Persona 4: The Golden Animation – Adapting the Same Game Twice
Adaptations are weird. Doing it well, whether that’s adapting a book into a movie, a game into a movie, anime, or even visual mediums into books, it seems to be less about skill and knowledge and more about artistic ability and the creator’s discretion.
There’s often a debate over how you adapt things properly. One side says something needs to be wholly faithful to the source material. This is why so many people often say “the book was better” when watching a movie. It’s often because the plot either left important parts out or changed parts, making for an overall worse experience.
You then have those who fall on the other side of the spectrum. The people that believe your adaptation needs to take a few liberties to make the story work in this new medium. I understand both of these opinions, and I’ve seen certain adaptations that take both approaches.
Ultimately, I think there needs to be some combination of both. I don’t think either can be disregarded. I only think an adaptation can work when it rides the line between being both faithful to what came before it and unique to itself.
If an adaptation doesn’t stay faithful to what it is adapting, what’s the point of adapting the thing in the first place? And if nothing is different about that adaptation, why even experience the new thing anyway? It’s likely better in its original form – the form it was made for – why see the same thing but slightly different?
These are the kind of debates that rage on when we discuss the world of adaptations. I actually find them to be a really interesting topic. Adaptations have the power to get people interested in other forms of media. If you like an anime and want to see the story continue, you might go read the light novel and take an interest in literature.
Maybe you’re not a big movie buff, but this novel you’ve always wanted to see brought to life has a film coming out. So you watch it. Just imagine how many young readers the Harry Potter movie series made. I promise you it’s quite a few. It can work both ways.
But then again, adaptations also breed the people who say, “why would I read the book when I can just watch the movie?” It’s ok. We don’t like those people here. Jokes asides, the world of adaptations is a slippery slope, and one’s that’s very difficult to slide down for many without falling on their faces.
That’s why I want to talk today about a very interesting adaptation. One that does what it says but doesn’t at the same time. One that’s faithful to the source material yet isn’t whatsoever. That may sound contradictory, but I assure you, it’s the truth.
I have a question for you. What happens if you adapt the same thing twice? I’m not talking about making something better or remastering it. I’m talking about taking the same storyline and making a separate adaptation for it twice. Well, Persona 4: The Golden Animation is what happens.
But This Time, it’s Golden!
Here’s what’s so interesting about this anime. As I said, this is not the first time Persona 4 has been adapted. Back 3 years before Golden was animated, Persona 4: The Animation came out in 2011.
This was a retelling of all of the events of Persona 4’s story. Everything you needed to know. Right from Yu Narukami riding into the sleeping town of Inaba, to fighting literal gods with the power of love and friendship, and all of the murder mysteries the Japanese Scooby Gang solves in between. It was Persona 4’s animation adaptation, as has become a trend for the main series of games.
So you may ask the question why Persona 4: The Golden Animation exists. Well, that requires a bit of an explanation. The Persona series likes to do a certain thing with their main series. Something people are fairly conflicted on. They like to release updated versions of the same game with new content: typically a new character, and maybe a different ending, or at least another boss or two.
This just happened not long ago. A few years after Persona 5, here comes Persona 5 Royal. Largely the same game, just updated with some quality of life improvements, some new features, characters, music, a new dungeon, and a final boss. Royal is, and I think most would agree, better Persona 5, but it starts a debate on whether or not a separate game was needed at all.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it on the site yet, but I’m a giant Persona fan. Persona 5 is my favorite game of all time, and I replay 3, 4, and 5 each at least once a year, it seems like. Still, I don’t love this trend as much as Atlus does. However, the updated releases have always felt worth it to me, so I’m usually not too upset about it, even if I think it could become worrying.
Persona 4 got the same exact treatment. And apparently, Atlus thought this new version of the game needed an entire retelling. Somewhat.
Here’s what’s so interesting about the way Golden Animation tells its story. It very much does what it says. It focuses just on the various aspects Golden brings to the table. It mainly retells various scenes that that game had, and Marie, the new character added, is largely the focus of the whole anime. Much more important than she really is in the game, to be honest.
In most of the scenes of the anime that were new to Golden, Marie is now around, even though she wasn’t in the game. This was ultimately a good call, as I think seeing her more than in the game makes her more likable, but it shows how much the anime likes to focus purely on the Golden aspects of the plot.
And you don’t even know the half of it.
Who Are You Again?
I’ve never seen another anime, besides Danganronpa 3, I suppose, that expects you to have knowledge going into it. Golden Animation does. If you do not know the story of at least the original Persona 4, you better hold on tight because you will have not the faintest clue what’s going on.
Rather than adapting the entire anime again, they decided to focus almost exclusively on the stuff in Golden. This means many parts of even the main story of the game get shafted hard.
Things just happen without any explanation. I know exactly what happened, of course. I played the game like 7 times, but the anime doesn’t tell you anything. There are times where in between episodes, characters are just thrown in without any information at all. At the start of episode 2, Kanji’s just there as a part of the group. Episode 5? Have Naoto! Why? Go watch the other anime or play the game.
It’s such a weird decision. I know why they did it. Because they didn’t want to make the same series with slight differences again, I understand that. But just leaving things to the viewer’s imagination is such an interesting idea.
One of the reasons I find this topic so fascinating is because it opens up a discussion on what the actual purpose of adaptations is? Who is their target audience? Generally, I would say they’re to get new people interested in it who don’t enjoy the series’ original medium and provide something new for old fans.
Golden Animation completely throws that first one out the window, up into the stratosphere directly on a crash course for Mars. Golden Animation is clearly meant for either fans of the game, fans of the anime, or fans of both. Nobody else allowed. You just can’t watch it reasonably without prior knowledge.
Because of this, it becomes almost like an addition to the normal anime. If certain things didn’t contradict themselves, you could actually watch it along with the original series.
Golden Animation was an odd choice, to be sure. Still, not an altogether bad one. The anime has its issues, but it’s still fairly enjoyable. I’m just curious why it exists. Who thought that Golden had enough added to make an entire anime about it. More importantly than that, though, I would imagine it would be a waste of time. I have trouble wrapping my head around the decision.
Still, if they were set on doing this, Golden Animation did it about as best as you could. Deciding to leave out certain parts was really the only decision you could make. There would be numerous problems trying to adapt Persona 4 yet again. Firstly, the game is already long and has a long story. Fitting that in anime form is hard enough to do right.
If you tried to make it again with Golden parts added, you would likely have something very rushed and fairly mediocre overall. Kind of similar to Persona 5: The Animation. That anime is trying to do the impossible, though, so I forgive it.
Second, in trying to adapt the same thing twice, you run the risk of stepping on the other’s toes. If the new one is better, why watch the old one, and vice versa. By making one about the same plot, but honing in on the things that make it unique, you can adapt something twice without endangering the other version of it.
Though it remains an odd decision, it was a fairly smart one. Even if we get random scenes where all these characters we’ve known for like 3 episodes get up and sing a concert because of the commotion caused by some child detective that we have no idea who they are or what possibly happened to them, or why we care, or why the characters even know her. Wait, is it a her? Why is she the detective prince then? It doesn’t matter! Watch the other anime! There, your questions will be answered!
I find this adaption fascinating because I don’t really think there’s enough new to warrant making the series. We get a few incredibly humorous episodes about certain scenes added in Golden, but the fact that a 10-minute scene from the game lasts a whole episode on a few occasions should show that they had to take a few liberties to pad it out.
Although those episodes are the most entertaining ones, I will admit. Most of the series just feels like a watered-down version of the game with a few differences. It’s the thing I usually don’t like about adaptations of games in general.
The Royal Animation?
With the release of Persona 5 Royal about a year ago, looking back on Golden Animation will raise the question of whether we should expect a Royal Animation in the future. I’ll say it’s certainly a possibility. Atlus is a big fan of milking Persona, so don’t count it out. Honestly, though, I’d recommend they go about it a little differently.
Unlike Golden, mostly all of the new stuff in Royal, at least the important parts, is at the end. Rather than making a series for it, I think a decent-sized movie about all the Kasumi stuff and the new palace would be better.
This, of course, comes with the problem of the important characters being introduced earlier in the game, but let me tell you this, as someone whose favorite game is Persona 5, they could easily put them in at the end or write something into the plot within the first few minutes to explain.
It’s really laughable how irrelevant Kasumi is until the end, and the other big character, well, he could be explained easy enough too. I don’t see why Golden needed a whole anime, but I really cannot begin to understand why Royal would need one as well. Just give us a nice movie, Atlus.
Adaptations are certainly interesting, and Persona 4: The Golden Animation is one of the strangest ones I’ve seen, that’s for sure. However, I respect Atlus for that decision. It’s not something I would have personally done, but I’m also not a multimillion-dollar company with fans all around the world. Touché Atlus, touché.
Thank you very much for reading
What are your thoughts on adaptations? How do you believe they should be done, and do you think Atlus made the right decision here? I mean, it was apparently interesting enough for me to discuss it, so what do I know? Trust the company, not me!