Since I actually watched the Persona 4 anime before playing the game, I figured I would re-watch it now that I’ve completed P4 Golden. This isn’t a review of either, just comparing some of the strengths/weaknesses of each against each other. I will be avoiding major spoilers throughout, so don’t worry!
Overall, the anime is a surprisingly faithful adaptation where it needed to be, although there were several situations that were handled very strangely, adding a lot of drama to situations that didn’t really need it. The worst offender would be episode 12 (the battle with Mitsuo’s Shadow) – what was a pretty straightforward boss battle in the game was combined with a “bad end”-esque hallucination. If that makes no sense, you’ve already understood the issue. Since I watched the anime before playing P4, I was expecting this part to actually happen during the battle, but I’m glad it didn’t.
The “true end” episode (26, “No One is Alone”) was also changed significantly from the game’s situation, but this time it felt much more appropriate and added tension to the climax of the story, even if there were several details that didn’t quite make sense in context with everything established up to that point – in particular, Yuu facing his Shadow.
Besides these changes, the story is mostly faithful to the game, but this leads to one issue in particular – a situation where some deviation would be welcome. Around early December in the game and episode 22 in the anime, something significant happens. In the game, the situation can be reversed as a reward for being on track for the normal/true ending, otherwise the situation doesn’t change. Unfortunately, there is no explanation for why it can be reversed, it just happens – and this is probably my biggest complaint about the story of P4. In the anime, since the story follows the true ending, the reversal happens, except a full day later (which makes absolutely no sense) and just as unexplained. It’s kind of hard to dance around spoilers with this situation, but if you’ve watched or played P4, you should understand what I’m talking about.
Unsurprisingly, the social links from the game are generally brushed under the rug, as they are rushed out during ‘filler’ episodes. It’s understandable that they couldn’t do each of these as in-depth as the game did, but it’s still a bit disappointing that most of them are reduced to forgettable side stories.
One of the most immediately noticeable discrepancies was that the dub quality in the game is far better than the anime – which is frankly pretty baffling since most of the voice actors are the same. For example, they pronounce several things such as Junes and people’s names very differently, which is really annoying. Adachi and Margaret both sound a bit off from how they should be – Adachi in particular sounds a lot more annoying than he should. Surprisingly, despite having two voice actors (one for each half), Kanji sounded pretty consistent. Yuu also sounded good, although there wasn’t really anything from the game to compare him back to.
Strangely, there were plenty of weird script errors in the anime’s dub – for example, in the very first episode, Dojima says that he “picked [Yuu] up from the airport.” After picking him up at a train station. So I don’t know what the deal was there, but it’s sad that a mistake that blatant made it through. There’s also an awkward situation where Yosuke talks about being “blown off by girls.” In addition, Teddie’s completely forced bear puns (“beartiful” or “abearndon”) are unbearable. And unsurprisingly, they also danced around referring to the MC as “Yuu.”
Here’s a random example I noticed. If you’re familiar with Japanese, you can probably imagine something like hai or chotto being Yuu’s response – and it would sound pretty natural in this kind of situation. The translation on the other hand, just sounds extremely awkward.
Dojima: “Well now, you were out late.”
Yuu: “I was.”
In many situations, I just kept thinking to myself that it would have sounded a lot better to use the voices recorded for the game. Or at least use them for reference, because there is too much variation between the two. Fortunately, Chie and Teddie’s VAs are the same ones from P4 Golden, which means Teddie just generally sounds better than in the PS2 version and Chie actually sounds like a high school student!
One of the things definitely done well in the P4 anime was the main character, Yuu Narukami. While in the game he is a personality-less avatar moved along by player decisions, the anime did a fantastic job of not only keeping his personality mostly reserved, but also adding in just enough personality to make him both funny and strangely believable. If you’ve played P4, you’ve probably noticed all of the strange dialogue decisions given, stuff like what’s below.
In the anime, Yuu defaults to the stranger options, and while this may seem like it takes away from the seriousness of situations, P4 isn’t too serious to begin with outside of the main story. And anyways, we get a bunch of interesting quotes out of him, such as “Is our chastity in danger?” and “I’m the king” and “Knowing who you truly are is never easy. I mean, it is for me, but…” Not to mention Chie sums him up pretty well when she says “When Narukami says things, they don’t sound quite so pervy.”
For me, one of my favorite episodes (and the first one I rewatched), was episode 15, the Persona 3 fanservice episode. Frankly, there was no way that I wouldn’t talk about this. For the most part, this episode is consistent with the game, with most of the variation being in the music – while the game used a bunch of tracks from the Persona 3 soundtrack for this part, the anime also maximized output by using Burn My Dread and Mass Destruction as well. P4 Golden wins out in this category though, as you have the option to wear Gekkoukan uniforms in dungeons after the field trip. And we all know the Gekkoukan uniforms are 3badass5me.
Carrying over the topic of music, most of the music in the anime was carried over from the game – this is definitely a good thing. In addition, the OPs and EDs come with some cringeworthy Engrish.
The main flaw with the anime is definitely the character animation/design – the main issue being the weird gradient. I noticed this in the PS2 version of the game, but not on the Vita – regardless, it doesn’t look good and shouldn’t have been there. It looks like a poor attempt at shading. The actual character movement and battle animation is generally good (although there are definitely some quality drops on the former), but the weird coloring is distracting. It’s impossible to not notice it.
I could probably keep going on and on about various details, but I think you get the gist of everything.
Overall, the Persona 4 anime was a surprisingly good adaptation, but it unsurprisingly fell short in its presentation of the social links while adding unnecessary confusion and drama to story elements. I was disappointed that Yuu never summoned Satan or Mara though. Lucifer just wasn’t good enough.
The game remains the superior media, although the anime is far from bad – and well worth a watch if you’re interested in going through the story again.