show. These characters win you over and make you want to get to know them, but the truncated nature of the series makes that difficult. The Golden could have been such a better show if it had given its cast the space they deserved. As it is, they bring moments of genuine levity to the proceedings, but not enough.

On the technical side, the animation of Persona 4: The Golden is equally as awkward and mishandled as the characters and story. Movement is largely jerky and characters often look sloppy and off model during wide shots. The few Midnight channel fight scenes make gratuitous use of poorly integrated CGI, which further distracts from the experience. On the plus side, the angles of the “camera” are usually well done and several moments of editing (such as the memory montage in episode 7) are quite excellent. The audio component is similarly mixed, with the score consisting of boring, forgettable songs, despite strong performances across the board from the voice cast. Like the story, the audio/visual aspect could have been much better if given a little more time and effort.

Persona 4: The Golden episodes 1-7 are not devoid of entertainment value: with colorful characters, a good vocal cast, and some funny scenarios, it can bring a smile to your face. Unfortunately, its “best-of list” plot, sub-standard animation and a general veneer of mediocrity overshadow these positive elements. Fans of the Persona 4 video games will probably be able to fill in the story's gaps and take more interest in Marie's story, but The Golden is a hard-to-follow, unfulfilling mess for the uninitiated.

Rating: C

Persona 4 the Golden Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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