Anime Reviews: Persona 4 - The Animation
Even though P4A faithfully follows the video game's story, what should've been one of the greatest adaptations of all time ended up being a mediocre bore.
Title: Persona 4 - The Animation a.k.a. P4A
Production: AIC ASTA / Aniplex
Series Length: 25 episodes
Air Dates: 10/6/2011 to 3/29/2012
Age Rating: 13+ (mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Yu Narukami is a normal kid who just happens to be transferring schools, from the big city to the rural town of Inaba. As he begins to settle into his new life, a string of murders occurs in Inaba, throwing the city into a state of fear and anxiety. At the same time, Yu encounters a dream-like zone called the Velvet Room, in which an old man named Igor tells him of a great fate and a great disaster about to fall upon his shoulders. From that day forward, Yu must continue being an average teenager while tracking down a serial killer, before more lives are lost.
The Good: Crisp artwork; game soundtrack works well; some intense character moments; mostly faithful to original game; contains the best opening theme ever
The Bad: Rushed beyond belief; almost zero character development; forced comedy; choppy and inconsistent animation
The Ugly: Margaret's purpose is very unclear
I will preface this review by saying Persona 4 is probably my favorite video game of all time, and I was ec-freaking-static when I heard an anime adaptation was being made. The game's graphics left much to be desired, and I was anxious to see how some of the scenes would play out without the limitations of the game's engine, so when P4A began airing, I watched the everloving crap out of it. Soon, all my hopes and dreams of an astoundingly astonishing anime would be shattered.
But before we get to the slaughter, we'll cover the good points of P4A. First off, the artwork and character designs look great here. Just like the original, the art has a high contrast between bright colors and dark shadows, which gives it a distinct feel and keeps your attention. The voice acting is a bit flat, compared to the video game, but it's not bad. Each character sounds like they should. Musically, most of the soundtrack comes straight from the video game, which some would call lazy, but I feel that there would've been no better way to do it, considering the original soundtrack was near-perfect; however, the opening and ending themes are entirely original, and that includes "Key Plus Words," quite possibly the greatest opening theme for an anime of all time.
Anyone who's played P4 will tell you that its greatest facets are the characters and the story. As far as the story is concerned, P4A is as faithful as its 25-episode length will allow it to be, covering the major plot points and character introductions almost exactly word-for-word from the original game, so veterans will be pleased and newcomers should be able to follow along without any real trouble. When P4A does change things up, it's mostly during the Shadow battles, where the characters begin to show their dark sides and their true selves, and the changes made are usually phenomenally well-done, adding intense emotion to these mostly neglected characters.
And that leads me right into the chief problem with P4A: 25 episodes doesn't cut it, guys. In my run of the original game, I took about 83 hours to beat it. Keep in mind, I watched videos to learn about the game, so I knew what I was doing, and I barreled through it. About 30 hours of those 83 were spent in the dungeons, so that means there's 53 hours worth of story and character development in the game. 25 episodes of an anime series comes out to about 10-11 hours. While they did manage to squeeze the main story into this timeframe fairly well, all we end up with is the bare bones of Persona 4, and every character ends up with about 5 minutes' worth of arcs and development. This is especially infuriating when valuable time is spent on forcing in a few lame jokes and lame slapstick. The original game had enough comedy and it doesn't need any additional help, thank you.
While I was thinking about which character got the least amount of development, I couldn't help but think of Margaret, Igor's assistant in the Velvet Room. In the original game, she maintains your Persona compendium and crushes on the main character while giving him useful advice and generally does most of the talking in the Velvet Room; in the anime, she tells Yu that he's unlocked another Arcana, and says she can't wait to see what others he unlocks. And that's it. While that's bad enough, as I've said before, the other named characters only get marginally more onscreen development than Margaret does. It's just shameful.
And just to put the toilet-fudge frosting on the cake, that 'crisp artwork' I mentioned earlier is done a terrible injustice by the animation, which is often very choppy and inconsistent. Characters' faces will warp drastically as the camera sweeps, movements are sudden and inhuman, and there's a real lack of in-between work. P4A is simultaneously pleasing and painful to look at. I can tell what they were trying for--a hyper-stylized action aesthetic that GAINAX has perfected over their 25+ year history, but it's imitated poorly here, looking cheap rather than mind-blowing.
In the end, my dream of a perfect Persona 4 adaptation was trampled into dust. Sure, the story came through almost intact, but it came at the cost of the characters' humanity, robbing them of their subtleties and background. Because of the sheer length of the game, I was hoping for at least 52 episodes to cover all of it, but apparently someone higher up the ranks decided 10 hours was enough to cover a 50-hour story.
Final Score: 5.5 out of 10. Persona 4 - The Animation could have easily been the best video game adaptation ever made, but misguided direction and executive meddling hamstrung it before the gates were opened.