Published by Sentai Filmworks, Persona 4: The Animation is an adaptation of the popular 2008 PlayStation 2 video game. Yu Narukami, an average teenager, is transferred from Tokyo to the sleepy town of Inaba while his parents are away on business. Living with his uncle and cousin, Narukami develops friendships with his schoolmates and settles in for a quiet and uneventful year. When the body of a murdered woman is found, it sets off a chain of events involving the mysterious Midnight Channel, a yellow-tinged television station that comes on only at midnight. Someone is sending innocent people inside this dangerous parallel world and unless they are rescued their lifeless bodies will be found days later in the real world. Narukami’s friendships are bolstered by their investigation into the Midnight Channel along with day to day school antics and his interactions with fellow classmates.
As far as adaptations of video games go, the series does a fantastic job integrating many elements and peculiar quirks that made the product so endearing. With the exception of the opening and closing title music, the show’s soundtrack is lifted directly from the game. I’d wager that if you matched up a scene from the show with the same from the video game, the music and dialog would synch quite well. The entire Persona 4 cast is designed from the same character sheets and many secondary characters, like Igor, his assistant Margaret, and a number of social links make appearances. Although the English version of the show only uses a dubbed voice track, the producers were smart enough to bring back the game’s voice actors to reprise their roles. Other winks and nods include the appearance of the calendar/weather screen to show the passage of time and the “All Out Attack” battle animation for intense battle sequences.
For fans, Persona 4: The Animation is a fantastic adaptation. But what about those who know nothing about it? That’s where things get a little iffy. While there’s enough mystery, character growth, and hilarious shenanigans to keep newcomers interested, the show’s breakneck pacing is a bit of a stumbling block. That’s the inherent problem with adapting a 50 to 60 hour video game. While the software can take all the time it needs to develop plot and characters, key episodes are forced to cram in a large amount of exposition within a twenty-two minute time frame. These episodes usually focus on the Midnight Channel’s victims and Narukami’s attempt to save them by aiding the victims in coming to terms with their inner demons made manifest. While these episodes certainly allow the characters to grow, I can’t help but feel that a little bit of heart and soul get lost along the way.
As far as content is concerned, there’s an average degree of language and sexual innuendo that might be of some concern for parents of younger viewers. The show is an emotional rollercoaster at times, cheeky and fun one moment, dark and mature the next, and then back to fun and hilarious. The darker moments usually involve the murder mystery as well as the Shadows themselves. Shadows are terrifying and twisted physical representations of a person’s hidden desires and secrets. Take, for example, Kanji Tatsumi. When he shows up on the Midnight Channel, his gruff, violent demeanor is replaced with one that is stereotypically gay because of Kanji’s inner struggle with homosexuality. Because Shadows grow stronger when they are denied by their human masters, the design of Kanji’s Shadow grows even more ridiculous, twisted and perverse. None of this, however, is done to be malicious or cruel. Instead, it’s rather heartbreaking. While the Shadows for Chie, Yukari and Yosuke are genuinely evil and wish to do harm, Kanji’s Shadow wants nothing more than to be accepted.
Whether you’re a fan of the Persona 4 video game or not, Persona 4: The Animation is a unique adventure that mixes paranormal mystery with high school comedy. Unfortunately, this collection ends halfway through the series and the release date for volume two is nowhere in sight (at the time of this writing), so those hungry to find out what happens to Yu Narukami and the one responsible for throwing people into the Midnight Channel are going to have to wait.