Anime review: Persona 4: The Animation

Anime adaptations of video games and other licensed properties sometimes receive a bad reputation due to their nature of being produced solely to make a quick buck based on namesake. Persona 4: The Animation is a curious case of trimming a fifty-plus hour JRPG into a twenty-six episode series. There’s a lot to consider with such a bold undertaking – what gets left on the cutting room floor, how do the writers properly convey such a large and diverse main cast, and how could the variables unique to each individual player’s experiences factor in without alienating viewers? The result, while perhaps not perfect, is one of the more successful forays into adapting a video game to anime in recent years.

As with the video game, Persona 4: The Animation begins with Yu Narukami moving to the small town of Inaba to live with his Uncle Dojima, the local detective, and young cousin Nanako. Early on during his stay, Yu hears rumors of a television broadcast that airs rainy evenings as the clock strikes midnight, and begins to formulate with his friends and classmates as to whether this Midnight Channel might share any connection to a recent string of murders in the area. After a few brief ventures into the world behind the television screen, Yu and friends learn they must face their inner selves in order to call upon the Arcana powers of their own unique Personas and face off against the violent Shadows that inhabit the TV realm.

Yu is the lone exception to the rule of everyone hosting a singular Persona, as he can forge bonds with his friends and locals in order to expand his capabilities. While the actual process of his forging social links is largely glossed over in this anime version due these being left largely up to individual players’ discretion in the video game, a few episodes see Yu interacting with NPCs and taking time away from the murder case in order to help an old lady and tutor a child. The dungeons are typically completely explored within a single episode each, as the anime is less concerned with the process of fighting hordes of enemies and opening treasure chests, opting instead to place greater emphasis on the investigative team facing their shadow selves and subsequently revealing more about their personalities and character traits.

Key non-combat events from the game also receive ample attention, including the school camping trip and Miss Yasogami beauty pageant. It provides a fresh break from the otherwise intense atmosphere and darker color palettes within the TV world. The animation style itself is highly reminiscent of the few fully-animated cutscenes from the video game, though Persona 4: The Animation has a notably higher production quality than said sequences. A few new subplots, such as Nanako dressing up as a magical-girl-meets-Sherlock-Holmes anime protagonist and tailing Yu to find out what he has been up to all summer break, add a bit more lighthearted storytelling that is welcome in putting a slight spin on a story otherwise quite familiar to those who have already poured multiple days worth of time into the video game.

The majority of the cast from the video game’s localization return for the English dub of the anime, with only a couple change-ups – Chie’s being the most instantly noticeable, due to how heavily involved in the story she is from the outset. Johnny Yong Bosch’s voice work for Yu Narukami is a real treat – while he may not be highly talkative in order to preserve a sense of neutrality and focus the story more on Yosuke, Yukiko, Kanji, and so on, there are certain points in the anime where he will deliver lines of dialogue that would be considered the strange or obscure options in-game. This often creates evokes humorous responses from his companions. With many of the gaps bridged due to the anime not covering so much of the downtime between dungeons, Naoto’s inclusion in the story is more consistent, and Margaret prefaces nearly every episode, giving the Velvet Room a constant presence, though one that is left largely unexplained in this version of the story. Dojima is effectively reduced to a one-dimensional and often bitter individual, which makes his shift to becoming a more caring parent in the later episodes both sudden and clunky.

As is only to be expected, the endgame storylines see slower pacing in order to fully prepare viewers for the multi-layered revelations. They remain just as half-baked as in the video game version, however, and it is a shame that both interpretations of Persona 4 stumble over themselves so late in their runs. Aside from a couple of the events signifying a maxed out social link being shuffled around to places that proved more convenient in this version, Persona 4: The Animation remains largely unchanged from its video game counterpart, and given how story-heavy the game was to begin with, that’s probably just as well. There is little revolutionary about this adaptation, but at the same time, it does exactly what it sets out to do, offering ample time to highlight Naoto’s gender dysphoria, Rise’s stress from life in the spotlight, and Teddie’s existentialism.

My rating: 7 (out of 10)

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