By Andy Hanley.
It’s become a truism that successfully adapting a video game into another medium is incredibly hard – after all, the main pull of any game is the agency that it grants the player, be that shooting, hacking and slashing your way to victory or choosing the dialogue and narrative paths of a visual novel to reach your desired goal. In the transition to a passive medium, any deficiencies of the underlying story are likely to come to the fore even before you start to grapple with which story path to adapt.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and one of the more notable of recent times has been the Persona series. Admittedly, even this franchise hasn’t always been a guarantee of success, with Persona 3 spin-off Trinity Soul arriving in 2008 as a forgettable anime addition to that story, but it wasn’t until 2013 that we saw Persona 3’s mainline game story given the animated treatment as a series of big-screen theatrical films.
The commissioning of this film series was ultimately down to the stellar success of Persona 4, which proved to be a breakout moment for both the video game franchise – granting it a burgeoning audience in both Japan and the west and spawning a number of spin-off games. Handled by AIC, Persona 4 the Animation showcased an effectively template for bringing this particular RPG series to life, by making smart use of the original game’s blank-slate protagonist to add a layer of knowing comedy. It proved willing to embrace some of the original story’s sillier moments, while also managing to successfully dig deep into the drama and emotion at the core of its story.
It’s hence not too surprising that AIC took up the reigns for the project to adapt Persona 3, starting with The Spring of Birth, although sadly the studio’s struggles ultimately caught up with them and saw the business sold for just ¥8,000 in 2014 – A-1 Pictures took up the reins for subsequent Persona anime productions.
Eschewing the possibilities of a female protagonist offered by the original game’s PSP expansion, The Spring of Birth sees transfer student Makoto Yuki move to Iwatodai City – a city where all is decidedly not well. This is thanks to the existence of the so-called “Dark Hour”, a time where monstrous creatures known as Shadows come to roam the streets as the clock hits midnight and time freezes for one distinctly dangerous hour. While the general populace is unaware of the Dark Hour, or that it is responsible for the mysterious disease known as Apathy Syndrome, Makoto is one of those impervious to its effects. This sees him marked out as one with the potential to wield a Persona, an entity manifested from a person’s feelings and tamed to do the wielder’s bidding.
Thus, Makoto joins SEES – the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (yes, the safety of the city is effectively in the hands of a glorified afterschool club) – to defeat the Shadows and explore the labyrinthine world of Tartarus that appears alongside the Dark Hour.
This grants The Spring of Birth a number of notable set pieces alongside its story and character set-up, as part of a film that engages as much with its striking use of colour and stellar soundtrack (courtesy of the feted game series’ composer Shoji Meguro) as it does with its storyline. That use of colour in particular serves the film well in differentiating between the normality of everyday life and the threatening atmosphere of the Dark Hour, sitting comfortably alongside the tone of a story where summoning your Persona itself involves the striking use of a pistol-like device named an Evoker placed against the user’s head.
As a whole, The Spring of Birth is an excellent introduction to the setting and story of Persona 3 – striking, well-placed and a great set-up for the following films. Putting your best foot forward is undoubtedly a vital part of the first movie in a series, and The Spring of Birth certainly succeeds in doing just that for both those who have played the game and newcomers to Persona 3 while also working as a solid film in its own right.
Persona 3: The Spring of Birth will be released by Anime Limited in February.