Persona 4 – The Animation Volume 1 (Episodes 1-9) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 212 minutes approx.
Yu Narukami is forced to live with his uncle, Detective Ryotaro Dojima, and his young daughter, Nanako in the rural city of Inaba, which happens to see horrific murders take place whenever an ominous fog and heavy downpour engulfs the city. At his new school, Yu hears talk of the mysterious Midnight Channel, which only appears on TV at the stroke of twelve on these inclement nights, purported to show one’s “other self”. During such a night Yu switches on his TV and, sure enough, the channel appears, only it shows classmate Saki Konishi, the girl who found the body of the last murder victim. To his surprise Yu finds his hand can pass through the TV screen, which he mentions to his new school friends – Chie Satonaka, Yukiko Amagi and Yosuke Hanamura – the nest day. Yu offers to demonstrate with a large widescreen TV at the superstore run by Yosuke’s father and true to his word, Yu’s hand disappears into the screen again, but Yosuke’s clumsiness accidentally sends all three of them into the TV and into a strange world.
As the title suggests, Persona 4 is not an original anime story, based as it is on a successful video game franchise. Prior knowledge of the games is not a necessity – if anything, approaching it fresh means one can enjoy this series without the need to measure it against its parent inspiration, something those already familiar with the story will no doubt feel compelled to do. However it is clear that Aniplex saw huge potential in the plot for an anime and judging from this first set, they could be onto something.
The structure is a little different from what one would expect. Each episode opens with an introduction from two people, the elderly crone like Igor and his young female assistant Margaret, in the Velvet Room, the spacious back set of a limousine which is a place between dreams and reality. So far, no relation between them and the subsequent stories has been established but since they appear to have a keen handle on the developments, this will no doubt be revealed as the show progresses.
Upon entering this other dimension our ostensive Alices are greeted by a rotund bear shaped figure called Teddy (or Kuma in the subtitles, which is Japanese for “bear”) who gives Yu a pair of glasses to see through the fog and guides the group through this mysterious world. However they are soon attacked by creatures called Shadows but Yu somehow awakens latent magical powers within him, summoning his own fighting charge named Izanagi – a Persona – and defeats the Shadows. When they return to the regular world, the group learn that Saki was found dead during the night and conclude that there is a connection between the Midnight Channel, the fog and the other dimension they visited and vow to solve the mystery.
The liberty this series can take which is not afforded to the game is the development of the characters and that is the path the first batch of episodes takes, with the formula being that each person the group save then becomes part of the team, presumably born out of obligation and trust. With each successive mission, the new team members have to battle their own Doppelganger which displays a personality contrary to the one they show in real life. Sweet Yukiko’s Doppelganger is a scheming bitch jealous of Chie’s care free lifestyle, as Yukiko is a slave to her family’s inn. Aggressive punk delinquent Kanji Tatsumi has trouble with his sexual identity, suggesting his bullying is a result of his inability to talk to girls – therefore his doppelganger is a flamboyant, sexually ambiguous and promiscuous character.
The biggest surprise however is Yu. For the main protagonist he is a black hole of charisma yet somehow seems to attract people – especially women – like flies. This again may stem from his origins as a game character in which he is played in the first person thus doesn’t need to have a personality, but for a TV series this comes across as a huge oversight, leaving us with a bland dishrag of a hero who is difficult to root for. Thankfully though, this show doesn’t always take itself too seriously with lashing of humour to be found in the “real world” lives of the team. Expect to see the usual anime affectations such as the sweatdrops and the tension marks but also be wary of some amusing and irreverent running gags – such as a classmate Aika whose family runs a Chinese restaurant and can deliver food to our heroes (usually Chie) where ever the location – even when running away from the police!
At this early stage we are still at the feeling out process, getting to know the characters and the two different worlds they inhabit. For fans of the games, the action scenes are few and far between while for anime fans they are a little underwhelming, taking up a small moment of our time. The animation is functional enough but the designs of the world beyond the TV screen are quite well rendered and visually appealing. The Shadows are your standard anime villain/creature designs while the dark and gothic locations in which they dwell are full of atmosphere and the requisite foreboding for dangerous mission into the unknown.
It needs pointing out that there is a Director’s Cut of the first episode. I would strongly urge you to watch this one before proceeding with the rest of the chapters, offering as it does just that little more vital information to help kick this series off.
Persona 4 starts out as something of a curiosity that defies quite a few conventions with its approach to narrative and content, a result of its source material, but the interest it creates in this opening volume and the potential for something far greater is evident from the get go. A definite cult hit if nothing else.
Episode 1 – Director’s Cut
Jikken-Kun (Drama 1)
Ratings – ****
Man In Black