My usual little disclaimer here that I have no previous experience with anything Persona related, whether that be the games or that previous Trinity Soul anime that everyone says is rubbish. So keep that in mind and realise that there’s no previous bias when I say Persona 4 has easily the best first episode of the season so far. OK, not exactly stiff competition, given that the previous best was Bakuman, but credit where credit is due.
Persona 4 is almost textbook with its opening episode. Set the scene by introducing the main character, the setting and the various side characters. Establish very early on that there’s something a little bit strange about this new place. Gradually build up the mystery with little events going wrong, rumours being spread, strange news reports and other minor irregularities. Have the weirdness explode in the final act and end on a cool note, proclaiming “this is the story, aint this going to be awesome”. Everything is so deliberate, from the cold open with Igor, to the first headache the main character gets when entering the town. As I said, it’s a textbook way to do an opening episode.
Don’t take this as though that means Persona 4 is generic. It’s simply good storytelling. Steins;Gate started with something similar, establishing the setting, the characters and having small details seem a little bit off. Granted, Persona 4 moves at a much faster pace than Steins;Gate, changing from minor strange things occurring straight into them jumping into a television. Granted, Steins;Gate was a very slow paced show in general, so speeding things up a bit isn’t unwelcome. I can see why the wanted to end the first episode on them being in the Persona world. Without that, it would have simply looked like a slightly off-kilter high school anime with a mystery brewing, and I don’t think Persona 4 has any intention of being a mystery story.
Still, jumping through the story so quickly does have its faults. It’s the usual Seiji Kishi problem of not having a clue about tone. I would have liked a careful build up of the mystery surrounding the television channel, but instead we get characters having a regular chat to suddenly being sucked into a television. This tonal shift works sometimes, such as the scene where the main character nonchalantly putting his hand through the television in Junes and commenting on it matter of fact-ly. Other scenes though, such as the main character sitting in his room, minding his own business, before suddenly getting attacked by his television, were rather less effective. Also the main character has no personality, although I’m hoping that changes now that he’s got himself a fashionable pair of glasses.
Everything else though? I loved it. The show oozes style from every orifice (please do not try to imagine a creature oozing liquid style from its pores. I did, and now I can’t get the image out of my head). The day shifts have this almost Shaft/PenguinDrum like approach. The character designs are great, as are their incredibly fashionable clothes. I don’t talk about clothes too often…in fact, I never talk about clothes, so take this as a sign of how goddam fashionable these guys are. The boy’s uniform has sequins! I wish my uniform had sequins. The characters are fantastically varied, each with distinguishable personalities, and we didn’t have to have another character monologue over describing what their personalities are like. I wish there was slightly more background music. Not that the scenes necessarily needed it, but when the music did actually play, it was funky as hell, so anymore of that would be greatly appreciated.
To sum up my feelings in 5 words: Finally something better than Bakuman!