What began as a triumphant success, both critically and commercially, in the gaming culture at large, even outside of the JRPG community, has now devolved into whoring itself out, Type-Moon style. That is not in of itself a negative connotation, as the spin-off games and the Vita port are great in their own right. However, the event that started the whole milking process started with the announcement of an entire adaptation of Persona 4 in anime form back in 2011. It would be of no surprise to anyone that it was a thing that, in the end, would be looked at as a project that could not be called anything but unnecessary.
Speaking as someone whose favorite game is Persona 4 and will cherish it til the day I die, I’ve also adored its Vita port Persona 4 Golden. With its different mechanics and new awesome scenes, it also brought a new character, which breathed all new life to it. Now, after much popular demand by absolutely no one, Aniplex thought to themselves, “Remember that Persona 4 anime we made a couple of years ago? Why don’t we make another one for the port to cash in on the hype for Persona?” Atlus probably had a hand in the decision too, but nevertheless, Persona 4 the Golden Animation is nothing more than just decent fan service for fans to see; even with the inevitable cringe-worthy attempts at trying to adapt it fully.
For those who aren’t aware of the concept of Persona 4 Golden, it is basically another version of the original game with a different side character that we get to know over the course of her own story. What the anime wants to do is solely focus on the new character, named Marie, and find out the mystery of who she is and why she is there to begin with. Suffice to say, this does not really bode well in how they handle the pacing and development. At one point, there are several parts where they skip over important development in order to fit 13 episodes in with Marie’s development and animate the extra scenes; this includes the beach fanservice, the band practice, motorcycle licenses, etc.
Ironically, this problem of fitting too much content into one season was the same exact problem with the 1st season. They wanted to fit as much content as possible to make it feel like an authentic Persona game in full anime spectacle. While it is admirable of them to at least try to accomplish this, it fails quite considerably. There are many instances where the pacing felt too quick for us to understand and feel for our characters. If they were to make this into a bonafide hit, a longer episode count would’ve sufficed a bit more for one. But in this day and age where shows longer than 24 episodes all come and go, I don’t think Aniplex has that kind of budget to have had that accomplished.
Art and animation has its moments of eerie distinctiveness, where the characters are drawn quite on point to how Atlus usually draws their Shin Megami Tensei characters. However, there are moments where the art quickly goes down south at a draw distance where the characters look very deformed. Not to mention the animation can be guilty of this too with stiff motions at certain frames and cutting corners here and there. When the battle scenes do occur, the art and animation is pretty stellar to see, so you can obviously tell where Aniplex put most of their budget towards.
Despite this not being a great adaptation, should this be outright slandered by Persona fans? Not entirely. What is still intact from the source is the humor, which can still serve to be a delight on multiple occasions. Seeing them in animated form definitely helps make it more memorable in this light. Not only that, but there are a few interesting bonuses they added to the story, in spite of its flawed presentation. Adachi’s past is given a lot of in-depth analysis, which has him seen in a more sympathetic light in how he became a police officer and so on.
I’m sure many will ask the obvious question: Should I play the games or just watch the anime? Or, should I watch/play Persona 3 first before 4? Depending on your preference, the games will prove to be more fruitful in experiencing a truly brilliant story to behold. Golden only proves to have more of the same systematic problems from the previous iteration. Even without mentioning it in regards to how it compares to the game, it isn’t really anything that noticeably special. Fanservice shows are of no small quantity these days, so your best bet is to leave the fanservice for the fanatics to dive into.