Welcome back to the second day of our look at anime adaptations! We have even more looks at Final Fantasy, Tales of, and Persona adaptations, but we also have a look at other popular franchises as well.
Intro by Zach Wilkerson
While there had been Persona adaptations before Persona 4: The Animation began airing in Japan in October 2011, it was the first time one of the games from the popular franchise got a full 25-episode series (the 26th episode, with the true ending, was released as part of the Blu-Ray release). Produced by AIC ASTA, the series was initially plagued with some of the usual rush-to-air issues when it appeared on Japanese television (some choppy/less than stellar animation, cutscenes, etc. that were fixed in time for the Blu-Ray release), but by the end of its airing in March 2012, many people (including the original voice actors) lauded it as a faithful version of the story that should be held as the gold standard of game-to-anime adaptations.
So what made Persona 4: The Animation so popular? Why is it possibly one of my favorite anime adaptations? A big part of the show's success, like the manga before it, is what it chose not to adapt: while the TV world exists in the anime, the dungeon slodging and shadow battles are cut down to their key revelations. Instead, most of the series is focused on what made the game great: character growth and the social links that the protagonist develops with those around him. Rather than merely pay them lip service (something many would complain about with regard to Persona 5's adaptation), social links are the driving force of almost every episode, and the show dives even deeper with the characters than the game sometimes did. We even see the more optional social links given some justice (and the protagonist's exhaustion in trying to get through them all). Humor has just as much a place as heartbreak in the series, giving it a wonderful balance between dealing with a broken family as a child and calling the protagonist a "man-whore."
Most importantly, the silent protagonist is silent no more; now named Yu Narukami, he often responds to situations with the snarky, deadpan humor that many people wished they could express in the original game (outside of those pesky links!). From chewing out Dojima when he hesitates to comfort his daughter, to learning Narukami has just as many fears surrounding his abandonment by everyone he loves, the protagonist becomes so much more than the puppet of the player. The series then weaves these moments into a slice-of-life story that helps make the eventual twists of the murder mystery all the more unsettling and gut-wrenching.
The series holds up remarkably well, even though its follow-up, Persona 4: Golden, was an overall mess thanks to its attempts to skip through the story (somewhat cleverly played as a New Game Plus) by only animating the new moments from the PlayStation Vita game. There's a reason Persona 4, both the anime and the game, holds such a special place in people's hearts.
It took me approximately two years to finish watching Final Fantasy: Unlimited, a 26-episode series loosely based on the beloved game franchise. The show is certainly pleasant, though by the third or so episode it becomes dreadfully repetitive, following a "monster of the week" format clearly meant for a younger audience. Speaking of which, the story largely focuses on two original child protagonists, with adult characters only seen in supporting roles. Despite not being the target audience, I found that watching the series a little at a time made for a charming and relaxing diversion, though the show is far from essential viewing for fans of the franchise.
FF:U presents viewers with an original story following the two aforementioned siblings as they explore a plethora of strange and colorful worlds in an attempt to find their missing parents. The variety of unusual landscapes is where the series definitely shines; I always found myself looking forward to seeing what kind of bizarre world the characters would find themselves in next.
While the anime series doesn't tie into any specific Final Fantasy game or setting, viewers can expect to see plenty of colorful chocobos, summon spells, and of course Cid, portrayed here as a handsome young inventor. Unfortunately, for those of us used to the more mature, gripping, and occasionally heartrending storylines found in the games, the plot of the anime doesn't quite pick up until the last few episodes, and I imagine many viewers will end up quitting long before then.
As I happen to be overly enthusiastic about strange new fantasy worlds and cute little creatures, I did enjoy this series, despite it's repetitive nature and divergence from the source material. It certainly wouldn't qualify for any of my personal Top 10 (or even Top 25) lists though. Overall, I recommend watching this show if you need something easy on the brain or want to introduce a young family member to the world of Final Fantasy; otherwise, you're probably better off spending your free time with Cloud and Lightning on a handy PlayStation apparatus.
Wild Arms has always held a special place in my heart. I was first enthralled by the world of Filgaia with the first game's PS1 release in 1997, where the series pioneer presented players with an unprecedented marriage of the medieval fantasy, Spaghetti Western, and sci-fi genres. As surreal as it sounded back then, the formula proved effective and expanded across four sequels, several spinoffs, and a remake. The series even got an anime titled Wild Arms: Twilight Venom. Despite feeling like a mashup of the first two games, Twilight Venom has its own plot hooks and stylistic flair.
First airing a month after the Japanese release of Wild Arms 2, Twilight Venom kept many of the franchise's common tropes up to that point: a blue-haired protagonist, an experienced older man, a magic-wielding sorceress, an animal companion, and most importantly, the inclusion of ARMS, the titular superweapons. Depicted as high-powered, futuristic guns, ARMS have varying degrees of importance in the game plots but are one of the story's driving forces in Twilight Venom. As was standard for the series back in the late '90s, ARMS are wielded by the show's token blue-haired kid, Sheyenne Rainstorm.
While the feel of the series is largely maintained through its shared themes with the games, Twilight Venom's deviations help the anime stand on its own. Right out of the gate, the situation with the protagonist is unique and jarring. Famous gunslinger Sheyenne Rainstorm wakes up in the body of a child, apparently having lost his original form. In his journey to find and reclaim his lost body, he allies with Dr. Kiel Arronax, a Popepi Pipepo (mouse-like creatures with incredible lifespans) named Isaac, and a trio of female thieves: Loretta, Mirabelle, and Jerusha (another Popepi Pipepo). The cast feels inspired by existing characters from the games, but the plot is fresh and unique, with a bittersweet but satisfying conclusion.
Unfortunately, Twilight Venom lacks series composer Michiko Naruke's legendary touch. Naruke is known to have been inspired by Ennio Morricone, who is possibly best known for composing "The Ecstasy of Gold" in the classic film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and that reflection of greatness shows in her work. While a few remixes of Naruke's songs are present in the soundtrack, the majority of the music is provided by anime and game composer Kow Otani. Though Twilight Venom's musical style doesn't perfectly fit the feel Wild Arms is known for, Otani's score mostly hits all the right notes.
While Twilight Venom never fully lives up to the epic legacy of its predecessors, it definitely captures their essence and feels like a canon part of the series. Featuring numerous easter eggs and references to the first two games, Wild Arms: Twilight Venom is an anime fans of the early series should definitely consider checking out.
Tales of Phantasia (the very first game in the popular "Tales of" franchise) was originally released on the Super Famicom (SNES) back in 1995. The game pushed the system's 16-bit boundaries and remained an important title to Namco over the years, with several ports and remakes. About ten years after ToP's original release, Namco decided to create a four-part animated miniseries that highlights important character interactions and major game events.
First and foremost: this anime is for fans of the game. Important story sequences are told out of order, some are even "incomplete" (that is, you're dropped right into the middle of things), and scenes are somewhat randomly chosen and slightly reworked from the original games (nothing drastic; it's mostly to help with pacing issues caused by the fractured format). But for fans, I think it's worth the time to check out. The animation is incredibly clean and well drawn, the music is beautiful (with an opening that's up to the series' usual high standard), and it provides a beautiful look at ToP's world that even the remakes fall short on. Much like the SNES game, the anime feels quaint but overall enjoyable, and it may even give you that fuzzy old-school RPG feeling.
Funny enough, while we never saw the SNES version of the game overseas (just the poorly ported GBA version...which we don't talk about), the anime's English voice cast has a number of Tales-series veterans, including Johnny Yong Bosch as Cless, Stephanie Sheh as Archie, and Michelle Ruff as Martel, as well as Jamieson Price and Patrick Seitz (who have both voiced major heroes and villains in the Tales series).
I honestly love the small details like Cless's sword having an additional handlebar for prime-stabbing-strength, or Archie's witch broom having an actual bicycle seat to keep her comfy while she flies around (which makes sense), and it's great to hear Mint recall the original game's most notable line, or listen to Edward D. Morrison wreck an enemy with a good old "INDIGNATION!!" The Tales series is well known for its likeable characters interacting with each other (even lovingly bothering one another), so it's nice to see Tales of Phantasia: The Animation bring more life to this beloved SNES classic.
The four Persona 3 movies were released in a period between 2013 and 2016, seven years after the original release of Persona 3 on PlayStation 2 and partially concurrently with the (first) Persona 4 anime. Aside from the fact that Persona 3 is an amazing game that certainly deserves its own animation, I think the films were likely released this way to preserve the Persona 3 mythos and characters in the face of all of the crossovers, including Persona 4 Arena, Persona Q, and the Persona rhythm games. Overall, the movies are a solid rendition of the events of Persona 3, and I would even say that Persona 3's more "cinematic" story lends itself better to animation than Persona 4, which I always felt lost some of the mystery-unraveling aspects that are central to its plot when presented in anime form.
The Persona 3 movies mostly focus on the main plot of the game: the struggles of SEES to explore Tartarus and fight the Dark Hour with their personas. Since it's Persona, though, there are at least a few nods to some of the social link side stories. The movies follow the game pretty closely, and while the main cast is perhaps not as fleshed out as in the game, due to lack of time, they have enough screen time to either remind longtime fans or give new fans an introduction. That said, there is time carved out for moments like the protagonist taking Elizabeth (the Velvet Room attendant in Persona 3) around town.
Visually, the movies do a great job conveying the dark, often greenish-blue color motif of Persona 3 (contrasted with the yellow and red of Persona 4 and 5, respectively). The fights between the characters' personas and the shadows are rendered nicely as well, and they show off some of the awesome designs that are ever present in the Persona series. All that said, I am not sure the movies are good standalone anime titles for people who have no ties to the Persona series. To a certain extent, knowing Persona 3 (or at least being aware of it) helps in understanding these films, and aside from the fight scenes, they may come across as a bit boring to those with no interest in or knowledge of the series. Ultimately, I would recommend these movies to fans who are nostalgic for their SEES days or someone who's played some of the spinoffs and doesn't have the time for the full Persona 3 experience.
There was always something about Star Ocean: The Second Story that drew me in, especially when it first came out and I was a dramatic teenager. Some combination of the town of Arlia and the peaceful forest and music hooked me. As I continued to play, some of the material left me speculating, and for me at least, it touches upon some of the big, substantive questions that good sci-fi loves to ask. The story centers around Claude Kenni, an interstellar traveller who is stranded on a developing planet after making a rash decision, and Rena Lanford, the vibrant village girl with questions about her past who finds him. She mistakes him for a fabled warrior, and from there they learn they both have a role to play investigating the Sorcery Globe that's threatening her planet. You can play as either character, and the game boasts an interaction system among the adventurers you meet (and a lot of endings) that is quite impressive to this day.
Star Ocean EX is an anime attempt to capture this story; it consists of 26 episodes and covers content from the first half of the game, roughly to the end of disc 1. Released in 2001, it is based on a manga of the same material. Though it boasts some striking visuals similar to the main game, it takes a very conventional "Claude is the hero fighting to save the world" approach that is really at odds with the moments of storytelling interactivity and finesse present in the game. Even more confusing, the most high-stakes endgame content is relegated to a series of drama CDs and has never been relayed in anime or manga form. I can't complain too much, though — I remember how difficult it could be to find anime in the early 2000s, as well as my shock and surprise at being able to obtain it at all. Now I have the luxury of critiquing it.
Rena's story was always particularly intriguing to me. After spending so much time dwelling in myths and tales, what happens if you find someone seemingly stepping out from a legend, and they're not what you expect? It really is a shame that side of the story is never explored in Star Ocean EX. Instead, Rena immediately functions as Claude's love interest without real cause, and she is generally infantilized compared to her portrayal in the game. Really, Star Ocean EX is Star Ocean 2 through a lens that makes it appear more like some of the later games in the series. Still, if you're interested in everything Star Ocean, there are certainly worse anime adaptations of games out there, and worse anime in general.
Castlevania is an odd item to consider for this list; after all, half of the games in the franchise do not quite fit the criteria of action RPG. The other consequential point to consider is that while the Castlevania animation does have a Japanese anime style and some veteran Japanese animation staff on the production team, the project is a global endeavor with plenty of help from Western organizations, from British lead writer Warren Ellis to the Texas-based Powerhouse Animation Studios. This animated project was a surprise success for Netflix; initially a four-episode run, the series saw confirmation of a second season hours after its launch, with eight episodes landing in late 2018. A third season, planned to be ten episodes, is scheduled to reach Netflix users in March 2020.
What makes this out-of-left-field animated production so compelling? Visually, it is a sight to behold. But ultimately, the story and character portrayals win the day. Based loosely on the events of Castlevania III (NES) and its sequel game Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2), the story opens with Dracula himself falling in love with a human woman and attempting to change his ways in order to allow vampires to co-exist with human society. Unfortunately, as anyone who has played Symphony of the Night knows, humans do not take kindly to the humanitarian efforts of Dracula's wife, and after that? Time for some vengeance.
The main protagonists throughout the show, so far, are Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Alucard. The three form their alliance by the end of the first season and take great strides fighting against Dracula's loosely allied band of fellow vampires and other sympathizers — including devil forgemaster Hector and his rival Isaac, both from Curse of Darkness. As the second season draws to a close, it appears that Belmont and crew will be facing off against a head vampire even more cunning than Dracula himself: Carmilla. There is no one canonized form, personality, or allegiance that Carmilla takes across her many appearances throughout the Castlevania franchise. As such, the writers had great artistic liberty in developing the new antagonist.
If you're up for witty dialogue, plot-driven action, and a fair bit of explicit blood and gore, Netflix's Castlevania "anime" series is the show for you. If you're driven by the lore of Castlevania and the mythos of vampires in general, all the more reason to join in. Wallachia AD 1475 is the place and time to be!
Of all the Final Fantasy games you could conceive of — or even really want — as an anime OVA, I doubt Final Fantasy V would rank that high for most people. But it happened! Sort of.
While the original SNES game was praised for its gameplay, the story was a lot more pedestrian. It focuses on a connected group of heroes who save the world from a giant evil tree named ExDeath. (Okay, I realize saying there's a "giant evil tree named ExDeath" sounds super cool, but trust me, the story is not one of FFV's stronger assets.) There's a few fun twists, like two party members being estranged siblings or one of them originating from another planet, but overall, FFV had a tame story where you saved the world using the power of Crystals (your usual FF affair).
But Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals is just sort of weird. Set 200 years after the game, the original cast is now but a legend, chocobos are inexplicably featherless, and pirates have ditched dumb wooden ships to fly in the sky wearing black latex outfits in a tacky pink airship. The plot doesn't really do anything new or interesting compared to the game; an almost literal example of these lateral stakes is how the big bad goes from ExDeath to — wait for it — RaDevil and is bent on becoming a god because of course he is.
It's not all bad. The animation and scenery are stunning, the action is a lot of fun, and the idea of a "future arc" is admittedly compelling; but much like 2001's misfired attempt at a full-motion Final Fantasy film with The Spirits Within (heck, let's lump in FF: Unlimited while we're at it), Legend of the Crystals feels weirdly off-brand for what it's representing. Instead of "Final Fantasy," it feels more like a bizarre fusion of the 1988 cyberpunk epic Akira and Studio Ghibli's Castle in the Sky, featuring everything from powerful magics, giant machines, eldritch monstrosities, and a destroyed "future city" on the moon. (Okay, I realize saying these things also sounds cool, but trust me, this 100-minute OVA doesn't try to explain any of it, nor does it effectively add to the original game.)
There are a few sparkling moments where it really feels like Final Fantasy, like when Nanaly uses a cool chocobo summon or any time Prettz takes out his Sephiroth-sized samurai sword to slice through enemies; but in the end, it's neither the best (nor the worst!) way to spend some time with the Final Fantasy series.
Oh well, if nothing else, you get a chance to see the original FFV cast where Galuf is twice the mass of any other party member; you can also have a good laugh when a beam of light shoots out of the lead heroine's butt (a scene I could never make up).
* Also, a fair warning to photosensitive viewers: there are a lot of flashing light effects in this OVA.