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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Persona 3: Spring of Birth.


Hey, guys, I just wanted to quickly plug the sixth part of Murphy Plays Valkyria Chronicles. Please go check that out, like, share with people, all that jazz. There will be making-of notes going up on this blog on Sunday, most likely just after midnight.

Okay, on with the review. 

Persona 3: Spring of Birth.



It took far longer than I expected to find a spot in my schedule for this film, which is a shame, because I do have views on it. I do.

The first of a trilogy, Persona 3: Spring of Birth focuses on Makoto Yuki, a teenage boy who has enrolled at Gekkoukan High. Arriving in the city, he finds himself dragged into the Dark Hour, a hidden time between midnight and the start of the next day, wherein most people are transformed into coffins and creatures called Shadows hunt those who aren't. Yuki is completely unconcerned by this, and is shortly thereafter recruited by SEES, a Shadow extermination squad who want to ascend Tartarus, the mysterious tower that appears during the Dark Hour. As the spring passes, their job becomes more complicated when the powerful Full Moon Shadows hijack a train, and when a young girl becomes trapped in Tartarus.

First thing's first, this is a very pretty film. It's superbly animated, with special mention going to the sections set during the Dark Hour, which look convincingly sinister and manage to give even the most innocuous of settings - like Yuki's bedroom - a sense of danger and isolation. It's actually a little bit of a shame when they enter Tartarus, since it means that that sense of the distorted familiar is lost.

Beyond that, though, this film failed to make much of an impression. Video games - even RPGs, which are story heavy - often don't adapt well to the screen, and Persona 3 is not the exception to the rule there. 

(Neither is Persona 4, actually, because I tried watching the anime of that and it wasn't great.)

Yes, very visually striking, thank you.

The plot feels bizarrely paced, zooming back and forth between the two extremes of 'far too fast paced' and 'meandering and glacially slow.' It's a problem that the aforementioned Persona 4 anime suffered from as well, and it's born of two problems inherent in adapting Persona games: One, that dungeon-crawling does not necessarily make for compelling viewing; and two, that the dissonance between dungeon-crawling and social link-ery, where you pursue friendships with those around you, don't work as well in film or television as they do in a video game.

The film is entirely unable to handle its large cast of characters, too, resulting in most of them fading into the background: Akihiko, one of the SEES members, may as well not even be there for all that he actually does; Junpei and Yukari take turns being the deuteragonist and fade entirely into the background the rest of the time; and Fuuka, despite being an important figure in the plot, fails to make much of an impression at all. In fact, the only supporting character who does make an impression is Mitsuru, the severe leader of SEES, and she manages to do so while having about as much screen time as Akihiko, largely due to some excellent voice acting.

(In point of fact, the voice acting is all at least passable. Not many of the performances are great, but they're all entirely fit for purpose and I don't have any complaints about them.)

Sir Barely-Appearing-In-This-Film.

There's also a bit of a problem with our main character, Yuki. Not a lack of screen time, he gets plenty of that, but that when faced with a silent protagonist who is meant as a stand-in for the player, the film's creators decided to make him a flat, stare-y sort of guy who talks a lot about how he doesn't fear death and suchlike, which is a rather vexing and tired anime trope and one of the types of characters I hate most. I do understand why they did this - the game deals heavily with themes of death and people's reactions to it, both the fear of death and instinct for survival, the desire to actively choose death, and the apathy to simply let death come to you. There is thematic worth in having a character who, in contrast to most of the cast, sits firmly on the 'apathy' side of that triangle.

Thing is, even if something is thematically relevant, it doesn't mean it's not turgid and dull, and Yuki is about as engaging and likable as a small brick. At no point in the film did I find myself invested in him or his character arc.

I can't decide if I like or hate Junpei.

Overall, this film is an excellent visual spectacle, but it falls short in almost every other fashion. Video games, it seems, just don't adapt well into films or television shows - at the very least, any video game that doesn't have 'mon' in the title somewhere seems doomed to adaptational failure. The Persona series seems to fare especially poorly as far as adaptations go. Maybe I'll change my mind on that, though, I do still have two Persona 3 films to go.

(I tried watching Trinity Soul, too. I didn't even get past the first episode.)

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