Reviewby Gabriella Ekens,
Persona 4 the Golden Animation
Coolest guy on Earth Yu Narukami is sent to spent a year with his uncle in the hick town of Inaba… again! In this New Game+ adaptation of Persona 4: The Golden, the revised re-release to JRPG smash hit Persona 4, Yu and friends do all the fun stuff that didn't make it into the original anime, like drive to a faraway mall, go to the beach, play late-night trivia, and perform at a concert. He also participates in two new story arcs concerning Marie, the Velvet Room's standoffish new resident, and Tohru Adachi, the game's traitorous policeman villain. Can this revision balance levity with murderous mystery?
Persona 4 came out in 2008 and has been printing money ever since. Persona 4: The Golden Animation is an animated collection of scenes exclusive to the game's enhanced re-release, Persona 4: The Golden. It's meant to be inserted into the existing Persona 4 anime, Persona 4 The Animation and, as such, doesn't even try to tell its own story. To illustrate, the first episode takes place during the game's tutorial, while the second skips past the first two dungeons. To a fan of Persona 4's characters (seriously, don't try to watch this if you aren't familiar with the franchise) this'll be a pleasant vacation with them in stock anime fanservice scenarios. To anyone else, literally any other version of the story is a better point of entry than this one.
Persona 4: The Golden Animation is best when it's getting into meta humor about the ridiculous stuff you need to do as the main character needs to do in order to 100% the game. In the second episode, for example, he plans an exacting daily schedule of interactions in order to spend time with all of his friends. They're promptly foiled, and Yu falls into despair over not being the perfect human. This is a point where I'd have reloaded the game and reconfigured all of my interactions for the past two weeks of gameplay. The other big joke is that Yu is the New Game!+ version of the character. As such, he's completely overpowered and has access to previously locked-off interactions, like cowing his mean teacher into submission. It's pretty ludicrous to see the first fight against three enemies turned into Yu's Persona disintegrating an ocean of them in an atomic blast. Episodes include the scooter one, the beach one, the trivia show one, and the band one.
The closest thing to a plot is the repeated inclusion of Persona 4: the Golden's new character, Marie. She mysteriously appears in the Velvet Room without any memories at the beginning of the game, and her story culminates in a new late-game dungeon. Personality-wise, she's a pretty textbook tsundere, but she isn't grating. Her story doesn't culminate until the second volume, but episodes so far consist of the Investigation Squad getting her used to the outside world.
The other most interesting part of Persona 4: The Golden doesn't begin until episode six. The episode's first half marks an unusual break in Yu's perspective to that of the game's villain, Adachi. This segment offers some insight into his psychology as Yu's opposite – a misanthrope who disdains connections with other people. The art direction makes a meaningful shift at this point from bright hues to desaturated tones. It comes off as a bit more inspired than the pure fanservice material. The episode's second half jumps forward six months to when he starts forming a connection with Yu. This is where it gets hard to follow. It starts jumping through scenes in the game involving Adachi, all weeks or months apart. Ideally these all would've been spliced into the larger narrative at the points where they occur in the chronology. Instead, they're all just dumped in here in sequence, so there's no great point to insert this episode into the original anime. It might work better flowing into the subsequent episode, which also focuses on Adachi, but this is where Aniplex's release ends. All in all, this is promising material inconveniently presented.
Persona 4 has an excellent design sensibility and this anime adaptation borrows it to great effect. The animation itself is rougher. I've never liked the art style Persona games use for full animation – the extended faces, torsos, and limbs seem to cause trouble – and Persona 4: The Golden Animation falls into the usual potholes. It's not a great looking show but floats along on its color work and backgrounds. Many visual elements are lifted directly from the games – the date transition, for example – and it's hard to tell whether it's a cost-cutting measure or an amusing visual reference. Either way, don't go to this for breathtaking action.
Aniplex's release features some nice goodies. The packaging looks great and fits Persona 4's distinctive aesthetic perfectly. It comes with six 4x7 postcards of the characters in costumes (taken from the show's endcards) and a short booklet of production materials. Inside, there are episode summaries, character models for all of the party members up to Kanji, some backgrounds, and models of the characters' scooters. There's also a disc featuring selections from the show's OST. The Persona series has top tier video game music, and if you'd like some variations on Shoji Meguro's signature compositions, this is a good set. I particularly like the insert song True Story (spent a few hours listening to it on repeat at work) and the climactic battle piece Ying Yang. True Story is J-pop while Ying Yang is one of Persona 4's characteristic high-energy orchestral tracks with light rap elements.
Overall, Persona 4: The Golden Animation amounts to an extended OVA for the games and original anime. It does a competent job at translating additional material from the updated re-release onto the screen, but there's no reason to watch it unless you have a near-unending thirst for more Persona 4. It may find some utility as a way to experience Persona 4: The Golden content without playing the game again, but it's steeply priced at $80 for six episodes. Unlike every other version of Persona 4 to be released here, it's also not dubbed to into English. This is more egregious than the average undubbed anime because Persona 4 characters are very much associated with their English voices. The games don't have an option for different vocal tracks. After 200 hours of Yuri Lowenthal as Yosuke and Amanda Winn-Lee as Yukiko, it's disconcerting to hear anyone else. All in all, Aniplex has dished out a gorgeous (though overpriced) release for an show that's has one audience and one audience alone: diehard Persona 4 fans who are already extremely familiar with literally everything that came before.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : A
+ Pretty packaging, nice extras, some great tracks on the OST disc, some clever metahumor about Persona 4's game mechanics, more time with beloved characters
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