The Persona series of games aren’t something that really interested me, at least gameplay-wise. I didn’t want to sink many… many hours into a school life sim / traditional turn-based RPG, so I always just kept an eye on it. I saw my friend play through about a third of Persona 3, and then through all of 5, and that’s when I decided to buy Anime Limited’s releases of the Persona 3 films (as well as the Blu-ray release of Persona 4: The Animation, I’ll get to that later though!) Starting with the first two films then, let’s have a look at how such a long and twisty game can be made into a visually stunning anime film series!
A teenager who was orphaned as a young boy returns to the city of his childhood. Shortly after transferring to Gekkoukan High School, he awakens his Persona, Orpheus, as his only chance at defeating mysterious creatures called Shadows. He soon discovers that he shares this special ability with other students at his new school. He joins the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES), and with his new friends, confronts the threat of the Shadows during the “Dark Hour”, a time between one day and the next where the Shadows appear in greater numbers…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
It’s the personality scale! Zero to the left, too much to the right, and pretty normal in the middle!
Makoto Yuki (Akira Ishida) – Makoto is completely shut-off from society, the traumatic experience of seeing his mother die in a car accident when he was a boy leaving him completely unable to involve himself emotionally. That being said, he soon starts to experience these emotions again as he gets to know his new classmates…
Yukari Takeba (Megumi Toyoguchi) – A fellow member of the SEES and one with a similarly tragic past as Makoto, having lost her father several years ago due to some connection with the Dark Hour…
Junpei Iori (Kōsuke Toriumi) – Junpei is your classic class joker, over-active and happy at even the worse times, though this also causes trouble during his first few battles as a member of the SEES…
Mitsuru Kirijo (Rie Tanaka) – The founder of SEES and student council president at Gekkoukan High School. She is the daughter of the head of a large corporation that has close ties with how the Dark Hour came to be…
Akihiko Sanada (Hikaru Midorikawa) – Akihiko is a long-time friend and ally to both Mitsuru and former SEES member Shinjiro. He is a member of the boxing club and is constantly trying to better himself, both as a fighter and a Persona user.
Fuka Yamagishi (Mamiko Noto) – Fuka is your typical helpless bully victim who manages to overcome her awful situation enough to join SEES, though her Persona is only good for analysis from a distance…
Shinjiro Aragaki (Kazuya Nakai) – A former member of SEES who is suffering from a condition that causes his Persona to go berserk…
Aegis (Maaya Sakamoto) – A robot with a humanoid appearance, Aegis was created to defeat Shadows and eventually to protect Makoto. Aegis’ memories of her original time operating has gone, all she knows is her current mission of protection…
Ken Amada (Megumi Ogata) and Koromaru – Ken is still in elementary school but moves in to the Iwatodai Dormitory to join SEES when he awakens a Persona. Much like a lot of the cast, his parents were killed at a young age, but this time the perpetrator might be closer than he thinks… Koromaru on the other hand is a dog. A dog with the ability to summon a Persona! Hooray!
Strega (Nobutoshi Canna, Masaya Onosaka and Miyuki Sawashiro) – Strega is a group consisting of leader Takaya Sakaki, brains of the operation Jin Shirato, and silent and stoic Chidori Yoshino. They are Persona users who want the Shadows and the Dark Hour to continue forever, and therefore are at odds with the SEES.
Pharos (Akira Ishida) – A mysterious boy that only Makoto can see. Pharos is convinced that making friends only leads to heartbreak, and that it’s better to keep everyone at a distance…
Igor and Elizabeth (Isamu Tanonaka and Miyuki Sawashiro) – Igor, and his assistant Elizabeth, are in the mysterious “Velvet Room”, where they converse with Makoto on his journey…
and many more!
Just look at that background work… beautiful!
Although there is plenty to talk about plot-wise, I want to start off by mentioning how bloody lovely it all looks. I love the art style, particularly a weird and other-worldly look whenever they’re in the Dark Hour. Over-exaggeratedly large moon, green sky, it just looks great. The animation is smooth as you like as well. Top marks in that department.
Although Makoto is a bit hard to get behind here (see below!) the rest of the cast make up for it. Yukari is your classic sometimes funny, sometimes serious female lead, Junpei is your comic relief, Mitsuru is your straight-laced serious one and Akihito is your fighter obsessed with pride and glory (in a good way). Then you add shy and sweet Fuka, Aegis the classic amusingly inept at socialising character, Ken the child character who is actually often more mature than the older cast members, and finally Koromaru the animal mascot, it’s a great cast.
Then there is Shinjiro, the cool “bad ass” type who does eventually return to SEES, though sadly it doesn’t last. The storyline between Shinjiro and Ken is the highlight of these two films for me. The two share a close bond, Ken begins to think of Shinjiro like a cool older brother, but it turns out Shinjiro can’t control his Persona sometimes and one such time his Persona went berserk was when Ken’s parents were killed. The world falling around Ken was heartbreaking, this then lead to the boy trying to kill Shinjiro to get revenge, but he is unable to, driving him to be so depressed that he’s okay with the unpleasant leader of Strega, Takaya Sakaki, shooting him dead. Shinjiro dives in the way and gives his life for Ken, which just sends the child into a confused rage. It was top class drama within the confines of a pretty bizarre world.
The end fight for the first movie was probably the one part of the film series that felt like it was lifted from the games. Everyone is struggling with a duo of powerful Shadows that seem to be impervious to their attacks until Fuka uses her Persona to find out that they switch what element they’re weak to on the fly, and she gives them directions on what attacks to use. It was fun, if nothing else because it truly felt like an RPG boss battle animated!
The scenes between Makoto and Aegis are rather nice. It’s where Makoto’s hard-to-warm-to personality becomes a little softer. It’s very nearly a love story between an emotionless male and a female robot, which is an odd sentence to type, but there you go.
Yukari finding out about her father’s involvement in the creation of the Dark Hour and how she tries to deal with it through the help of Mitsuru was a pleasant sequence of events and added some needed character to both of them. Likewise Akihito’s friendship with Shinjiro also added some layers to an otherwise straight forward character.
The rest of the two films are split between the characters hanging out and getting to know each other, and fights with Shadows, much like the game. Movie 2 has everyone head off to the beach and fail to pick up any women, it’s a cliché but an amusing one here at least, mostly due to Makoto’s lack of personality. The Strega trio are good antagonists throughout “Midsummer Knight’s Dream”, giving some humanity to an otherwise entirely monster-like threat.
Oh and the soundtrack is great, mostly remixes from the game (I certainly recognised a few tunes myself!) but it works great.
“Nooo! But you were the cool one! What will do now?!”
The problem with having a lead protagonist that is almost entirely emotionless and rarely speaks is that it’s not very entertaining for the viewer. Now I understand the idea is that you invest in seeing him slowly break out of his shell, but the thing is… he doesn’t, really. Not in these two films anyway. Aegis makes him a open up a little, and he does care for his new school friends, but more often than not he is the least interesting person in any scene he’s in, which is not good for your lead character!
With such a large cast it’s kind of unavoidable, but a few characters are barely developed, and although they may get a good bit of screen time, it’s often standing around and saying a few lines while the attention is on whatever side story is playing out at the time. I don’t want to come down to heavy on the story for it, because as an RPG adaptation it’s always going to lose a lot of character development due to the large cast compared to the shorter runtime to tell stories, but it’s still noticeable.
Otherwise I don’t really have much to say, negatively. If I reviewed these one at a time (which was the original idea before I got swamped with work for a month) I probably would have been a bit down on Spring of Birth’s slow pace, but then it’s the start of a story that spans four films, and that was always the plan, so it was never meant to be a self-contained film with a big ending.
The old sexy robot trick, I see what they did there…
The first two Persona 3 films get things off to a good start, though it’s slow to get going. Movie 2 is far superior to the first, but then the first has to introduce every thing and get the ball rolling, so that’s a little unfair. Either way they both looked gorgeous and have plenty of entertaining characters and satisfying fight scenes. A good start then!
#1: Spring of Birth –
#2: Midsummer Knight’s Dream –