Monday, May 11, 2020

Anime Monday - Persona 4: The Animation

Persona. This is a series that really needs no introduction. Back in the day it was a lesser known side series to Shin Megami Tensei, but now it's basically reached mainstream status. Anyone who knows anything about JRPGs has at least heard of the Persona series, and even those who couldn't care any less about them have most likely been exposed to characters such as Joker because of Super Smash Bros. It's a well known series at this point, and it's something that will only continue to gain more attention as the years go on. But again, this wasn't always the case. In fact the old games are some of the most obscure PlayStation titles to date, and are titles that haven't been seen since their rerelease on the PSP. And while Persona 3 is what eventually would pave the way to the series' current popularity, it and Persona 4 both are now both distant memories. But even then that's not to say they weren't popular. In fact Persona 3 received a non canon anime sequel, and Persona 4 would go on to have its story adapted into anime form -- not once, but twice! This is actually how I was brought to the series, and why I consider myself a Persona fan to this day. And it also marks the first full start of this blog.

Looking Back at May 2013:

When Netto's Game Room first got started as a stand alone blog, Persona was one of the first series I personally took the time to focus on. It's hard to believe it has been 7 years since then, but sometime in early May I remember having some extra cash and trying to decide what game to buy with it. My first priority was to secure (which I did), but I also wanted something to talk about once the blog was fully up and running. So I started doing my research on this brand new port of Persona 4 called "Persona 4 Golden" for the Vita, and I realized the series had an anime. Now back then I was actually pretty wary of the Persona series, as I had heard it focused on summoning demons and what not, and was filled with sexual content. It just seemed like something I shouldn't play, and that its content would bother me. However when I realized that the series was given an anime adaptation also I figured I'd give that a chance before I committed to actually buying it. So instead of actually watching the series from the start I went out to find some YouTube clips of it's "funniest moments" and instantly I was hooked. I loved the art style, the music, the comedy, and the characters -- everything just seemed perfect. So I put aside my worries about the game, placed an order on Amazon, and then waited for it to arrive. It actually came the day of my cousin's funeral, and the very same day went live. I still remember sitting at my desk getting ready for the funeral, while also dealing with paperwork and other forms required to get things up and running correctly. I had Persona 4 Golden running also as I killed time and waited for other people to get ready, but my mind was mostly elsewhere so it wasn't easy to focus on the game itself. At least not at first.

After the funeral was over and I got everything here at NGR squared away I would instantly jump into playing it however, and that's when I found myself completely hooked to the series. I would spend the next week playing it non stop, and the moment I finished I would buy Persona 3 and work through it as well. Persona 4 Arena would be what I'd ask for for my Birthday that year, and then once all that was said and done I'd go on to track down the anime. I couldn't get enough of Persona and its story, and that's what eventually lead me to where I am today. Persona has since become one of my all time favorite series, and now once again I get to talk about it here on this blog. Seven years ago I was here reviewing the game, and now I'm back with the anime. Funny how things work out sometimes.

The Story of Persona 4:

The Persona 4 anime follows the original game's story almost perfect, so if you're already familiar with it, then you'll know what to expect. That being said... Persona 4 is the story of a young man named Yu Narukami (in the game you named him yourself, but his anime name has since been made canon) who is forced to leave his old life behind to move to the small Japanese town of Inaba. Yu moves in with his mother's younger brother (yes, his uncle) and his daughter Nanako, and has to learn to adapt to his new life in this small town. He must register for a new school, learn how to fit in, and survive an entire year there before he gets to move back home to the city. While Yu doesn't really have any expectations for his new life, it becomes obvious right off the bat that his time spent there won't be as easy as he hopes. His uncle is a police officer who often stays out late at work, his cousin Nanako is distant and has a troubled relationship with her dad due to his work, and to make things even worse the town is currently being plagued by a series of strange murders. It's a lot to take in, but as long as Yu stays out of trouble he doesn't have to worry about it. Yeah, he does a horrible job.

After meeting his classmate Yosuke, things start to change for Yu. The two become fast friends and start hanging out, when eventually they hear of a strange rumor circulating around town. Apparently the murders happen after rainy days, and that the person who will die appears on TV screens at night when the TV is shut off. Of course this is one of the stupidest things they've ever heard, but they decide to try it out anyway. So later that night they shut their TVs off, wait for midnight, and stare at them in amazement as a figure does in fact appear. Not only that Yu hears a strange voice in his head, and is nearly pulled into the TV.

The next day Yu tells Yosuke, and another classmate Chie, what had happened, and both of them think that Yu is basically crazy. "Getting pulled into the TV? Yeah right!" That's when the three decide to go to the local apartment store Junes to see if it's actually possible with a larger flat screen TV. And sure enough, it works. All three of them fall into the large screen TV, and they find themselves in a bizarre world where monsters called "shadows" exist. At first they don't know what to make of the whole thing, but after running into a mascot looking bear character named "Teddie," the three are sent back to the real world and are given some time to process what they had just seen. And to come up with a plan. Despite the possible dangers, the three are interested in investigating this strange world, and fear that it might in fact have something to do with the murders. This is where things differ a little from the original game. In Persona 4 they decide to sneak weapons into that other world to protect themselves, but in Persona 4: The Animation this plan doesn't work out so well. Instead they head into the TV world defenseless with only their "Persona" to protect them.

While in this strange TV world, Yu eventually awakens to his "inner self" and summons what is known as a Persona. These are beings that can be based on any legend, mythology, or even religion, and are seen as that person's true inner strength. Izanagi is the Persona Yu himself receives, while Yosuke too eventually has to face his own shadow self, before awakening to the legendary frog ninja Jiraiya. This new found power is the only way they're able to survive inside the TV world as it doesn't take them long to come face to face with the monsters that dwell there. Of course this is only the beginning.

The main focus of Persona 4 isn't quite what you would expect. Although at its core it is actually a murder mystery where the main characters enter the TV world in hopes of preventing more deaths, the show itself i actually more about the characters than anything else. Everyone has their own inner demons they must face and overcome, and as the series progresses more people join Yu, Yosuke, and Chie's investigation team. While these characters are the main focus of the show, that doesn't mean the rest of the game's cast is ignored. In the original Persona 4 there were events called "social links" where you got to see character stories unfold by hanging out with them. Sure this included the main party, but there were also many side characters with fully fleshed out stories as well. By becoming closer to these characters in the game you unlocked new gameplay features, and you also got to see their stories fully unfold with each encounter. Thankfully the anime adaptation doesn't leave these out, but instead adapts them in a slightly new way.

Throughout the series there are multiple episodes dedicated completely to these side characters, with some plot points being altered to better incorporate them into the main plot. It's a way of retelling the same old stories, while also adding something new to them which wasn't actually seen in the game. This gives some of these characters more character development in general, and adds quite a bit more comedy to the series as well. It's an interesting way to handle what used to technically be side quests, and it's nice to see these characters actually get worked into the main plot. Of course this isn't the only change made to the anime and it's characters.

Although the game itself is fully fleshed out, there are some scenes where time either skips ahead, or events are only implied to happen. Rather than doing the same here in the anime, Persona 4 The Animation actually takes the time to animate these scenes and add extra to the story overall. This includes multiple new comedy scenes, as well as new key character driven moments that were only hinted at in the original. The main villain themselves also receives more attention, with their motives becoming a lot more clearer. It's scenes like these that make the series worth watching even if you've played the game, while keeping the reverse the same as well. Obviously the anime can't cover everything from the original 80-90 hour long story, so even those who watch the anime first will have a reason to play the original as well. It works out nicely here, and is handled much better than most game adaptations. But this is only for the first series.

Persona 4 The Animation Golden:

Because the original anime aired shortly after the game's release, any new content added in the future titles was not touched upon (obviously). So when Persona 4 Golden came out and altered it's story with brand new characters and scenes, the only way they could handle the new canon is by going back and releasing a new series. So that's where The Animation Golden comes in.

Rather than redoing the original, Golden is basically an extra series meant to be watched after finishing the original. The first episode begins with Yu coming to Inaba just like in the first anime, but this time around they took a "new game plus" approach to it. In the original Persona 4 game there were multiple dialogue options you could select for many of the event scenes, and often you were actually limited on what you could say due to your social stats. Some of the funnier options were available from the start (which are also the choices the original anime mainly went with), but the more gutsy and skilled based ones were not accessible on your first playthrough. So of course the original anime ignored these story options, but with Golden that's no longer the case. The Yu seen here is the "fully upgraded overpowered" Yu from the end of the story, and he's free to say and do whatever he wanted -- and so that's what Golden makes use of. Yu is much more direct in this series, he's crazy strong from the get go, and he's able to go down those "challenging" story paths that were not previously seen. But that's about as far as Golden goes with this. Outside of the first episode, the rest of this series is pretty much all new.

Each episode of Golden focuses on different events that were added for the Vita game, and because of this it constantly skips around through the story. These episodes mainly focus on the new character Marie, but other events (mainly comedy events) are scattered throughout it as well. Eventually the final episodes do take the series past the original show's ending, and lead it to the new revised ending that the Persona series would use as canon moving forward. It's an interesting way to handle the new Golden content overall, and can actually be watched side by side with the original series as long as you're careful about the timeline and episode order. (But in general it's better to just watch it after.) It is too bad it never received an English Dub, but that's really just preference and not an actual issue.

Should You Watch It:

So, should you watch it? Honestly, I think it depends on you and what you have access to. If you're a fan of RPGs and have a Vita (or have access to the original game), then I'd have to say no. This is a story you should really just play for yourself. A big part of Persona 4's fun comes from living a year in Japan, and being able to do whatever you want when you want. Knowing the full game's outcome before hand will actually ruin the experience in multiple ways, but thankfully not completely. The game does have a lot of content that the anime wasn't able to fully explore, so you can always come back to it if you still decide to watch the show first. Even so, I strongly recommend playing the RPG before watching this -- assuming you can get past its slightly dated gameplay and dungeons.

If playing P4 isn't an option for you, or you simply don't like JRPGs, then by all means go for the anime. This is a really fun story from start to finish, and it's filled with both comedy and drama. It's a very interesting series overall, and despite it's strange fantasy elements, it deals with a lot of real world issues. That psychological element is something that helps you relate to the story, and is just one of the many reasons the original game pulled people in. The anime does a very good job adapting this, with the new scenes further deepening your connection to these characters. It's rare for an anime adaptation of a video game to do this, and Persona 4 nails it. So yes, it's worth watching -- even if you've played through the original games.