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Persona 4: The Animation

Wednesday 19th December 2012

Helen McCarthy tries to avoid getting sucked into the screen

Persona 4: The Animation

There's nothing new under the sun. The idea of people caught inside a TV screen isn't new, even in anime: Video Girl Ai did the same thing back in the days of cassette tape. The idea that in another reality, you have special powers and a vital purpose, has been exploited by shows from Sailor Moon to Vision of Escaflowne. The displaced teen hero is found in myriad places, from Princess Mononoke's early Japan to Fullmetal Alchemist's Nazi Europe. The sentai concept, the teen-led team with its mix of strengths and mutual respect goes all the way back to the 60s, with Osamu Tezuka's puppet adventure Galaxy Boy Troop predating 1966 anime Rainbow Sentai Robin.

Where Persona 4: The Animation scores is in spinning this handful of old tropes into an interesting pattern. A 26 episode TV series aired in Japan from October 2011, and released in the USA and UK from September 2012, it's based on a game from Atlus. Japanese teenager Yu moves from Tokyo to a quiet country town to stay with his police detective uncle, and becomes entangled in a weird world of murders, changing weather patterns and a TV show that's trying to pull him into its universe. Yu and his new friends must find their Personas – their "other halves" inside the TV screen – and prevent more destruction in their own world.

Game-based anime have some complex constraints. They have to stay faithful enough to their origin to please game fans, but be coherent as standalone stories to win new, non-gamer audiences. They also have to compress many hours of gameplay into much shorter screentime. Happily, senior writer Yuuko Kakihara has plenty of experience as a story-planner, including a key role in Disney's Japanese Stitch!, while director Seiji Kishi's rap sheet includes tense human drama in Yugo The Negotiator, strange powers in Magikano and game-based stories in Ragnarok The Animation. All the key elements of the game are present and correct, although much compressed, and there are only a few moments where newcomers to the concept will be momentarily baffled.

The stylish, striking designs and colour palette wielded by art director Kazuki Higashiji are a major plus. The opening credits play up one of the show's key features, the difference between the TV world and the real. The mix of 2D and 3D is a tricky one to pull off in anime, but lead 2D house D-Station was supported by some of the top names in the TV anime business, including AIC, GAINAX and Sunrise. Shoji Meguro adapts his music from the game to good effect for TV. There are a few problems with the animation, an occasional over-reliance on still frames, but not enough to spoil your enjoyment of an otherwise entertaining show.

Persona 4: The Animation is out in the UK from Manga Entertainment.

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Persona 4: The Animation

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Persona 4 The Animation Box 1

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When Yu Narukami moves to the country town of Inaba to stay with his uncle and cousin, he's expecting a lot more peace and quiet than he's used to in the big city. What he isn't expecting is for his uncle's job as a police detective to spill over into his own life, or for the murders that are occurring across town to be somehow linked to Yu's own strange experiences, odd local weather patterns, and a mysterious TV show world that seems to be attempting to get Yu to enter it!
Now, together with a new group of friends, Yu must plunge into a bizarre alternate reality where he gains unique abilities that will either help him solve the riddle of the mystery killer... or lead him to his doom.

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Persona 4 was originally released in 2008 on the PlayStation 2 and is currently available in brilliantly enhanced form as Persona 4 Golden on the PlayStation Vita. While the tale of the nameless hero (Yu Narukami in the anime) and his friends in the small but macabre town of Inaba became arguably the most popular entry in the Persona series of role-playing games, it was far from the first.

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The third and last volume of Persona 4 The Animation – released like its predecessors as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack – shows the full spectrum of the series. The first volume was adventure-heavy, as hero Yu and his growing circle of friends sought the serial killer dispatching victims in the country town of Inaba; a mystery linked to a foggy fantasy world behind the TV screen. The second volume tied up – well, seemed to tie up – that arc early on, then told lighter-hearted stories tying into the show’s theme of friendship. However, Volume 2 ended with another action-heavy story confirming that the serial-killer mystery wasn’t solved, and recruiting the last warrior in Yu’s band of heroes – the cross-dressing “boy” detective Naoto, voiced by Japanese actress Romi Park (Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood).

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