Best known for releasing video games like Disgaea, NIS America is jumping into the anime market with two new releases, Persona –trinity soul- and Toradora! For both series, NISA is launching them in regular and premium editions. If the Persona name sounds familiar to you, it’s because the series is loosely based on the Atlus game Persona 3. However, -trinity soul- is written in a way that knowledge of the game isn’t necessary.
Set in the vague near future, Persona takes place in Ayanagi City, which has recovered from a devastating earthquake that took place 10 years earlier. As the story begins, brothers Shin and Jun Kanzato have returned to the city after living with their aunt for 10 years. They take up residence with their older brother Ryo, a cold and distant police superintendent. Their return coincides with a series of mysterious incidents throughout the city and a condition called Apathy Syndrome. As Shin and Jun make new friends at Naginomori Academy, they’re also drawn into the events that no one can explain. As Shin discovers, he can summon a “Persona,” a mental projection that resembles a humanoid robot. Shin and his friends come under attack from a shady group known as the Marebito, who also possess Personae and are attempting to extract them from other people.
This first set, which covers the first half the series, raises a lot of questions that aren’t immediately answered. What exactly is a Persona, and what do the Marebito need with them? Who is the mysterious person Ryo communicates with who knows so much about the situation? With so many mysteries, it’s a good thing that there are interesting characters to grab your attention. At first glance, many of the characters seem to fall into one stereotype or another, but they develop beyond that. Shin and Jun are an interesting pair of brothers, and they’re both struggling to understand why their elder brother is so cold to them and wants them to leave town. Schoolmate Kanaru seems like the typical anime nice girl, but she’s hiding an addiction to “Shadow Extraction” that later spirals out of control. Ryo is a man of secrets who raises lots of suspicions, even from fellow detectives, because of what he’s doing. Aside from the cast, the show’s atmosphere is almost a character of its own. The constant presence of snow creates a very stark atmosphere, and the mysterious nature of the series is somewhat reminiscent of another 2008 anime, Production IG’s Ghost Hound. By the end of the second disc, some of the mysteries start to become clearer, and a surprising turn takes things in a direction you wouldn’t expect.
As is becoming common with anime these days, Persona is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. The character designs are adapted for TV from original designs by Shigenori Soejima, who served as character designer for Persona 3 and 4. The designs are varied, but many characters are drawn with such small mouths that it looks as though they’re permanently pouting. Given the winter atmosphere, the series’ color palette is somewhat subdued. Some copies are reported to have ghosting issues, and NISA has announced a replacement program for affected copies of Persona and Toradora! Personally, I didn’t experience any ghosting problems, but it’s something to check into if you’ve just purchased it.
As with Toradora!, Persona is presented in the original Japanese language with English subtitles. The lack of an English dub may be an issue for some, but sub-only releases are becoming increasingly common throughout the industry. For fans who are familiar with Japanese voice actors, Persona is noticeably filled with actors who have appeared in Gundam, including Takehito Koyasu (Zechs Merquise), Hikaru Midorikawa (Heero Yuy), Nobuo Tobita (Kamille Bidan), Tomokazu Seki (Domon Kasshu) and Daisuke Namikawa (Michael Trinity). The series sounds good in stereo, although generally it’s pretty quiet until the Personae come out to fight. Taku Iwasaki’s moody score adds to the stark, wintry atmosphere.
On-disc extras are limited to a few Japanese DVD commercials. Where the extras really shine is in the Premium Edition box. The rectangular box is a hard chipboard and looks like it could blend in nicely with a stack of art books on a coffee table. The box contains two slim DVD cases, along with a hardcover book. One side features character and Personae biographies and lineart, background art, 4koma comics, episode summaries and staff liner notes. The liner notes shed some light on the creative process, and I’m always a sucker for background and character art, which there’s a nice selection of. If you flip it over, the other side of the book is “A Whale’s Feather,” an illustrated story “written” by Shin, Jun and Ryo’s deceased parents. The story figures into episode 4 (which shares the same name) and several subsequent episodes. The story is beautifully illustrated, and after hearing about it in the series, you can read it for yourself.
Walking into this series, I didn’t know what to expect, having never touched a Persona game before (something that I plan to change). But that wasn’t an obstacle at all, as Persona presents a story that can be digested by game fan and neophyte alike. Between genetic experiments, character drama, robot-like battles and a generally mysterious atmosphere, Persona is a solid series and well worth watching. If you’re a fan of the games or just an anime collector, the Premium Edition offers enough in its package to make it worth the price.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars