The sleepy countryside town of Inaba is unremarkable in every way. In fact, the only thing that Inaba is even recognised for is its above-average steak. However, shortly after a transfer student from the big city arrives strange things begin to occur, starting with a spree of mysterious and inexplicable murders. The only ones who can unravel the mystery and capture the culprit are a group of high school students wielding the incredible power of "Persona".
Persona 4 The Animation is (as the name implies) an animated adaptation of the critically acclaimed Playstation 2 video game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. As an avid fan of the series and game, I will do my best to write this review in a non-biased manner.
The story begins with Yu Narukami, a high school student (and our protagonist) riding a train from his city home to the country town of Inaba to live with his Uncle for a year. As Narukami adjusts to his new life he quickly gets swept up in a murder mystery case. Discovering that he can use the power of Persona (summoned creatures that fight on behalf of their user, kind of like Pokémon) and is capable of entering the hidden world inside television sets (where the murders are taking place) Narukami realises that only he and his group of high school friends are capable of catching the culprit.
Despite the plot revolving around a murder mystery, it is not particularly difficult to follow, and is quite charming in its simplicity. It is by no means a dark and serious anime, in fact majority of the scenes have a comedic and slice of life vibe to them. That isn't to say that there isn't darker moments, many of the later episodes are noticeably more serious than the earlier ones, and a couple even have a psychological edge to them. There are several scenes that will tug at your heartstrings, it can be incredibly emotional at times.
It has to be mentioned that the video game itself is easily 60+ hours for a single playthrough (many don't finish until close to the 100 hour mark) and the creators have to be commended for compressing the story into 25 episodes and still retaining most of the key elements and even adding in a few extra things. With that being said, it's not perfect. The pacing is a little odd at times, especially during the few episodes that focus on the character development and interaction with secondary characters. This was a big part of the game, however it transitions a little awkwardly into anime form. It really gives a sense of mood whiplash where one episode has an intense fight and psychological mindscrew, then the very next episode has Narukami helping tutor a grade schooler.
Overall, the story is perfectly acceptable and has no major issues. The former half of the anime also may come off as a little weird or nonsensical to people unfamiliar with the game and its plot, however the latter half easily stands on its own. If you're looking for a dark, edgy, intricate thriller type of anime then you'd better keep looking.
The animation itself is very clean and quite crisp. By no means revolutionary or the best looking out there, but it gets the job done just fine. All the characters look just like their counterparts from the game. Being an anime it's not unexpected to learn that the bust size of the female characters is noticeably increased and slightly exagerrated during one of the more fanservice-y scenes, which may subjectively be an issue for some of you (myself included to some degree) given that they're high school students.
All the backgrounds are taken straight from areas in the game, and you'd better believe they look fantastic. Seeing all the familiar locations expanded and explored in animation is truly a delight, ranging from the quiet streets of Inaba to the mysterious and foreboding TV world.
All in all, the animation isn't exactly top notch, but it looks very nice regardless. Also; a completely personal issue but I find the shading on the characters' faces to look weird, but that doesn't seem to be a problem for most people.
Easily the best part of the animation. Majority of the songs used are lifted straight from the video game, and let me tell you, Shoji Meguro is a phenomenal composer. All the music used is fitting to the scene and sounds fantastic, be it an orchestral and catchy J-pop tune during the more slice of life events, or a heavy, guitar driven battle theme as the gang of Persona users combat foes in a struggle for their lives. There are several new songs recorded exclusively for the anime which all sound great too, my personal favourite being a heart pounding tune that keeps you on the edge of your seat during a high-speed chase sequence, but I digress.
The voice acting is (in a rare instance) very high quality amongst both the original Japanese audio and the English dub. Except in the case of a few characters from the English dub (Chie, Teddie and Naoto to be precise. Kanji changes voice actors half way through the anime) all the characters retain their original voice actors from the video game. All the voice work sounds fantastic, and I can't think of any moments off hand that stuck out as awkward or poorly delivered. Even the replacement voice actors sound great, in fact I greatly prefer Chie's new voice actor.
I could definitely recommend either Japanese or English dub, however as a personal preference I am partial to the English dub purely for Johnny Yong Bosch and Yuri Lowenthal's performances.
Being set primarily in a country town highschool, it's no surprise that majority of the cast and protagonists are high school students. However, in-line with the game every character in the group of Persona users has distinctive and well fleshed out personality. Not to the degree of the game of course, but it has all the key elements of each character and even adds a bit of backstory for many of them.
The biggest change from the game is the fact that our protagonist, Yu Narukami is now fully voiced and given an actual personality (not to the degree of the rest of the cast, but given that he was a silent, self-insert character in the game it's appreciated not to give him too strong of a personality). Despite his personality being relatively serious and deadpan majority of the time, he easily has some of the most hysterical moments. He's also teased with each of the potential love interests which is always appreciated.
There are no major gripes regarding characters here, everyone is well voice acted and their personalities all unique and interesting. If I had to pick one gripe it's that the anime made the culprit behind all the murders somewhat easier to figure out compared to the original game.
Persona 4 The Animation is by no means perfect, but it's damn good. I could easily recommend this to those who are unfamiliar to the series, there are no glaring issues, the plot is easy enough to understand and the characters are all interesting and likeable. I'd recommend playing the game first beforehand, firstly because it is phenomenal, and secondly as I feel the anime would be easier to appreciate as someone who is familiar with the series. With that being said, it's not like your experience watching the anime will be ruined having not played the game (or vice versa) as it easily stands on its own. Do yourself a favour and experience the amazing world of Persona 4 one way or another.