Review: Persona 3 The Movie #1: Spring of Birth- New Beginnings

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Synopsis: The Dark Hour is a time between midnight and the next day where creatures known as Shadows prowl and attack humans who are awake during it. Makoto Yuki is a new transfer student at Gekkokan High and after transferring to the school he awakens to a mysterious power known as Persona and together with his classmates who are part of a group called SEES must battle against the  shadows in order to unlock the truth behind the Dark Hour and a tower known as Tartarus which only appears during it.

Review

I’m a huge fan of the Persona franchise and the original Persona 3 game was the first thing that got me into it. Needless to say that I was glad to hear it was finally getting an animated adaption though I was a bit worried about it first due to being helmed by Seiji Kishi, the infamous director of Persona 4: The Animation which was a pretty mediocre adaptation of the original game and he’s since gone on to do lackluster adaptions of other game franchises before returning to Persona.  However despite my low expectations, Persona 3’s first movie has risen to the challenge of combating Kishi’s mediocrity and has a shot at being a proper adaptation of the game that started it all for me.

In comparison to Persona 4 which balances out it’s darker elements with lightheartedness and fun, Persona 3 is a much more somber story and the movie captures that tone successfully as opposed to the more erratic nature of the Persona 4 anime.  The film covers up to the third of the shadow boss fights from the game and maintains it’s dark tone throughout as we’re introduced to the setting and the story takes it’s first steps in unraveling the mysteries surrounding the Dark Hour.

Like with Persona 4’s adaptation the film does do several events differently from the game but it’s mostly for the better as it allows the story and character introductions to flow a bit better in this format and it expands on some of the plot points briefly touched on in the game. Some of the game elements are also integrated fairly well as the Velvet Room system from the games woven into the storyline much like with Persona 4’s anime but it feels less tacked on and helps to drive things further. The film does suffer from some pacing issues due to how much its adapting and the scene transition can be a bit annoying for those not familiar with the game, but everything is meshed together well for the most part and negative elements aren’t too distracting.

One of the major focuses of the film is on Makoto Yuki’s development and its given the attention it needed. Much like Yu Narukami from Persona 4, Makoto is a bit of a “blank slate” protagonist like in the original game but where Yu was given a somewhat outgoing personality, Makoto is much more reserved and apathetic, being seemingly uncaring towards others, somewhat robotic and unnerved by death but as the film progresses we see that there’s a bit more to him below the surface as he takes his first steps towards bonding with his new comrades and by the end it’s apparent that he cares a bit more than he lets on.

The film also takes some steps in developing the other SEES members as well as it puts some focus on class-clown Junpei’s  rivalry with Makoto and how they slowly start to become friends. Similarly,  Fuuka, who is one of the support members of the team, is given a fairly big role in the first movie as her struggles with bullying is expanded on a bit and in some ways is handled better than it was in the original game.

On the technical side of things the film looks very solid animation wise and the big battles look as good as they’re  supposed to. The character designs are also adapted pretty well from the games and though the art is somewhat forgettable during the daytime scenes as the Dark Hour scenarios look fantastic. The film also features most of the soundtrack from the game and it’s very much appreciated as it’s an excellent musical score and it helps to pump up a lot of the larger battles.

In spite of the odds Persona 3’s first film is the kind of adaptation the game deserved. There’s still plenty of room for the future films to falter but for now it’s looking like smooth sailing and hopefully the upcoming adaptation of Persona 4 Golden will take some cues from this one.

Overall 8.6/10

Review: Ergo Proxy- “Me, Myself and I”

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Description: In a futuristic world almost barren of life, mankind is confined to mechanized domed cities where A.I.’s control all aspects of life. In this world, humans are no longer born, they are manufactured in a production line; and alongside them live androids known as autoreivs. Within one of these domed sanctuaries named Romdeau lives Re-l Mayer, one of a few citizens who aren’t entirely prevented from thinking. Her grandfather’s prominent position and the affection of the scientist Daedalus have left her more free will than is normally allowed, but Re-l has started to question the sanctity of the city and the citizens’ perfect way of life. With mysterious beings known as proxies causing havoc and a man named Vincent causing great influence on her life, Re-l must travel outside of the city to find the answers she seeks and discover the mystery behind “the awakening”.

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Review

Helmed by Dai Sato the writer of Eureka Seven and Manglobe who brought us shows like Samurai Champloo and most recently Samurai Flamenco, Ergo Proxy is very much a show with it’s own ego. It constantly scoffs at the viewer, doing things in it’s own way and demanding your full attention in order to even begin to comprehend it. The air of pretentiousness that surrounds it is almost enough to push you away at first as you wonder how you could even begin to resonate with such a self-absorbed show. However the further along you go with the show the more you begin to see that that the show’s ego has it’s own meaning to it and that you have to face it head on to get anywhere with it.

The show opens up with a pretty typical cyberpunk/dystopian setting as we’re abruptly thrown headlong into the story through the eyes of our heroine Re-l, an officer who shows a pretty clear disgust for the way the society she lives in currently is and finds herself bored with it. On a mission she discovers the existance of a bizarre looking monster and begins delving into the mystery surrounding it and its seemingly insignificant immigrant known as Vincent Law. The conspiracy surrounding the two drives much of the main storyline as we slowly discover the truth behind the dystopia, the existance of more of these monsters which are later revealed to be god-like beings known as Proxies and of course the ultimate fate of mankind in a world they ravaged  and attempted to abandon. It has a pretty solid, if overly complex sci-fi narrative and is fairly interesting on just that aspect alone despite how maddening the last few episodes get.

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Everything’s gone cuckoo

However despite how things may initially appear, most of the show’s insane sci-fi plot is merely a pretext for what it’s really trying to convey and the show really isn’t as concerned with it as it first wants you to believe it is. In fact, a lot of the backstory for the series is presented to us in a hilarious but bizarre quiz show episode just to get it out of the way(and it’s even conveniently broadcast in a way so every important character sees it and is up to date on what’s happening). So then if not a complex sci-fi plot, then what is a show so wrapped up in it’s own ego ultimately trying to say? The answer is almost unsurprisingly fitting.

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Yeah…this show gets weird

Beneath the layers and layers of pretext, the core of the show lies within the examination of the human ego and our sense of “self” in the world at large and it does so through several stages and characters.

The first stage looks at how self absorbed we can be within our own egos and how it can affect the way we view the world around us. This is primarily done through Re-l who spends much of the series as being privileged, extremely self centered and driven solely by her own desires, often manipulating others or distancing herself from them, deeming them not worth the effort to understand if they don’t immediately serve her ends. However this affects her ability to really comprehend the actions taken by others and it’s during a situation where her ego and drive serves no real purpose in getting her where she wants to go that she finally beings to see that the world doesn’t revolve around her and lets the feelings of others in

The second stage involves how we see ourselves through others and how that gives our sense of ego purpose. This is done through two of the characters Daedelus and Iggy through their relationships with Re-l, who both see as the center of their world. Daedelus starts off as being helpful and in love with Re-l but the further the story goes the more apparent it is that his “love” for her is a crazed obsession and little more than a way for him to project his sense of “self” onto her and he says as much later on. For Iggy when he sees how little he matters to Re-l in proportion to how much she defines his existence he loses it and his mind fluctuates back and forth between the self he wants Re-l to see him as and the self that the despises her for ignoring him. For both it ends in a mental (and physical just to make sure the point is driven in) death and it’s fairly disturbing.

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Please don’t hate me

The third stage examines the suppression of the ego and it’s looked at through the characters Pino and Raul. Pino is an A.I. with a soul and it allows her to evolve bit by bit over the course of the show and she values the emotions she obtains even though the world in the series intitally considers it a defect for an A.I. to have it’s own will. Raul on the other hand is a prideful and scheming character but ultimately one who wants to be in full command over his own ego and exert his will on the world despite some of the consequences that may bring. However when both realize that neitheris really as special as they believed and isn’t in full control of who they are, Raul’s pride drives him to the brink while  Pino’s evolution allows her to accept who she is despite that fact.

The final and largest stage is of course accepting one’s self and one’s purpose.  This is  done through the true protagonist of the series Vincent who is constantly at odds with who he is, having  his true self suppressed and hidden in an attempt to be free of his struggles and imperfections, the dystopian setting being an almost literal metaphor of this Though much like how none of us can escape who we are as people, Vincent also can’t really run away from who he is either despite  his many subconscious attempts. As the series progresses and he comes closer and closer to confronting who he is his character design becomes notably more distinct and defined, signifying his evolution as a person.

Appropriately, the final boss Vincent must confront at the end of the series isn’t one of the other proxies (whose purpose is general to serve as various metaphors for Vincent taking a step further in facing himself) but quite literally himself, and though he’s offered a final opportunity to walk away from it all, he finally realizes that even though life is painful and there are problems we don’t always want to deal with, you have to face up to who you are in order to truly value the people and things that come with it. The series ends with him fully embracing who he is and though from a narrative standpoint it may not feel completely satisfying, thematically speaking it’s an extremely appropriate choice.

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“I am a shadow the true se-” Oh wait never mind.

Done at the now mostly defunct New Generation Pictures, the dub for the series is extremely well done. The leads bring out the best in it as  Liam O’ Brien brings his A-game to Vincent Law’s character and fully captures the tale of a man dealing with his internal struggles. Karen Thompson also brings a strong performance for Re-l, capturing the right amount of arrogance and slyness for when she’s being manipulative. The supporting characters  all bring good performances as well though the most notable would be Yuri Lowenthal as Daedelus who manages to make the character sound appropriately creepy.

Animation-wise the series looks pretty consistent having a pretty solid action budget and mostly avoiding looking off model despite how the art style looks. The art itself looks very distinct and somewhat gritty as the human characters are designed as real world looking as possible and this also carries over to some of the A.I. designs a bit which can make them look a bit creepy. It’s grittiness also helps  define the setting a bit more as the barren wastelands of the mostly destroyed world look incredibly so and the dystopian cyberpunk city looks almost isolated at times which feels appropriate. The soundtrack for the show is also pretty good having an extremely memorable opening theme in “Kiri” by Monoral which is sung in pretty good english and whose lyrics  match the theme of the show pretty well though the instrumental ending theme “Fellow Citizens” is pretty forgettable.

Ergo Proxy is a show with a lot on it’s mind and interesting ideas sitting below the surface. Though it’s not perfect narratively it does a remarkably solid job in what it wants to convey and it’s themes are pretty thought provoking. It can be a bit of a pain to sit through at first given how utterly egotistical the show can be at first about what it is, but it’s a rewarding experience in the long run. If you want to see something that makes you think a bit it’s worth checking out.

Overall: 8.5/10

Available on Hulu, Funimation.com