Needless to say, the animated adaption to the hit JRPG Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 is a massive success. The show has undoubtedly lived up to the game, not just in action, but in originality and comedy that makes you forget about what’s wrong with the world. But putting all of that aside, I took the time to mull over what was it that made P4: The Animation so awesome, more so than the crap that filled the gap while I waited for this show.
Possible spoilers abound. Proceed with caution!
You may have noticed that much of the shows linked in the first paragraph follow the pattern of being high on fanservice and… *sigh*… I can’t believe I am saying this… Ecchi (Japanese pronunciation of “H”, which itself is short for “Hentai”, more famously “Anime Porn”. “Ecchi” is the anime equivalent of softcore porn). I know, I know, this is a case of complaining about the shows I don’t watch, so I’m not gonna complain and simply point out that for a civilized guy like me, stuff like this just does not work.
But I digress. Anyway, on to what is it that makes P4: Anime so good. The thing about the Persona series is that it strongly follows the theme of being your own individual, allowing you to name the protagonist (except for Persona 2, but that’s a different story), adopt the play style you like via the personae, and choose the dialog you would want to say during the visual novel style cutscenes (of course, karma will strike if you choose to be an asshole). The majority of the Megami Tensei series follow suit as well, making this series almost instantly recognizable in its gameplay style. But still, as I thought about it, the reason as to what made P4: Anime so good dawned onto me as I looked at the main character, Yu Narukami, and compared him to his game incarnation. It was because of the protagonist that P4: Anime was something I wanted to watch, even though I knew what was going to happen.
Why just the protagonist as the reason for watching the show? Well, I can’t say that it was solely because of the protagonist. The action and hilarity of the adaption makes it incredibly worth it as well, but where P4: Anime stands out from so many other video game, light novel, and visual novel adaptions (aside from anything by Key Visual Arts) is the protagonist. The trouble is, though, is that making a likeable protagonist out of someone that is a blank slate is… difficult. Many an anime and manga have tried and failed miserably when they attempt to make a protagonist the audience can connect with due to the protagonist being a loser with little redeeming value other than being nice, or by undergoing a Supermanian surge of power to inexplicably overpower his kryptonite (often times being being a complete fucking dumbass), therefore leaving either himself or the audience in the dust. The end result is a basically an audience surrogate character that can’t be connected with to the point where all of the other characters can feel more easily affiliated… considering that most of the time, the said characters are nothing, but stereotypes.
Yu Narukami, however, grabs the process of making an audience surrogate character by the horns and kicks it in the teeth. Instead of trying to make a character that is meant to represent the audience as in the Megami Tensei games, they went on with making Narukami his own unique character from the bottom up. Whether you were an average personality, a hot-blooded badass, or a total snarker in the game, Yu Narukami proves himself that he is not you nor are you him. And yet you can still feel proud about it because instead of being a total wimp or a super-speed evolver without any redeeming values, Narukami is… weird.
Actually, you know what? He is more than weird. Narukami can easily be described as what will happen if you combine Osaka from Azumanga Daioh with Nagato from the Haruhi Suzumiya Franchise, add in that same little bit of perversion that Kyon has, along with the strange sense of smartass that Gackt holds, spice it up with some badass a la Kamina, and then top it off by putting him the body of a grey-haired Bishie. The end result? No, you don’t get a combination of a whole bunch of different characters from different series as the paragraph would suggest, but instead you get ATLUS’s own unique brand of protagonist. But I can tell what Narukami is not: the audience. As I’ve emphasized, the importance to what makes P4: Anime so compelling to watch is the fact that they avoid the primary mistake that make the unfortunate majority of anime adapted from video games, visual novels, and (especially) light novels such a pain to watch. There is no point of making the character that the audience is gonna focus the most on if that character is such a bore at best and an insult at worst.