Review for Persona 4: The Animation - Box 3 (Blu-ray & DVD)
Do you remember what you watched four months ago? Or rather do you remember the somewhat unimpressive anime that you watched four months ago, through the haze and distortion of some thirty other anime shows that you’ve watched in the intervening months for review? I posted the review for Part 2 of Persona 4 in the middle of March, and the final instalment reaches us only now, in July. I’ve waited three years for subsequent Star Wars sequels, there was even a four year gap between the first two Back to the Future movies. But this isn’t Back to the Future, and Part 2 certainly didn’t leave on the sort of Who Shot JR cliff-hanger that has you camping outside your DVD emporium, salivating after the next instalment. I had to read my review for Part 2 again to refresh my memory. You won’t be half as lucky. You’ll probably have to watch it again.
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.
So last time... what happened last time? They thought they had solved the Midnight Channel murders when the police apprehended a suspect. Kuma came into the real world to annoy everyone there. With no weird stuff happening, we got three episodes of slice of life-iness, with the heroes going on a school trip, and enjoying summer vacation. But it turned out the Midnight Channel murders weren’t really all that solved, when private detective Naoto Shirogane got pulled into the TV, and was revealed to actually be a girl. Anyway, with the case re-opened, and all seven of the protagonists now given their Persona powers, we head into the final stretch of Persona 4: The Animation.
Manga Entertainment release Persona 4: The Animation Part 3 on behalf of Kazé in a Blu-ray DVD combo, one Blu-ray disc and two DVDs. There are eight episodes on the Blu-ray, while the DVDs hold 4 apiece, although this time there is a bonus OVA episode as well.
18. Anniversary to Become a Family
19. It’s School Festival Day! Time to Have Fun!
20. We’ll all Meet at the AMAGIYA Hotel
21. DON’T SAVE ANYONE ANYMORE
22. It’s Just Like Heaven
23. In Order to Find the Truth
24. The World is Full of s***
25. We Can Change The World
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. But as with the second collection of episodes, I began noticing weaknesses in the transfer and the animation, and that’s no less evident in this final collection. 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.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
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. Then along comes episode 19, which has a lot of screen captions that are translated in the Japanese version, because they appear when no one is speaking. They are inconsequential. The captions of consequence happen when people are speaking and don’t appear in episode 19, but because it’s so full of caption translations, you begin to suspect that it’s fixed, when it really isn’t.
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 between French and English. The French menu autoplays with a trailer for KZTV. This time there are no French exclusive extras.
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.
I finally figured out what Jikken-kun is, when I saw Nanako watching a kids’ TV programme in the background of a scene on this disc. It’s still pretty pointless, and the Jikken-Kun Drama 4 lasting 1:22 on this disc is even more pointless than the first three.
You get the karaoke credits for the Opening 2nd Period, and the Ending Arcane Complete Version, both running to 1:26. Yup, you read that right, shorter than the 90 seconds a credits sequence ought to be. Kazé present these in 1080i 50Hz, giving them the HD equivalent of PAL speed-up. So not only are they not textless, with burnt in subs, but they’re chipmunked (Arcane sounds awful), and they’ve been pitch corrected as well.
The big extra on this disc is the OVA episode, No One Is Alone, which lasts 30 minutes. It’s set just after the climax of the story, but just prior to Yu’s departure, as his friends organise a farewell party for him. When events start Groundhog Day-ing, Yu has to explore some unanswered questions about the Midnight Channel. The series definitely needed a coda to wrap up all the loose ends and answer those questions. This self-indulgent bit of circular nonsense isn’t it, and I was left none the wiser. Incidentally, the pop-up menu doesn’t work for this episode, so when the captions aren’t translated in the Japanese dub, you’re just as screwed as you would be with the DVDs.
Once again I had a look at the DVDs that come with the combo pack, and you get 4 episodes per disc here. The discs autoplay with trailers for KZTV, but also offer trailers for one of the One Piece movies and Wolf Children if you choose the French menu. There’s nothing if you choose the English menu. This time the Jikken-Kun audio drama and the Opening 2nd Period are on disc 1, while the Ending Arcane Complete Version and the OAV Episode 26 are 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.
Could this be the most disappointing show of the year? I watched Persona 4 about halfway through on Anime on Demand last year, before it vanished behind a paywall, and the signs of impending mediocrity had just set in, with a show that looked to be squandering an interesting premise behind frivolity, cliché, and an uneven tone. With Parts 2 and 3 of Persona 4 I finally got to see what happened next, and it turns out to be an accelerating descent into genuine awfulness, a criminal waste of a decent premise and half-decent production values.
That unevenness of tone persists right to the end, and the show plays like a Saturday morning kids' 'toon but with adult overtones. When you’re vanishing into a parallel world through a television set, donning 3D glasses, and whipping out tarot cards with which to summon warriors to do battle on your behalf, you’re definitely in Pokemon territory. Then along comes the series villain, and he turns out to be a total stalker, a misogynist of the worst kind who’s motivated by his lack of success with women. That’s not aimed at the cards and monsters crowd that are tuning into to see the cute talking teddy bear with a zipper around his waist.
There’s the complete inability to carry a narrative momentum through. At the start of this set of episodes, our gang of Scoobies know that the killer is still on the loose, but the first three episodes have nothing to do with the overarching storyline, and are devoted to cuteness and filler. We get little Nanako having to bond with her ever absent cop father, and him having to realise that he’s been emotionally neglecting her. We have the stock ‘silliness at the school festival’ episode. Then we have the stock ‘silliness at the hot springs episode’. It’s only after that the main story resumes, and it isn’t at the motivation of the protagonists, but rather when the villain threatens Yu, and then attacks someone that he’s close to.
They think they have the villain, but he’s not the real villain. It’s one of those pointless twists that some anime throw in just to add another hook to the show. Worse is the point where you start looking for ‘jumping the shark’ and ‘nuking the fridge’ metaphors, as the show offers the biggest comeback since Lazarus, only there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to it. It’s just alive, dead, and alive again, as if the creators know that the viewers would countenance no other development, and they have sufficient contempt for whoever’s buying this not to come up with an in universe explanation. Unless it’s all explained in the video game.
That’s my fear about Persona 4. As I watched its conclusion unfold, and unable to fathom any of the rules of this universe (Just why is there this parallel world populated by Shadows, just why do people get pulled in, just where do these Persona powers come from?), I begin to suspect that the answers are only available in the videogame. I hate these cross media stories, I hated that you needed the graphic novel, novel and video game for Star Wars Shadows of the Empire to understand its story, I hated that you needed the game, the movies, and the Animatrix to understand The Matrix’ story, and I hated that you needed the game, the animation and the movie to fully get The Chronicles of Riddick. Persona 4 makes it all the worse with a stock set of clichéd supporting characters, and a main character with all the charisma and personality of a sponge. Twenty six episodes, three Blu-rays and six DVDs into Persona 4: The Animation, and if you ask me now what this show is really about, I honestly couldn’t tell you.
Persona 4: The Animation has turned out to be a big letdown for me, which considering I wasn’t expecting anything special is saying something. The same may not be true for you, especially if you’ve bought into the whole Persona 4 franchise, and have the videogame to back the animation up. In that case, this release is great if you’re a fan of the English dub. If on the other hand you want this show in the original Japanese, then the caption translation issue would be too much for me. I’d be more inclined to give up on the Blu-rays altogether and just import the US Region 1 DVD release.