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Impressions: Persona 3 The Movie #1: Spring of Birth

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It's time for some Mass Destruction

To say that Persona 3 changed the RPG landscape in significant ways is no overstatement.

Atlus' PS2 RPG arrived late in the life cycle of the console, yet miraculously managed to find dedicated audiences on both sides of the Pacific. It paved the way for its successor, Persona 4, and a sizable amount of other games that would take cues from its odd combination of school life simulation and dungeon crawling fun.

Persona 4 would go on to get various spin off projects, including a full TV series, various novels, and even sequels via the Arena fighting games. Persona 3 on the other hand seemed destined to play second fiddle to its sibling.

That's all geared to change with the release of Persona 3 The Movie #1: Spring of Birth; the first in a series of films set to adapt the entirety of P3, Spring of Birth faces the difficult hurdle of trying to fit hours upon hours of material into a 90-minute block.

Spring of Birth follows Makoto Yuki, an orphaned high school student who moves to Tatsumi Port Island for school. Aloof and alone, he arrives at his new dorm in the middle of the night, surrounded by coffins and strange Shadow creatures prowling about. Here he meets his fellow dorm mates, members of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, S.E.E.S.. They wield the power to summon Personas, powerful beings that represent their inner selves. S.E.E.S. has but one goal: to rid the world of the Shadows.

Persona 3 The Movie #1: Spring of Birth
Studio: AIC ASTA
Distributed by: Aniplex
Release Date: 11/23/13

Persona 3 The Movie largely follows the same narrative beats as the game it's based off of, though it makes minor changes here and there to accommodate for the 90-minute run time. Without spoiling anything major, the film adapts material right up through Fuka's arc, which undoubtedly helps the whole thing feel much better paced than it potentially could have been. The biggest road block any sort of Persona adaptation can have is dealing with the fact that these games can take anywhere from 50 to 80 hours to clear, and there's simply no way to fit that all into a TV series, never mind feature films. The reality is that things need to be changed in order for the material to work, and I think Spring of Birth does an admirable job at tackling this.

This will undoubtedly be a point of contention for many fans, but Spring of Birth completely axes the Social Link side stories. Unlike Persona 4 The Animation, this film chooses to forgo those characters entirely in favor of putting the spotlight on the main cast. The end result is that the main characters get way more time to shine and develop despite the brief length of the film. The downside is that much of the fan-favorite extra content is left on the cutting room floor. I don't know if future movies will go down the same path, but in this first entry I think it makes a whole lot of sense. 

That isn't to say that Persona 3 The Movie doesn't have plenty of pacing problems. The Persona games follow a fairly rigid daily formula that includes grinding, raising stats, completing social links, and repeating. This is not a format that can be fit into a film's structure as is, but that also means the audience will be missing out on the long term development the games are able to afford. The introduction of Tartarus, a major location where most of the action takes place, feels rushed and somewhat under-explained. The main characters make multiple trips to the tower, but none of them are particularly substantial; they culminate in a few action sequences, but not a whole lot more. 

Additionally, Spring of Birth suffers from not having a strong narrative through-line. There's no real overarching plot to speak of because the film ends at a point where nothing truly significant has taken place. The credits start to roll, but there's no sense of closure. Arguably this was an unavoidable side effect of adapting Persona 3 in the first place, but it's still aggravating.

Fortunately, director Noriaki Akitaya and his team make up for these shortcomings in some key ways. With 90 minutes to play with and not a whole lot of story to tell, more time goes to fleshing out the key members of the cast and moving them forward. The main character, now named Makoto Yuki, is initially portrayed as an empty, aloof, and distant young man. He's not exactly hostile, but he lacks any kind of real determination to do anything. When he's invited to join S.E.E.S., he does so simply because he was asked to. His lack of a will is what drives most of the conflict in Spring of Birth.

The film runs with the concept that Makoto is left broken after his parents died. He doesn't seem to care about anything, leading his teammates to eventually distrust his leadership. Junpei's frustration with Makoto being assigned the leader of the group, Yukari's concerns that he simply doesn't care about what happens to them; these are major beats that ultimately lead to him growing as a character. The subtitle of the film, Spring of Birth, undoubtedly refers to Makoto and the forward progress he makes as a person.

With Persona 3 The Movie covering material up through Fuka's arc, it's reasonable to expect that some characters would get more time on screen than others. Junpei and Yukari, Makoto's classmates and closest friends early on, are given plenty of things to do, often helping to push the story forward through their conflicts. Akihiko and Mitsuru also get some love, though the latter doesn't really do a whole lot due to how far the film gets in the overall P3 narrative. Fuka's arc makes up the last quarter of Spring of Birth, and despite a few changes here and there to adjust to Makoto's character development, it's fairly faithful to the source material. 

With animation handled by much of the same staff that worked on Persona 4 The Animation, I wasn't expecting much out of Spring of Birth. I'm happy to find my foot in my mouth on this one, as the film captures the darker atmosphere of the game admirably. Plenty of foreboding compositions, oppressive shots, and generally solid direction help to keep things interesting. There are still more than a few awkward cuts of animation, but the overall package makes up for much of it.

On the audio side of things, Shoji Meguro unsurprisingly returns to score the film. There's not a ton in the way of new tracks, but the arrangements that pop up are quite good. I was especially fond of the version of Burn my Dread that plays over the opening sequence. Otherwise Spring of Birth is full of familiar tunes, most of which are used to great effect. Most of the voice actors from the game return to reprise their roles, making for an immediately familiar and nostalgic experience. Akira Ishida performs admirably as both Makoto and the mysterious boy Pharos, while-- rather than recasting the character of Igor-- the late Isamu Tanonaka's performance from Persona 3 is reused.

I came into Persona 3 The Movie #1: Spring of Birth expecting very little out of the film. Anime adaptations of Atlus properties have done little to impress me over the past few years, and I had no reason to think this would be any different. I love when I'm wrong about these sorts of things. Spring of Birth struggles with the source material at times, but on the whole it delivers a nostalgic trip down memory lane for longtime fans, and an accessible entry point for folks curious about the franchise.

There's plenty of room for AIC ASTA to stumble in the next film, but for now this is a solid start to the Persona 3 films.

 


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Elliot Gay
Elliot GayContributor   gamer profile

Elliot is an associate editor for Japanator and can be found contributing to Destructoid on occasion. He lives in Japan and can be found on Twitter @RyougaSaotome. more + disclosures


 



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