Review for Persona 3 - Movie 1 Collector's Edition
You may be elated at the prospect of a Persona 3 movie, the first of four Persona 3 movies, but I have to admit that my heart sank when the review disc dropped onto my doormat. A few years ago, I had the misfortune to review Persona 4: The Animation, a series with plenty of issues beyond its disc authoring, a woeful story, awkward pacing, dull characters... I was in no mood to watch a prequel. Persona 3 is not a prequel. Persona 3 is one of a series of videogames from Atlus, roleplaying games that see high school students battling paranormal phenomena. While the themes are consistent across the games, the characters, settings and stories differ, which is why Persona 3 has little or nothing to do with Persona 4. It may be made by the same studio, but it has a different creative team behind it. That’s a good thing, as if I were to spend any more of my time in the televisual presence of personality vacuum Yu Narukami, I’d probably go bananas. Then again, these four Persona 3 movies are also based on a videogame. Hopefully this adaptation will do things better.
Makoto Yuki is transferring in to Gekkoukan High School, moving into a dormitory, but his train is late. As he gets to the station, the clock strikes midnight, and time just stops. The world turns a sickly green, and everyone else turns into a coffin. Unfazed, Makoto makes his way to the dormitory, where he’s met by an enigmatic child in striped clothing, who makes him sign a contract taking responsibility for his own actions. As he’s met by the other students that have been expecting him, time resumes, the clocks start ticking again, and the world returns to normal.
It turns out that the Dark Hour is a regular occurrence, when Shadows are abroad, seeking hapless people (those that don’t turn into coffins) to feed upon. The students living in this particular dorm are members of an after school club called S.E.E.S, and they too remain in human form during the Dark Hour. The difference is that with the aid of their Personas, they can fight the shadows, and protect the people in town. They’re always on the lookout for new members, and Makoto Yuki is a perfect recruit. The thing is that this particular paranormal nightmare seems to be centred on their school, which during the Dark Hour turns into a maze-like edifice called Tartaros. While the initial skirmishes get Makoto used to his Persona abilities, the S.E.E.S group will face their toughest challenge when a girl named Fuuka Yamagishi goes missing. Fortunately, Makoto has some serious Persona skills.
The first Persona 3 movie gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer on a single layer Blu-ray. As it’s the only thing on the disc, it comes across really quite well, clean and crisp throughout with good levels of detail, sharp line art, and strong colour reproduction. There is minimal banding, only rarely apparent, and certainly not as extensive as it was on Kazé’s Persona 4 discs. Black levels could be a little stronger, but by and large the film is very watchable. When it comes to character art and the gradated colour palette, you can see a similarity of style between the two iterations of Persona, but the theatrical presentation means that the animation is a lot stronger, more detailed, with the action sequences looking suitably impressive.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by All the Anime.
The sole audio track is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese track, with optional translated English subtitles, in a yellow font. They are timed accurately and are free of typos. The surround is adequate at best. Persona 3 is a pretty front focussed affair, with a little bit of ambience, but with most of the directionality saved for the action sequences. While I didn’t think too much of the opening theme, Persona 3’s music generally hits the mark with its electro-pop beats, driving the intensity of the action sequences well.
The disc boots to a static menu. There are no on-disc extras. While there is a standard DVD release, this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray is a combo release, although I’ve only seen the Blu-ray check disc, and can’t comment on the packaging or any physical extras such as the 36-page booklet.
It took me two days to watch Persona 3: Spring of Birth. I fell asleep in the middle of it. Given that Persona 4 was prone to send me off to slumberland, you can guess where I’m going with this review. The first Persona 3 movie is a videogame adaptation, and it wears its credentials proudly on its sleeve. If you’ve played the videogame, you are going to appreciate this movie a lot more than me, someone who last held a game controller when Playstations didn’t have digits.
One problem reared its annoying head again, a problem that the two Persona anime share in a game player proxy main character that is a personality vacuum. Just like Yu Narukami, Makoto Yuki is bland, and nondescript, the player’s eyes into the game, and you’re expected to imbue him with your own feelings and reactions as you play through the game, discover its secrets. Only this isn’t a game, it’s a movie, a passive experience where you rely on the writers, director and actors to guide your emotional response, Having said that, Makoto Yuki still gets more character development in these 98 minutes than Yu Narukami got in the whole of the Persona 4 series.
One aspect of Persona 3 that’s bound to have given a BBFC examiner a nervous twitch is just how the heroes activate their Personas. Not for them the simple smack down of a tarot card. They get Evokers with which to bring forth their eye-candy proxy fighters. These Evokers look like guns, and to use them, they shoot themselves in the head. There are no bullets, no blood, just a flash of blue light, some recoil, and shazam, their personal combat genies appear. But the imagery brings forth connotations that are pretty dark.
One thing about Persona 3 that was a relief is that at this point its story is pretty sound. That might be down to the theatrical format as opposed to the episodic one, but it avoids the silliness and breaks from reality that occurred in Persona 4, as well as the sheer godawfulness of some of those Persona 4 characters. It also has more of a cohesive feel to it, again as a result of its format. It seems a consistent aspect of Persona is that real world problems for the characters are related to the supernatural facets of the story. In an episodic format, the regularity and on occasion triviality of those problems did begin to grate. In the first Persona 3 movie, it boils down to one, very relatable problem for one character, that of being bullied in school. It’s slowly revealed and developed over the film’s runtime, and leads into the climactic confrontation. It offers something of substance in the film’s storyline, once you put aside the game mechanics of levelling up and acquiring new Personas (once again, Makoto Yuki is unique as the protagonist in that he can wield more than one Persona).
When I fell asleep watching this film, lulled into somnolence by its video-game mechanics and its personality free protagonist, I was of a mind to completely dismiss this film as a waste of time. But watching its conclusion (again) the following day has made me reconsider. It’s still a movie that will resonate most with fans of the Persona games, while laypeople like me will probably struggle. But, it avoids most of the pitfalls that scuppered the Persona 4 adaptation. Spring of Birth has a nice, cohesive story, its supporting characters are more engaging, and it doesn’t divert into triviality. If you love the game, this is for you. Hopefully the subsequent movies will become more movie-like and less game-like, which could make this a more positive and broader entertainment experience.