Persona 3 Movie #1 Spring of Birth - Collector's Edition (UK Rating: 12)The Persona series is well loved with good reason, but it took until the fourth iteration before the game series' popularity really hit the mainstream. Persona 4 was absolutely amazing and received a well-deserved anime adaptation along with spin-off games and mountains of merchandise. Its predecessor, however, went without, despite being - in many people's opinions - the better story. Now, finally, the story of The Dark Hour is getting its big screen adaptation as a series of four films. The first is arriving soon, coming courtesy of Anime Limited - available from 13th February.
For those who haven't played the (excellent) videogame, the story of Persona 3 sees protagonist Makoto Yuki off to enrol in high school. It's a common set up for a story after all, but for Makoto it's a high school back in a hometown he left behind 10 years ago, when a horrific event left him orphaned. Makoto's return to town is hardly a typical one as he walks through coffin-filled streets to his new dorm, where a mysterious young boy has him sign a "contract." This mysterious boy isn't the last weirdo to bust into Makoto's life, either, as shortly thereafter the gun-toting residents of the dorm are right behind him. These students are an organisation known as the Specialised Extracurricular Extermination Squad (SEES), an organisation that quickly ends up inducting Makoto into its ranks to aid their investigations into the mysterious "Dark Hour." This Dark Hour is an extra hour in the day after midnight that most people aren't aware exists, as during the hour most people are confined within coffins. Like the other members of SEES, Makoto is not confined to a coffin and can wander around freely during this Dark Hour, but there are other things that also wander there, creatures known as Shadows that are travelling through the Dark Hour and anyone not in their coffin are falling prey to them. The story follows Makoto and the SEES group as they search for the truth of the Dark Hour, using special powers known as Persona to battle against the shadows and investigate Tartarus, a gargantuan sprawling Labyrinth that appears at their school each night as the Dark Hour falls.
Characters and the relationships between them have always been a massive part of the Persona games and, thankfully, the movie does a great job of translating that to the big screen. Obviously, Makoto is the centrepiece and film director Noriyaki Akitaya explained why he was such a challenge. Makoto is nameless in the anime and, like many RPG protagonists he is something of a blank canvas for the player to project themselves onto. Noriyaki examined his speech and behaviour in the game and delivered an approximation that works fantastically. This Makoto seems still numb to the world after he lost his parents in a car crash; he seems black-humoured and apathetic to the world when first met, yet he starts to grow out of this shell as the film develops.
This first movie introduces the initial members of the party in Yukari Takeba, Junpei Iori, Mitsuru Kirijo, and Akihiko Sanada. Each is given enough screen time to introduce their personalities to the audience and to begin their individual character arcs. Beneath her chirpy demeanour, Yukari is already showing some dissention towards the group and Mitsuru in particular. Mitsuru, meanwhile, exhibits her strength as a leader and her maturity - it will be great to see her arc play out. Junpei's initial goofiness, and his friendliness towards Makoto, has already begun developing into the beginnings of his rivalry and jealousy towards Makoto. Akihiko, meanwhile, gets a few moments to hint at his back-story - his need to "never again feel powerless," along with a glimpse at his relationship with Shinjiro Aragaki.
While each of those cast members has some screen-time and development, a big focus of this first movie is definitely Fuuka Yamagishi's arc. It's actually far superior to the story within the game, fleshing out the characters and generally making Fuuka a lot more likeable and, conversely, her "friend," Natsuki, is more unlikeable. Just like the game, there are plenty of other important characters outside of the main cast, too, with the signature social links of the game playing out during many scenes, with impressive attention to detail shown for them. Makoto is seen visiting the Hierophant at Bookworms Used Bookstore, taking the familiar stat increasing tests, practicing with the Kendo club, not to mention quick cameos like the gourmet king at the local burger joint and the Emperor Hidetoshi admonishing students in the halls.
The visuals aren't the only aspect of Persona 3 that are done justice here, as the soundtrack is unmistakeably lifted straight out of the game. All of the familiar themes are here, and it's a great reminder of just how special the soundtrack is - they are all absolute gold. On top of this, there are ten new tracks made specifically for this movie, too, and they each feel completely fitting with what came before. Then there's the voice acting - it's worth mentioning that the Persona 3 movies are yet to receive an English dub, so there is just the Japanese language track here. A pity since the English cast like Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt delivered such quality performances but, fortunately, the Japanese cast is just as good.