Persona 4: The Animation
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
Since in-game purchases seem to be a hot topic in the video game world these days, I figured I'd offer up a potentially obvious piece of advice as someone who's bought and collected all kinds of junk over the years. When it comes to entertainment, be it games, anime, or whatever, buy awesome stuff that makes you happy. Don't talk yourself into wasting money on crap that bores or annoys you just to keep up with what everyone else is doing. Remember, this is all supposed to be fun. With that little rant out of the way, welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Persona 4: The Animation
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Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$84.98
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Extra: We have episode reviews for seasons 1 and 2 of this series. If you're new to the Tales franchise, this feature article might be a good place to start. Both seasons are available streaming on Funimation.
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Extra: While I haven't seen this series myself, I know it has a reputation for being completely bonkers. You'll find reviews of previous releases here and here, and it's available streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.
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Shelf Life Reviews
This week, Gabriella dives into the world of video game adaptations with a review of Persona 4: The Animation.
For anyone not in the know, Persona 4's story starts with MC-kun (given the chuuni-tastic official name of Yu Narukami for this version of events) moving to the rural town of Inaba. When a series of grisly murders start happening, Yu takes it upon himself to solve them. These events are definitely supernatural in nature—our heroes discover that an alternate dimension exists within their televisions and is probably being used to kill people. They also gain Personas, summonable Stand-like beings that represent their inner selves and aid them in combat. The adventures to follow will teach them about the value of human connection, as well as the importance of being honest about their own desires.
Right away, this anime runs into a few adaptive difficulties. The biggest is that the original game was structured like a visual novel, where you picked your activities every day over the course of about a year or so. You could max out around 20 characters' routes like that, meaning that there's potentially a lot of material to stuff into this 25-episode show. Worse, characters' stories weren't delivered all at once in episodic chunks, but intermixed with one another over the course of months of gameplay. Can you imagine a version of this anime where you got an early-route scene with one character, then another scene with someone else, then again with a third one, over and over again until all their stories culminated at once in episode 20? That's what playing the game is like, but it would have been intolerable as an anime series.
This adaptation comes up with a decent solution for this by placing most of its structural emphasis on the game's linear main story and working most of the minor social links into this material somehow. Afterwards, any remaining holes were patched up by original material, and some of it was actually pretty good! To me, this anime worked best when it was being comedically self-referential about the game and its mechanics. I was most engaged during the “summer break” episodes, where the production team had to figure out what to do with a month-long period of mostly unstructured free time for the player. They knocked out quite a few social links in quick succession by inventing an original framing story about the crazy min-maxing shenanigans that the player has to pull off in order to complete every route in the game. This is the tone that would eventually be adopted more fully in Persona 4 The Golden Animation, a later anime series that adapts the bonus material from the game's expanded re-release.
Otherwise, as an adaptation of Persona 4's main story, this anime was fairly dull. Neither the animation nor the direction are particularly impressive, and they don't even bother to adapt the big climatic fight scenes to not be obvious turn-based JRPG battles with the interactivity stripped away. The story parts are mostly just scenes from the game recreated in animation with middling production values. There are even a few moments when this show's version of events is noticeably inferior to the game's. For example, they insert a bunch of extra gay panic reactions into a part of the story that was originally a fairly serous account of someone questioning their sexuality. While some of these were present in the game, they arguably had a purpose (they were mostly limited to one character who may have had his own stuff going on), but in this version everyone partakes in this disgust, including the MC. It was to the game's credit that it didn't dictate the player's reactions much, and this is a deviation where doing so actually hurts the story significantly.
The only way I can see someone getting really into this version of the story is if they don't have access to the original game somehow. Considering how long ago Persona 4 (and it's re-release, Persona 4 The Golden) came out, there can't be many people interested in playing the game who haven't already given it a shot at this point. The game is the definitive version of events, while this anime amounts to a fairly basic cashgrab expansion into another medium. On that fairly basic level at least, Persona 4 The Animation isn't bad or even entirely lazy. Lots of people are still super invested in this story, which seems to have created enough demand for this show to get released again and again. It was fun to see the cast engaged in some new hijinks, even if I'm beyond done with sitting through that first week of introductory cutscenes for the umpteenth time. Watching it was also a nice reminder of why Persona 4 is so beloved – it's a relatable story about isolated teens confronting their problems, forming bonds with one another, and using their newfound confidence to make the world a better place. You get friends, cool clothes, and a personal combat demon! What could be better than that?
In terms of extras, this release is fairly comprehensive. It features the director's cut of the first episode, a series of shorts that were included with the final Japanese blu-ray volume, an informative legend on the mythology behind Izanami and Izanagi, and all of the Japanese episode commentaries. It includes both the sub and the dub, the latter of which is largely consistent with the game's English vocal track. The main difference is that the character Naoto (whose original voice goes uncredited) has been recast as Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Otherwise, there's little difference.
Short of the Collector's Edition that Sentai put out a few years ago, this is as comprehensive a release of Persona 4 The Animation as you could expect to get. It's an adequate version of a beloved story, and while I wouldn't recommend this anime as an introduction for people curious about the franchise, if your love for these kids spills over into ancillary materials, you might want to get this. If this review were for the game, it'd be an easy “Shelf Worthy,” but due to its limits as an adaptation, I can only give it a “Rental.”
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Elizabeth:
"I've been collecting since 2003 or so, when I started buying Cardcaptor Sakura manga and got a couple DVDs on sale. There's not much to say about it without having too much to say, so... I acknowledge that I have a problem. I want to collect everything - discs, figures, keychains, plush... but there's never enough space. Or money. But, I don't really want to stop either. (I have stopped buying physical manga and light novels in favor of ebooks, though, so hopefully that will help a bit on both shelf space and my wallet.)"
Having lots of stuff ain't a problem as long as it's stuff you enjoy, and that looks like a collection full of things to enjoy. I love the shelf full of Pokemon plushes, which looks like an adorable avalanche waiting to happen. Thanks for sharing!
Got a collection of your own that you'd like to show off? Send me your photos at [email protected]!
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