This last weekend saw the release of Persona 3: Birth of Spring, the first movie based on the excellent JRPG Persona 3. But while it is an excellent adaptation of the game, its limited scope keeps it away from much of what made the game so great.
Good — Overcoming Ambivalence
Makoto Yuki (the official name of the P3 protagonist) begins the film as a broken character. He is ambivalent to everything in life — even his own death. But being ambivalent doesn't mean he is evil. Instead, it simply means he is as likely to help a person as not (and likely to do anything he is asked to do by another as he has no reason to refuse). His character growth — his gradual movement towards making true friends — is at the heart of this film and is what gives the film a suitable sense of completion even though it's obvious the P3 story is far from over.
Good — Makes Persona 3 Look Great
As much of the story — and especially the action — of Birth of Spring takes place at night, this could have been a very dark, difficult-to-see movie. However, thanks to the clever use of moonlight, the action in the film is easy-to-see while the lighting still manages to keep the setting looking ominous. Moreover, the contrast of light and shadow not only fits the film thematically but also gives it a visual style all its own.
Good — Return of an Amazing Soundtrack
One of the best aspects of the Persona 3 game is its crazy techno/hip-hop soundtrack. It set the game apart from its contemporary RPGs and created a unique tone. The game's soundtrack is largely reused in the movie and fits just as well. And for me, as a fan of the music, the best part of the film was the opening credits with a remixed version of "Burn My Dread" — complete with an added strings section.
Mixed — The Beginning Is the Most Boring Part
Birth of Spring does not cover the entire game — much less the events of FES. Rather, it only covers the very beginning of the story — the first three full moons. This has the unfortunate side effect of a good chunk of the main cast (Aegis, Ken, Koromaru) and the majority of the antagonists not even being in the movie. More than that, none of the game's plot twists are reached, making for a very simple, straight-forward movie: There are monsters that appear at midnight and they need to be defeated.
The movie is therefore heavily reliant on its characters to keep the simple plot interesting and, largely thanks to Yuki's aforementioned character arc, it does a passable job. Among the rest of the heroes, Junpei and Fuka get their own little character arcs, but both are rather cliché — though enjoyable despite that.
Mixed — More Images of Teen Suicide than You Can Shake a Stick At
As those who are familiar with the game no doubt know, Persona 3 is full of teens putting gun-like objects to their heads and pulling the trigger. Of course, these are not actually guns but rather devices made to summon magical creatures called "Personas." However, it still looks like they are blowing their brains out — often complete with spiritual brain and skull fragments. So if images of suicide of this type affect you, be warned. You'll be seeing them a lot.
Persona 3: Birth of Spring is a decent adaptation of the game — and much of it is line for line the same. It's nice to hear everything fully voiced, and the animation never ceases to look great. However, this is a movie that doesn't quite stand on its own as very little is wrapped up, and it feels like the main plot never really gets started. If you are a fan of Persona 3, by all means watch it. You will no doubt have a great time. However, if you have not played the game, it is unlikely that after watching this film, you will be able to understand what all of the fuss is about.
Persona 3: Birth of Spring was released in Japanese theatres on November 23. 2013. There is currently no word on a Western release.