By Tyler Trosper / September 30th, 2016
|Author||Shuji Sogabe, Atlus|
|Release Date||February 23rd, 2016|
Admittedly, I only played Persona 4 when it originally came out on the Playstation 2 in 2009. I didn’t play Golden, though many friends have told me how much of a mistake I was making by not playing it. I only played a little bit of the original Arena fighting game spinoff. The two anime and the Dancing All Night rhythm game weren’t even on my radar. After putting a substantial amount of time into the original and getting the True Ending, I felt content with my time in Inaba. However, the Persona 4 manga worked the right amount of magic to rope me back into its world, if at least for nostalgia’s sake.
For those of you who haven’t experienced Persona 4, the story focuses on Soji Seto, a transfer student who moves to the rural town of Inaba due to the nature of his parents’ work. After he moves to town, a string of ghastly murders involving people being strung up on antennas. Shortly after, Soji and his new friends discover that the murders are linked to the Midnight Channel, an urban legend that reveals the faces of victims shortly before they die. Using this knowledge, the team travel into TVs, into another world, and discover that victims are being attacked by the inner demons of their own psyche turned into brutal monsters called Shadows. It’s up to Soji and the gang to overcome their own inner struggles and use their Persona to save future victims and solve the murder mystery plaguing Inaba.
For those of you who have played Persona 4 in any of its incarnations, the manga follows the game almost exactly. Even Shuji Sogabe’s artwork does an uncanny job matching the character designs originally drawn by Persona series artist Shigenori Soejima. The first two volumes cover maybe the first 15 to 20 hours of the game, stomping around the first two dungeons you encounter. Fans of the original game and have experienced the other incarnations of the same story might be a little put off by giving this another shot, but there are a few additions and changes here and there that might satisfy you.
For instance, there is the main character, Soji Seto. In the game, he is a reflection of the player and doesn’t really have a default name to choose. The author of the manga, Shuji Sogabe, took that into consideration, even reaching out to Atlus for a list of acceptable names to give to the protagonist in the manga. At times, you can definitely feel his silent protagonist origins, for better and worse. Occasionally, you will hear some of Soji’s inner thoughts, even sympathize with his frustration in regards to his absent parents. However, for most of the first two volumes, Soji takes a quiet and decisive stance as someone who protects his newly found friends. For the majority of both volumes, the narrative mainly sticks to whoever is the focus of the chapter, so mostly Yosuke, Chie, and Yukiko. In the game, it works out, but Soji feels a bit weak as a manga protagonist. With the few snippets of insight we do see from him, I hold out hope that more of these moments will occur in the future and make Soji more likable as a protagonist.
Despite that, having the narration focus on each character was a good choice. Each character goes through their own internal issues and having that reflected in chapters from their point of view enriched that. Little moments, such as a flashback with Chie and Yukiko as children, painted a richer picture of each character and their relationships with each other. Since Soji is almost a silent protagonist himself in the manga, putting the perspective behind the other cast members further illustrated him as someone who is strong and decisive, though his actions were merely chosen by the player in the game.
In the game, time spent in Inaba is taken day by day, with long stretches of minor events and dungeon crawling eating time until the next bit of story. In the manga, that obviously couldn’t work without fluffing it with tons of filler. The first volume’s pacing starts fine since the beginning of the game itself was fast and straight forward. The pacing changes a bit in the second volume though, as it pretty much speeds things up a bit too quickly. But then you’ll also have moments where you expect confrontation right away only to go through a bit of fluff that feels unnecessary. Granted, Persona 4 is a long, long game, especially the revamped Persona 4: Golden on Vita, so pacing would be a key factor in any medium you try to convert it to.
Part of the appeal of the manga is the commentary provided by the author, Shuji Sogabe. Throughout both the first and second volume, he sprinkles insight on each of the main characters in Persona 4. From the naming process of Soji to details about Yukiko’s nose, the commentary is usually insightful and amusing. Though he didn’t need to explain the changes he made from the game, his commentary is colorful and allows the reader to understand the differences between the manga and video game more clearly.
Aesthetically, the manga is drawn very well. As mentioned previously, Shuji Sogabe did an excellent job replicating the original character designer’s artwork in the manga. Furthermore, action scenes are given the treatment they deserve, offering full pages or half pages to let every detail pop. Even some of the filler art takes cues from the game itself, especially the end of the first chapter.
The translation itself is well done too. You won’t see Japanese honorifics used, like the game did, but the dialogue flows smoothly and naturally. Of course, Teddie still makes his bear puns, with at least one per page he is on, though that could be a positive depending on your sense of humor. The one thing I didn’t care for was the font used for non-dialogue, such as narration. Though it comes off a bit stiff, the main reason I don’t care for it is how busy it can get with the more text-heavy boxes. I read the first two volumes digitally, which thankfully allowed me to zoom in to better read the cramped text, but those who read it physically might have to squint and bring the book a bit closer to read unless you have a magnifying glass.
With Persona 5 around the corner, it’s almost time to say goodbye to Inaba. The same story has been regurgitated for years along with side games. It isn’t a bad story by any means; the inner struggle experienced by all of the characters reminds us all of our own personal struggles. Furthermore, the murder mystery keeps you guessing unless of course you’ve already played the games or watched the anime. I would recommend the manga to newcomers if you are intimidated by the games. Persona 4 is a great game, and also has the potential of becoming a great manga as well.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.