NIS America, the game publisher that finally brought the Sakura Wars franchise to North America (among various other console games) isgetting into anime. They were nice enough to send us copies of their first two releases, special editions of Persona: Trinity Soul and Toradora, to check out.
The premium edition box sets are very nice, and I’m going to take a few photos and comment in more detail shortly. In the mean time, what I thought about the actual anime. I expected to find Persona interesting and had completely written off Toradora as fanboy-schlock based on nothing more than the title and box art of either. Toradora turned out to be the more interesting of the two, which surprised me.
Persona: Trinity Soul
I’ve never played the Persona games, although I hear the later ones are good. This anime adaptation, as of a couple episodes, looks sort of like a somewhat less psychotic Shadow Star with a massive budget. You’ve got a bunch of people—kids mostly, of course—who apparently have some kind of giant monster/robot/thing avatars of their souls (or something) that they can call on to fight, except few if anybody knows this. The kids at school, who mostly seem pretty normal (welcome, given how very dispassionate and low-key the adult characters are), kind of play around with this like a form of glue-sniffing or autoerotic asphyxiation—“Dude, would you tear a little bit of my soul out, I hear it’s cool.” I don’t think they realize they’re eating bits of each others’ souls (heck, maybe that’s not what they’re doing), but then it wouldn’t be subversively creepy if they did. A few people of course can take it farther, into superpower territory, hence the plot. There are, of course, a string of murders and people being vegetablized by bad people making use of this for some nefarious scheme.
Where it’s going isn’t clear yet, although the juxtaposition of low-key character drama, some “man-in-black police guy covering up supernatural goings-on” investigation/antagonism with the regular police, and a-little-too-shounen-action-bait ghost creatures isn’t really working for me so far. Seems like a series that’s got all the atmosphere and money, but is going to blow it on anime-standard superpower stuff. Still, there’s enough screwed-up family dynamics (big bro is the antisocial man-in-black, and little bro either has a split personality or is talking to dead people), mind-rape, and creepy potential to take it somewhere decent. And the budget it sure there—expensive, pretty, and atmospheric.
The soundtrack, incidentally, is a liability so far. I’m told it uses tracks from the games, but either way the opening is unremarkable alt-pop (although at least the guy can sing) and there’s far too much hip-hop/”urban” stuff in the background for my taste (which doesn’t fit with the look or mood at all). Never good when you wish the background would shut up and stop messing up the atmosphere. Come to think of it, the music might be part of the reason the shadow-monsters end up feeling like a shounen action show more than creepy.
Random unfortunate thing: The character designs are a little unusual, in a good way, but one school friend looks a little too much like Nabeshin for his own good. Going to be a few episodes before I can take him seriously.
Toradora looks like a completely obvious tsundere setup: Very short, somewhat crazy, violent girl demands the servitude of relatively normal guy with good domestic skills, while each attempts to chase the others’ best friend instead of dating each other like they should be. Negatives are that that’s pretty much what it looks to be.
Positive twists are that the guy looks really evil despite being totally normal, so goes through life with everyone being afraid of him for no reason, and crazy tsundere girl has way more obvious mental and familial problems than is the norm, plus she wears the nice half of her emotions way closer to the surface than I was expecting. She actually comes across as closer to “kind of emotionally unstable because of her problems” than generic tsundere. The whole thing has an unexpectedly earnest emotional tone, with proportionally more substantive-but-not-heavy emotional meat and less situation comedy and “crazy girl doing crazy things” stuff than I was expecting. The guy also seems to figure out that he actually likes the nutty girl quite quickly, so that annoying facet of this sort of thing may also be lighter than usual.
It actually reminds me of a wackier, more anime-standard take on His and Her Circumstances, with less Gainax avant-garde. Not a bad thing, really.
Most interesting, though, are the secondary characters; the violent girl’s best friend is… well, kind of nuts, in a ditzy, colorful, one-man-comedy-show kind of way that so far is entirely amusing and not at all formula. The evil-looking normal guy’s friend, for his part, gets exactly what’s going on emotionally almost immediately, and does exactly the right thing about it, which I didn’t see coming at all.
Strong (if very anime-y) acting helps a lot all around—plenty of energy and personality.
Only problem is that’s only two episodes in and there are two whole seasons to fill up with something. The chances of it actually remaining interesting for that long without either going soap-opera or devolving into variations on a theme aren’t good.
Will reserve judgement on either show, but at least neither looks bad, and general kudos to NIS America for their handling of both.