Aniplex of America (Internationally)
Persona 3 for PlayStation 2
"If I told you that there's more than 24 hours in a day, would you believe me?"
"The Dark Hour": the time which exists between each day. During those hours, the town stands still, the people are transformed into mere objects, and countless monsters called "Shadows" run rampant through the town. Only the Personas, beings with special powers, are able to combat these creatures.
Makoto Yuki, a transfer student at Gekkoukan High School, is suddenly awakened with the powers to control a Persona. Yuki is recruited to join other Persona summoners of his school in the "Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad." As they continue to investigate the situations surrounding the Dark Hours, they all come face to face with their shocking fate...
Persona 3 like its successor Persona 4 has achieved a sizeable fanbase since it first introduced its hybrid of school-life and dungeon crawling RPG mechanics to gamers in 2006/2007. Despite the PlayStation 2 being long abandoned by a majority of developers and being replaced by now two generations of video game consoles, both games unlike most have lived on through word of mouth and several spin-offs / ports which continue to be strong sellers for ATLUS and whomever the random PAL region licensor seems to be (Just look at how many publishers have handled the game in Australia alone). While Persona 4 and Megami Tensei spin-off Devil Survivor 2 both received TV anime adaptations… Persona 3 has received special (or depending on how you look at it, lesser) treatment with the resources dedicated to produce at least three theatrical specials, the first of which has just been published worldwide by Aniplex.
Rather than face the inevitable wait that usually comes with any anime either screening or airing in Japan, Aniplex of America chose the to make Persona 3 The Movie #1 Spring of Birth available as part of a region-unlocked, import edition Blu-ray set. The first thing to note before even considering to purchase this film is that despite only being a 97-minute film it comes with Japanese tier pricing, with the RRP being just above $1 USD per minute. While it comes with a few goodies, you need to genuinely ask yourself if you want access to the film as quick at possible at a premium price, or wait a year or two for it to be re-released and dubbed into English at a lower price.
Persona 3 the Movie #1 Spring of Birth follows the same protagonist from the games who has this time around been named Makoto Yuki. Having lost his parents when he was only a young child, he has spent most of his youth being passed around between family members before finally being transferred to Gekkoukan High School. As he settles into his new school life, he acquires a new ability to summon a Persona – which holds links to the mysterious “Dark Hour” he has experienced for many years now and the labyrinth known as Tartarus which is what the school is replaced with during this period. Joining the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (S.E.E.S.) comprised of fellow student Persona users, they begin tackling the labyrinth that houses many secrets and dangerous ‘shadows’. Of course if you have played the games, quite likely given you are reading this review, you would already know this and the concept hasn’t changed too heavily from the source material.
There are a few elements that set Persona 3 the Movie from its counterparts. The original games offered you a silent protagonist, with his personally determined by the actions you take while socializing with the different characters. While in Persona 4 the Animation they opted to go with a more outgoing and talkative protagonist, Makoto Yuki is the polar opposite, given a distant and in a way uncaring personality that sees him following orders more than letting his own opinions or morals drive him. Due to time constraints, social links were also omitted with a few of the characters receiving brief cameo appearances without any interaction with Yuki. Sure it means that some fans will miss out on the development of their favourite side characters, however it leaves much needed time available for the main events to be portrayed without feeling too rushed.
Spring of Birth covers the first three ‘full moon’ events starting from when Makoto Yuki first acquires his Persona until the third month were Fuuka acquires her Persona. Given time restrictions, it means that there are significant time jumps of up to half a month, with many of the minor events ending up on the cutting room floor. What they do provide however is satisfying despite the number of edited events, especially the third ‘full moon’ event which is edited to focus on the development of Yuki who was excluded from the mission unlike the games were he would join the search party. There is plenty of action however, and unlike Persona 4 the Animation which let Persona’s do all of the work, the movies stay true to the game by requiring the characters to individually summon them for attacks or otherwise having to use weapons such as swords.
While some may not appreciate the amount of content had had to be cut in order to not make Persona 3 the Movie a 12-film series, what they included were the fundamental events that drove the overarching Persona 3 storyline. What was incorporated into the first 97 minutes of this film franchise offered a strong mix of nostalgia, the best of the old content and some new events / content surrounding the original S.E.E.S trio (Makoto Yuki, Yukari Takeba and Junpei Iori) which made the first film a satisfying watch. Is it worth a $1 a minute in terms of content…. that would be up to the individual viewer.
Design / Music / Voice Acting
While some may not approve of the decision to treat Persona 3 with only a handful of movies but Persona 4 with two TV seasons, it seems like the extra resources that often get put into theatrical features have made a noticeable difference for Persona 3 the Movie #1 – Spring of Birth. The film looks much better than its televised counterparts. From the character designs as they actively move during the battles to the detailed environments that accurately depict many of the areas from the original game, everything is visually impressive and should hopefully appeal to those hoping to see Persona 3 recreated with anime-style visuals. The scenes where the characters, particularly Yuki, summon their Persona through using an Evoker looks pretty cool as well.
One of the most nostalgia inducing moments in this film was the opening credits, which included a remixed version of the original theme song Burn my Dread sung by Yumi Kawamura and a presentation of the film’s title similar to what was used in the original opening sequence. Outside of this, there was also a brand new theme song titled More Than One Heart also performed by Yumi Kawamura. While this song proved to be enjoyable, given it was the ending theme there was no animation backing it up asides from a black background and scrolling white text. While it doesn’t detract from how enjoyable it was, I would love to have seen what animation they could have come up with for the song. The remainder of the soundtrack comprised of several new tracks and a few tracks from the games OST. Overall, pretty satisfying.
As this is only an ‘Import’ edition, Aniplex of America have only included the original Japanese dub with English subtitles. It should come as no surprise given how long Persona 3 has been out on the market and how many times some of the VA’s have reprised their voice roles, but the Japanese dubbing is of a high quality. As was the case with Persona 4 Arena and Persona 4 the Animation, Igor was voiced posthumously by Isamu Tanonaka with audio recordings from the original games. While these recordings would now be several years old, the quality matches the remainder of the character cast and it is good to see they didn’t decide to change voice actors until Persona 5 at the very least. I look forward to seeing how the English voice cast for Persona 3 treat this series, and if Yuri Lowenthal decides to take on the role of the protagonist again.
Disc / Extra Content
The biggest issue with this blu-ray disc is that upon booting up, it will automatically go into the film without giving you any option to change the subtitle language despite having a proper main menu available on-disc. Aside from this, the disc menu is really nice, with it easy to navigate despite being only in Japanese.
Much more importantly is all the extra content that comes with the Collector’s Edition. This includes an original soundtrack CD with the fourteen new songs produced for the film including More Than One Heart. Unfortunately they didn’t include the remixed version of Burn My Dead which I thought would have been a staple for the disc. Also included is a 48-page “deluxe” softcover booklet which features an extensive interview and commentary in Japanese and a compilation of concept artwork. While the booklet was decent, although nowhere near the standard of a printed artbook, it was awkward having to go back and forth between it and a simply designed and formatted “translation guide” to understand what was being said during the interview. Personally I would have rather Aniplex of America localize the booklet directly, although others may feel differently about this. Finally there are four key-art illustration cards which were quite nice and 10 Super P3 stickers that don’t really stand out too much.
I would personally like to see them tackle social links through short videos in future blu-ray releases, especially considering that the only on-disc extra of note was an unlocalized commentary track.
I personally would have liked to have seen more goodies included for its premium price and you might want to hold off until a cheaper edition is available unless you are a major P3 fan. However it is not possible for me to deny that Persona 3 the Movie #1 Spring of Birth made a satisfying watch that managed to evoke a lot of nostalgia in addition to throwing new creative twists into the mix. By itself the film might not hold that much weight for newcomers, but if the quality stays this high then it should make for a very pleasing experience for series veterans and strong starting point for new fans once finished. I eagerly look forward to picking up Part 2 (Midsummer Knight’s Dream) once available, which is currently screening in Japan.