Persona 3 the Movie 03: Falling Down – Review
What really matters when the fate of the world is at stake…
This time I review:
Persona 3 the Movie 03 – Falling Down: The guy with a drug-problem died… and *gasp* the teacher turned out to be a psychopath. Guess it’s time for everyone to re-examine their relationships with everyone! Because we can all remember our highschool-days where we wondered if we really should become friends with anyone despite the fact that they could die at any moment like flies. What’s the point of human warmth if it can quickly turn into a cold corpse…? Oh man, I can’t imagine how someone could refute such mature arguments!
Oh, and the world’s ending by the way!
But at least most of the protagonists got on that school-trip before that, right?!
… which is actually a good thing because living sucks! It’s great that this series has villains that are utterly nihilistic while living in a world that disproves every point they’re making by showing how the good guys are having a great time. I mean, villains are obviously at their best when they’re just plain wrong…
Adaptations face many challenges. One of them is the need to condense a story effectively. On one hand you can’t tell the plot in the same way as in the original but on the other hand you still have to stay true to the essential parts of the story. One scenario of what you don’t want to happen is to make the audience feel like they’re watching the cliffnotes-version of a bigger story. The Persona 3 movie-series has always seemed overwhelmed by the demands of the plot and constantly chooses to jump around in a storyline free of any sort of internal logic or structure.
Thematically the third movie isn’t covering new ground as it’s really just another series of incidents forcing characters to talk about the power of friendship. And Makoto Yuki, the protagonist, has to once again learn how important it is to have friends. Maybe it would work better if there hadn’t been these other two movies before this. If the first movie was Makoto Yuki realizing for the first time how important friendship is, then the second movie is him slowly convincing himself that he should commit himself to this new “lifestyle”. And the third movie is Makoto’s moment of doubt after all the pain caused by Aragaki’s death in the second movie and one character’s father’s death at the beginning of this movie. But it already took Makoto two movies to become somewhat open to the idea of friendship and now I’m supposed to root for a storyline of him going backwards and having to find a way to move forward again? Refusing the call to adventure is supposed to happen only once in a story, not twice.
This movie’s constant “barrage” of message-speeches doesn’t help either. Scene after Scene you get pestered by characters who are all somehow resistant to the idea of committing to an optimistic perspective of friendship (or letting someone else have that idea). 60% of the movie is arguments about silly self-pitying and sentimental moralizing of friendship. The dialogue between Mitsuru and Takeba, the dialogue between Fuuka and her classmate, the dialogue between Makoto and Ryoji, the dialogue between Chidori and Junpei: They’re all talking about the same stuff! Usually this would be a good sign because it does indicate a thoughtful coherence of the story but the writing is TOO on-the-nose here. Because of the bad writing there aren’t any real arguments happening.
In the scene between Mitsuru and Takeba this badgering of the audience is at its worst. It starts out with Mitsuru deciding to distance herself from the rest of the group but Takeba chases after her in a way. So they talk and since Takeba lost her father as well she sympathizes with Mitsuru’s situation. But Takeba actually opens with saying “I was never comfortable around you. But now since we both have lost our fathers, I feel like we should have a closer relationship.”. Mitsuru on the other hand thinks that now since the battle is over there’s no need for her to keep in contact with everyone else. But Takeba calls her a liar for just wanting to win the battle and that she actually just wanted to protect her dad – which she failed to do. And she also complains about her father’s dedication since his death made it all pointless. This is when Takeba suddenly reveals how this video of her dead father was a fake and in reality he was a hero. And therefore they should both continue fighting to honor the memory of their fathers. What’s so bad about the writing in that scene is how emotionally detached it feels. Takeba doesn’t seem to chase after Mitsuru because she sympathizes with her emotional pain. That’s just the setup for Takeba’s real concern: That Mitsuru’s gonna bail on their mission. Instead of talking about grief and supporting each other as friends, what emerges sounds more like a sense of duty in a very soldier-like way. The death of your friends shouldn’t make you doubt the value of fighting, it should just be further motivation to continue fighting. Also, Takeba’s reveal about this video of her father is as cheap as it can get when it comes to writing.
It’s the worst because it clearly shows how the movie is bringing shounen-series-tropes into what is a purely emotional story-beat and the result is the disturbing idea that in life you have to choose a side and fight for it for the rest of your life. It hardly is a coincidence that characters like Chidori, Aragaki and Ikutsuki are the ones to die so far as they are the only ones who have switched sides in this battle. Other than that, you can only be either evil or good. So, either you want to destroy the world or you’re goody-two-shoes fighting for your friends and to save the world. The idea that facing emotional pain is better than running away from it sounds neat on the surface but it’s different when it’s used in the context of fighting. What should be a nice message about friendship suddenly becomes this weird ideology that needs to be enforced and defended. And that impression just gets worse with how often this movie is trying to shove the whole thing down your throat.
Isn’t it ironic that the suicidal girl ended up killing herself because she found a reason to live? What ‘great’ writing…!
Plot-wise the movie is nothing short of a disaster. It’s been months since I saw that second movie and so the start of this movie wasn’t the best way to get reintroduced into the series. The whole section of the heroes winning the day and then having to deal with Ikutsuki felt incredibly rushed. Especially since the scene-to-scene transitions have a habit of being utterly terrible in this series. Like when Ikutsuki presents himself to the heroes and then it suddenly cuts to them all hanging from crosses…? It’s the kind of abrupt editing that makes little sense and just serves to remind you’re probably getting less to see of the plot and story here than what was offered in the game.
Just in general the whole conceit of the calendar has never worked for me in these Persona-anime-adaptations. Sure, it’s another reference to the game but other than that, it’s the most disruptive thing you could do to the pacing of a story. There’s something disturbing about when the date rushes forward and this calendar casually declares something like “One week later”. There’s nothing in the actual scenes addressing time-jumps like that. The tone is almost timeless actually. Beside the general experience of a linear timeline the script never does much with the passing of time despite the presence of a frigging calendar. The exact knowledge of how much time has passed is NEVER important in this movie. Just the vague idea of “This happened, I guess, later…” is enough because that’s all the abrupt editing and shoddy script-writing are able to do.
It’s actually only when the movie is lighthearted that it becomes somewhat bearable. The comedy isn’t great but the characterization is very distinct. And so when characters don’t have to deal with moralizing and making speeches, you can actually see how well-done those characters are. The characters of this series are easily accessible and it doesn’t take much to understand what everybody’s deal is. So when the series is only concerned with straightforward comedy-bits, it doesn’t take much to establish a rapport that keeps the joke alive even if it isn’t a very witty one. Of course, that doesn’t mean these characters would be great in a comedy (Persona 4: Golden – The Animation is a prime example for that) but the hotspring-scene offers at least some levity in how the movie is mocking itself there.
Maybe in the game you’d be invested enough at this point in the story to still give a shit about the Dark Hour but these movies make that really hard to do. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like the series is trying to be coherent plot-wise. The abrupt time-jumps between scenes have become a rule for animated Persona-series, it seems. But in a series that only consists of four movies the acceptance for that move has become a real problem. This movie doesn’t care about scene-to-scene-transitions AT ALL! There’s no momentum except in an abstract narrative sense here. In a series where sudden time-jumps could happen at the end of ANY scene it’s just impossible to establish any sort of dramatic build-up. Even longer scenes of the movie like when Tabeka and Mitsuru talk don’t offer any solid foundation for what comes after as the follow-up is just Mitsuru joining the fight once again. Even when the series is a little bit more sentimental and introspective it can’t establish any sort of emotional baseline that the next scene can or seemingly want to build on.
The result is a movie-series that even with the third movie still seems very superficial. Attempts at depth happen without much build-up and are quickly sorted out before they become meaningful. In a rush to simply hit all the story-beats of a generic shounen-series all notions of subtlety get overthrown in favor of badgering the audience repeatedly with the same message – until the finale where the movie acts as if using the ideas behind that message in a practical sense is a revelation.
- Guess who the script-writer of the Persona-3-Movie-Series is? It’s Jun Kumagai, the same guy who’s also doing the series composition for Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū. It’s no wonder then that the second and third episode seemed to ramble a bit too much. This guy clearly sucks at writing plot-heavy scripts! And the longer the scene is the better his script-writing gets.
- The fight-scenes are still as dull as ever. This series has the sort of supernatural battles where it feels like anything can happen anytime as long as the story wishes it to happen. It’s the sort of wishy-washy writing that turns stuff like that into a farce.
- Makoto Yuki is a real dunce for not thinking that Ryoji seems weird when he’s actually finishing Makoto’s sentences. That’s creepy shit!
- Good job protecting Chidori by just letting her sit around alone in a hospital while all the heroes were enjoying themselves on a class-trip.