Persona is a series of video games that act as a spin-off to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and arguably it was when Persona 3 was released that the series became a real hit. Since the huge success of the Persona 4 video game and its various spin-offs and anime adaptations, it’s no real surprise that starting in 2013 (two years following the Persona 4 anime) Persona 3 was adapted into a series of movies – the first of which I’m reviewing today.
Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth follows the story of Makoto Yuki, who has just transferred into Gekkoukan High School. Due to a delay with the trains, our young protagonist finds himself arriving at the Iwatodai Dormitory (where he’ll be living from now on) at midnight, but with coffins lining the streets and a ghoulish green moon in sight it appears that not everything is right with the area.
Upon arriving at the dormitory, Yuki meets Yukari Takeba and Mitsuru Kirijo, who are both suspicious of how Yuki managed to make it to the dorm at this time of night. It turns out that Yuki had stumbled into a strange space known as the “dark hour” where electricians stop working and people become unconscious and appear as coffins (only those with a potential to wield creatures known as Persona can move around in this hour). During this hour monsters known as “shadows” rise out of the ground and cause havoc, something which Mitsuru and Yukari are trying to combat as part of a group known as SEES.
Knowing that Yuki might have the potential to become a member of their group, Mitsuru and Yukari start observing him for any odd activity. However, before they can come to a concrete conclusion, the dorms are attacked and Yukari is tasked with protecting Yuki while escaping. As the two are chased by a powerful shadow, Yukari fails to summon her Persona (this involves shooting yourself in the head with a special gun) and is injured by the enemy, dropping her gun in the process. Yuki picks up the gun and awakens to the power of Persona himself, calling forth a Persona known as Orpheus.
After fully realizing his power, Yuki is accepted as a member of SEES and introduced to Akihiko Sanada, another member of the team. After recruiting an additional new member in the form of Junpei Iori, the team set to work defeating shadows and working to discover what the true meaning behind them and the Dark Hour really is.
The Persona 3 game has been adapted into four movies, and with so much to adapt, it means that a lot of this first movie is restricted to set-up and bringing the whole cast together. It’s not a bad thing and we do get some good battle scenes and character interactions, but from having played the game, I believe the later movies will be more interesting than this one. That said, and again being someone who’s played the game, it’s been very interesting to see how Yuki is handled as a character.
In the Persona series of games, the protagonist never really has a personality. That’s because the games are filled with various choices for us to make and our character is simply meant to be a window for us to experience the story as we wish. In the movie this obviously wouldn’t work, but at the same time there is a fine balance between injecting a personality into Yuki and creating someone that fans of the game wouldn’t be able to recognise. Thankfully, development of Yuki has been handled well and although he’s fairly bland, he’s still progressing along with the story. His backstory is that his parents died in a car accident and because of this, he’s been shoved around from family member to family member and school to school. This has left Yuki as someone who, frankly, doesn’t care about the world, anyone in it, or even his own life. To me he’s a bit of a blank slate and lacking in personality, but, actually, as the movie progresses, I realised this wasn’t true. There are reasons that he’s so uncaring about everything (beyond the fact he doesn’t have a personality in the games) and I’m confident that he’ll continue to evolve, thanks to the input of the other characters. He’s starting to care about this team and beginning to understand the value in life itself. As the mysteries of the world unfold, so, too, will those of Makoto Yuki.
As far as characters are concerned, the rest of the cast are varied and seem interesting enough. It turns out that Yukari is also a bit of a newcomer to the group and so she, Yuki and Junpei are grouped together when fighting shadows. Yukari is quiet and lacking in confidence but she cares deeply about her teammates, and her desire to protect them often overrides how scared she is. Meanwhile Junpei is overconfident and jumps into battle without thinking and without concern for his life, but he and Yuki watch one another’s back and so more often than not they come out unharmed. The whole cast appear to have secrets for us to discover and undoubtedly they’ll come to the surface within the next couple of movies.
Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth has been handled by studio AIC, who also handled the anime adaptation of Persona 4 The Animation and Humanity Has Declined. It has to be noted that the character designs are true to those of the original game and although they do look quite old in style (the colours and such don’t look like what you’d expect of more modern designs), for a game that was released more than 10 years ago in Japan this isn’t unexpected. Once you get over the initial introduction they slip into the art style for the movie really well and overall AIC have done a good job conveying the mystery and intrigue of the story.
The music has been handled by Shoji Meguro, who composes all the music for the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games as well as the Persona 4 anime adaptions. Due to the fact Meguro has long worked on the series, the music for this movie fits very well with the action unfolding on screen and the tracks are memorable enough that I’ve been left really wanting to own the soundtrack for myself.
The voice actors for the movie are all returning to their roles from the game, which really helps those of us who have played the game to properly immerse ourselves in this world. My favourite actors are, firstly, Akira Ishida (Shusei Kagari in Psycho-Pass, Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Bungo Stray Dogs), who plays Yuki, because I think it’s difficult to play a role where you have to express so little emotion to begin with and then slowly trickle it in as things progress. Secondly, I also have to point out Rie Tanaka (Juana in Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere, Ren Mikihara in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu!), who plays Mitsuru, because she does so with a real flair for the action scenes and works well as the mature upperclassman that Mitsuru is meant to be.
This release comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited on Blu-ray in a collector’s edition format and on DVD. The collector’s edition contains the movie on both DVD and Blu-ray and comes packed with a 36-page booklet containing artwork, character profiles and so on. There are no on-disc extras and this release is Japanese audio with English subs only as no English dub for the movies exists.
Overall Persona 3 The Movie 1: Spring of Birth proves to be a good watch. The later entries will no doubt be better stand-alones due to the fact that much of this first movie is given to introducing the cast, but if you’ve played the Persona 3 game, you’ll find a lot to like here. If you’re a newcomer, then I’d advise to stick it out until at least the second movie where the plot really gets going, but even then I think there is something for everyone to like here.