Anime-Breakdown: Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream (2014) Movie Review

Persona 3 The Movie: No. 1, Spring of Birth was done by AIC A.S.T.A. studio which despite not being a good film I would have preferred if they continued making the films over A-1 Pictures studio. A-1 Pictures had their chance at the Persona franchise with Persona 4: The Golden Animation. Instead of refining Lerche’s earlier anime adaptation, titled Persona 4: The Animation, on the same game A-1 Picture created what is best described as a cash grab. Now they’re in charge of creating a sequel to an average video game movie adaptation. Like with Persona 4: The Golden Animation, A-1 Picture doesn’t seek out to make improvements, and instead makes sure you know it’s an A-1 Pictures product. What I find funny is during the opening sequence, Makoto says “I don’t know why, but I feel really good” looking up into the sky revealing director Tomohisa Taguchi name. Almost as a way to reassure viewers this sequel in good hands. It might seem unimportant, but this is the same director behind Persona 4: The Golden Animation. Persona fans, let that sink in as I delve into this bad sequel.

Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream continues the story of Makoto Yuki from the first film leading a group of Persona users to eliminate “The Dark Hour”. This movie opens with a shower scene in a motel room. The film is gracious enough not to provide viewers with a recap of the previous film to pad the running time, but not smart enough to provide context as to why two teenagers are in a motel seemingly about to have sex. I know what happened since I played the game, but even with that said I’m watching a movie not playing it. External knowledge should not be required to understand the first scene of a movie. Once Yukari Takeba finishes showering, putting on a towel while Makoto takes off accessories around his neck. Yukari, and Makoto stare at each other in the middle of the room for a bit before Yukari blushed from embarrassment. The opening scene ends when Yukari slaps Makoto in the face then cue in title card. No scene, can better express what it felt like to see the film. It was, in every metaphorical sense, a slap to the face as a fan of the Person 3 video game.

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A-1 Pictures: We care about plot!

Now, I want to emphasize this is an A-1 Picture production because it takes 17 minutes before anything significant like story actually appears in the movie. Yes, it takes that long before anything story wise actually starts moving forward in a film that’s around an hour, and forty minutes long. The most important thing relating to story that happens within those first 17 minutes is introducing the passive villains Strega. Everything else is spend on fan service like a scene at a beach involving Junpei Iori describing the swimwear of the female characters as the camera shows them off. Granted, this also happened in the video game, but at least they (the female characters) received some characterization at that point in the video game. Since the last movie didn’t develop the cast into dynamic characters it’ll make you shake your head as this is most of the female characters’ biggest contribution in the film. Another aspect it failed to do within those 17 minutes was introduced anything meaningful to use later on in the film story. After an opening action scene, the characters are next seen on a boat heading to an island, then proceeds for around 10 minutes on the beach on non-story related activity.

Now pass those first 17 minutes the film finally provides explanations for questions that should have been answered in the first film. So now you’ll finally get an answer for why Gekkoukan High School transform into Tartarus in “The Dark Hour”, why the Shadows were released into the world, how to possibly eliminate “The Dark Hour”, and how many of the powerful Shadows that appear during a full moon need to be defeated. All of this information would have been useful in the first film! This is basically damage control for the insane decision for characters to withhold information for no good reason. Narratively it leaves the viewers with no exposure to Persona 3 wandering in the dark when information needed to understand how the film world function gets addressed in the sequel. Thankfully, the one good decision from the story was explaining the concept of artificial Personas. Explaining what makes them different from regular Personas, and the consequences they hold. It’s not a focal point in the film, but at least some attention is given to it.

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Welcome to the Pointless Room. A place between padding, and filler.

Out all the material that could have been cut from the film it’s beyond comprehension why the one, and only scene in “The Velvet Room” was left in when all that was said in it was enjoy life to the fullest, and beware of Shadows. This added absolutely nothing of value to the story. The inhabitants of “The Velvet Room” don’t appear again the film besides this one scene. The film was also in need of direction, and main goal to accomplish in the story. There’s a moment in the film where Shinji cooks for a dog while wearing pink cooking apparels. Then, the camera turns around to show an expressionless Aegis staring at Shinji. This causes Shinji to sweat with hip hop music (Mass Destruction by Lotus Juice) playing in the background repeating “Baby, baby, baby”. I just described a pointless moment in the film that the creators of the film approved to animate in the film, even though the first 17 minutes does nothing to move the story forward. Choices like these are the reasons why these Persona 3 films fail to tell a story properly.  

While still discussing the first thirty minutes of the film I should get across this sequel ruined one of my favorite scene from the video game. It’s after Yukari sees footage of her father dying (plus a revelation discerning Shadows too), and Makoto goes to the beach at night attempting to make Yukari feel better. I very much like this scene allot in the video game besides being a tender moment gave Yukari more depth as a character. It also ended with a humorous note showing the group strong friendship in hard times. So, when I saw the altered scene play out it was for a different purpose. What should have been a character defining moment for Yukari ends up being the set up to an introductory action scene to show off Aegis capabilities as an Anti-Shadow Suppression Weapon killing a dozen or so shadows. I wouldn’t have mind the action scene if A.) Cell Phones were working even though the first film establishes technology doesn’t work during “The Dark Hour”, B.) The action scene happens after Yukari sees footage of her father dying which dramatically voids Yukari of a meaningful moment, and finally C.) If in the previous film a single character had no trouble fending off a powerful Shadow in his first time of combat in Tartarus what makes you think I’m going to believe two unarmed characters will be in danger from an encounter where they are surrounded by a dozen weak Shadows.

Okay, with the first 1/3 of the film problems already written about there’s the rest of the film. With newly introduce Cyborg Girl Aegis now part of the main cast the film makes sure to tell audience she has an infatuation with protagonist Makoto Yuki. A love triangle would have benefited the story if done right. Makoto pays more attention towards Aegis in the film than Yukari even though they have known each other longer. Yukari is shown being jealous whenever Aegis says her purpose in life is to be next to Makoto Yuki side. If competently written this would be used to develop Yukari instead of just being used for humor. To add insult to injury Aegis proves to be more powerful, and useful in combat than Yukari who has been fighting Shadows for a far longer time. This romance aspect of the story doesn’t go far beyond Aegis stating she wants to be next to Makoto. Our protagonist shows no interest in either of them, but spends more time with Aegis in the film.

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“I can’t believe believe this goes nowhere plot point”. Now with everything you hate without the cholesterol.

Continuing what was the point of the first film if Makoto didn’t learn to be more open with his emotions! It’s like he reset as a character to learn the same thing in the sequel. However, this film ends on a tragic note which would have made sense for Makoto to be emotionless if that tragic event happened earlier, or if the film was longer. It’s headache inducing attempting to figure out why the filmmakers thought this was a good direction to take Makoto character in.

When it comes to characters instead of developing the already large cast this sequel decides to increase its number instead. With the exception of Makoto, all the characters from the previous film are delegated into the background. Including Yukari, and Junpei whom were important in the previous film don’t grow as characters in the sequel. Junpei for instance doesn’t know what he would do after “The Dark Hour” is dealt with, but there’s no exploration on it. Other characters who also pondered this same question in one scene. Beside Makoto Yuki, everyone else’s thoughts on the question feel unimportant. A negative that detracts from the whole group dynamic when its tries to get across SEES is made up of close friends. Any character that was in the sideline in the first film don’t receive better treatment except for Akihiko who receives some characterization. Unlike the first film where the climax allowed him to contribute to the story. In this entry, Akihiko ends up short as his connection with Shinjiro has to be rushed, nor is the idea that they (Shinjiro and Akihiko) are good friends is done convincingly.

A total of seven characters get added to the cast. One of them is Ken Amada who turns out the best developed of the new characters. He has a simple backstory that eventually turns into a sub-plot of revenge. This leads to Ken being more developed as a character since the reasons behind his negative feelings on living are addressed. Koromaru is a dog that can use a Persona who has no backstory to him. Ken says a single line that Koromaru got left behind, but that could mean anything from an owner who forgot his dog to a street dog with no owner. A single line won’t make me care Koromaru, even if he’s a cute dog who can use a Cerberus like Persona. Finally, there is Shinjiro Aragaki who joins SEES fifty minute into the film. Anybody who has played the game (minus maxing out Shinjiro social link in Persona 3 Portable female route) knows Shinjiro fate in the story. His late addition to SEES makes Shinjiro character be rushed, and his impact on the story overall weak. Without much time spend with him, along with other characters, there’s no reason to be invested in their story. He’s also a plot convenience in the film when he goes to the rescue of SEES.

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I pronounce you Mr. and Ms. Sue.

If you complained about Makoto Yuki being overpowered in the first film; this film offers a solution by providing another overpowered character. This time in the form of Aegis who also just as powerful as Makoto. In this film, Aegis is responsible for doing most of the fighting while Makoto is given a handicapped depending on the context. The climatic fight in particular has Makoto pondering his purpose after eliminating “The Dark Hour” for most it. While on the climax, it does a disservice to Junpei, and Yukari characters as they get beaten quickly showing they had not grown stronger since the first film. As a character, Aegis is simply a robot that doesn’t blend well with other human with how she acts. Unfortunately, she doesn’t learn, or wants to seek out what it means to be human in the film. Though, given the archetype of Aegis it’s bound to happen. Her defining trait in this film is being overpowered, and being attached to Makoto Yuki allot.

Lastly for the characters there are the members of Strega. A group that only has one character who has anything to do in the story. His name is Takaya Sakaki who states his intentions, and make the heroes ponder the questions of their purpose without “The Dark Hour”. Takaya is only in this film to kill off a certain character whose death has not much impact because that specific character short screen time. The other members of Strega don’t do much beside exist. Finally, there’s the character of Pharos who also has little to do in the film. Much like the one scene in “The Velvet Room”, Pharos appearance could have been cut out since he basically states the obvious of something bad is about to happen.

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I might hate this movie, but A-1 Pictures usually delivers in animation.

A-1 Pictures is in charge with the production, and thankfully at least that is carried over from previous film. A-1 Pictures doesn’t improve on the animation aspect, but there is not a decrease in quality either from film to film. There’s more variety in the settings. The majority of the movie takes place at night time with the presence of with lots of heavy shadows. Like in the previous film, it’s reliance on lighting to create an eerie atmosphere. When in “The Dark Hour” blacks into dark greens and the blues into reds. This carries in the film insistent on color saturation be it making day scenes intensely bright, or making night scenes really dark. Almost as if it’s unable to trust viewers with the time of day a scene takes place in. Particle effects are amped in the battles from the previous film as members in SEES equals to more Persona on screen using magic attack, or the characters killing shadows. When Aegis is killing a group of Shadows in her first action scene the animation is fluid as she quickly moves around the environment, the framing of shot making it clear to see what’s going on, and the effects to add to the impact of an attack be it heavy flames, or bullet piercing. There is some bad 3D animation during a major action scene that doesn’t blend with 2D animation. Besides this the 3D in the film is not jarringly noticeable through its duration.

Shoji Muguro continues to provide music for the Persona 3 films. This time around the film offers new music to listen that wasn’t in the original Persona 3 games. The hip hop track “Fate Is In Our Hands” by rapper Lotus Juice plays in the opening sequence during a battle scene. Due to the bad audio mixing the sound effect drown out the music being played, but the song itself is rather good. It’s more progressive than the actual film discussing the hardships of life, and the persistence to overcome them. There’s a stanza in the song where Lotus Juice tries to understand his foes, and quickly goes into how his actual worse enemy is himself. Subjects that are brought up in the film, but not expanded upon like in this track. Yumi Kawamura provides her vocal for the film ending theme titled “One Hand, One Heartbeat”. This melancholic, piano ballad track perfectly closes the film on a somber note. Unlike the film writing, Yumi Kawamura provide emotional vocals that can make the viewer feel something in the scene after it’s over. By itself Yumi Kawamura song is a heartfelt piano ballad about losing someone special. In general, the music itself tells a far better, and compelling story than the film writing does on its own.

Voice acting is satisfactory once again. With too many characters, and unequal screen time the majority of the main voice cast from the first film get sideline without being offered single a scene to display their talent. Giving more half of its talent the equivalent of thankless roles. New addition Kazuya Nakai who plays Shinjirou Aragaki gets the most ranged in a rush amount of time. His performance is noteworthy as despite the speed his character changes tone Kazyua Nakai always sound natural. He makes the swift change in his character easier to accept. Megumi Ogata plays Ken Amada has a more steady change in her performance. Going from uncertain scare kid, too optimistic, to gloomy is handle well through her performance. I might not like the character Ken Amada, but she makes the character convincing. Then there’s Maaya Sakamoto who plays Aegis who has plenty of screen time. Unfortunately, her character is a cyborg trying to learn emotion archetype. However, since Aegis hasn’t gotten philosophical of what it means to be human Maaya Sakamoto is monotone for the whole film. It goes with the character in this instance, but it ends up being a forgettable performance. Sakamoto monotone delivery of her lines does provide hint of a complex character making Aegis seem hollow than she might actually be.

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Makoto Yuki: “I could be dynamic, but I’ll prefer to be static”

What really bothers me the most about the performances is voice actor Akira Ishida doesn’t get to expand on his character Makoto Yuki. So he once again has to play the same emotionless, broken leading character from the first film. Ishida is not allowed to be more emotional, more expressive in his portrayal of Makoto Yuki. This film does the biggest disservice to him since by not allowing Akira Ishida to gradually transition his emotionless character to a more expressive one. The film rejects Akira Ishida the opportunity to expand Makoto Yuki beyond what was presented in the first film. It feels like a retread of his performance from the first film. While his retread performance is not bad it doesn’t quite the same effect the second time around.

Persona 3 The Movie: #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream is a bad film continuing being inaccessible for newcomers, and infuriating for Persona 3 fans for not making the appropriate changes for the material to function as a movie. None of the character are develop to care about, there’s no tension because of two overpowered characters, a large cast most of whom don’t contribute to the story, and is predictably boring for anyone who played Persona 3 as it does nothing to fans off guard. It looks, and sounds like Persona 3, but by the time the credits roll it won’t be the same emotional roller coaster the video game was.

4/10

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