The cult classic RPG Persona 4 was translated into an Anime adaptation 3 years ago, but now it's getting a new remake inspired by the game's PS Vita port, Persona 4 Golden - except The Golden Animation isn't really a remake, or a reboot, or even a sequel. It's an anime new game plus. (Spoilers for Episode 1 within!)
Let's start off with explaining just what the hell that sort of concept means for those unfamiliar. Lots of video games, especially RPGs, have the concept of a New Game Plus - upon completion of the game, you can play through it all again, usually with your character's statistics carried over, with the chance to face even harder challenges and see things you might have missed the first time round. Persona 4 is no different - upon completion of the game the player can choose to start again, bringing along their Protagonist's social statistics (the player has five to level up through various means - Knowledge, Diligence, Courage, Understanding and Expression - which can effect dialogue options for the main character, as well as access to Social Links, a friendship system, for certain characters throughout the story) as well as their Persona compendium, the full complement of the magical demons they acquired throughout their first playthrough. But at the same time, there's more than just game elements brought over: the player is also bringing their own knowledge of the game's story and mechanics into the new playthrough - they, unlike the characters (and unlike themselves their first time round) have knowledge over the story and the game's events, a sense of dramatic irony that also informs how they'll play this new runthrough. They know what they're doing, so it won't take as long a second time around.
It's this sense of dramatic irony that comes through strongly watching Persona 4 The Golden Animation's (as much as I like the title, I think from now on I'll refer to it as P4GA for short!) first episode, Golden Days. P4GA is retelling the story of Persona 4 in its entire 12 episode run, which is a big ask considering even the original anime, which ran for 24 episodes, was seen as a bit rushed in its attempt to cram an 80 hour JRPG into about 9 hours of airtime. It moves at a lightning pace, and is by no means meant for newcomers to the story of Persona 4 - the original anime and the game are for that. This is for people experienced with Persona 4 already, and the series knows that - the audience becomes the New Game Plus player, almost blitzing through scenes in the show like they're hammering away at their game pad to skip cutscene text they've already read before.
But P4GA isn't just like a New Game Plus in that aspect - the characters, specifically the protagonist Yu Narukami, act profoundly differently to the way they did in the previous anime. In the original Anime, Yu's character develops over the course of the series, just as the player would shape and develop it over the game - he becomes more confident, outgoing, and unafraid to speak his mind. The Yu we meet in Golden Days however, is already that person. Even in the very first scene of him on the train to Inaba, his demeanor is markedly different in comparison to the same scene from Persona 4 The Animation, as you can see in the side by side comparisons above: depicting a self-confidence the Yu of the original series didn't have at that point. He's much more confident in the way he approaches people as well - in this version of the story, when Yu is introduced to his new class by the snobbish and judgemental homeroom teacher Mr. Morooka, instead of flustering as he does in the original, Yu calls Morooka out on his accusation that he's a city-dwelling delinquent (directly referencing a dialogue choice you can only make in the game on a New Game Plus run - the first time round, the protagonist's courage Stat isn't high enough). Even when Yu and his friends meet Teddie for the first time in the TV world, Yu approaches him calmly and almost with a sense of familiarity - as if, like in a New Game Plus run, the protagonist knows who Teddie is already - compared to his reaction in the first series.
It's not just Yu's characterisation that hints at the New Game Plus idea, either - in the fight scene at the end of the episode where Yu awakens his power and summons his Persona, Izanagi, we see a wildly different encounter. Compare the awakening scene and fight from Persona 4 The Animation Episode 1:
To this same scene, from Persona 4 The Golden Animation (Skip ahead - the scene is from about 3:07 to 7:12, and unfortunately doesn't have English subtitles. Sorry!):
Not only does Yu face off against way more Shadows - in the original even 3 is seemingly a challenge for him at that point - but Izanagi itself is demonstrably more powerful in P4GA, slicing and lightning-bolting its way through scores of enemies without a sweat. It's just like bringing in your high-levelled, powerful Personae into the start of the game again!
It'll be very interesting to see how P4GA continues to play with this concept of the New Game Plus - and if Yu Narukami himself will be in on the fact that this is all a little familiar to him. Margaret, one of the denizens of the Velvet Room that guides Yu on his journey, already seemingly hinted that she at least was familiar with the fact that this had happened before, remarking to Yu (and by extension to the audience already in on the act) that 'Even familiar landscapes will reveal a different kind of beauty if you change your viewpoint' in the episode's opening - but if Yu himself becomes steadily aware, it might be an interesting element to play with. But for now, The Golden Animation seems to be an intriguing companion to Persona 4 The Animation, a fannish addition that celebrates the audience's familiarity with the source material (given that there's been 4 or 5 different ways to experience it by now!) in a uniquely Persona manner. Even if you have been through it all before, revisiting Persona 4 is still an appealing prospect.
Persona 4 The Golden Animation airs every Thursday at 12pm PST on Crunchyroll, DAISUKI and Hulu (free members of Crunchyroll have to wait until a week later to watch).