I have a lot of love for the Persona game series - I have more duplicate copies of the games than I care to admit and have spent far too many hours playing them. To make clear right from the get-go, I am approaching this show already knowing the ins and outs of the plot, and so trying to put myself in the shoes of a complete newcomer for this review is a futile exercise. As such, I will inevitably make comparisons between the original PlatStation 2 game and this new animated adaptation, but I do hope to provide something of worth to those who are new to this franchise. Persona 4: The Animation is a direct adaptation of the video game - the show follows former silent protagonist Yu Narukami (Sadly, he was not named Charlie Tunoku) as he moves in with a distant family member in the sleepy backwater town of Inaba. Once there, Yu quickly makes friends, discovers the local urban legends and gets embroiled in a quest to catch a grisly serial killer who has been stringing his victims up on TV aerials on foggy days. Oh yea, and he discovers that he can jump into an alternate reality by climbing into televisions and once here he can summon an alter ego (the "Persona" from the title) to fight for him. Mixed in with the supernatural TV-diving and the murder is Yu's quest to make friends in this new town - something that was an essential part of the original video game. This might sound like a lot of information to take in, and in the original game it was - from when you first started the game until where episode three ends would take around two hours if you took the time to read all of the text that the game threw at you. Freed from the requirement to provide interactivity and being bound to a doofus hitting the "advance text" button one text-box at a time, this show is a very capable adaptation that has clearly had a great deal of thought and care put into how the source material can be transposed into animation. Where the game used a narrator to tell you what the silent protagonist is seeing, the show instead actually shows things directly to you as the viewer and takes some strong, if initially faltering, steps towards setting up Yu as his own character. That being said, knowing that the main character was once a silent cipher for the player goes a long way towards papering over some of the cracks in the first two episodes of the show - frankly, Yu doesn't say a whole lot outside of mumbles of assent and a lot of the initial plot beats conveniently fall into his lap. The show makes up for this with some great pacing, combining disparate minor elements that would have had a full scene each in the game into the main flow of the show, hiding the seams well. The rest of the cast are wonderfully well realised in the show, in part due to the accelerated pacing of this adaptation. One caveat that has to be made is that at this point the vast majority of the cast has not yet been introduced, and indeed it remains to be seen if the extensive secondary cast will be fleshed out in the shows run, or even if they will be included in any meaningful way. However, the way that the two other main characters, Yu's classmates Chie and Yousuke have been handled so far bodes well for future additions. This is especially true of Chie Satonaka, tomboy extraordinaire, who steals the show with some amazing voice acting by Yui Horie.
One sad caveat to this is how the game's mascot character, Teddie, has been handled. Frankly, I found his voice actor insufferable (Although it is simply the Japanese voice actor from the game reprising their role - Ed.) and dreaded his repeat appearances. A large part of this distaste I admit comes from my experience playing the game, where the localisation team did a great job altering Teddie's dialogue to make it more accessible while retaining the original humour. Visually, Persona 4's animation does a great job adapting the source material in a sensible manner, keeping a lot of the flair and motifs from the game without being slavishly bound to them, although there are a few exceptions. There are many explicit call-outs to the game's style, in particular during the Opening and the eyecatch, where you see adapted versions of the game's menus with its Yellow-heavy striped visuals. The backdrops and characters are also well transposed into this animated format and are instantly striking and recognisable, although not without issue. One item that may have been better if it had not been brought over from the game is the strange shading used on character portraits. In the original game, static character portraits would have a subtle, slightly ruddy shading to the character's jaw and neck. This has been brought into the animation, and seeing it in motion makes this style choice look out of place - every character suddenly seems to have a semi-permanent shaving rash. There are a few key moments when this show looks cheaply thrown together, to a degree I couldn't help but notice. Characters will sometimes find themselves starved of detail and off model, backdrops can at times look flat and sterile, and the odd action scene will move at a surprisingly slow pace with a noticeable lack of frames. Finally, the visuals have one last enemy - compression. I watched these three episodes on Anime on Demand at 720p, and I have to call out here to the oppressive video compression that is being used for streaming this series. Scenes can quite often look blocky or detail-starved - one issue in particular occurred when the characters are talking outside in the rain and the rain was not visible due to the lack of resolution. Compression this harsh hurts the show, particularly in its action scenes. All-in all, Persona 4 is a great adaptation of the source material thus far, taking what was good about the game and bringing it to life on its own terms in this new format. There are a few cases where it feels that the show staff are hewing a bit too closely to the original game, both with the previously mentioned shaving rash that everyone has and in its off-putting use of stuffing background music from the game at full volume into scenes that are on-going. In these cases it feels more like an obnoxiously heavy-handed thrust rather than a gentle nod of the head to the game’s original state, although I could only be objecting to these items because I played the game.
Standing back and looking at these first three episodes, I have to admit I’m impressed with how well the game has been adapted so far and would gladly recommend this series to both newcomers and veterans of the game. Plus, this version involves a lot less random battles and infuriating instant-death attacks.
You can currently watch Persona 4: The Animation in streaming form via Anime on Demand.
Japanese audio with English subtitles. Video is available in 360p, 480p, and 720p resolutions; HD format and removal of advertisements available to paid subscribers.
A great adaptation of the original game, slightly marred by some minor issues.