Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 8th 2010
Persona -trinity soul-
DVD 1: Episodes 1-7 Preview
Brothers Shin and Jun Kanzato are moving back to their hometown after having spent years away from their eldest brother, Ryo. The reunion is an awkward one, but making things even more uneasy is that Ryo, a police chief, is investigating a series of mysterious illnesses and deaths in the area. When a nighttime incident causes Shin to release his Persona—a manifestation of one's soul, taking the form of a celestial warrior—he realizes that Ryo's investigation involves not just crime, but dark supernatural forces. However, Ryo is aware of this too, and Shin discovers that other people around him also have the power of Persona—even his own classmates. Now Shin and his brothers must fight against a deadly organization seeking to take the Personas of other victims ... at the cost of their lives.
To the discerning video game fan, Persona 3 is a masterpiece for the ages—one of the last great works for PlayStation 2, a perfect marriage of gameplay, design and story that transports the player to another world. Its distinctive setting, which combines elements of the supernatural with modern Japanese school life, is populated by an endearing, memorable cast of characters. All told, it makes the ideal candidate for an anime adaptation.
Persona -trinity soul- is not that anime.
Oh, sure, they'll tell you it's based on Persona 3, a ten-years-later follow-up set in the same universe. This is like saying that Twilight has anything to do with Dracula. The two works may share certain thematic elements, but in truth, the anime is more like someone else's supernatural murder-mystery with the Persona name slapped on it. It begins the way all adventures begin—with an everyday schoolboy discovering that he has amazing hidden powers—and then tries to weave together Shin's newly mysterious school life with the serial murder case that Ryo is looking into. The early episodes never quite succeed in getting these plot threads to interlock, instead coming out with a schizophrenic dual-themed anime which pinballs between high school drama and police procedural. The high school portion is nothing to get thrilled about, being the typical morass of up-and-down friendships (which just happens to also involve discovering one's latent powers). Meanwhile, the police element—although more serious and intriguing—is saddled by lots of vague, mysterious dialogue that means absolutely nothing until more of the story is explained.
By Episode 6, the series writers have apparently given up on trying to build the plot and start tossing out goof-off episodes, which depending on one's perspective are either a relief or a distraction. "The Day of the Chief's Disappearance" is a gently comical spoof-take on police bureaucracy, but adds nothing to the story (unless seeing grim-faced Ryo dressed in a bear costume can be considered a plus). The following episode seems equally trivial in conception—Shin and friends go to a seaside inn, and mild fanservice ensues—but a drama-packed ending saves it. Character development and relationship-building is one of the series' strengths, especially with meaningful flashback scenes interspersed throughout, but the overall execution still needs improvement.
So, is there anything in the show that actually stays true to Persona 3? Just one, maybe: the character designs. Shigenori Soejima, whose artistry gave Persona 3 its visual heart and soul, turns in his usual cast of appealing and stylish teen heroes for this series. The Persona creature designs are in line with the franchise's style as well, giving off an aura of raw power while still maintaining an otherworldly elegance (the transparent look also helps in that regard). These mystical beings are at their best when locked in combat, zipping around the screen and dishing out all sorts of unique attacks; the action gets better and better with each episode as more Personas are revealed and their users gain greater mastery of them. However, animation quality takes a big hit during day-to-day affairs—some dialogue scenes are reduced to nothing more than a character's mouth moving while everything else is frozen in place. At least the subdued colors and ominous atmosphere make these moments intriguing, but the lack of creative spark outside of combat scenes causes the animation to fall short of its potential.
Conversely, on the audio side, Taku Iwasaki's musically diverse score reaches all of its potential and then some. While the battle scenes often dig into the realm of hard rock, Iwasaki also proves that he can use the string section of the orchestra to his advantage, with heartache-inducing ballads during more poignant moments. A couple of brief musical cues remixed from the original game will also catch the attention of perceptive ears. The theme songs, meanwhile, are on the more conventional side—a forgettable rock opener gets the blood pumping at the start, while an equally bland ballad closes out each episode (although the bizarre "animal heads" imagery in the ending will definitely stick in one's mind).
As a supernatural mystery-thriller, Persona -trinity soul- is passable entertainment—flashy enough to be worth checking out, with story elements and characters that go a little deeper and darker than the average Ghost Hunt. As a spinoff of the Persona 3 video game, however, it may leave a lot of fans fooled and disappointed, keeping only the very basics of the Persona concept and the aesthetics of the franchise. If one can look past that disappointment and take this series for what it is, then it might have a fighting chance: the story isn't quite together yet, but it has potential to grow, and the visuals are pretty to look at even with the less-than-stellar animation technique. However, for those who wanted truly memorable and iconic characters, or an epic story for the ages, or a unique gameplay mechanic that blends RPG with relationship-building, well ... nothing wrong with dusting off the old PS2, right?
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Strong characterization and visual designs give this dark supernatural mystery a distinctive appeal.
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