Title: Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth-
Format: feature film
Genre: supernatural, game adaptation, action
Director: Noriaki Akitaya
Studio: AIC ASTA
Reviewed format: blu-ray download
“Makoto Yuki is an orphaned teenager who transfers to Gekkoukan High School at Tatsumi Port Island and much to his confusion, finds himself experiencing strange phenomenon on his way to the dorm. Arriving at the Minatodai Dormitory, Makoto is greeted by a boy named Pharos and signed a contract the boy has prepared, before being drawn into a strange battle with entities known as Shadows. He joins with S.E.E.S. who venture into the Dark Hour to fight the Shadows, Yuki must wield the power of Persona and the Arcana to save the people of Tatsumi Port Island.”
Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth- is an adaptation of the Playstation 2 (& Playstation Portable) game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, which in itself is part of the larger Shin Megami Tensei franchise. As the more canny regular readers out there no doubt would have already guessed, this is connected to Persona 4 Golden which I had previously reviewed on this blog but unlike Persona 4, they adapted Persona 3 into a series of movies rather a series.
There in lies the 1st fault.
Because Person 3 the movie -#1 Spring of Birth- is a film it tends to rush the plot, skip character development but still stick to the calendar date formula of the games & Persona 4 anime series.
This conceit works well when you have time to play with it & develop, such as with a series, but it gets confusing when the film just skips to seemingly random dates because it leaves you, as the audience, wondering what’s gone on between those dates because the plot just often appears to continue on with the previous scenes. This means there is no development of characters or situations, just a void between scenes in which nothing obviously must’ve happened.
Yes, there is no time in a film of 140 minutes to show every little thing like the game does but Persona 4 did show how well the conceit can work in serial format.
The other issue it brings up is that the characters get ZERO background & development. You get some token pieces from some; Junpei being jealous of Makoto’s ability & Yukari’s own guilt over her self-perceived weakness as well as the societal enforced guilt over her father being part of what created the Shadows & the Dark Hour. The other side characters don’t really get much of a look in, with the exception of Fuuka, but that is more plot driven development.
The biggest issue with the lack of development lies in the central protagonist Yuki Makoto, who -like Narukami Yu from the now oft mentioned Persona 4- is meant to be a Tabula Rasa but since he lacks a true Raison d’être, he doesn’t have any real growth outside of the token.
He is silent, aloof & does what he is told without questioning why. He doesn’t fear death yet he does not truly live. He has no connections to others nor does he long for them. It is only when confronted by the horrors of possible loss that others may suffer does he act.
This in & of itself should be enough to push a sense of agency upon Makoto but I personally feel that it falls flat because it happens in jumps rather than being woven out properly through interactions & understandings. It all plays too much like a deus ex machina than genuine progression.
Other reviewers like Richard Eisenbeis from Kotaku & Elliot Gay both sang praises for Makoto’s development from an ambivalent cold teen to someone willing to risk themselves for others, yet I do not in any way feel the same.
Maybe, as I shall again harp on & on, if it was a series it would’ve felt more natural but felt like it was all a bit of a cop out. Especially since Makoto isn’t meant to be the main focus, rather his interactions with the various support characters from whom he gains his powers & emotions.
Another thing that will affect people’s viewing of it is the constant suicidal imagery within the film.
That is what originally got the game banned for release in many countries & it may also affect international releases for the films.
In order to summon their Persona powers, the characters stick gun-like devices called Envokers to their heads. Pulling the triggers causes their Persona to appear but also makes their heads jerk violent, like they have actually been shot. & this animation is played over & over again in the almost pointless fight scenes between our heroes & the Shadows of the Dark Hour.
If you have a sensitive disposition you may find these scenes & actions disturbing.
& it’s not really helped by the characters not actually explaining the need for Envokers or what the Persona ability is.
A mixed thing within the film is the return of all the music from the games.
If you are familiar with the soundscape, they do act a bit like spoilers for what the scene represents but are actually orchestrated well from their video game origins.
There are also other little Easter Eggs for fans, with Social Link characters appearing in various roles or just in the background doing what they do but without context as to why the protagonist is interacting with some of them, it does feel a bit needless & fan servicey (new word, deal with it).
The plot is also so slavish to the formula of the game that only fans will get much from it.
Such as the battle with the Big Shadows once a month (every full moon), which means the plot tends to skip to those dates without concern because they are the big marks to hit. After the introduction of the dungeon-like tower of Tartarus & some basic rules of the Dark Hour.
In the end, this is a film for fans that is coming a bit too late, since the original games are already 8 years old.
Yet it is something that can’t be let go of, with releases of new games that crossover Persona 3 & 4 on the way. As well as a new Persona 4 Golden series being made, based upon the changes made in the PSVita game.
If you are invested in the series, you may get something of the film, but personally it just made me want to get a new battery for my PSP so I can actually finish the game.