Persona 4: The Animation: Collection 1
Studio: AIC ASTA/Aniplex
Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 18, 2012
That's probably where the idea for Persona 4: The Animation stemmed from, in a bid to stuff all the delicious content from the expansive RPG into one neat little 26-episode package ready for rapid consumption. The Blu-ray set has finally released (much to the chagrin of slighted fans, as this edition is region-locked and English dub only) and it's time to explore the Midnight Channel's mysteries. Slide on your favorite pair of glasses and get ready to explore the bizarre inner secrets of your true self.
Where the protagonist was nameless in the game, our silver-haired hero is named Yu Narukami now, likely to keep things straight and less confusing in terms of narrative. As his parents are away on business, Yu has arrived in the big city to go to school for one year. He's rooming with uncle Ryotaro Dojima and his daughter Nanako while attending Yasogami High School. Yu finds himself mixed up with a rather colorful cast of characters, culled straight from the available party members in the game. There's clumsy Yosuke, who's still getting used to the countryside and settling into his role as the son of the manager of the biggest chain store in Inaba, Junes. He's not exactly well-liked by the family-owned businesses dotting the town, and for good reason -- they're scared of being pushed out. Then there's Chie, a tomboy who has a soft spot for kung fu movies, steak dinners, and being loud and raucous, but like most characters of her archetype, she's got a tender side to her as well. Yukikos in line to take over her family's inn. She's a beautiful young woman with a decidedly dark side. Then you have Kanji, the confused tough guy who's coming to terms with his sexuality and his personality as a whole, and the rest of the gang cut from the same intriguing cloth.
The ragtag group, as you're likely well aware, is assembled through a murder mystery of sorts. When bizarre killings begin cropping up all over Inaba, the Midnight Channel pops up on TVs across town, showing unsettling videos of the next murder victim. Eventually Yu and the others learn (via a fateful visit to Junes) that they can actually go inside the TV to a world teeming with Shadows. In said world, each member of the group can summon powerful beings known as Personas, another facet of your true self. The battles rage on, each character eventually forced to come to terms with their shadow selves during the raucous ride. Their guide through this distorted world is a strange being in a super-deformed bear suit known only as Teddie. Sound trippy? That's because it is. Persona 4, like the rest of the MegaTen series, is in a class all its own to be sure, but that's undoubtedly part of its charm.
Persona 4: The Animation adheres strictly to the narrative, straying here and there in the form of additional incidental characters (a noodle shop girl, for instance) and other instances where players familiar with the game will certainly notice. It's remarkably close to the game content, so close in fact that actual scripting from pivotal scenes were left intact. It's very obvious which, but the recycling didn't feel stagnant like I had anticipated, and instead a giddy feeling washed over me the very first time I heard Nanako speak. For veterans of the RPG cult classic, the little aesthetic touches and eyecatches as well as the inclusion of in-game elements really sell the series as a complete package. Days change the way they would in-game, complete with the animation to depict it. Battles play out in a much similar manner, and even the character coloring/shading is implemented in a way that feels as though you're truly watching the fantastic game play out before your eyes. It's such an authentic and real experience that often you'll find yourself reaching for a controller after the current "cut scene" has been completed, only to remember that all you need to do is sit back and enjoy.
There's an astronomical amount of content packed into the 26 episodes here, and for an RPG that can easily take hundreds of hours to complete to a hardcore gamer's satisfaction, each major plot point was addressed neatly, even if social links, major encounters, and dungeon-raiding episodes seemed a bit as if they were tacked on at the last minute to add more weight to the otherwise straightforward adaptation. Such an undertaking was no doubt a difficult one, and while there appear to have been some corners cut (low-budget animation at times, "talking heads") to present such a beloved tale in the gaming community, what you're left with is a slick, gorgeous release that's actually a refreshing alternative to the typical video game-to-anime adaptations that never seem to get things quite right.
Shoji Meguro returns with a fantastic score and engaging openings and closings, and the English dub cast is straight from the original game -- if you're not typically into dub tracks, you'll want to steer clear since as previously mentioned there was no included Japanese track. The American cast did a fantastic job, however, of bringing the characters to life and do the same here, right down to Nanako's adorable singing. It's not going to appeal to everyone, of course, but it's competent work that should still satisfy.
The 13 episodes included in this collection are a healthy beginning to the series and offer a great way for first-time Persona fans or even seasoned veterans to relive some of their favorite moments without compromising so much of their free time. Coincidentally, it also holds the rather high distinction of being one of the greatest anime adaptations of a popular game I've had the pleasure of checking out.
8.0 - Great. A great example of its genre that everyone should see, regardless of their interest.