Review for Persona 4: The Animation - Box 2 (Blu-ray & DVD)
I feel sometimes that I’m missing out on half of the fun. It’s fair to say that the gaming world often goes hand in hand with the anime world. Popular manga and anime get gaming spin-offs, games get adapted into anime and manga, it’s an arena of cross cultural fertilisation that is very productive. I haven’t played a game in years, finding it hard to source sufficient minutes in the day to make it worth my while. So it is that when certain anime show up, series which I’m wholly unenthused about, it causes a few head-scratching minutes to see the anime community collectively go wild. It’s only when I realise that they’ve been looking forward to the anime of the game they’ve been playing for years that I begin to understand. Unfortunately for me, and my appreciation of those shows, without having experienced the games, it’s difficult for me to get excited about them, unless they have exceptionally good stories.
When I first saw Persona 4: The Animation, I was unimpressed to say the least. But this month two things happen that may change things for me, and for UK fans. This month Kazé announced via their Facebook page that the Persona 4: Arena game for Xbox 360 should soon see a UK release. And with this second instalment of Persona 4: The Animation, we reach that point where I stopped watching it online the first time around. This time I get to see episodes I’ve never seen before, and this time, hopefully I get to see what all the fuss is about.
Yu Narukami moves to a quiet country town to stay with his uncle and cousin, and is surprised at just how sleepy it is. There’s a rude wakeup call though when a mysterious murder occurs. What makes it creepier is that it’s somehow tied to the Midnight Channel, a rural, urban legend that states that on rainy nights at midnight, mysterious yet familiar figures will appear on TV. When Yu is actually pulled in through a television and into a parallel world, it becomes clear that these things are all connected, and that he will have to deal with the situation himself if he is to prevent further murders. Fortunately he has the help of two new school friends in Chie Satonaka and Yosuke Hanamura. What’s more, they learn that they have special powers in this parallel world, an ability to call forth Persona to do battle for them. They also have a guide in the bear like Kuma.
In the previous collection of episodes, as Yu, Chie and Yosuke investigated the Midnight Channel murders, they found more and more of their schoolmates being pulled into the alternate realm, forced to face their hidden inner selves. As they went in there to rescue them, they wound up unleashing their Personas, and soon inn-heiress Yukiko Amagi, and delinquent arts and crafts fan Kanji Tatsumi joined them in their battles. At the start of this collection of episodes, they are attempting to rescue pop-idol Rise Kujikawa. But it may just be that their Persona adventures are about to come to a premature end.
Manga Entertainment release Persona 4: The Animation Part 2 on behalf of Kazé in a Blu-ray DVD combo, one Blu-ray disc and two DVDs, and this time I got to look at the DVD component as well as the Blu-ray. There are eight episodes on the Blu-ray, while the DVDs hold 4 apiece.
10. Real Me Doesn’t Exist
11. Catch Me If You Can
12. It’s Not Empty At All
13. A Stormy Summer Vacation 1/2
14. A Stormy Summer Vacation 2/2
15. The Long Awaited School Trip
16. Although the Case Was Closed
17. I Want to Know the Truth
The image gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at a 1080p resolution, which given the detail and rich palette of colours in this animation makes it look gorgeous at first glance. The image is clear and sharp throughout, and you can see the unique colour scheme when it comes to the character designs in all its glory. There’s a variegated flesh tone style to the characters that is unlike anything I have seen before in anime, but gives them a warmth and dimension that is unique to this show. I’ve taken to calling it a Miami filter, as it reminds me of the filters especially used in eighties movies and TV shows set in the Sunshine State, stuff like Scarface and Miami Vice. While the real world gets a nice level of detail to it, Persona 4 really goes to town with the other world designs, a twisted mirror image of the real world that becomes more and more fascinating, the further you go into the show.
I mentioned that Persona 4 looks good at first glance, as with this second collection of episodes, I began noticing weaknesses in the transfer and the animation. Once again I was struck by the prevalence of digital banding, and this time with the DVD to compare with, it becomes clear that where there is banding on the DVD, there will also be banding on the Blu-ray. The thing that really struck me this time around was the way that Persona 4’s action sequences are accomplished. What the animators do is that in the most extreme frame of an action sequence, they will deliberately distort the animation by adding blur, by breaking up outlines, by adding zigzags, overlaying an image with a ripple effect. It’s like adding speed-lines to a comic panel to indicate action. Here it enhances the action sequence to make it look even more energetic and impactful... on DVD. With Blu-ray clarity able to render each frame with such precision, it actually looks like compression artefacts, and it diminishes the quality of the animation in my estimation.
We get PCM 2.0 Stereo audio in English and Japanese, and depending on which menu you choose at the beginning, either French subtitles, or English subtitles and a signs only track. The US disc from Sentai is English only, and that with DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, so with the choice between uncompressed audio for us and lossless audio for them, it as near as makes no difference. It also makes no difference in this case that as per the usual Kazé practice, audio and subtitles are only configurable through the menu. Otherwise they are locked during playback. There’s apparently continuity with the game in the voice casting for both languages, including the Japanese voice actor for Igor appearing posthumously. I went with the Japanese audio for the duration for the Blu-ray, and was mostly satisfied with the experience. This time I also took in four of the eight episodes in English on the DVD, and I believe dub fans will be happy as well, although Sentai’s dub isn’t the most stellar ever committed to disc. It does get the job done though. The stereo does a nice job with bringing across the action and the atmosphere of the show, and there were no problems with glitches or the like.
Yet again we have a total fail when it comes to subtitling. Kazé refuse to show caption translations and dialogue simultaneously for viewers of the Japanese audio version, which means that for much of the disc, most of the on screen text and captions are not translated. Most of the shop signs, the posters, road signs, and the like are missing. There are more than a few moments of plot specific on screen text, mobile phone text messages and shadow character game show titles that aren’t translated. For the Blu-ray it’s a simple matter of skipping back, and using the popup menu to briefly change audio tracks, inconvenient at worst, although you won’t know how many captions you have missed unless you watch the dub version in full. The best case scenario on this disc is that an episode will have three or four captions in the English dub that won’t be in the Japanese version. The worst case happens in episode 14, which has 16 plot specific captions, most of which aren’t translated in the Japanese version. It’s inconvenient to skip back and change the audio, but it’s also time consuming. I shouldn’t have to spend 45 minutes watching a 25 minute anime episode.
As mentioned, this is a Kazé disc and is pretty user unfriendly. Its pan-European nature becomes apparent as soon as you play the disc, as it pops up a menu asking you to choose from French and English. The French menu autoplays with a trailer for KZTV.
The episodes are presented with a pleasant animated menu, and Play All does what you would expect. Each episode is followed by a 90 second white text on black English language credit roll, as is the usual Sentai practice, from whom the English dub and probably the Blu-ray masters are sourced.
The only extras on this disc for English viewers are the Mister Jikken (Drama 2) and Magical Jikken (Drama 3), about 2 minutes apiece of nonsense which to be honest I still can’t comprehend and neither can I see the connection to Persona 4.
If you speak French on the other hand, you get a couple more short extras to go with the show, (Lesson) Edogawa Kogi is a 90 second piece, while Aqua Balance: Your Future is 30 seconds worth of music video taken from the show, featuring Rise.
This time around I had a look at the DVDs that come with the combo pack, and you get 4 episodes per disc here. The discs also autoplay with trailers for KZTV, but also offer trailers for Bakuman, Patlabor 3, and one of the One Piece movies if you choose the French menu. There’s nothing if you choose the English menu. Once again, the Jikken dramas are common extras to both menus on disc 1. The French get Lesson and Aqua Balance on disc 2. The image is pretty good quality 1.78:1 anamorphic PAL, and certainly I found Persona 4 to look better on the small screen with DVD than on the big screen with Blu-ray. Audio comes in DD 2.0 Surround English and Japanese, with translated subtitles and a signs only track (The French only get subtitles). Once again this disc is locked up tight. No changing audio or subtitles with your remote on the fly and no convenient pop-up menu for you to do so while watching an episode. Worse, the player won’t hold your place on the disc in memory, so if you escape to the main menu to change audio, you’ll have to start the episode from the beginning again. With the problem with captions, it really rules out the DVD for watching the Japanese audio version.
I’ve been procrastinating for two days trying to figure out how to conclude this review. Persona 4 is the one of the biggest anime titles to come out this year; fans have been licking their lips at the prospect of finally owning it, and on Blu-ray no less. It’s a hot ticket, a tie in to a popular videogame, and we in the UK get one over on the US this time, as we get the original language track on Blu-ray, which they don’t. Add to that, in this volume I get to see those episodes I missed the first time around, when the show was streamed on Anime on Demand. This time I’m seeing all new Persona 4, and my attention shouldn’t drift, and I should be enthused and enthralled. Except that I’m not. I ought to be giving this review my full effort, trying to live up to the expectations of Persona 4 fans, to give this anime a fair shake, and appreciate all its finer points and nuances. Except that I can’t.
With this second volume of Persona 4, I come to the realisation that I just don’t like this show all that much, and that’s before I get to the deficiencies of its Blu-ray and DVD presentation. In fact, if I were enthused about this show, I’d be screaming about those particular deficiencies a whole lot louder. It must be down to not having experienced the game, not having been part of the Persona universe. For me Persona 4 is a very run of the mill, average anime show, bolstered by its production values, and with odd moments and occasional characters that do sparkle, but one which has a rather tiresome story and nothing new or original about it. It’s entertaining enough, and you won’t regret 25 minutes spent in the company of an episode. But it’s not that memorable, and I find it hard to see what all the fuss is about.
My biggest problem with the show is the central character, Yu Narukami. He’s just so bland and nondescript. I realise that he is the representation of the player character in the game, and as such he has to represent the same sort of cipher that the game character is. The difference is that in the game, you are the character, your decisions affect the outcome of the game, and you can invest yourself, and your emotional responses into what happens to the character in the game. You have no control over Yu Narukami in the anime. He’s just a character. But he’s a character so dull and lifeless that it’s only very rarely that I even notice he’s there. The bulk of the emotional weight of the story is carried by the supporting cast.
We begin by wrapping up the Rise Kujikawa storyline, with our five intrepid heroes venturing into the Midnight Channel once more to rescue the pop idol. It’s no surprise that she has to face up to her inner demons to escape her fate, and by doing so is gifted a Persona of her own. Once again, she knows exactly what it is and how to use it without even asking. The one surprise here is that their Teddy Bear guide to this parallel world, Kuma is a little more complex than it seems at first glance. He has a mystery of his own to enrich the story, and subsequently manages to leave the parallel world and venture into the real.
It looks like the story is coming to a premature end, when another murder occurs, and this time the suspect is identified. There’s an added complication when he vanishes into the TV to escape, and it’s down to Yu and his friends to go in and apprehend him, but it looks at that point as if the adventure is over, especially when the suspect confesses. There then follows three episodes of R&R for the gang of Scoobies, first with the summer vacation episodes, which taking a leaf from Haruhi Suzumiya turns out to be an Endless Two. The first episode offers the summer vacation from Nanako’s viewpoint, and the second offers those same events from Yu’s viewpoint. This is the one point in the series that he threatens to develop a personality, but it doesn’t stick. There then follows another episode of frivolity on the school trip, which almost descends into slice-of-life antics, but the presence of young detective Naoto Shirogane proves to be a reminder of the main storyline.
Naoto was an investigator brought in to consult on the case, but with the capture of the suspect, his services were no longer required. But his suspicions about the case never were satisfied, and he continued to believe that Yu and his friends were involved. He’s started attending the same high school, and he uses the school trip as a means to wheedle a few answers out of the Scoobies. Then reality comes crashing in when it turns out that the show took a page from Paranoia Agent, that the suspect arrested has nothing to do with the initial disappearances, and this is brought to their immediate attention when Naoto appears on the Midnight Channel. They venture into the TV once more to rescue the young detective, who once more has to face his inner demons, and the truth about himself that he’s been hiding from. At this point I am obliged to change the gender pronoun regarding Naoto...
And so the seven heroes showcased in the show’s opening theme have been gathered, and all are aware of and are battling against the mysterious force behind the Midnight Channel. The final volume should take us to the end of the story, where all will be finally revealed. A bland lead, and a show that is either too dark for its target audience, or too juvenile for its subject matter, makes it hard for me to build up any enthusiasm. As for Kazé’s Blu-ray release, it’s fine if you prefer the mediocre English dub, but if you actually want to watch it in the original language, the inability to show captions and subtitles simultaneously means that plot specific information is constantly lost.