Persona 4: The Animation

It may not have come up here that often, but I’m a massive fan of the Persona series. I’ve probably put well over 500 hours into the various incarnations of Persona 3 (including FES and P3P) and Persona 4 (including Golden) each. Those are my favourite games ever.

I was browsing through TV Tropes during a slow time at work, and noticed that they’d done an anime series based on Persona 4. I went to Amazon and found the English translation there in Blu-Ray, and decided to buy it, and give it a try. And so for the past two evenings instead of writing on my blog or writing comments or doing, well, anything else, I sat down to watch it. And I have to say … it’s very well done.

If you’re a fan of the game, you’ll appreciate the little touches that make it look like the game. You see the calendar as days advance. The commercial break cuts are showing the status of the MC’s main attributes, and you see them go up and up over time. Those will look a little weird, however, to people who haven’t played the game, but only the calendar is really something that you’re actually supposed to pay attention to. One failing of the series is that what day it is isn’t really made important to the game, although the weather kinda is. But it’s very easy to completely ignore all of that information since it doesn’t directly play a role in the series, at least not as much as it did in the game, and the calendar is very obvious so it might be a bit confusing and annoying to people who haven’t played the games.

But, of course, this is a short anime series tracking a game that could easily have 40 – 50 hours of gameplay, so they were going to have to cut some things out and change some things to make it work. Now, this is the sort of thing that tends to ruin video game or book adaptations to movies or anime, since deciding what to cut and what to keep is actually really hard to do. Cut too much, and you end up leaving out what everyone actually liked about the original media. Cut too little, and you end up with something that might play well to the die-hard fans of the original media, but doesn’t work at all for those who don’t know anything about that and just want to watch a good movie/anime. That was exactly my problem with Watchmen. And you have to add to that that most writers and directors don’t want to just copy the original media. They want to put their own stamp on it and make it somehow different, something that reflects thought and artistic merit. So there are always going to be changes when you convert from one media to the other, and this is where most adaptations fail.

P4: The Animation makes a fair number of changes, some of which might be controversial. As an example, the introduction is greatly shortened, and leaves out one of the better scenes and one that, in hindsight, reflects the relationship between Chie and Yukiko better than almost any other: after Chie convinces the MC to walk home with her and Yukiko, she eventually asks him if he finds Yukiko attractive. This embarasses Yukiko, and the MC can react in many ways. This scene highlights what each get from the other: Yukiko is shy and reserved, and so wouldn’t approach or talk to the MC, so Chie’s boldness works to get her into the group, effectively. On the other side, Chie at least feels that she’s using Yukiko’s looks as an in: the MC might not want to walk with Chie, but almost everyone will want to walk with Yukiko. This plays out with their Shadows later who make it explicit, and is left out of the anime.

However, notwithstanding that, the things left out aren’t usually that important, and some of the additions are brilliant. In the game, I never really felt much sympathy for Yukiko; she seemed more whiny and in some ways at least obliviously mean. However, her Shadow gets a full episode, most of which is setting up her backstory more than the game did, and seeing her not only working really hard at the inn and the subplot with the bird she saves really shows her as someone who does care, but is frustrated and feeling trapped. The reference to the bird’s escape and the link to Yukiko’s realization works really well to bring it all together, better than the game managed. So it’s a major improvement over the game.

The protagonist is named and voiced, and that adds a lot to the anime as well, as it gives him a personality beyond the Stoic. He has a rather odd sense of humour at times, which adds to the humour of the anime overall.

The dungeon crawls are left out, which I don’t mind that much, except that they tend to add small scenes in the middle just to remind you that they happened, but which often feel like they’re facing overwhelming force rather than something manageable but that just wears you down. Also, the boss fights are much more action-oriented than tactical, which was disappointing to me. Yes, you can see the tactics involved if you look closely, but I shouldn’t have to do that.

But the key to the Persona games is the Social Links, which are also the things that it would be the hardest to adapt. And for the most part they get truncated a lot. In some cases, you can’t even recognize them if you’ve played the game. However, they are also all there, and the highlights do tend to get hit. More focus is put on the key relationships — with the party members and with Dojima and Nanako — but for the most part they get used as breathers from the major story events that end up as hopeful, funny and touching, often all at the same time. But if you watch the anime, you will really miss out on the S-links.

The story events get much more focus, which makes sense because they provide an arc and a focus that an anime really wants. And they work fairly well. The main murder mystery events are hit and sometimes expanded, and even the small side events generally get a decent treatment. This is the part that those who haven’t played the games should still be able to appreciate, while those who have will be able to see it a little differently and sometimes with a bit more depth, since in-game all the reacts of the MC are just yours, while in the anime they can play with the MC’s personality more and thus give you funny and heart-rending reactions that not only work, but also make sense.

And I really like Aika, and the small subplot of Aiya’s deliveries was interesting. And how the dungeon crawls were done eliminated any need to explain how they could get their weapons into the TV all the time.

Overall, it’s a very good series, and I recommend it. The biggest problem I had with it is that it’s a little expensive for the amount of time it runs, so if you aren’t a huge fan of the games you might have a hard time justifying the price. But it should be enjoyable both to those who love the games and to those who’ve never heard of them.

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