What They Say:
When Yu Narukami moves to the country town of Inaba to stay with his uncle and cousin, he’s expecting more peace and quiet than he’s been used to in the big city. What he isn’t expecting is for his uncle’s job as a police detective to spill over into his own life. Or for the murders that are occurring across town to be somehow linked to Yu’s own strange experiences, odd local weather patterns, and a mysterious TV show world that seems to be attempting to get Yu to enter it!
Now, together with a new group of friends, Yu must plunge into a bizarre alternate reality where he gains unique abilities that will either help him solve the riddle of the mystery killer, or lead him to his doom.
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the English language mix, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless track. The show is one that works a largely dialogue driven design to it since it’s a mystery for much of the time combined with the kids just hanging out, but it also works well when it shifts into higher gear for the action side of it. The dialogue aspects are well handled since there’s a good number of characters on screen at any given time and it places it well and with depth where needed for the scene. The action works the forward soundstage in a stronger way with more bass to it and there’s some good impact to what happens throughout, making some of the scenes really hit well while also being creepy in the other world with the combination of the warmth of the music. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2011 and 2012, the transfer for this TV series and OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread over three discs in a nine/nine/eight format while the bulk of the extras are kept to a separate fourth disc, giving it plenty of space to work with. Animated by AIC ASTA, the show has a strong visual design that looks very good here with bright, bold, and detailed designs and colors that gives it a lot of pop both in the real world and the other world. The character designs are certainly striking in their own way and the transfer captures the details of them, their designs and the colors in a really great way. The darker sequences from the other world are just as well handled with a solid approach to them without any noise or breakup that results in a clean, smooth and highly appealing transfer throughout. It’s definitely one that makes a visual impact on a regular basis and more so when it steps up for various key sequences.
The packaging design for this collector’s edition is really good with what it wants to do and with an oversized heavy chipboard box it has some good presence about it. The box is done in the familiar yellow wrap that stands out from that alone while the main panel is filled with shadowed versions of characters and the main cast in a curious white aspect that lets it stand out even more against the other colors. The back panel goes for a simpler approach as it only uses one piece of character artwork along the bottom half with a close-up of Narukami from the second opening as he removes the glasses. it looks good to be sure but it feels a little off with all the blank space compared to the front panel. Inside the box we get the two DVD-sized keepcases where each holds its own format. The Blu-ray case uses the four primary characters that kick things off for the show from a profile perspective against the yellow background while the DVD release has some of the characters that come on board a bit later, at least outside of Kuma. The back cover go for an all black background with a four quadrant approach to breaking down the releases. Each quadrant covers a different disc for the Blu-ray side, listing episodes by number and title as well as what extras are on that respective disc. The remainder is filled with the usual production and technical grid information. Since the DVD set has six discs, that one gets a bit more complicated with a two strip row to break everything down in a similar fashion. Each case also has a two panel spread of artwork on the reverse side that gives you a bit more choice about what you want to have displayed.
Also included in the set is the collector’s aspect, which is a spacer box that holds the goods. This is a nice yellow box with some great character artwork of the four main initial characters spread between the two sides. We get a great trio of Chie buttons that are adorable in their own way as they’re very in-show with what they represent. There’s a nice little sticker sheet that has four images to it, including Kuma, as well as an interesting eyeglass cleaning cloth. I’ll admit that I used mine to see how well it does and it’s pretty effective. The really nice inclusion though is that of a set of eight tarot cards as related to the show. These are really great quality and come across very well in texture and design that should please fans that like this aspect of the show.
The menu design for this release works pretty well as we get each volume with a different piece of large character artwork that takes up most of the space as a static image. The first volume, for example, uses the Narukami image from the back of the box set but places him against a black and gray background. The pop of color beyond the character material comes from the navigation strip along the right that breaks down the episodes by number and title with a black box that has white and yellow numbering and lettering. That’s all on top of the yellow strip and the color stripes up and down that gives it some additional pop. The menus all load quickly and easily with the navigation and it looks good and is functional both as the top level menu and the pop-up menu.
The extras for this release are pretty good in general with what it wants to offer up. There are a series of original Japanese staff/cast commentaries that are spread across the discs that will add more enjoyment to those that want to get some behind the scenes pieces. The on-air episode of the first episode is included (in separate English and Japanese versions, essentially porting over the extra from the previous editions) as the main disc features the director’s cut and we get the usual array of clean opening and closings, the promos and TV Spots. The shorts are a welcome inclusion here as well and there’s also the Brief Lesson piece that serves to expand our knowledge of the property a bit – though you may feel like the students in it instead of really learning much.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the game of the same name, Persona 4: The Animation is a twenty-five episode series plus OVA that works familiar territory within the franchise and has a whole lot of fun with it. The release in this form has taken some time to arrive as it was originally brought out in the usual half season sets, but the Blu-ray release was English language only so I passed on it. But before finally watching this set I found myself starting in on The Golden, which certainly has me doing all of this quite out of order. That said, Persona 4: The Animation stands out pretty strong overall and it’s easy to immerse yourself in this world with how this season unfolds, making you curious about more. Having only played some of the original games way back on the original PlayStation, I think, it’s definitely a familiar property even after all these years.
The series revolves around Yu Narukami, a young second year high school student who has come to the somewhat countryside town of Inaba to live with his uncle and cousin as his parents have gone overseas for work for a year. The show takes place over the course of a year and that time span gives us a chance to see the growth of the cast and their interactions well. Part of this comes from a nicely designed calendar system on the screen that was used in the games as well so you know when things happen and that there is real spacing between events so that it doesn’t feel so compressed and rushed. What we get out of all of this is that Yu is a pretty good student, a decent guy overall, and he’s handling the situation well enough. His uncle is a detective with the local police precinct and his cousin, Nanako, is an upper elementary school age student. His uncle’s wife was killed in an accident a few years prior and that’s something that factors into the second half of the series in a decent way that really pushes the core group in this family unit in some good and complicated directions as some of the truths come out and how Yu’s uncle has coped with it.
What the series wants to do is to play an interesting story across it as a whole but segmented into two main pieces. One of the things that happened recently just before Yu came to town is that a mystery channel started showing up on the local TV station called the Midnight Channel. When this comes on you’d end up seeing someone important to you, though it could lead to them being in real trouble. That gets a lot more real after Yu’s arrival as a few people end up being seen in it by Yu and his new friends and those people, including a teacher and another student, end up dead in the world. What becomes freakish about all of this is that Yu and his new friend Yosuke end up discovering that they can travel into the TV at different times and that there’s a whole other weird world in there. There are plenty of bizarre creatures that exist in there, including a pint-sized Humpty-Dumpty type character that they name Kuma since he peppers the phrase bear into his sentences with liberal abandon.
The discovery of this world lets them see more of how the murders in the real world are occurring since there are shadow versions of themselves in here that are trying to overtake the main persona. But those that visit can find their own way to conquer these things and in turn gain their own power through the persona tarot cards, allowing them to fight back. And when Yu makes several friends along the way, well, there’s your standard fighting party going into the other world to deal with the scary things in there. These sequences are well played and there’s a sense of actual danger to to it all because of the others that have died along the way, but the safety in numbers and the bonds that get created between the main cast that grows is the driving force here. It’s part of the text that’s sprinkled throughout the series at different end points about how Yu and the others are gaining power and forging a path that’s difficult but worthwhile since if they all work together they’ll be unstoppable.
Structurally, the series works a solid pattern here that’s all too familiar with its strength and weaknesses. The first half of the series handles the introduction and foundations, giving us a good mystery as they try to identify the main killer behind all of this through the two worlds. It introduces a growing cast, expands the relationships and provides for some good action. The downside is that after the killer is found and that part of the story is resolved, we get the teenage doldrums here where most of episodes fourteen through twenty are pretty bland. There’s good material within it, but most of it is focused on just character building and social interactions between everyone with a few teases of what’s to come and what’s transpired. It’s not bad per se, because it’s wonderfully animated and I do enjoy seeing the way the cast of characters comes together after vanquishing the enemy, but I can imagine it dropping off in viewership during broadcast because so little truly happens. It does get serious towards the end of this part with a dangerous accident and family problems that ups the tension and sets the final arc in motion, and it’s important to have all the character building, but it’s very easy to get bored along this phase as well.
The final arc is one that does work as it ramps up the true identity behind what’s going on and why, but after the lackluster middle arc a lot of it simply fell flat for me. I really loved the visual design of it all and how the cast came together for it, but the threat itself is one that felt a little disassociated from things. It’s a case of where a bad incident, or a string of bad incidents over a number of years, causes someone to go off the deep end with disastrous results for those around him. Yu and the gang struggle with what he represents in controlling a lot of the power in the other world, power which is spilling over in some ways into the real world that’s causing even more trouble there. Playing all of that to having the bad events happening in Yu’s life with his uncle and cousin just serves to push him harder and strong with what needs doing, though thankfully he doesn’t become an overpowered caricature of himself. Yu’s an interesting character throughout the show because he largely does maintain his calm and collected self, not prone to overreaction nor underestimating things for the most part. There’s a thoughtful side but with cautious pragmatism built in that lets him do what needs doing without getting caught up in it in a bad way – all while still being an utterly human character.
The cast for the show is built well around him and there are the usual array of familiar characters for anything built off of a series like this. That mostly works well and I had little problem with any of the cast since there were some nice little quirks to it, such as the former idol Risette coming into the group easily and without a lot of problematic areas or interactions, the kung-fu friend Chie has her cute moments but avoids playing with serious stereotypes. Even our resident girl in glasses that’s going to inherit the inn her parents own, Yukiko, doesn’t feel like she’s the walking stereotype she truly is. Because they humanize it well enough in the first arc and they all get exposed to the danger and work to solve it. Granted, we do get the always fun hot spring sequence in this run of episodes so there’s some casual, if light, fanservice that occurs there for both the guys and girls. But in the end, the characters are all likeable – even the boy detective that’s not really a boy. I suspect part of my acceptance of such things is that they’re such staples in the games that I don’t write them off in the same way, especially since they’re delved into in a decent way and not overplayed.
This set does come with an OVA that came out several months after the series finale and it’s an interesting piece. While the TV show gives us a solid ending that puts Yu on a train to new adventures, this one fills in some of the time before that and introduces a new Big Boss that reveals some additional truths about what’s really going on. A good chunk of it is pretty much character material to expand on things after the main fight, but introducing this additional element is really neat since it takes us all the way back to the beginning and explains a whole lot more about what was truly going on. You can easily watch the show and never see this OVA and be completely content with what happened. But this provides a nice additional twist on events that makes it even tighter and more engaging, especially on a replay when you know more of the tricks of the show.
I was a bit wary of getting into Persona 4: The Animation simply because it’s such a large and sprawling franchise with some very engaged fans. I’ve had only a passing encounter with it overall from years and years ago and enjoyed it, but I hadn’t kept up with it in the slightest when you get down to it outside of the couple of anime projects. This series is a really strong and well designed show that pulls on a lot of things with its strings to achieve what it wants. It’s visually striking and detailed – though I wish there were most costume changes going on here, a real failing in most anime – and it has a couple of layers of story to be told. The character side is its strongest side but in some ways that middle segment is weighted too far in that direction to the point where it begins to feel a bit listless and lost. As a whole work though, there’s a lot to like here and Sentai’s set is a strongly put together piece that finally gives us the whole shebang in bilingual form that looks great, sounds great, and has a solid package behind it. It’s pretty much what the fans were hoping for and has been delivered.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Director’s Cut Episode 1, Mr. Experiment Shorts, A Brief Lesson on Izanagi and Izanami, Japanese Commentaries, Clean Opening and Closing, Promos & TV Spots.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 29th, 2015
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.