Persona: Trinity Soul
Run Time: 300 Minutes
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: 07/06/2010
I’ve had a few surprises regarding anime this year. The first was that both seasons of Slayers Revolution and Evolution-R were released this year, complete with the original English dub cast (sans Xellos) reunited. The next was that I did a one-off review of the Sands of Destruction anime, which was as horrible as the video game it was based on. The final one was that Nippon Ichi was going to start releasing anime collections, one of which was Persona: Trinity Soul. At first I was like, “Why is Nippon Ichi releasing an anime based on an Atlus video game?”, but in truth Nippon Ichi and Atlus have had a symbiotic relationship for years. After all, Atlus published the original run of Disgaea (our 2003 Game of the Year winner) for the Playstation 2, so it makes sense that NIS would then publish something from Atlus.
I have to admit going into this that since I knew this was based on the world of Persona 3, I was expecting the worst. After all, P3 might have been popular in the states, but it achieved Phantasy Star 3 levels of notoriety back in Japan for things like the development team not understanding what the original Persona games were about, totally changing what a Persona is, having nothing to do with the previous three Persona titles and their rich continuity and having an ending that had Megaten fans so angry, Atlus had to release a slight remake in FES to try and sate them. It didn’t work, and that’s why in a few days from this publication, North American audiences will be seeing Atlus’ third and final attempt to make Persona 3 palatable to its original audience in the PSP version. Most North American gamers that snapped up P3 because they had heard of the lineage and amazing quality of games like Be Your True Mind, Innocent Sin, and Eternal Punishment but hadn’t actually played them, just assumed P3 was awesome because of the brand name and declared it such. Meanwhile people that played both P2 IS & EP were cluttering up internet boards basically to say, “WTF is this &%$&*(*&!?” I was actually in the middle of that war. I enjoyed P3 for what is was, much like I enjoyed Phantasy Star 3 for what it was, but I couldn’t deny P3 was a massive drop in quality in regards to storytelling, folklore, character development and the entire concept of Personas and what they mean. Even people I know that adored P3 when it first came out are now, “This was nowhere as good as I first thought it was…” including our own Mark B. So with all that in mind, especially as a guy that has written published papers on Descartian philosophy, Jungian metaphysics and folklore modernization in the original three titles (there are two Persona 2‘s for the unaware), it’s no wonder I hit this thing with a bit of trepidation.
However, I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the anime and thoroughly impressed by the overall collection that you get. Remember how I mentioned my purchase of the two new Slayers seasons? Well, although I got each set with a steep pre-order discount from rightstuf.com and Amazon.com, their MSRP was a whopping $59.99 each. For thirteen episodes! No bonus stuff. Just bare bone DVD releases and the awesome English dub cast (Slayers is one of the few animes I prefer in English over Japanese – Sorry Megumi.). Meanwhile Persona: Trinity Soul has a MSRP of only $47.99 and it comes with 13 episodes (in two slim-pak) cases along with an enormous art book and a case for the set that makes the whole thing look like a coffee table book rather than a DVD set. I have to admit, as awesome as the case was, I had a hard time figuring out how I was going to get it on my shelves on DVD’s. I ended up laying it down lengthwise to fit it in, but it’s now sitting happily next to my Pokemon: Indigo League sets.
The case itself is exceptionally sturdy and thick. Usually anime collection cases are these little flimsy things that are just thrown in to exorbitantly raise the price of the first disc in a collection (hello Ergo Proxy and Darker Than Black), but the casing for Persona: Trinity Soul could be used to bludgeon a small child to death in the right hands. Both sides of the case features artwork of the Kanzato Brothers in various poses on each side and it’s one of the most striking anime cases I’ve ever seen. Really nice job here Nippon Ichi, even if it you can’t stand it on a shelf vertically.
The art book itself is actually two books in one. One side of the book is the actual artbook for the series, while the other side is a short prose piece called A Whale’s Feather which is the tale written by Shigeru Kanzato (The later father of the three brothers) but also the name of the fourth episode in the series). I thought this was a neat touch similar to how someone wrote and published the book by that dead author from LOST. The art here is similar to things I’ve seen at the Native American heritage museum here in D.C., and the story in a neat parable to boot.
The side devoted to the anime gives you character biographies, episode synopsis, the “next episode” dialogue pieces, art of locals in the game, character art and some very weird comic strips about the series. There are also interview with the production team that brought the anime to life and the art book alone should be well worth the purchase to Persona fans .
As for the series itself, you don’t actually have to be familiar with Persona 3 at all to enjoy the anime, as there are only fleeting references to the game in the first 13 episodes. If you’re not familiar with any Persona game, you will occasionally get the feeling that you are missing things that are being alluded to or what Personas are (The anime kind of makes them as psychic exo-skeletons and leaves it at that). You’ll also be wondering who that guy with the long nose that looks like Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show is, and the fact the anime only gives Igor, the only character connected P3 and 4 to the ACTUAL Persona games, a slight cameo made me a bit sad.
The anime only has a Japanese audio track with English subtitles, and this may put off some people from buying it who don’t like reading a DVD, or those that just prefer dubs. I can understand as I’d rather watch some animes in English due to the quality of the dub cast . Tenchi Muyo!, IRIA, or Saber Rider all come to mind. On the other hand, the dub for Love Hina was so god awful it puts a damper on even the Japanese vocals. Nippon Ichi definitely has a great selection of voice actors on hand, as we can see in the games they localize (Who doesn’t love the voice of Etna or the Prinnies Dood?), so it was probably just a cost thing, especially with the art book and casing production costs.
The anime itself was not at all what I expected, especially from a video game based show. Things are very slow moving here and there is very little violence in episodes, and the use of Personas is definitely secondary to the cast and their inter-personal dynamics. I actually really liked this approach, as it made the series more a drama with a slighty foilklore/fantasy bent rather than something action based. That would have had my jaw clenched for 307 minutes uttering profanity in several different languages.
The basis of the anime revolves around the Kanzato brothers. There is the oldest brother, Ryo who is the chief of police in Ayanagi City. I have to admit his character design and voice had a small part of me hoping he would be Katsuya Suou from Eternal Punishment but alas, we’ll never see the cast and crew of Atlus’ best video game ever again. Ryo’s two younger brothers Shin and Jun are coming home to live with Ryo after a ten year absence. Shin is the main character, while his younger brother Jun does have a very pivotal role to play and well as a mysterious secret surrounding him that only Ryo knows about. Here’s a hint: psychic futanari. No, really.
Other important characters include Megumi Kayano who is the female protagonist and who seems to have a crush of Shin while she is the recipient of a crush herself, from bad boy Takuro Sakakiba, who is sporting a pretty intense afro for an Asian male. I do have to admit I love that the three main characters are names Shin, Megumi and Takuro. It has to be a subtle reference to Shin Megami Tensei. I almost wished Takuro was named Tenchi for a closer T-word alliteration, but then we’d have cabbits and 20,000 year old mummy women Vs. Personas and somehow I think everyone would be irritated by that.
The sub-plots of the anime include a game called “shadow extraction” that is similar to the original Persona game from Be Your True Mind, a group of evil persona uses that cannibalize other people’s personas, and the fact that people over a certain age seem to be unable to use Personas without drugs. I have to admit the later irked me quite a bit as this has never been an aspect of any Persona title, as every character is Innocent Sin or Eternal Punishment is in their mid twenties, and it certainly would mess up P1 and the main antagonist of Guido Kandori. That being said, I really liked the idea of Persona cannibals as it’s the closest thing in the P3/4 universe that comes close to returning to the metaphysical storytelling and actual meanings of what a Persona is from the first few games in the series. If that isn’t enough there’s also a serial killer running around that appears to turn people inside out. Again, like Ryo, I was hoping this was a nod to “The Joker,” the serial killer from IS/EP, but it wasn’t. Still, I was amazed with how many sub-plots the anime series was able to introduce, keep track of and then combine as things moved on. Even with the slow pace of this thirteen episode collection, I found myself caring about the characters and looking forward to the second set and the eventual resolution of the overall arc. Nippon Ichi has said Volume Two will be out in August 2010 at some point, and will also bear both the price point of $47.99 as well as its own artbook and collector case.
Overall, I found Persona: Trinity Soul to be much better than the actual game it is based on (How often does THAT happen?) and although some people may be disappointed with a lack of an English dub, you’re getting a great overall collection, especially when you compare it to other anime sets. These usually have the same amount of episodes but without the nifty omake like the art book, AND are at a higher price point to boot.
You can currently only purchase Persona: Trinity Soul directly from Nippon Ichi’s website, but I’m sure we’ll see that change in the following weeks and months to come, especially after its official release date of July 6th, 2010. I’ll be back later this week with a look at Nippon Ichi’s other Anime release, entitled Toradora! See you then.