I've been over why Persona 4: The Golden is one of my favorite games of all time through several other blogs as well as an innumerable amount of overly-enthusiastic Internet comments (half of which are about why Naoto is objectively best girl). I could likely make a career out of singing it's praises, so long as a few avid Persona fans were also Patreon addicts with loads of disposable income. Though, for now, I have a new weapon with which to prove that Persona 4, not just as a game, but as an IP, is within a special league of brilliance...
It's animated adaptation.
Though, The Animation is less so brilliant because of it's general quality. As an American viewer who, frankly, prefers a decent English dub over the very best Japanese dub, it's much more thanks to the care the localization team put into realizing these characters into a non-interactive medium.
Whether the source material was already this good and they knew not to change much or they spruced up what some might have considered mundane, they did a bang-up job! But, that's just the writing. The character performances, what can make or break said writing, are possibly even better than they were in the games.
I'd wager that recording for an anime is a tad less hectic than recording for a game, even a game that barely focuses on it's narrative. This is all too evident from my time with many a Japanese video game who's localization seemed to take about as much priority as a temp's coffee break.
Voice performances for a video game are usually, if not last minute, terribly rushed. Their narratives have problems that extend far beyond the writing team(s). Nevermind when a game needs to make it's transition from Japanese to English. Or any other language, for that matter.
Not only is The Animation less chalk full of story, but this means that there was likely more time given to each reading. More re-recordings, more direction, more of basically everything needed to get things right. While it isn't a drastic improvement over vanilla Persona 4 or The Golden, as those performances were already generally great, that it's improved at all is a surprise even all things considered.
It's clear the same care given to the games was also given to The Animation and I could not respect them any more for it. Where it counts, the writing exceeds and the wonderful voice acting permeates the entire package.
Just like it's video game counterpart, more time is spent dealing with the various troubles each protagonist faces as well as the overarching murder mystery than there is time spent with how awesome they can make the Personas and their attacks look with complete cinematic freedom.
That murder mystery isn't any more engrossing than it was before. In fact, it might be less so. Not just in how I was fully aware of how things went down, having beaten The Golden (technically) twice, but in how often the murder plot seems to take a cushion-y backseat to the moment-to-moment events and side stories.
That's just what TV does, though, am I right? Well, here, focus seems to deviate into "my friends are great and we are going to have so very much fun" a little too strictly. It's not that this angle is touched upon too much, but whenever it is, it's pretty heavy-handed. This is not necessarily a criticism as I prefer the dynamics between the protagonists far more than I do between them and this great evil, though it's strange how little build-up there is to the end revelations. The main plot can feel almost completely forgotten about for several episodes at a time.
During The Animation's final 4 episodes, it, naturally, picks up. But, by this point, it's as if the story is playing catch-up with itself and so the pacing can feel a little hurried along. Confrontations and final battles can easily feel short or sudden instead of being highlights I've been looking forward to for some time.
Granted, it's secrets are better kept here, so those following along for the first time might actually be surprised by The Animation's plot twists.
However, The Animation, otherwise, is directed close to flawlessly. Come around episode 5 or 6, it switches from a thoroughly predictable retelling of Persona 4's many story events, to something that is much more it's own thing. The liberties taken add far more than they do detract, if detract at all.
For instance, I absolutely love what they did with, let's just say, Episode 12 and a certain Shadow fight interpretation. It was fantastically screwy, depressing, and incredibly fitting, playing with a fear I know all too well. Already being a franchise that touches me so personally, it was something that I sorely wish had been handled in the games as they now feel that much more lacking for it.
Other times, though, these liberties they take are not so much creative or emotionally deep as they are supremely hilarious.
That is the face of a man with pep and personality. That is our silent player character, now completely not-silent and an honest-to-goodness joy to experience. Yu Narukami's portrayal in The Animation was one of my favorite aspects.
It's something they could have easily fucked up. Too far in one direction and he feels two-dimensional. Not far enough in that same direction and it feels like wasted potential. However, to great effect, Yu is played up as one who does not give a Slime's tokus in more ways than one.
Is he still blunt? Absolutely. Does he remain somewhat withdrawn? Of course. But, would he like to see Chie or Yukiko in a bathing suit? Who wouldn't? Can he juggle more than half a dozen heady relationships over the course of an entire week? If you can in Persona 4, he can here. Does he have any problem pretending to be a woman? Not only will he play it up perfectly, but he will wear a dress with immense pride.
His lines can come completely out of left field and have had me nearly on the floor laughing. I'm talking quite literally a knee-slappin' good time. He is the comic relief that nobody expected and I love it.
And, on a personal note, you get to see plenty more of Teddie and that... that, I also loved.
Those that worked on this animation must've been already heavily into the games, if not those directly involved. Fanservice is kept tasteful and fitting rather than exploitative or jarring, the excellent writing and voice performances carry over effortlessly, and the liberties taken are welcome rather than immediately shunned by my thoroughly anal expectations.
If you can't bear to witness Persona 4 in it's original or Golden glory, then I would highly suggest picking this animation up. You are no better off for having not experienced these classic characters in at least some form that isn't a spin-off.
So long, my grizzly lovers~!