「It’s Not Empty At All」
Never before have I been so completely tricked by an episode like this one. Never before have I had my emotions swing 180 degrees from disappointment to amazement, all in the space of one episode. How? AIC ASTA and Kishi Seiji knew very well that many of Persona 4’s viewers would be people who have already played the game and knew what expect from the story’s progression. They took that knowledge and used it to toy with my emotions in an admittedly brilliant fashion. I am not ashamed to admit that I was led astray. I should’ve seen the signs that only a person who has played the game would have caught onto, yet for some reason, I missed them all until it was too late.
Sometimes I tend to take note of the most unimportant lines, lest they turn out to be important foreshadowing later on. That’s probably why I focused so much Igor’s prophetic words about the coming climax of the story and failing to heed his warning of upcoming surprises. I thought, “Wait, how could there be a climax already, isn’t this a two-cour series?” Combined with the rumors of discontent amongst the animators, I began to fear that those issues were too much to overcome and the series was being cut short to only one cour. Mistake number one.
My doubts were quickly forgotten with the arrival of the Investigation Team to Mitsuo Kubo’s Mayanoka TV dungeon, Void Quest. As one of my favorite dungeons from the game simply because of the sheer cool factor of actually walking around an old school dungeon crawler, I think Yousuke sums it up best: “All guys like games.” Kuma is a fan too, taking the opportunity to show off to the girls by defeating all the Platinum Dice who are weak his bufu (ice) attacks. Everything felt like business as usual.
Any worries that still lingered disappeared when the show finally addressed why Yuu was so ready to lead the Investigation and why he is so apprehensive about the case’s nearing conclusion. It was only natural that Yuu would fear the end of his friendships and adventures that would come when the culprit was caught. He moved to a new town with no friends and nothing to do, only to be saved by being trust into this murder investigation. With his psyche was beginning to be explored and the confrontation with Mitsuo coming up, I knew exactly how the story would progress, thanks to having already played the games — or so I thought. That was mistake number two.
Boy, was I ever wrong. Thanks to one of the most potentially controversial tropes in all of media – the infamous time skip (Warning: TV Tropes link), all my fears about the show suddenly came true. It’s not that a time skip itself was all that strange – after all, this adaptation has already made liberal use of them, but they had always come at the appropriate moments and usually the skips have only been a week or two at the most. This time it was as if the animators finally ran out of patience or money to even show a single second of the fight and capture of Mitsuo. The scene just abruptly skipped to Kuma at Junes and the Team planning their celebration party. Questions about the show itself began to pop up in my mind. I actually did wonder if my copy of the episode was corrupt, whether I was being trolled by some fansub group, or if the show was being set up to end in 13 episodes rather than being given another cour.
In hindsight, there were so many missed signs that should have told me everything was not as it seemed. All the characters began to behave differently than how I had remembered them in the game. Yukiko wasn’t always busy working at her inn and the omelet rice competition turned into Yuu’s Russian-roulette omelets featuring wasabi as the fatal bullet. Yousuke’s changes were even more drastic; he cared about his job at Junes and even more surprisingly, he cared about studying and his future plans like college. The girls all had anime-original outfits as well. Yuu’s lack of attributes should have tipped me off, but the thought of an anime-original ending kept looming in my mind like the possibility that he was just that depressed from Rise moving away without a word, seeing Chie and Yukiko “cheat” on him with Kou and Daisuke, and overhearing Kanji complaining. My mistakes were beginning to pile up.
Mind blown and all expectations for the show gone, I started to wonder how this adaptation had fallen downhill so quickly. I began to dread writing this post and being able to adequately capture the sentiment of the fans who probably felt so let down by this adaptation. My only consolation was that the show had finally begun to address Yuu’s “shadow self” in a serious manner, even if they went about it in the most extreme way possible, cramming it all into one of the final episodes rather than spreading it out like in the game.
The time skips continued without abandon, and November came in a hurry – the traditional time when the last two Persona games neared their conclusion. Yuu was truly alone now. All of his friends, his social bonds, and even his Persona had deserted him. Watching Yuu reduced to the point where he was desperate for another kidnapping to take place and for the victim to appear on Mayonaka TV was almost too hard for me to bear. When a Shadow began to speak, I wholeheartedly expected that it would be Yuu’s Shadow, appearing at last for a BAD END. My final mistake.
All of the disappointment instantly turned into amazement with the revelation that Shadow Mitsuo was talking to Yuu, something only a person who had already played the game would recognize. Only a game player would have been tricked in this way, since this mind illusion power of his never existed in the game. We knew what was supposed to happen and we were expected to pick up on the signs, but we are unconsciously trained to take the deviations from the source material at face value — all because it is an adaptation.
In the end, everything was back on track, and the episode had somewhat redeemed itself. The battle against Mitsuo the Hero and Shadow Mitsuo was animated in all its glory, complete with a bromance scene and Yuu busting out all the Personas at his disposal. The omelet rice contest was restored and all the girls, especially Nanako, were adorable as always. This adaptation, like all of Yuu’s friends, was back where it belongs and where I hope it remains – faithful when it matters the most.
TL;DR: Time skip really threw me for a loop because I thought it was an anime-original story.