Persona 3: Midsummer Knight’s Dream: Subtraction

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This was what I said about the first movie:

The film covers neither the dungeon-grinding nor the social bonding with very much depth. Instead, it focuses on the main storyline and rightfully so. There’s really no other alternative for a film adaptation to take. Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

Nothing has really changed. If anything, I feel like both of those elements have been scaled back even more. I don’t believe we explore any of the social links in the second movie. There’s this one moment in which you can see Koromaru playing with Maiko at the shrine, but that doesn’t mean much. It’s a shame, really. Yes, I still understand that the film can’t adapt everything. But not even a single social link? That ends up changing the story — at least the first two-thirds of it — dramatically. But if you’re going to subtract, you’re going to have to make for it in some way. The film tries to add something new to the story, but I don’t believe it succeeded.

After all, when I played the game, I started making friends as soon as I could. I mean, why not? It’s just a game, and it doesn’t hurt the player one bit to talk to any of the NPCs. As a result, I provided myself with the motivation to finish the storyline. I wanted to beat the Shadows, because I thought it would help me save the NPCs that I had befriended. But the film MC is different. I remember jokingly suggesting that Makoto is perhaps autistic, but the second movie clearly shows that he has his priorities out of whack. After so many months, it still doesn’t appear as though he’s formed much of a bond with any of his teammates. Yeah, there’s that obligatory scene on the beach with Yukari, but nothing really comes of it either. Makoto remains cold and aloof. And of course, we’ve already mentioned the social link thing…

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As a result, this Makoto fucks up badly. Strega enters the picture, and argues that our heroes shouldn’t defeat all the Shadows. After all, wouldn’t this just make the Dark Hour go away? And without the Dark Hour, our band of metaphorically suicidal heroes will have to give up their special powers. They’ll no longer get to have cool powers, fight monsters, or save the day. They’ll just be kids. As you might expect, our MC’s resolve begins to waver. And of course it would; he has no friends! The story really plays this up, too. Makoto hesitates to defeat the Fortune Arcana, because he doesn’t want this story to end. But the consequences of his reluctance is that the team couldn’t make it in time to save Shinji’s life. As the film comes to a close, Makoto sits slack-jawed as he realizes what he’s done.

Is this a good change? Well, for sure, something had to change. Needless to say, the video game MC had no personality, because we controlled his thoughts and actions. You can’t adapt that to film, so the writers had to give Makoto something — anything. And to create drama, they went with this. They went with a not-so-likeable hero. Actually, scratch that. There’s nothing really likeable about the guy, and that’s perhaps where the film’s creators dropped the ball. It’s one thing to give Makoto a personal flaw that ends up creating dire consequences. That’s fine. Luke’s understandable but reckless love for his friends in Episode 5 nearly cost him his life. So I don’t blame the Midsummer Knight’s Dream for rendering Makoto in a less-than-positive light. The only problem is that there’s really nothing redeeming about him in the first place.

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The guy never really has anything to say. Yeah, sure, he didn’t say much in the game either, but this isn’t a game anymore. The player has become a spectator, and as such, Makoto needs more of a personality. His actions in the last half hour of the movie is fine, but he’s practically invisible for the first hour of the movie. That’s way too much. We don’t see him get to do anything either. He’s not heroic here, he’s not friendly, he’s not interesting, he’s not anything. He doesn’t do anything. The film might as well have been about Aegis, Ken and Shinji. Maybe that was the whole point. Maybe they didn’t even want to make this a Makoto-centric movie even though he’s still the main character and he’s still the squad leader. But if you go this route, then those three characters have to make up for that. I’m not sure that they do.

To be honest, I never personally got Aegis’s popularity. When I first played the game, I didn’t really consult the internet or anything, so I had no idea what other people were thinking, how they reacted to the game, etc. I just knew how I felt, and when Aegis joined the team, she eventually got left on the back burner. I rarely used her. First, I wasn’t really impressed with her moveset, but more importantly, her character didn’t do anything for me. Oh? A robot wants to stay by my side? Uh, okaaaaaay. Why don’t you just take a seat over here while I continue to dungeon grind, make friends, so on and so forth. So it was definitely surprising to me when it seemed like she was most people’s favorite character. Really? Aegis? Atlus then went and made her the main character of The Answer. My thoughts were like, “Wut?”

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Well, movie Aegis still doesn’t do much for me either even though I now know that she’s a much more important character than she was back when I played the original game. But the thing is, it felt like she had more personality within the game. After all, the game has both the light-hearted moments to counter the heavier parts of the narrative. There are one or two light-hearted moments here, but not enough to see much of the quirkiness in Aegis’s personality. As such, she has less of a present in the film. She has a great entrance, sure. That’s the power of the new medium as opposed to the limited PS2 hardware. We get to see her stylistically flip through the air and gun down a few shadows… but after that, all Aegis ever does is repeat her desire to be by Makoto’s side. Clearly, she’s not the one to make up for Makoto’s lack of character. Even worse, she seems boringly repetitive.

So we have Ken. Much like Aegis, I never put Ken in my party. Part of that was my fault, I’ll have to admit. I wasn’t as good at the game back then, so I was not a fan of Hama abilities. I thought their success rate were way too low to bother with. Of course, I now know that there are ways to boost those success rates, so maybe I would used Ken more if I played the game now. Still, I doubt my opinion on the boy as a character would improve much. I don’t care for devoted androids, and likewise, I’m not particularly fond of child characters. I don’t find them very interesting to talk to. Granted, it sure seemed as though the kid had more going for him than Aegis. After all, he lost his mom, he wants revenge, yadda yadda yadda. For some reason, though, I still didn’t care too much about him. Watching the film, I continue to remain unmoved. I’m not sure if I can put a finger on exactly why.

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Finally, there’s Shinji. In fact, the movie ends on his death, and it would appear that he will serve as a catalyst for Makoto’s growth. But I feel a lot like these two random students. Frankly, I just didn’t know Shinji that well. I guess the game’s narrative structure didn’t help. After all, I had so many people to talk to and befriend. Shinji takes up just a small percentage of my time in-game, and his rough demeanor didn’t help. Oh, you’re a bit of an asshole? Meh, who cares? Let’s just get through this so I can get back to the social links, or completing quests in Tartarus, so on and so forth. So when Shinji died, it didn’t really hit me as hard as it seemed to hit the rest of the characters. Maybe Atlus realized this, and as a result, the female MC can form a social link with the guy. But I don’t like handhelds, so I’ve never played as the female MC. As such, I remain largely in the dark about Shinji’s personality outside of the main story cutscenes.

In the film, the pacing is a bit rushed since we have a few months to cover in just a little over ninety minutes. So Shinji does his usually schtick. He’s mean, he pops some pills, he joins the team because of Ken, then he dies. There’s a cute moment in which he personally cooks a meal for Koromaru, but that’s it. It’s hard to get too invested in a character like that. Nevertheless, his death is supposed to be a crucial turning point in Makoto’s life. Nevertheless, color is drained from the anime for his wake. Nevertheless, his heartfelt plea for Ken to give up on hate should’ve touched me. It kind of did. Kinda. There was a small pit in my stomach. But the point here is that Makoto is a weak character, and one of these three — Aegis, Ken, and Shinji — should have stepped up and taken over the narrative. I can’t say that one tiny pit in my stomach accounts for that.

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In the end, the P3 adaptation is perhaps a little too ambitious. I just can’t imagine three films being able to capture the spirit and tone of the original game. Too much has to be left out. I can understand cutting most of the social links, but all of them? And for what? After all, you have to cut them for something, but where is that thing? That thing could’ve been better developed main characters. But Aegis and Ken feel largely unchanged from their in-game counterparts, and while Shinji puts forth a slightly more emotional performance… it’s not enough. P3 feels empty. It’s like we just have enough time to erect the frame for the house, but we can’t even give it walls. You can forget about painting it or furnishing the insides. So we come back to the original conundrum raised by the first movie: what is really the point of these movies?

To promote the games? Maybe. I don’t know, though. How much are these films really helping? And if that was the case, then why not just a cheap anime series if you want to promote the games? After all, Persona 4 got both a two-cour anime series and some superfluous adaptation just to explore Marie’s character. Why not the same for P3? We can even tact on an extra cour for The Answer. Films are certainly more respected in general, but they’re not inherently better for the job. Sure, I appreciate the visuals in these movies. For the most part, the animation looks gorgeous. There are a few clunkers here or there, but nothing to harp on. But to get back on track, I don’t know where the films are supposed to offer. Story-wise, it delivers an inferior product. The original game already had voice acting, so it can’t be, “Oh, I want to hear what my favorite characters would sound like!” And good visuals… just aren’t enough. I would’ve gladly taken a 2-cour anime series over three gorgeous but empty movies.

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If anything, at least Koromaru is still cute. I didn’t realize he was so small when you first met him, though…

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9 thoughts on “Persona 3: Midsummer Knight’s Dream: Subtraction”

  1. Haven’t played the games and I felt the way you do towards the first one, the second one? Insane improvement in my eyes, maybe it was the light hearted scenes that worked really well with me or whatever but this movie was just a huge set up, I actually started caring for these characters whereas in the first movie I was like “uh, could you lack any more personality?”
    Even the MC, I actually liked him the most out of everyone in the first movie, now everyone is kinda leveled but even then I really like him, you can say he’s not interesting or has no defining trait or whatever but to me his selling point is exactly that, he’s an MC who shouldn’t be an MC and it worked for me, really well even, you don’t really see these type of MCs often, MCs that are actually quiet, not shy or socially awkward, MCs that actually barely talk, and I don’t know, it was just different I guess and I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of these type of characters when they are side-characters but he works as an MC, the supporting cast also kept on getting better and they helped carried the show when the MC couldn’t, which was almost all the time, except for scenes where he’s conflicted or whatever which I found really well done.
    And speaking of the MC being alone, those scenes where that guy gave him cards or whatever it was just screamed “this is where you level up in the game.”

    Shinji didn’t exactly left me in tears but I felt it, I think the whole cast just had great chemistry together, to the point that I was left wondering with the MC if they should end the Dark Hour or not, maybe it didn’t mean everyone would stop being friends but monster hunting is the same as going to school here, once you graduate you’ll probably end up going your own way and it won’t be as fun anymore. I really like his type of character too, that tough on the outside but sweet on the inside type of character that’s not overly tsundere? I was sad to see him go.
    And the kid? I could see where he coming from and all but man, I wouldn’t think twice about which character I’d rather keep so I wonder how the next movie is going to be in that regard, I have the feeling he’ll get some time at the start and dissapear for the rest of the movie.

    The shirtless Jesus guy though? Please no.

  2. Anime adaptation of video game never work well. The problem is that most games’s core stories is either weak, nonsense, or non-existent. Even the ones with strong story tells them in a way that’s fundamentally different from other media like books or movies. JRPG storytelling are especially ineffecient, as it must be stretched to over 50 hours. Their appeals are in world exploration, the feeling that you’re going on an epic quest, training your characters. All of this are hard to capture in a movie. Tons of people may make fun of the fact that Final Fantasy 7 or Kingdom Hearts’s stories are unnecessarily convoluted, but when you play you don’t feel it’s a big problem. But try adapting it to an anime, it will be a huge mess.

    1. Isn´t it the same with any other medium? Video games have just about as many good plots as anime or manga do. At least the ones that focus on story. If you take franchise like Mario, then sure, the gameplay is the core thing there. Some of the FF games have good stories, some of the Tales games do. Atlus´ stories have consistently been good in their Megami ten franchise/sub-franchises. The stories in the Persona games might not be as good as the rest of the company´s plots, but they are still able to stand on their own. If an adaptation fails, it usually is the fault of how the adaptation is handled, as you yourself said. Take Devil Survivor 2 as an example: the original game´s plot was still good regardless of who you chose to spend your time with, as the main plot already forced certain events on you that developed core characters immensly. Take the anime, and all is reduced to trash. One reason was that characters were simplified, with the MC becoming a generic shounen male, and Yamato being turned into a simple douchbag. Another was that it handled deaths like Attack on Titan, i.e. randomly and without thought. The main reason would indeed be that it had to be rushed as hell though, I agree. Aside from the mentioned jrpg´s, we Ave Planescape: Torment, The Last of Us, Okami and many more.
      What´s my point? I wouldn´t exactly say most games have trash plot, as while many end up being forgettable, those that actually try usually achieve something too.
      Actually, I wanted to nominate Chrono Trigger too, but then I reminded myself that the basic plot was “go kill the evil parasite lavos”. Guess I forgot that due to the other qualities the game has.

  3. Play the female character sometime, really. She has much more personality than the male dude, and she form social link with all team member, so you really feel that she’s the core of the group: an optimistic and cheerful leader. If you don’t like romance, you can just keep her social link in the friendship zone, which is possible in her route.

    Actually the female character is so lovely I just cannot go back and play as the male character anymore.

      1. oh, sorry, you’re talking about the console. I was thinking about handholding, or romantic stuff. English is not my first language, sorry.

    1. I actually enjoyed the FeMC in P3P. She was pretty much slightly more involved with the plot and basically was closer to her team. Plus, who wouldn’t wanna be in a very awkwardly times and weird relationship with Akihiko?

      Sadly, they did not make her canon…. :( Fuck.

  4. On another hand, I really have to thank god that there’s no Nocturne or Raidou Kuzunoha anime. Those anime adaption of Atlus is not bad, but I don’t want them to butcher the Demifiend and Raidou.

  5. You know what sucks? This movie could have been fleshing out the events that lead to the October 4 incident. Like we wanna know what happened 3 years ago with Ken and Shinjiro and the mom aside from LOTS of telling. They don’t have to always follow the game, sure… but at least give us some new scenes that isn’t just “we really like to adapt the book.” In fact, if the movie just added more depth and backstory to what we already witnessed in the game… thrice… the movie would not suck as hard as it already did.

    And really this is the problem with adaptations in anime sometimes, it’s either they make it too loose that we don’t see the core elements of what the show is anymore, or be so strict to the source material that additional info outside of it would be over the producers’ heads. There’s no in-between.

    Sadly, the movie went the more cash-happy persona 4 route and just put in quirky little scenes instead without a purpose.

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