I prefer to call this article “a retrospect” instead of a review. Maybe I should call it “thoughts” instead. Maybe “analysis.” Wait, no. Retrothoughtasis. Perfect.
Yes. This is my retrothoughtasis of Persona 4 The Animation. About a month or two ago, I binged this anime over the course of a few days. I normally don’t binge anime like that. I must have had something more important that I didn’t want to do; that’s the only thing that could push me to anime binging.
The only thing that is more unlikely than an anime binge for me is an RPG binge. As you can tell by my last article, I’m pretty casual when it comes to games. At the same time, I really love Persona 4 Golden. When I was home for spring break with no internet, I played that game pretty much constantly. I believe I made it to the third dungeon before the break was over. I say “believe” because I haven’t touched it since. Still, I think that’s long enough experience to compare it to the anime and determine which one I enjoyed more.
Spoiler alert: I enjoyed the anime so much more. Odds are, I might be totally alone on this. So I’m gonna lay out my case for why the anime is so much more enjoyable. I’ll even split it into parts, because that sounds super professional and I’m a super professional kind of guy.
Part I: Stress
As anyone who has played a well-made RPG will tell you, RPGs are hair-pullingly stressful. Combine that with a social sim, and you have just built my worst stress nightmare incarnate. Nothing says “stressing Siege out” quite like combining risk-management, meticulous planning, and talking to people.
Everytime I mentioned that I was playing Persona 4 to anyone, I was met with an overwhelming pressure that I wasn’t playing the game the right way. I was constantly reminded that I hadn’t been doing the right social links on the right days in the right amount. To be fair, they were probably right. I finished Chie’s social link before I even got most links to level two, mainly because she’s absolutely adorable.
That’s how I wanted to play it. It’s not the perfect route by any means, but it’s the story I wanted to mold. That’s what I told everyone, including myself. Still, there was this nagging feeling at the back of my mind the whole time that it was going to bite me in the butt down the road.
That sort of stress is totally non-existant in the anime, obviously. By losing the interactivity, I was free to just absorb the story without worrying about managing Persona fusions and watching forecasts.
Of course, this is totally subjective. I can definitely see someone feeling more invested in Persona 4′s story when they have an actual stake in their decisions, but personally, I’d like to just go along for the ride.
Part II: Story
This section may contain spoilers. Just FYI. Skip if you want, but I’ll be a little disappointed.
I already sort of touched on how much I love the story, but now it’s time to absolutely gush about it. While Persona 4′s story isn’t flawless, it’s got so much personality and emotion slammed into it that I can’t help but fall in love with it. At 70+ hours or so, the game has a lot of story to tell and it plans to use all of that time.
Even though it’s compressing a long RPG into 26 episodes, Persona 4 The Animation covers a surprising amount of ground. A good chunk of the social links are covered in the anime’s run without everything feeling too cluttered. Even when the show crams a few of them into one episode, it’s done very creatively and gracefully.
More important than simply covering the social links, the anime does a better job in my opinion of conveying the emotional turmoil of each character who is thrown into the television. Even the shadow fights themselves are used for emotional effect, giving these battles much more weight than they had in-game. Instead of having to shove all the emotional bits to lengthy pre-fight dialogue, the anime has the freedom to allow the shadows to taunt their victims mid-fight, adding drama and heft to every word followed by a crushing attack.
As always, the voice actors do an amazing job in their roles (I watched the dub, by the way). The lines may be similar or identical to lines they delivered in the game, but watching everything unfold is a real treat. I feel more connected to the characters since they feel like more than in-game avatars. They are fully animated, so it just seems more real to me. A notable and controversial performance is by Erin Fitzgerald, who steps into the shoes of Chie’s character magnificently, giving her an almost totally different personality Tracey Rooney’s performance the original game. Also notable is Naoto’s voice actress, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, if only because her voice makes my kokoro go doki doki. Extremely doki doki.
It’s not impossible for a game to convey story as effectively as television. In some cases, games are even better at storytelling than any other medium. However, in this case, I’ll have to give the “better at story” prize to the anime. That prize doesn’t actually exist, so I’ll make one.
Part III: Humor
In its transition from game to anime, Persona 4 gained a lot of extra humor. Don’t get me wrong: the game has a nice sense of humor; that’s part of the reason I love it so much. The lighthearted nature of the dialogue in Persona 4 is the reason I can bear to play it, and conversely why Persona 3 sits on my PS3 hard drive untouched.
The anime adds little dashes of humor with running gags and a bit of sarcasm, courtesy of the no-longer-mute protagonist, Yu Narukami. Or is it Narukami Yu? Japanese names are a little confusing.
In the dub, Johnny Yong Bosch does an amazing job of conveying Yu’s deadpan humor. A lot of the deadpan humor was available in-game in the form of dialogue choices, but it lacks that bit of delivery that the anime provides. It may just be my personal preference for snarky humor, but I can’t help but smile pretty much any time Yu opens his mouth. Here, have a gif as an example.
There are also a couple of strong running gags that The Animation added. I’ve heard that some people really think that one gag (a delivery woman that will literally deliver food to anywhere at anytime) is grating and overdone as the series goes on. I think the humor is spot on, personally. I can see how someone used to Shin Megami Tensei’s typically more serious mood could let these kinds of slapstick jokes take them out of the experience, but it really enhanced my viewing pleasure. Besides, running gags aside, Persona 4 The Animation isn’t really afraid to throw in some over-the-top humor.
Despite all this time I’ve spent exhaustively saying how much I prefer the anime over the game, I don’t think the anime acts as a replacement for the game. I think it acts a s a good companion to it, actually. Watching the anime actually made me excited to play the game in a lot of ways. I’ve seen the plot, but I really can’t wait to dive in this summer and really live the plot.
…All of this is making me really nostalgic for Persona 4 The Animation. Guess it’s time for another binge!