Some context might be needed before returning to Inaba
Persona4 the Golden ANIMATION is a strange series. While fans of Persona4 will certainly enjoy seeing the new content from Persona4 Golden in animated form, it’s also a second Persona 4 anime that takes place within the same story and isn’t a sequel. For those who haven’t played Persona 4, Persona 4 Golden, or watched Persona 4 The Animation, Persona 4 The Golden Animation might be hard to follow. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to play either version of Persona 4 prior to watching this anime.
P4GA takes the new characters, scenes, and locations from the expanded version of Persona 4 Golden—released for the PlayStation Vita in 2012—and gives a new way to experience the additions. For the most part, the show follows the story of Yu Narukami’s social link stories with new character Marie and backstory for Tohru Adachi. P4GA attempts to create a coherent story with these characters, which it does, but because of the time skips the series uses and by disregarding the main story of Persona 4 outside of small parts, it might be hard to completely understand or appreciate the series without context.
So, if you’ve got an understanding of Persona 4 or just want to be bold and try to figure out what’s happening without help, what does P4GA offer with its new content? The first episode, which shares the most with the original story, is declarative in showing Yu is essentially on a New Game plus run as when he first summons his Persona Izanagi, it has skills a new player would never have. This also allows him to show more personality since all of his social skills are also maxed out which allows for more comedic and empathetic moments with the rest of the Investigation Team.
More of the non-story focused episodes take the cast to the new locations created for Persona 4 Golden. These episodes see Yu, Yosuke, and Kanji attempt to pick up girls in Okina City, a scooter trip to Shichiri Beach during the summer, a quiz show, the winter ski trip, and a Rise performance at Junes. There’s also a fantastic Christmas episode which sees Naoto somehow become convinced that everyone wants to kill her thanks to a comedy of errors. There’s no mistaking that the following episodes are fan service, but with context it's very enjoyable to see these scenes from the game expanded further.
Even with all of the fan service—the entire series is essentially fan service for being a second Persona 4 anime—there is a story to be told. Introduced in the first episode as one of the few changes from the beginning, Marie is the focal point of the series. She becomes a second Velvet Room attendant tasked to help Yu in his journey, but the inverse happens. Thanks to Marie’s amnesia, she is constantly trying to figure who she is and what brought her to Inaba. Since she is able to leave the Velvet Room, Yu takes it upon himself to try and make new memories by integrating her with his friends for important events such as the new locations they visit.
Over the course of the series, Marie is able to have these new memories, but at the same time, she starts to remember who she really is. This causes her pain and agony and forces her to leave everyone and disappear. Given that the show expands upon the additions made by Persona 4 Golden, Marie is given more interactions with Yu and the Investigation Team than in the game. P4GA even goes a step further by adding in elements to Marie’s story in between when she disappears and re-emerges for the final dungeon that the show concludes with. By giving more time for new story, new scenes, and new interactions, P4GA gives fans of Persona 4 and those that have played Persona 4 Golden more to see than if it was just a 1-to-1 adaptation with nothing added.
The other character the show focuses on while Marie is gone for a bit is police detective Tohru Adachi. Golden added a new social link for Adachi which helped flesh out his character more than the original game had. P4GA gives him an entire episode devoted to his backstory from when he originally arrived in Inaba, well before Yu shows up. Given the importance of his character and the parallels between Adachi and Yu, it’s important to show his story as well and the series does a good job of doing that, even without the main story to back it up.
Trying to follow along with everything in Persona4 the Golden ANIMATION is going to be tough without context of the original game or anime. Characters are going to show up without introduction as the anime assumes that knowledge. To get the full enjoyment of the series, you should probably play Persona 4 Golden before watching to have the context of everything that happens. It’s understandable, though, that not everyone can commit to a 100+ hour JRPG, so perhaps the original Persona 4 The Animation might be a good idea to watch instead. While you wouldn’t know what happens with the additions from Golden, you’d still be ready for new experiences from a cast of characters you already know!