Having only a passing familiarity with the Persona 5 video game, but being intrigued nonetheless, I opted to see what the hype was about by first reading volume 1 of the manga adaptation. What I read was at the same time surprisingly standard fare and surprisingly unique.
The art and story are adapted by Hisato Murasaki in his most high-profile manga project yet. Opening in Shinjuku station, the story is centered around Akira Kurusu, a highschool student transferring to a new school. His forced move being caused by a false accusation, all of the adults and peers in his life assume the worst about his temperament and behavior and keep their distance. It’s a somewhat slow start, and even when Akira is taken into a fantastic otherworldly dimension or haunted by a mystical phone app, the presentation feels familiar. Luckily, that changes as the midpoint of the volume draws near.
Headed to the first day of his new school, Akira runs into a blonde-haired woman who is picked up by a stranger in a car, later revealed to be the school’s volleyball coach. Literally seconds later, he meets rebel student Ryuji Sakamoto who offers to show Akira the way to school. This is where fantasy almost completely takes over reality. Upon arriving at their destination, they find that the school has been replaced by a castle armed to the teeth with ghoulish knights. They also meet a talking cat named Morgana, who disappears – and much later reappears – at just the right times.
Things stray from the standard shonen or isekai path from this point forward. Without spoiling the plot, the way that the boy’s school and other dimensional lives and relationships are connected and revealed is executed smoothly. I didn’t realize it until after the midpoint had passed at how interested I was in seeing the case play out. The seamless blending of realities that guide the plot’s progressively increasing depth is impressive. I was equally impressed with the handling of another element in the story’s mix: Personas.
When in the alternate dimensional plane, Akira discovers that he can summon a spectral fighter of sorts to do battle alongside him. Yes, this sounds like the stands from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and you would be correct to point out the similarities. This doesn’t take away from their role in Persona 5 however. The logic behind their existence is sound, and they are used to spice up the action when it makes sense. While Personas’ impact is felt in the real world, the characters can’t always summon their violent sides to punch their way out of their problems.
Up until this point, I couldn’t say that I loved the art or that it stood out to me in any particular manner (I couldn’t find any real faults in the illustrations for that matter either), but the Persona designs are a sight to behold. Based on both real and historical Western European literary characters (at least the ones that debuted in this volume), the powerful warriors are creatively imagined and visually balanced from head to toe. I wish I could say that the rest of the cast were as interesting to look at.
Around the same time, I began to consciously discover that, in my mind at least, Sakamoto was driving the story more than Akira, who is set up to the principal protagonist. As more of his story is revealed, I am confident in saying that he is really the main character of this particular volume. On the other hand, Akira starts off relatively bland and stays that way throughout the duration of the manga, being used more for his chosen-one-style abilities to get the crew out of a few tight spots.
When my time with the final chapter was over, I found that I was much more captivated by the boys having to take down a seriously twisted criminal in the real world rather than the overarching worldbuilding and interdimensional battles. As the series continues and more characters are added into the mix, I can see the focus pivoting towards the more fantastical side of things, but for now, Persona 5 has my attention
Akira Kurusu thought he was doing the right thing, rescuing a woman who was being attacked. Instead he was framed for assault. Expelled from his school and sent away from home, he is re-enrolled in Shujin Academy in Tokyo on probation. The trouble starts his first day when he comes across delinquent Ryuji Sakamoto and the two somehow stumble into a castle in an alternate reality. Caught by the castle’s king, the schoolteacher Kamoshida, Akira discovers his will to rebel and awakens the power of his Persona! But back in the real world, Kamoshida’s terrible actions cause an unexpected tragedy…!Add to CartLearn More