In most cases, anime titles are based upon an original idea or a manga series. However this isn’t always the case. Sometimes franchises in other fields end up getting the anime treatment. One of the more popular genres to be converted are video games.
While the Shin Megami Tensei Persona franchise isn’t as popular as Final Fantasy it has a strong following in Japan, North America and Europe. It wasn’t really a matter of if one their games was going to be adapted but when.
Persona 4: The Animation is an anime series done by studio AIC ASTA and directed by Seiji Kishi. The series is based upon a video game of the same name in the Shin Megami Tensei series developed by Atlus.
The show revolves around a group of friends in a small town who start to investigate a series of murders and its relation to an urban legend called the Midnight Channel.
It turns out that the Midnight Channel is more than myth and the world is home to shadows, evil monsters that can appear as a number of different things including the visitor’s darker self.
These darker versions generally stem from a person’s personality trait that they want to hide i.e. the fear of being alone or being wrong. Once he or she concurs their dark version they’re able to summon their Persona, a manifestation of their subconscious that can defeat the shadows.
Main character, Yu Narukami, has the ability to command multiple Personas depending on the social ties that he creates and maintains.
Yu and the rest of the investigation team; typical teenage guy Yosuke, upbeat kung fu fan Chie, kind hearted Yukiko, the misunderstood bully Kanji, ex-Japanese pop star Rise, detective prince Naoto and Teddie…a giant talking teddy bear with a detachable head must enter the Midnight channel to find the murder.
On the technical side Persona 4 is a good-looking anime. The animation is fluid and has a punch to it due to the small use of alternative types of animation.
In some cases, the Personas are drawn using 3D animation but this is used sparingly. While the shots aren’t bad, they still look odd and out of place at times due to the budgeted mixing of 2D and 3D animation.
Persona even goes a step farther at times and uses a number of alternative styles for backdrops or sight gags. During scenes at the local supermarket the store displays aren’t even drawn animation but real world pictures place in and filtered.
While it does look a bit cheap, it adds to the show’s off the wall charm.
Additionally the character designs are strong as well and more or less align with the original versions from the video game with only a few changes made here and there.
One of Persona’s many strengths, has always been it’s soundtrack, and this show doesn’t disappoint.
While there are a lot of songs reused from the game (and even two from Persona 3), series composer Shoji Meguro adds some cool tracks to fill out the show. To say that this soundtrack is good would be an understatement; it could possibly be one of the better anime soundtracks in the past 10 years.
From the awesome opening and closing themes to the tunes that fill in the shows more quieter moments, the soundtrack is great.
To go along with the strong music comes some strong dialogue. While Slice of Life, Comedy-dramas are a dime a dozen in anime, there’s something different about Persona 4.
The show tends to use jokes that revolve around the sound and visual cues of the show itself.
From the first episode the show set’s up the types of cues that happen during the show, i.e. the musical and visual prompts used when the characters use their Personas in battle, but when the show starts using those as a joke it ends up creating some truly funny moments.
These moments would make it a great comedy based show, however for some reason Persona wants to jump around from hokey to serious at will and it ends up holding the show back in the later episodes.
In the show’s second half it spends upwards to 7 episodes with comedy based episodes only to end with a darkly serious story dealing with death and lose. The change is so sudden it could cause whiplash.
Another issue with the show is You…I mean Yu.
The character of Yu in the video game was supposed to be a blank canvas for the player to add his or her own personality to. Whether the character was serious or goofy was up to the player to decide.
However, in the anime the creator’s chose to mix the two.
Normally characters have some semblance of normality, but this show just lets Yu bounce making it hard to get a read on who he is. This is echoed by most of the other characters in the show.
It’s one of the dangers of adapting a video game like this. The creators normally pick one path and stick with it (look at School Days…actually let’s not). Persona seemingly wants to have its cake and eat it to and it doesn’t work.
The character also spends a great deal of time in the background of scenes as the other characters talk about the issues, only to chime in with something to the effect of: “Let’s do it.” Despite being the main character his presence isn’t felt that much during the show.
Despite these problems there’s a lot to like about Persona 4.
The show has great music, interesting characters (aside from Yu) and plot and will even make you laugh out loud from time to time.
It’s just one of the things fans have to entertain themselves with while waiting for the upcoming Persona 3 films and the mysterious Persona 5.
Persona 4: The Animation was directed by Seiji Kishi, animated by AIC ASTA and based upon plot and characters created by Atlus. The show licensed by Madman Entertainment (Australia), Sentai Filmworks (North America) and Kaze (United Kindom).