The premise is off. Unlike feature adaptations such as Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, Halo Legends and Mass Effect: Paragon Lost that provide side stories to the main event, Anime International Company (AIC) attempts to take the full scale of Persona 3 and encapsulate it in a film. It’s a logic that’s not hard to support – Dawn of the Seeker, Legends and Paragon Lost are notoriously weightless, little more than overproduced fanfiction. How better to bypass this problem than giving us the main event. But the obvious question remains: how to distil a 90+ hour RPG into a feature length anime?
AIC has a partial solution; turn it into three feature films. But the absence of parity between 90 and six is all too apparent, and is an ambition that goes unfulfilled in this first act.
Persona 3 The Movie: #1, Spring of Birth slowly tells the opening of P3, as orphan protagonist Makoto Yuki arrives at Gekkouhan High School, unwittingly experiencing the mysterious phenomenon of the Dark Hour – a midnight time period hidden from normal humans where shadows roam and the school transforms into Tartarus, a labyrinthine tower purported to contain the secrets to the Hour. Yuki is swiftly recruited into the afterschool club Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) where he joins fellow Persona-wielding schoolmates Junpei, Akihiko, Yukari and Mitsuru in their investigation.
A tantalising synopsis, but dedication to the source’s plot and pace (elements that are both usually something to endorse and too often the first casualties in adaptations) mean that is everything audiences are getting with this first-of-three. Director Noriaki Akitaya chooses to focus on getting the band together and developing Makoto’s few characters tell from player-controlled avatar to independent personality. Unfortunately both fall short under the 91 minute runtime, with P3’s excellent and nuanced cast of characters reduced to tropes and Makoto’s own development protracted to the point of frustration.
This will be an understandable pain for anyone familiar with Shin Megami Tensei games. The openings are often painfully protracted, following a silent protagonist that has yet to develop, surrounded by accomplices they have yet to connect with in an environment alien and seemingly impenetrable. This will be an understandable pain for anyone familiar with Persona 4: The Animation, the 25 part anime series based on P3’s successor, and of which the early episodes were also mired with a similarly sluggish pace. Put simply, it starts as work.
Where Spring of Birth does succeed is the style. A colour palette that eeks out the supernatural within the urban setting with delicate aplomb, drawn and animated to high standards, and while the significance of the Evokers – gun-like devices aimed at the head to draw out your Persona – never quite matches the striking imagery of watching schoolchildren kill themselves to fight monstrous beasts, some of the initial summon sequences are unsettlingly captivating to watch. Similarly, the music featuring remixed tracks from P3 remains compelling, and main battle theme ‘Mass Destruction’ will undoubtedly stick in your head.
P4A eventually develops into one of the finest computer game adaptations, with the all-too glorious payoff for your graft a fascinating and engrossing series, indulgently stylish and self-aware yet earnest and charming. Just as the games are. Much of this is accomplished without relinquishing that initial protracted pace – entire episodes are dedicated to side stories and character development the series is famed for, wilfully ignoring the prime murder mystery story.
Conversely, it is hard to imagine the P3 feature films being granted either the runtime to be necessarily generous to its characters or distilling the plot into something cohesive while keeping the languishing Persona charm. The second film, #2, Midsummer Knight’s Dream was released on 7 June 2014, with #3, Falling Down dated 4 April 2015 and despite these initial reservations, Gamestyle will certainly be checking them out.