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.
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.