Persona 4 The Animation: Collection 1 (Blu-ray Review)

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 his uncle’s job as a police detective to spill over into his own life.  Or 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 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.  Journey into the Velvet Room and beyond as the hit PlayStation2 game becomes a spectacular anime in Persona 4: Collection 1.


Don’t ask me how well this follows the game franchise on which it is based, but apparently the gimmick of the Persona PlayStation titles is that when a player isn’t magically street-fighting, the object is just trying to get along and fit in with schoolmates (I guess in certain part of the country that might indeed translate as street fighting, or at least gun battles).  Think the Sims or something, with a bit of Mortal Kombat on the side.

Anyway, the fourth iteration of Persona inspired this series.  With his parents abroad for a year, Tokyo teen Yu relocates reluctantly to the ultimate unfashionable provincial town (must be the Japanese equivalent of Cleveland), the sort of place where the limited social horizons tend to revolve around a big-box retail store downtown.

Nonetheless, the seemingly sleepy place is in the midst of a series of strange deaths (bodies hanging from phone lines and towers and things), as well as rumors of a “Midnight Channel” supernatural TV broadcast on rainy nights.  Its grainy images seem to foretell the dire future, a detail J-horror fans will recollect as a trope from The Ring and its imitators.

Yu discovers he and his new friends can step right through television monitors – most conveniently the ultra-large ones at the the big-box retailer – and into a weird alternate universe.  It turns out this place is also having Midnight Channel-related problems with invading “shadows.”  Though the only alternate-dimension inhabitant really irked by it is a strange fellow in a toy-bear costume/avatar.  Think the Nowhere Man from Yellow Submarine.

Yu and his schoolmates periodically battle the marauding shadows with “personas,” powerful beings of their own invocation.  Since the personas and the shadows dredge up issues and anxieties within one’s psyches, the super-powered bouts kind of double as therapy sessions.  The series alternates unevenly between the showdowns and daily teen antics between Yu and his peers (who come to include a girl teen idol, with a Hanna Montana sort of multiple-identity disorder).  This quotidian stuff is sort of Riverdale High, Japanese style. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  There’s an amusing recurring bit about a feared bad-boy who turns out to harbor a latent sensitive side (he manufactures and repairs “super-cute” animal crafts, for instance).  Does that him gay?  His alternate-reality shadow persona, a super-swishy queer creature, preys on those self-doubts.

In fact, the whodunit aspect that would seem to be the fulcrum of the whole drama ultimately falls flat (kinda the way it did in Twin Peaks, at least in this particular 12-episode cycle.  Oh yes, almost forgot – every episode opens in some kind of alternate-reality place (yes, another) called the Velvet Room, where two mentor-figures, a gnomelike man and a beautiful woman, speak to the viewer about persona qualities and achievements.  It’s obviously a holdover from the source material, and doesn’t add much except the reminder that, yes, this is a spinoff of a video game.


In and out of the Midnight Channel, there’s a 16:9 picture, with the Blu-ray offering the usual 1080p HD presentation.  Colors are sharp and vivid throughout.


No Japanese-language option at all in the Blu-ray?!  Really?  Well they do have  English and it’s presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, but very lackluster.  Need I say more?


There is a “director’s cut” alternate version of the pilot episode, textless opening and closing animation/music and trailers from other releases by Sentai Filmworks.


Perpetual wavering between the fantastic and the everyday doesn’t necessarily make Persona 4 lose points, but you have to be pretty captivated by Yu and his Yu-niverse to be carried along all the way.


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