Reviewby Gabriella Ekens,
Persona 4 the Golden Animation
Things get serious in the latter half of this adaptation of content added to the 2013 rerelease of the hit JRPG, Persona 4. In a new social link, Yu Narukami forms a strange connection with Tohru Adachi, the duplicitous detective responsible for the murders plaguing Inaba. While Yu succumb to the nihilist's logic or hold out for the truth? Meanwhile, inquiries into Marie's past reach a startling conclusion. Will Yu be able to maintain his ties to the amnesiac, or will she be forced to sever her humanity in light of her true purpose? Also, the Investigation Squad celebrates Christmas and goes snowboarding. No matter how serious the situation gets, there's always time for fun with friends.
After six episodes of situational shenanigans and foreshadowing of Adachi's dark intentions, the latter half of Persona 4: The Golden Animation mostly consists of climactic events. It all concerns the newly-added Adachi and Marie social links. The Adachi material is the most worthwhile – it depicts aspects of his backstory that weren't shown in the original game. His rise to villainy is informed by a life of seething resentment. All his life, he disregarded his personal happiness in favor of career ambitions that ended up disappointing him. As a result, he becomes disaffected. Upon arriving in Inaba, he's granted supernatural powers and begins using them to kill people. These episodes go a long way towards painting Adachi as the protagonist's antithesis. While Yu gains strength from his bonds with other people, Adachi resents them. He lashes out against them to compensate for his perceived weakness. He's an isolated person who was taught to push away others and now lashes out against the world as revenge. This is one of the few points where Persona 4 Golden: The Animation expands upon the experience of playing the game. I can't say that it's worth purchasing for this alone, but it's still a decently executed elaboration of the character.
This release also contains the OVA “Thank you, Mr. Accomplice.” This is an adaptation of the game's “bad end” wherein the player helps Adachi get away with his crimes. Not that this is the only legal way to view the OVA in the West – it's not streaming with the rest of Persona 4 the Golden Animation on Crunchyroll. If you want to see it, it'll have to be here.
Adachi episodes were dramatic, this one is purely comedic. It's most similar to the show's second episode, gently riffing on the game's unrealistic social mechanics. In that episode, Yu managed to invite all of his friends on different outings at the same time. Antics ensue as he struggles to please them all. This was a commentary on the game's Social Link system, which requires ludicrously rigid scheduling in order to access everything. Something similar happens in the eighth episode, where Yu accidentally invites all of his female friends on special Christmas Eve dates. In the game, you can be in romantic relationships with all of the girls, but you can still only choose one to accompany you for some “private time” on Christmas Eve. The humor comes from the girls responding in characteristically silly ways: Rise gets competitive, Chie looks for answers in martial arts films, and Naoto can't believe that she's been asked out, instead assuming that it's part of a murderous conspiracy. It all culminates in the reveal that Yu's motives were entirely innocent, and that he just wanted to throw a party for his darling pseudo-sister, Nanako. It's all punctuated by some pretty solid gags, my favorite being Naoto's increasingly violent delusions about the other characters. While the second episode tackles the scheduling mechanic, this one pokes fun at the open-ended romance system.
In the end, however, the main event is still Marie. The last four episodes are all about her. It's mostly stuff from the game – the snowboarding trip and her unique dungeon – but do alter the final encounter to give her more of a central role. These episodes are the weakest part of this set. While I don't dislike Marie, there just isn't that much to her. She's a pleasant-enough tsundere who's secretly an amnesiac fragment of the main villain. While she goes berserk for a little while, Yu coaxes her back fairly easily with the power of friendship. It's all cliché compared to the rest of the cast's more grounded and interesting problems. It doesn't help that her dungeon is stretched out over two episodes. Persona 4 Golden: The Animation is otherwise much snappier in its pacing, but I suspect that they were running out of material to adapt and needed to draw this one out a bit. Either way, it's not a massive drop in quality. The True Ending is changed so that it's Maria and Yu versus Izanami rather than Yu and the party. You get to see her Persona, Kaguya, which she doesn't wield in-game until Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. The Personas appearances in general are almost Easter eggs – each of the character's most advanced Personas get to show off with one five-second attack.
At least this is one of the most aesthetically inspired parts of the show. Generally, Persona 4 the Golden Animation looks fine, but most of its virtues are borrowed from the source material. Persona has very distinct design sensibilities, and all of them carry into the show – most notably the bright yellow, red, and green color palette. (Occasionally they'll even sneak in parts of the game's interface, like the date in the upper right-hand corner.) The animation is patchy. While character models are slippery, there is some impressive work during the show's climactic scenes. For example, when Yu rescues Marie in episode eleven. There's some well-choreographed action and the washed-out watercolors give her nightmare world a distinctly ethereal look. While Persona 4 the Golden Animation is a cash-in series to the extreme, but it's not devoid of entertainment or aesthetic value.
Offering such limited content for such a high price point, Persona 4 the Golden Animation will appeal to only the most diehard Persona 4 fans. However, those who decide to purchase will find a release loaded with goodies. It comes with six postcards, an art booklet, and a soundtrack CD. Shoji Meguro's music is as great as ever, and this anime features some new tracks. This half is more orchestral and melancholy some solid new tracks. My favorites concern Marie. These include the ballad that accompanies her rescue, “Just like the Wind,” and the song she sings during the ending sequence, “Dazzling Smile.” The rest are distinct atmospheric tunes that succeed at conveying a specific mood with pizazz. The art booklet is short at 19 pages, but features clean models of the characters at their one-year reunion as well as the third-tier Personas. The packaging is attractive and fits Persona 4's look to a tee. If anything, this release will look nice on your shelf.
The big downside to this release is still the lack of a dub. This would've be such a grave omission if Persona 4 the Golden Animation weren't the only entry in this franchise without an English vocal track. The original games don't have an option for Japanese voiceover, so they're more associated with the English voices than most anime properties. The first set didn't have a dub either, so this was to be expected, but it still drags this release down.
Ultimately, the question is: are you're willing to plunk down $80 for seven episodes of the animated version of the material added to the rerelease of a 2008 JRPG? If so, then you probably already have this in your shopping cart. Persona 4 the Golden Animation continues to be for a very specific niche – hardcore Persona 4 fans who are compelled to purchase every iteration of the story. The latter half of this show is both more focused and entertaining than the first, but it's still largely a retread of familiar material. Nothing even approaches a cohesive story for any character besides Marie and Adachi. It'd be best if you could insert episodes from this show into the anime adaptation of Persona 4's base game, which covers the entire story. Unfortunately, Persona 4 the Golden Animation is edited in such a way that this is very difficult. Individual episodes (particularly the Adachi ones) will cover spans of time that encompass many episodes in the original show. If you're new to Persona 4 (why have you even read this far?) don't bother with this. Right now you can get Persona 4 Golden AND a Playstation TV to play it on for under $60. That's around hundred hours of entertainment for less money than this release's 2.5 hours. By all means, reach for your wallet, but understand what you're getting first.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Pretty packaging, nice extras, some great tracks on the OST disc, clever metahumor about Persona 4's game mechanics, expands upon Adachi's character, more narrative cohesion
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