To say Persona 4 is a hot property is a bit of an understatement. Since its first appearance on the PlayStation 2 in 2008, it’s gone on to sell over 700,000 copies. Because of this, Atlus has gone on to treat the series as a cash cow, milking every single one of its engorged udders as the company belched out merchandise and spin-offs with reckless abandon. Fighting games, dungeon crawlers, even a rhythm dancing game have made their way to market, each being snapped up by eager audiences worldwide.
Clearly, I’m a big fan.
Anyway, in 2011, Persona 4 received an anime adaptation: Persona 4: The Animation. The series, which ran for 26 episodes, managed to retell the base story without too many major hiccups. There were a few pacing issues, and development of minor characters fell by the wayside, but many agreed that it was a decent effort at condensing an 80-hour game into a series that would run for just under eleven hours in total.
In 2012, Persona 4 The Golden was released on Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld. The game was, for the most part, an expanded edition of the hit PlayStation 2 game, that added new characters, dialogue, and story elements to what was an already meaty game. The biggest addition, though, was Marie: a mysterious amnesiac, whose back story sets the stage for a grand, if not heart-wrenching quest that worms its way through the entirety of the title.
Due to the overwhelming popularity of the remake, intersect in Persona 4 as a property spiked once again. In May 2014, it was announced that Persona 4 The Golden would receive an anime adaptation: Persona 4 The Golden Animation. As the title implies, the new series would incorporate elements from the Vita game, the most important of which being Marie’s inclusion in the plot.
With a new series, and new elements to flesh out the world, the writers would be equipped to turn this adaptation of Persona 4 into something truly special, right? They’d be able to fix the rushed pacing and actually build on the secondary cast a bit more, right?
Fans of the game will definitely feel at home, as there’s little to really separate the game’s plot from the show’s. For long-time fans the familiar plot points are there. For first-time entrants to Persona 4, though, the experience is a hot mess.
The episode opens with a fourth wall breaking moment, as Velvet Room Igor and Margaret dwellers tell the viewer that Persona 4 The Golden Animation is basically “Persona 4: The Animation, New Game + Edition.” Now, to call it a room is a bit misleading, as they’re really in a car, but logic clearly won’t matter once we get rolling!
Anyway, the series proper opens with Yu Narukami arriving at Yasoinaba train station. It’s funny, because “Yu” sounds like “You” and he’s a player avatar! Get it? (Dear God, is this over yet?) Anyway, his ride, caretaker, and apparently awkward love interest Dojima arrives, daughter in tow. After a brief flirt, the two make their way home. Once they arrive, Nanako shows she’s capable of more than cowering in fear, as she sings her favorite song: the damn jingle for the local department store.
The next day, at school, Yu’s home room teacher introduces Yu to the class as a city-dwelling cock. Yu, deciding he’ll have none of that, proves his teacher right by humiliating him in front of the class. The students are pleased and impressed. After all, he’s the main character, and they have to reassure the audience that he is perfect and awesome in every way possible. This is particularly evident after class, as Chie, Yosuke, and Yukiko take a minute to talk about how awesome Yu is for making an ass of their teacher. This quickly loses focus as they start talking about oranges, and meat, and… I don’t know what the hell’s going on. Yosuke clearly agrees with this sentiment.
That night, in the middle of the rain, the disembodied voice of Chie explains the midnight channel. Basically, people who watch a TV that’s not on should see their “soul mate” on the screen. Realistically, they’re gonna see a commercial for Miss Cleo and the power of the Tarot. But anyway, Yu watches, and sees yellow static, with a flickering image of a girl. This is followed, by an interruption by the voices in his head.
Really, I thought Japan had socialized health care. He should get that checked out. But I digress.
Being a logical, person, Yu shoves his arm into the TV, which has become a portal. Because science.
The next day, Yu tells his new besties about this and, as one would expect, they think he’s dreaming. Well, except Chie, but she’s the quirky “unique’ one of the bunch. She gets a brilliant idea that Yu should be able to jump into a giant TV. Because science. The scene cuts to the TV displays at Junes Department Store, where Chie and Yosuke talk. Yu is a man of action, though, and thrusts his hand into the damn TV. Cue “hilarious” shocked reactions, as Yosuke and Chie try to keep Yu from doing something incredibly stupid. That clearly doesn’t work, as the three are pulled into the TV. It’s not all circuitry and electrical death, either! The TV world is foggy world, with chalk outlines on the ground. So, basically, it’s Silent Hill, which means Konami should receive their royalty cheque in about a week.
This is followed by an extended walking montage, as the three explore the world in search of a shadowy woman that’s alway a few steps ahead. The journey ends in an apartment that looks like a murder scene. Blood spatters the walls, and the entire scene is in disarray. The tension isn’t made to last, though. Chie hears something, which happens to be Kuma. God, I hate Kuma… he’s a whiny little dick that… Oh dear god, I’m criticizing Persona 4 on the internet! Someone’s going to freaking crucify me!
Where was I? Oh, right! After introduction time is over, Kuma warns the three about The Shadows, and gives Yu a swag set pair of glasses that dispel the fog. And, as if by scripted events, Shadows burst into the building. Cue a chase scene, because why not? Outside, Yu summons her persona, which leads to an extended series of glamour shots, followed by a decently satisfying climax, which cuts to the end credits as Yu’s new bosom buddies wonder who the hell this psychopath with magical demon powers really is.
This is a lot of ground to cover over the course of a 25-minute episode. And, unfortunately, sacrifices are made in storytelling to cram the core plot points in. Finer details are outright ignored, and almost nothing is actually explained to the viewer. Events have little sense of flow, and feel more like a collection of random events, than the beginnings of a cohesive story. Heck, the show actually shows its time skips in the form of the sliding counter in the video game!
Die-hard fans would call this a clever touch. I call it lazy writing.
Characters are thrown out with no real introduction, and the series gives no real reason to care about anyone, outside of newcomer Marie. Their motivations aren’t explained, and their personalities tend to be little more than bare archetypes.
For a title that boasts a “deep, evolving cast,” this is a cardinal sin.
Back on topic, though, the dialogue is clunky, with characters seeming to talk at one another rather than to one another. This is made even more evident in the show’s feeble attempts at humor, which boil down to a cast member reacting to a situation a silly face, as a goofy visual effect (like a sweat-drop or a surprise bang) appears next to his or her head. This is punctuated by the character exclaiming some “hilarious” line that probably means something to somebody somewhere, but will inevitably fly right over the heads of the average viewer.
To be fair, the entire episode isn’t horrible. Just most of it.
After the credits roll, the series changes gears to a slice of life segment starring Yu and Marie. Marie is a resident of the Velvet Room with no memories, and no knowledge of the outside world. Rather than have her be a shut-in, Elizabeth asked that Yu show her around the human realm.
This segment is incredibly charming, and explores Marie as a character, building her personality and creating a truly likable, if not lovable character in the five minutes allotted. She’s shy, stand-offish, and blunt, but there’s a side of her that seems to truly cherish the world around her.
If anything, it’s this segment that really shines a light on how terrible the rest of the episode was.
And really, that’s what the shame is. This short, five-minute segment was so good, so fantastic that it invites the viewer to want to see more. The main portion of the show, on the other hand, pushes viewers away, and tells newcomers that they’re not particularly welcome.
On a visual level, the series looks fantastic. The animation is clean, and the character designs are fantastic. Fight choreography, while erring on the idea that Yu is the Persona equivalent of a Sherman tank, creates a fun spectacle to watch, even if the final result is visible from the moment the fight begins.
The music for the series is a mix of old and new, with a selection of background tracks from the game mixing with a selection of new vocal tracks. The new vocal themes are bouncy, fun, and generally welcome additions to the overall soundtrack.
Generally, though, Persona 4 The Golden Animation doesn’t feel like it’s meant for newcomers. The way the show glosses over key events and characters feels almost hostile to those unfamiliar with Persona 4. It comes across as obtuse and difficult to approach. For series vets, the show will feel rushed and disjointed, as plot points and character development is skipped, and the plot itself seems to rush from major set piece to major set piece. It’s unfortunate, as this was an opportunity to really right the wrongs of the first anime series. With its current format, the series looks like it will be an utter disappointment, both for the fans and the first-time watchers alike.