Still failing its Social Links – Anime Critique: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream

Persona_3_The_Movie_2_Midsummer_Knight's_Dream_Promotional_PosterTitle: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream (Gekijoban Perusona 3 dai ni sho)
Format: movie
Genre: video game adaption, action, drama, mystery, supernatural
Series Creator: Altus
Series Director: Tomohisa Taguchi
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Original screening date: June 7, 2014 (Japan)
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Immediately following the events of the last film, Yuki Makoto and the rest of SEES team are making headway in their battle against the Shadows & the Dark Hour but 3 strangers with similar powers confront them, making them question whether or not they want to truly destroy the Dark Hour & give up all that makes them special.


Critique:

In my critique of the first film, I recall that I was fairly harsh with it because it lacked any proper development of scenario & characters, wasted potential, threw in too many aside references to the original games, et cetera. Well, the 2nd game pretty much does that but also adds in a ton more sexualised Fan Service for good measure.

Waiting for it to get good. Have Been here a while.
Waiting for it to get good. Have Been here a while.

That is being a little unfair, because the 2nd film does have more character development -especially for the Tabula rasa protagonist Yuki Makoto- as well as bringing other characters into the fold -such as the reluctant & angry Shinji & the broken young boy, Amada Ken. More importantly it introduced the protagonists of the 1st arc, Strega, to set up a sense of tension. It also brings in the other Tabula Rasa character, the combat gynoid Aegis, who’s raison d’etre is to be close to & protect Makoto, yet no one does not understand why.

Raison d’etre becomes the key theme for this film.

Why characters do what they do, what do they fight for, do they have any other meaning to their lives aside from wielding their Persona against the Shadows & so on & so forth.

Raison d’etre should not encapsulate a character as a whole but should form the basis from which they grow & change over the course of the story. They should question it; reflect upon it; fight those who challenge it; any number of things but all within the context of “why?” & “how?”.

Raped in your sleep by a gynoid. What a sad way to go.
Raped in your sleep by a gynoid. What a sad way to go.

Unfortunately, this is where the movie -like it’s predecessor- fails.

It sets up a few characters’ raison d’etre but it does not challenge or evolve them. It gets stuck at the stage of questioning reasons & motivations but it never moves passed them.

A less cynical critic might say that this is so they can push the character development in the next film but a cynic such as I will just say it’s a waste of potential.

This is because the movie already wastes so much potential & screen time by sticking the date formula & showing Makoto doing his Social Links in montage, when it could’ve been using the same amount of time actually developing the bonds & relationships between the characters & establishing their individual motivations -more so for Aegis & Makoto, who are hollow reflections of each other. You get some token development from Fuka, saying that hunting Shadows is all that she really has because her parents only care about her academically & you get a little from Junpei as he seeks to grow from being an idiot. Yukari also gets a brief moment on centre stage, as she comes to terms with her personal connection with the disaster which created the Dark Hour but all of those moments are rushed over for the sake of fitting into the time limit.

My main complaint & critique from the 1st film carries over in: in that these movies really should’ve been a 25 episode TV series. This meant you could stick to the rigid video game date formula but you also get character development.

Most of the development in this movie is for the newly introduced character of Amada Ken, the orphan boy who found that he can wander around the Dark Hour. His exploration is done in relation with & contrast to Shinji, who made an appearance in the 1st film as a former SEES member trying to escape his past. Ken & Shinji’s fates are intertwined because of the events that orphaned Ken & caused Shinji to leave the SEES but they really aren’t developed enough to have the emotional impact that the director seems to have been aiming for. Again: this is an issue with the format & trying to cram two entire character arc into a space of 50 or so minutes (the time the characters have in the film, not the total running time of it) instead of spreading it over 4 or 5 22-minute episodes.

That, in a nutshell, is still my greatest gripe about the film series as a whole. Since they stick to the game formula of following events & day, you either lose too much or connections & development just doesn’t happen. Makoto is still case in point although he has progressed more along then in the previous film, he still is a character who basically does nothing but everyone puts faith in. He’s the opposite of what Yu from Persona 4: The Animation became. Makoto still exists only as a player character but since we aren’t controlling him, we can’t invest ourselves in his struggle to understand his motivations & why he’d destroy the only thing that gives him a sense of connection to those around him. If you don’t give the audience something to understand & invest in, they won’t. Adding another blank character like Aegis doesn’t help because Makoto doesn’t use her as a reflection as should be the case.

The animation in this film is a touch better than the last but it’s still very murky & mucky to look at. This is partially because the majority of the action takes place either at night or during the Dark Hour -which twists things, giving them a festering alien feel to it. But it’s all for naughty if you can’t really see what’s going on. When you have something with scenes that dark, you need to have bright open scenes to perfect the juxtaposition of them, enhancing both. This is yet another critical failing of film. Of equal fail is the lack of clarity in the action scenes, where the combat becomes a bit of a mess. There are some nice individual battles, such as Aegis stepping in to save Makoto & Yukari from some Shadows but any group combat fails to look in any way good.

In the end, this second of I think 4 films makes so many missteps on top of failing to address the ones that it made with the previous film. It’s a huge let down for all but the most devoted fan but even they might find it a little disappointing after the bright, vivid glory of two Persona 4 anime series. It’s not a bad watch but terrible if you have any expectations for it what-so-ever.

LOOK AT THIS HAPPY WITTLE FACE! LOOK AT IT!!!
LOOK AT THIS HAPPY WITTLE FACE! LOOK AT IT!!!
Advertisements

A film for some of the fans – Anime Critique: Persona 3 ~#1 Spring of Birth~

Persona_3_The_Movie_1_The_Spring_of_Birth_Promotional_PosterTitle: 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

 

 

 

 

 

 


Synopsis:

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.


Review:

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.
1374514158-persona-3-the-movie-character-designs
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.
persona3moviefilm_610
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.
persona3
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.

Orpheus_in_P3_Movie

Game Review: Persona 4 Golden

Title: Persona 4 Golden
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: February 2013 in Europe (2012 in Japan & North America)
Studio/Developers: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus, NIS America, Ubisoft (Australian release)

P4g_boxart_USA
Back in 2006, there were whispers of a Japanese Roleplaying Game (J-RPG for those not in the know) that had been banned for release by the Australian government because it depicted “suicidal imagery” within its opening scenes. This game was of course Persona 3 on the Playstation 2 & the “suicidal imagery” was the Envoker -the gun-like device that summons the titular Personas.

This was my first exposure to the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series of Roleplaying Games. The Shin Megami Tensei franchise was a name that cropped up every so often in the early days of the internet’s gaming websites (& the fading days of gaming magazine industry) but, try as I might, I could not find a local release of Persona 3. It would be years later, with the release of the PSP version of Persona 3 Portable -which I had to order from overseas.

But by then I was already well verse in many of the themes that underlined the Persona series & that was through my viewing of Persona 4: The Animation. That gave me a basic run down of the narrative world within the game franchise but was also beloved as an anime in its own right. The series shall be reviewed at a later date.

Like its predecessor, Persona 4 on the PS2 did not really see a proper Australian release but that seemed due more to perceived inability to sell rather than any controversy within the game itself. So when Persona 4 Golden was announced in 2011, complete with improved graphic, new material & featuring the voice cast of the anime series. For me, it was pretty much the sole reason to acquire the beleaguered Sony PS Vita (despite being an excellent piece of hardware in its own right).

What makes the Persona series (and the Shin Megami Tensei franchise as a whole) different to so many other J-RPGs is its usual of contemporary settings -being that of modern day Japan. Addressing issues relevant to many Japanese teenagers; such as pressure to confirm, the burdens of the past, negative self perception & overarching societal pressures in the form of family, school & peer groups. This themes resonate strongest within Persona 4 because they are what drive the protagonists & where they gain their supernatural powers from -overcoming the negativity within them & transforming it through accepting who they truly are within.

The other thing that sets the Persona series apart from so many RPGs (both Japanese & Western) is its hybrid form of being a traditional RPG & a Social Simulator (also known as a Sim Game), with some aspects akin to a Visual Novel (something that never really took off outside of Japan). Building relationships with your team mates & NPCs through the Social Links system is vital to both gameplay & story -allowing you to develop more powerful Persona to use in combat as well discover more about the characters themselves. This is something take from the 3rd Persona game & further developed for this one with more quest related tasks in some instances. Its also something vital to do if you want to see the “True Ending” of the game, another concession to the Visual Novel style of gameplay.

The gameplay itself is broken up in terms of the Overworld, which is the fictional semi-rural town of Inaba & the dungeons within the ‘TV World’. Gameplay in both areas is vastly different as well. Whilst in Inaba, you do more mundane activities such as studying & hanging out with your friends as well developing your Social Links by engaging with various characters around town, all while exploring the mystery that surrounds you. In the TV World, you explore various dungeons (which open up over the course of the game), fight monsters known as Shadows (no relation) with both weapons & your various Persona as well as hunt for items & battle bosses in order to rescue people trapped within that twisted dimension.

Within the dungeons, also referred to as ‘Studios” due to the TV related nature of the world, all Shadows are visible as blobs of various sizes, so you don’t know what you’re facing until you encounter it. Like many modern J-RPGs, you can gain advantage for sneaking up on Shadows & lose it if they manage to attack you from behind but the game also features the under used mechanic (in RPGs) of having Shadows run away from you if you can easily defeat them. It’s handy if you are just trying to do a dungeon run to beat a bonus boss or find an item but a bit vexing if you are trying to locate a certain type of Shadow so you can kill it for a various item.

persona 4 combat
Combat is pretty standard turn-based J-RPG fare, with actions for standard combat, Persona abilities that include both physical & magical attacks, items, escape & so forth. It’s in the same 3D style as Persona 3 & looks exceptionally pretty. The new Vita features allows for players to call on “viewers” to give boosts via a touch screen button, such as buffs or minor healing, as well as allow characters not in the part to do special attacks. There are also partner attacks that do special damage but these are limited to pre-set pairs & have different attack attributes that aren’t obviously listed. They also happen at random times, so there is no true controlling them but they can be handy when in a bind with groups of annoying enemies. The magic system carries over from the overarching Shin Megami Tensei franchise, with confusing names for elemental attacks, such as Agi for fire, Zio for lightning & so on. This can be very disorienting, especially if you are unfamiliar with any other titles in the franchise (such as the Devil Survivor ones). There are icons representing what the powers do & some explanations in in-game conversations but the naming system can be frustrating to remember.

Luckily the story is less J-RPG bog-standard fare. That is in part to the aforementioned contemporary setting of the game which allows characters to go beyond the typical RPG norms. Unfortunately this does mean that they become more akin to various anime character & narrative tropes but I find these engaging enough to forgive.

Persona-4-Golden-group
The central protagonist amazingly enough doesn’t have amnesia, isn’t secretly a god or heir to some secret mystic bloodline. He’s just an outsider but, more importantly, he’s a cypher. A proper tabla rosa. An utter blank canvas upon whom you project all game defined traits. This is fairly typical for this style of J-RPG but also creates a strong negative because there is nothing that defines him (only a male playable character is available, unlike Persona 3 Portable, which allowed for some gender swapping). You build up stats to do certain tasks or be able to interact with certain Social Links. Your avatar is instantly likeable, so much so that you can form closer relationships with various female characters (the 3 party members & other NPCs). This is done in order to add extra scenes to the game as well as achieve some bonuses & trophies. Overall, there isn’t much choice involved with your development as a character.  You pretty much only get choose his name (but his official name isNarukami Yu -Yu. . . ‘You’. See what they did there?), your replies & reactions to certain questions (some of which grant bonuses), what traits & relationships/Social Links but in order to get the most out of the game, you do have to follow a very strict path.

This is because of the game conceit that everything happens on certain days & dates. The story follows the rough course of a Japanese school year, with holidays & other events such as festivals involved. The date system is tied heavily into the plot, meaning that you have to rescue people from dungeons before certain time limits or you automatically Game Over.

This system seems to be a major negative to a lot of people whom I’ve spoken to about it (similar with Persona 3 as well) but I find it one of the most enjoyable factors in the game. It gives both certain & freedom, allowing you to decide how you spend your non-story days. If you want to study, eat, spend time building stronger Social Links or do dungeon runs to build your combat stats you can. It’s all up to you. Although this does lead to the inevitable problem of “choice regret” -where you want to know if what did was the correct thing & you start the scenario again, hoping to get things right.

Luckily this brings in the best feature that Persona 4 Golden has to offer: the Fast Forward button.

Press START & everything spiels forward like a good old VCR tape, stopping only at important questions or choice. This means that if you have to replay a scene that you’ve already seen you can skip through it. And there is so much dialogue to get through.

persona_a
The start to the game is an exceptionally slow boil as well. Taking time to set up the areas & outline some of the characters, the mystery & murders that occur in the town & more you into the more supernatural elements that exist within the game. It’s almost 30 minutes before you even get to the first bit of combat but I find the game richer for that.

You’ll have noticed that I haven’t actually spoken much about the plot itself & that’s partly because to do so will spoil a lot of the story. Many of you out there may already know it from your own play throughs or from watching the anime series but for those who are yet to do either, here’s a brief summary.

You, playing as Yu (if you went with that name) move to the town of Inaba to live with your uncle & niece because your parents are working overseas. Being an outsider from the big city, you immediately gain the attention of people, mainly your classmates Hanamura Yosuke, son of the local Junes manager who is disliked because the town’s people feel as though the store is killing off local business, the tomboyish Satonaka Chie & her best friend Amagi Yukiko, the refined daughter of the traditional inn manager. You immediately hear rumours about the mysterious “Midnight Channel”, which only appears on rainy nights & shows “the one you are destined to be with”. Soon after, two women who had appeared on The Midnight Channel are found dead, hanging from high structures in town. The 2nd woman was Yosuke’s workmate & unrequited crush, so he pushes you into helping find out what happen. When you fall into the strange TV World & are attacked by Shadows, that is where the game really finds its RPG feet.

After returning to the real world with the aid of the TV World inhabitant Kuma (Teddy in the Western release) who looks like a colourful store mascot & speaks in bear related puns, our heroes realise that the murders & mystery will continue & that it’s all somehow connected to The Midnight Channel.

As the story progress, you gain new party members, including the loud & violent Kanji, the young retired idol (singer, actress, model all rolled into one) Rise & the haughty teenage detectice Naoto as well as being helped by Kuma. All of whom have their own detailed backstories & desires as well as paths of personal growth.

persona4
The characters are the true strength of the game. Combining pathos with good humour, using an anime style. Most of them are render with depth & details, especially those in the Social Link stuff, but some are also depicted as very annoying -the being Teddy more than anyone else. That’s because of the actor Dave Wittenburg in how plays Teddy, who has an exceptionally grating voice. Some of the other voice acting is exceptionally weak, especially with the Social Link characters who don’t get nearly as much dialogue as the main cast. But is good to see so much spoken dialogue in a handheld game, even if it isn’t always the best quality.

One positive on the translation front is that they stuck with the traditional Japanese honourifics -such as san & senpai- to help denote relationships & social status. Having the game stick to many Japanese nuances without having to explain them is a great touch & shows that NIS America knew that this would be a niche market game brought more by people who had a strong understanding of all things Japanese pop culture. This can be an isolating factor for those who like a good RPG but don’t want to get bogged down in all the linguistical issues.

Though what really names this game stand out from so many other RPGs is its use of colour. Everything is exceptionally bright. The main box art is a fierce yellow & each character is given their own bright huge. The Persona, even when dark, are given a strong sense of style, although it’s a pity that the monsters aren’t given the same. Many of them being recycled from Persona 3 & then more of them in game being palate swaps with extra spikes or a large size. But the bosses all have stunning & creepy designs, even one sickening fetus like one which I despise to even think about.

Overall, this is the kind of game that I do love & can find few negatives in it other than the dodginess of the voice acting & the awkward pacing of the story. This is what we call a “long haul” game & you must be pretty invested to see it to the end & more invested to use the New Game+ function once you’ve finished it. The Vita itself makes it look utterly lovely & there is more then enough Vita exclusive content to be worth the now cheap price to pay for it.