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Persona 4 The Animation Part One Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Just say the word and it’s BEAR TIME!

What They Say:
It’s hard to believe that, once upon a time, “Persona 4” was just another PS2 JRPG back in 2008. Now, four years later, it’s popularity stronger than it was back on the now deceased console. Yu Narukami — also known as “Souji Seta” in the manga, “Kenpachi Ramasama” in the “Two Best Friends Play” segment, and “Charlie Tunoku” in “Giant Bomb’s Endurance Run” — is off to the quiet town of Inaba to live with his uncle and cousin while his parents are away for the year. But like most anime series — especially things based on “Shin Megami Tensei” — the town isn’t as quiet as it seems. Mysterious murders have been going on in town where the victims are hung up on T.V. antennas. At the same time, there’s rumors going around town about something called “The Midnight Channel,” where if you watch T.V. at midnight you can see your soulmate.

Things get more serious when students at school go missing. With the police being absolutely clueless, it’s up to Yu and his new friends to discover the truth behind the murders. But their quest takes a turn for the weird when they discover a new world inside the T.V. that’s full of creepy monsters, an overly friendly bear, and twisted versions of… themselves? Can the murders be solved? And more importantly, can Yu and his friends face the truth?

The Review:
The blu-ray version only has the dub track, but the dub for the series is really well done. It’s the same voice actors and actresses from the PS2 game, with the exception of Teddie and Chie — who have the same voice actor/actress from the new PS3/XB360 game, “Persona 4 Arena.” The real change is hearing Yu Narukami, who was a nameless, silent protagonist in the original game. It’s surprising to hear him talk after spending 100+ hours with him staying quiet and stone-faced. However, him having a voice gives him more of a personality and closeness with his team.

I’m a huge, huge fan of the music. I’ll always blast “Reach Out to the Truth” from my car on the way to work. A lot of the music is straight from the game. Occasionally, a track will be from the “Reincarnation” CD, which consists of better versions to some of the game music — “I’ll Face Myself” has quite the upgrade. There are plenty of new tracks in the anime that are composed by the same team from the game. These new tracks fit right in with the game music, as if they had been part of the original score.

The episodes are split into two discs: nine on one disc and the last three on the other. It’s a good ending spot for the first part of the series, but knowing that the entire show is twenty-five episodes (plus one final episode and a movie) makes me wonder why it couldn’t all be done in one shot, especially on blu-ray. The video quality is good, but not great. When compared to the game cutscenes (and the upcoming Vita rerelease cutscenes) the anime does a decent job. The problem is that the animation isn’t consistent. Sometimes, there’s scenes that are done wonderfully: battles, persona summoning, things like that. There’s also clever nods to the PS2 game: the use of the calendar, the dungeons, the bright yellow T.V. world, Yu Narukami’s status bar in the middle of each episode. But other times it feels like the animators got a bit lazy. Sometimes the character’s faces look a touch bit off, eyes are too small or you can notice, in the background, facial expressions not being the best if that character isn’t the main focus of the scene.

The packaging leaves a lot to be desired. A simple, flimsy blu-ray case that holds both discs, there’s no extra pamphlets or anything like that to read through that give you episode descriptions or extra art. The cover itself does stand out, using the black and gray pattern of the Yasogami High school uniform collars with a splash of yellow to imitate the world inside the television. Yu is on the front cover with his persona, Izanagi, with Yosuke and Chie on the back with a couple of screenshots from the series. I would have liked to see the rest of the team, and I’m surprised that Teddie’s face isn’t somewhere on the packaging, but since these episodes end without the full team being together I can only hope that they’re saving that sort of artwork for part two.

Extremely lazy. That’s a generous way of describing it. There’s no music; a real crime against the series since the soundtrack is so good. There’s no video used on the menu, something I’ve gotten use to with my blu-rays — anime or non-anime. The same exact picture that’s on each blu-ray disc is the background picture, the episodes listed underneath the picture for you to select and watch.

It reminds me of the anime dvds I use to get years ago, back when there wasn’t much anime out there and I was happy to find something at my local “Suncoast.” Back then, I didn’t care what the menu looked like, I was content with hitting the “play” button and start watching. Now, I’m use to some sort of opening movie, or at least some music to listen to. I understand that the blu-ray version lost its Japanese voice options and commentaries, but that doesn’t mean that the blu-ray has to be so boring. It feels like the studio was so bitter about the blu-ray decision that they decided not to put any effort into it at all.

There’s extras? Really?

If you’re looking for extras the blu-ray version is not the way to go. Again, I know that the blu-ray version lost the Japanese voice tracks, therefore, it lost the Japanese commentaries, but is there a reason why we couldn’t have English commentary? Or maybe some sort of homage to the PS2 game? As it stands, all the blu-ray has are trailers, a director’s cut to the first episode (which the dvd also has), and clean versions of the opening and the ending (which, again, the dvd has). The director’s cut is on the first disc with the other extras on the second disc. The extras aren’t even loaded on a separate screen, it just takes up a small corner of the bland menu.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The series starts inside of a place called “The Velvet Room” which… is actually a limo? In this place we meet Igor and his assistant, Margaret, who talk about an interesting journey that lies ahead. After that vague segment, our main character wakes up on a train that’s headed to the quaint little town of Inaba. The soft spoken Yu Narukami meets up with his uncle and cousin who welcome them to their home. We learn that his uncle — Ryotaro Dojima — is a detective and often has to leave and work on cases. This leaves his young child, Nanako, home alone a lot, but she’s use holding down the fort despite her young age.

I sense a broken home in the making.

After having a strange dream that night, Yu wakes up and starts his first day of school. Proving once again that Japan has the craziest teachers ever, Yu manages to survive his first day despite his homeroom teacher’s bizarre accusations of his eyes lingering on a poor, defenseless female student. Soon he meets Chie Satonaka, Yukiko Amagi, and Yosuke Hanamura — the series comic relief/punching bag… it’s best to just leave him be.

I sense your main party in the making.

There’s an incident near campus where a murder victim is found hanging upside down on a T.V. antenna. While Dojima is dealing with that, Chie tells her friends about something called “The Midnight Channel,” where it’s said that you will find your soulmate when you watch it. Yu does see something at midnight, right after hearing an ominous voice that declares, “I art thou, thou art I.” Much to Yu’s surprise, he can stick his hand inside the T.V.!

Yu tries to tell his friends this but they, of course, don’t believe him. But after going to the local Walmart — sorry, Junes — and heading to the electronics department they discover that Yu was telling the truth! They all end up inside the T.V.! After running into a silly ol’ bear and creepy shadows with long, disgusting tongues Yu manages to summon the hidden power inside of him, the power of the “persona.” He defeats the shadows, thus ending his tutorial fight and starting the biggest adventure of his life.

The murder mystery serves as a catalyst to the true message of the series: accepting who you really are. When Yosuke’s crush, Saki Konishi, is the next victim they realize that the murderer is pushing his victims inside the T.V. But when inside the television world the group of friends are forced to confront their darkest secrets. When they don’t accept their “shadow selves,” it turns into a dreadful monster that they have to fight. If they can conquer it and accept the truth, they gain the power of the “persona.” These confrontations get worse and worse as the series goes on. Yukiko is the next victim, forcing the group to go back into the television. Here, they not only have to deal with Chie’s shadow, but Yukiko’s as well. At this point they decide to work together as a team to find out who’s behind the murders, coming up with theories and staking out who they believe will be next.

This leads them to Kanji Tatsumi and, to a certain extent, Naoto Shirogane.

After saving Kanji, their team expands, but with the sudden appearance of mega-idol Rise Kujikawa things get a bit more serious. Dojima starts to suspect that his nephew may be involved somehow which puts Yu in quite the bind. Rise goes missing, but facing her shadow also causes something quite surprising to happen: Teddie has to face his shadow, too! Both idol and bear come out on top, making the group of friends even stronger, and making Dojima more suspicious. Not only is Dojima questioning things, so is the young detective, Naoto.

Soon there’s a breakthrough in the case and the killer is discovered! The team comes together one last time to take down the murderer, but Yu starts to feel apprehensive. If they catch the killer, does that mean that his group of friends will no longer have a reason to meet up? Will their team be finished? He doesn’t want to lose his friends, but he also wants to bring peace to the town. What path should he choose?

In Summary:
I’ve actually already watched the entire series on Hulu, but now that the excitement has worn off I can rewatch it in the eyes of a reviewer… with some excitement still mixed in. The real question with this series is whether or not it can appeal to people outside of the Persona 4 fandom. This is a yes… and sort of no answer. Outside of the fandom, it is an interesting story with an interesting concept, but there’s parts that may or may not make sense to people who haven’t played the game.

But let’s go through it all one step at a time.

I think the anime handles the shadows better. I’ve always loved the message of “facing yourself” that Persona 4 has, not only because of the hidden message in a bottle, but because of how it’s approached. It’s not as simple as Kanji wanting to make stuffed animals and hiding behind his piercings and bleached hair. His shadow gives a powerful speech about preferring men, hinting at homosexuality, because men aren’t as cruel as girls are. Girls harass him about sewing and painting, girls think he’s weird, to which shadow Kanji decides, “Men are so much better.” In the end, Kanji just wants to be accepted for who he is and his sexual orientation is left open to interpretation — which isn’t the main point anyway, the point is to accept who you are and find people who like you for who you are.

Though no one is taking away my Kanji and Naoto feelings. Not now, not ever.

All of the shadows in the anime feel more intense and have a better presentation. For one thing, the characters aren’t knocked unconscious like they were in the game. They’re forced to watch how extreme their shadows get. Yukiko has to watch from her cage, Rise has to listen to multiple copies of her shadow taunt her about her idol image, things like that.
I also feel like the shadows are a bit more serious in the anime than in the game. In the game, Yosuke’s shadow was essentially a big tutorial fight. In the anime, you get to see him suffer more. There’s television screens that show the other employees of Junes making fun of him, hating him for being the son of the owner, and he curls up in the corner, not wanting to listen.

I also like how the anime handles the battles. As fun as it was to have weapons in the game, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for teenagers to be able to cart weapons around and be experts with them without any sort of explanation — even in the anime-verse. Instead, the persona do all of the fighting, and when they’re hit their users feel it. Yu is also able to fuse persona together and have multiple persona thanks to his “wild card” ability. This is something that gets questioned by Yosuke, which I thought was a nice touch because in the game he never has to explain to his friends how he has more than one.

I think what I like most about the anime is Yu. They somehow managed to give a silent protagonist a personality that’s not only believable, but likable. You also get to see him develop as a character. In the beginning he’s quiet and doesn’t say much, but soon he becomes that snarky, lovable main character who can keep a straight face while being kicked off a cliff. As the series progresses, you can see that he’s formed a strong bond with his friends and cares about all of them. The fight between him and the boy they believe to be the killer is rather intense as Yu has a moment of facing something he doesn’t want to admit to.

Is he just an empty shell? Stay tuned for more on that theme.

The things that the anime doesn’t do as well — which is where I question if this series can be enjoyed by someone who isn’t a fan of the game — are the social links. Social links are the bonds Yu makes with other people. This also gets him his persona, since each new link starts a new arcana for him. In the game, this was a long ten step process, but in the anime you only see a lot of these extra characters once. On the one hand, I get why the anime doesn’t go through the entire process. Not only would it be extremely long, but it takes a while to get to the main plot of each character. In the game, there’s a lot of days where “you spend a long while with a person,” but nothing happens in the social link. So the anime cuts to the chase, covering the main point of each extra character. However, there’s some characters that don’t have enough time. Naoki Konishi, for example, needs longer than five minutes. As Saki’s little brother, the murders have a huge effect on him, but you see him at the camping trip and his “angst” is solved in one short conversation. From a storytelling point of view someone like him deserves an entire episode, not a bowl of ramen at a camping trip. In the game you get the full experience of meeting this boy and helping him work through his issues. In the anime, you eat ramen with him and he smiles. The end.

I’m also not a fan of them taking out the Japanese honorifics. These were left in tact with the game, I’m not sure why they’re not in the dub. It might make me sound like a bit of an anime snob, but the main reason why I think they’re needed is because of the main character’s name. Hearing Rise say something like, “Yu is going to cook for us,” or Yosuke saying, “Hey Yu, want to hang out this summer,” sounds confusing without the senpai or kun or san behind it. I also miss Yosuke calling him partner. In the original Japanese he says aibou and, for some reason, having him say bro in the anime just doesn’t feel as emotional.

Despite my complaints I think that “Persona 4 the Animation” is a good anime adaption to the hit PS2 game. I’m already excited for part two — even if I’ve seen it all on Hulu. There’s certain parts of the game coming up that I can’t wait to see the dub cast tackle. Until then, always remember: it’s o.k. to like cute shit!

English Dialogue, Episode 1 Director’s Cut & On Air Versions, Clean Opening & Closing Animation, Sentai Trailers.

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: C
Menu Grade: D
Extras Grade: C

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 18th, 2012
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 305 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p  AVCHigh Definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Hitachi 42 inch plasma T.V., Sony PS3 blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p

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