Anime Reviews: Persona 4: The Golden Animation
Persona 4: The Golden Animation may be solid in the visual/audio departments and have flashes of brilliance, but it contains very little else for non-fans.
Title: Persona 4: The Golden Animation a.k.a. P4GA
Production: A-1 Pictures
Series Length: 12 episodes + 1 OVA
Air Dates: 7/10/2014 to 9/25/2014
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language, brief partial nudity)
Summary: Yu Narukami is a city boy moving to the country town of Inaba while his parents are overseas on business. Shortly after arriving, he bumps into a strange girl before meeting with his uncle Dojima and younger cousin Nanako, whom he will be living with for the next year. The town, however, is abuzz with gossip regarding a serial murder case and the seemingly-unrelated rumor of the Midnight Channel--an urban legend that states that staring into a turned-off TV screen while it's raining at midnight will reveal your soulmate. On top of all this, Yu dreams of a mysterious place called the Velvet Room and its residents: Igor, an odd old man who watches over his fate; Margaret, a beautiful woman who guides him; and Marie, the rambunctious girl Yu met at the train station, whom Margaret has asked Yu to take to the outside world. With so many mysteries and new experiences at hand, the next year of Yu's life will no doubt be a golden one.
The Good: Looks and sounds solid; handles the Golden material well...
The Bad: ...and basically skips everything else; Marie isn't that compelling of a character; not even remotely stand-alone
The Ugly: Kanji's recreation of "The Birth of Venus"
This didn't go over so well last time, so I wasn't expecting much this time. I've been burnt by my beloved Persona 4 being turned into an anime once before, so it's only reasonable to assume it would happen again, right? Well, before we get into all that, here's a little background info for the cheap seats: Persona 4: The Golden Animation is essentially an expansion series tied to Persona 4: The Animation that takes the new material featured in the Playstation Vita port of the game. I have very mixed opinions regarding this series, but I can assure you of one thing--at least it's a little bit better than the first anime series. How much better? Guess we'll find out~
First off, as with P4A, P4GA (how 'bout dat alphabet soup of initialisms, eh?) features rock-solid artwork and, this time around, much more consistently high-quality animation. The Persona 4 game franchise has always been bright and colorful, and its anime counterparts are no different, especially this one. It's kinda refreshing, now that I think about it, as a lot of other action and/or drama anime tend to be more monochromatic, so having a series be so colorful is a breath of fresh air that I've kinda taken for granted because of my exposure to the source material.
Of course, there's also the dry business of me telling you how the artwork is often quite slick and wallpaper-able and the animation is consistent, smooth, and often ambitious, but yada yada yada. It's a big-name show based on a popular video game, and it's not the 90s anymore, so it's pretty much a given that some effort's gonna be put into it. Nowadays, it feels like it's more common than ever before for an anime to have great visuals, and as an old-school anime fan, I'm not used to this. Guess some things are objectively better nowadays, huh?
So now that we've established that your eyes won't be disappointed, how about your ears? With the inclusion of the video game's iconic soundtrack accompanied by wistful opener "Next Chance to Move On" and heartfelt ending "Dazzling Smile," the series boasts a great set of tunes that will no doubt satisfy the music junkie in you. But what about the voice acting, you ask? Well, as far as I can tell, an English dub has yet to be announced, but when it does come out, it will of course be legendary. But what we have for now is the Japanese cast, and from what I've gathered, everyone came back to reprise their roles, and they're just as great as they've ever been. It's an A-tier job from an A-tier cast, as far as I'm concerned.
Now the main draw of P4GA is, of course, the adaptation of the Golden material that was added in the Vita port of the game. And for the most part, I'd say that this is where the series really shines. Though I'm still annoyed by the fact that the director gets the Persona fights all wrong (the Personas are not for proxy battling--they show up, do an attack, and disappear; the characters are supposed to have weapons and do all the attacking themselves!), every scene that was part of the Golden material is represented and done justice. Hell, there are even a few new scenes they just threw in for funsies, and some of them are incredibly well-done; for example, before the fireworks show, Marie borrows Yosuke's camcorder and asks everyone what it's like to face yourself/the truth (it makes sense in context), and then after the fireworks show, their answers are shown to us while inter-cut with them playing around with their own fireworks, and it's such a masterfully-done scene that I'll probably never forget, it was that good. When the series hits home, it really hits home. But, you see, the opposite is also true...
Along with my Persona-proxy-battle complaint, there are times where the series strikes out and throws the game in a hilariously incompetent manner. The serial murder case? Barely mentioned. Ameno-sagiri, the big bad fog-producing eyeball monster? Not even given a single line of dialogue and dispatched in one attack. Character introductions? Only Yu and Marie get 'em. As I said before, the Golden material is handled very well, but when it comes to anything else, anything else at all, it gets skipped almost completely, making the series extremely disjointed and jarring to watch. I understand that you didn't want to cover everything, guys, but you can't just lurch ahead two months into the story and throw characters at the screen without at least introducing them!
Speaking of characters, is it just me or is Marie not all that compelling as a character? I understand the archetype--she's a shy, lonely, awkward girl who doesn't know anything about herself and opens up as she meets new people--but it's hard to say why the gang likes hanging out with her. I get that they see her as Yu's friend and they're being nice and including her in their revelries, but when they get worried about her plight and collectively resolve to help her out, I don't get it. It feels like the writer had to force the characters to want to help her out, because on her own, Marie isn't all that interesting or likable for most of the series. And this is a complaint that stretches all the way back to the PSVita game, too--even there, Marie is an interesting idea that was never really executed all that well. I don't hate her; I just wish there was more to her.
This next point ties in to my complaints from two paragraphs ago, but the biggest issue with P4GA is that it's not a stand-alone series by any definition of the term. In order to even remotely understand what's going on in this series, you have to have either played the games or watched P4A (and I do not recommend the latter at all). So this means that newbies have to buckle down and do their homework first (and this ain't like Carnival Phantasm where the homework is optional, either), but it also means that the fans this series was made for have probably already played Persona 4 Golden and thus don't really need this series. Who is the target audience here, again? I dunno. Fans of the first anime, I guess?
This is a mixed bag, for sure. On the one hand, when the series gets it right, it really gets it right, and if you've already played the games or seen the first anime, then I guess P4GA is a worthwhile watch. I just wish it were longer so that it could flesh out the gigantic holes it leaps and lurches over, and God knows some of the first anime's material could use some improving upon. But what we have here isn't bad, per se--it's just not as good as I would've liked. It's not Golden, that's for sure. More like Bronze. But hey, Bronze is still a metal used for medals, and it still has worth, so I guess that's the best way to look at it.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10. Persona 4: The Golden Animation does justice to the material it set out to cover, but the fact that it leaves gaping holes in the story that no newbie to the series can ever hope to traverse makes it feel disjointed and incomplete.