Reviewby Gabriella Ekens,
Persona 4 GN 1
When his parents go abroad, high schooler Souji Seta is sent to live with his uncle in the provincial town of Inaba. Souji arrives as a reserved loner, used to being shuffled around, but everything changes when he discovers another world behind his television screen. This world comes with the ability to summon a “Persona,” a combat-oriented representation of his true self. The world is also populated by “shadows” – monstrous phantoms that embody negative emotions – and feeds off of humanity's collective feelings. Realizing that this world is being used to commit a series of grisly murderers, Souji and his classmates band together to uncover the killer. In this first volume of the adaptation of the hit JRPG, Souji gains his first ally – Yosuke Hanamura – and helps him “confront his true self” when they're trapped in the television world.
The original Persona 4 manga – published the year of the game's 2008 release – finally made it stateside early this year. As an abbreviated version of the game's storyline, this adaptation tries to condense the enormous JRPG into a vastly different format. As such, this looks to be more like a highlights reel than an in-depth recreation of all the game's material.
Right off the bat, the significant challenge this manga faces is characterizing the lead. In the game, he's a self-insert character, so his personality and dialogue are entirely up to the player's choices. At this point in the series, he didn't even have a canonical name. (The one he has now, Yu Narukami, was introduced in the 2011 anime.) In this manga, he's called Souji Seta, an isolated loner due to constantly having to move. His experiences in Inaba seem to be his first time making lasting friendships. It's a good adaptive interpretation of the character, rooting the game's trajectory (the protagonist becomes less of a blank state via his relationships with others) in character psychology.
However, most of this first volume is situated in another character's POV – Yosuke Hanamura is the obvious choice for another main perspective, being Souji's BFF and the game's second Persona-user. While his issues (unrequited feelings for a woman who resents him and frustration over being forced to move to a small town) were originally articulated in a single speech, now they're dispersed throughout his interior monologue. This is an effective translation of the game into a format that's more natural for manga, where you can have more shifting and fluctuating POVs. The intention is also to characterize Souji as he comes off to others, which requires creating inner lives for more established non-focal characters. Yosuke's impression of Souji makes the character come off as cool, admirable, and heroic. They have similar starting points as disaffected youths brought to Inaba by family circumstance, but unlike Yosuke, Souji doesn't get bogged down in resentment. Instead, he makes an effort to take control of his life and form connections within this new community. Souji's example inspires Yosuke to do the same, and he ends up taking a more active role in defeating his shadow than he did in the game. At this point, the two become steadfast partners in crime-solving. The first volume ends here, right before the plotlines involving Chie and Yukiko.
Shuji Sogabe – who also illustrated the Persona 3 manga – has mastered replicating Shigenori Soejima's iconic art style. This manga is full of his characteristic sharp lines, oblique curves, and high-contrast shading. Besides that, the lineart is crisp, the faces are expressive, and the figures lack any glaring anatomical flaws. It looks as good as I could have expected, but I do look forward to more action in subsequent volumes. Persona 4's introduction (from the beginning of the game to when you recruit Chie) is a slog in any version of the story. Each new adaptation needs to set the stage for the fairly convoluted mystery, even when the reader might already be familiar with it. This means lots of talking heads in classrooms, so there isn't much to show off the artist's chops when it comes to the really fun stuff – fighting in the television world and the abstract, monstrous Personas. While the art is already quite good, this volume's content doesn't lend itself to much visual excitement.
So far, this manga doesn't deviate from the game's content. Yosuke's character arc was compressed to all take place within what was previously just his introduction, but that doesn't alter the overall plot. However, there is a suggestion that things may be different going forward – dialogue refers to Namatame, a major character in the game's conclusion, as already deceased. It's also unclear how this manga will be able to encapsulate the game's 21 social links in just ten volumes. Big chunks will presumably be cut, as each volume will likely be dedicated to a dungeon and wrap up each character's material within that span of time, much like Yosuke.
Overall, this manga doesn't offer much of anything new for people who have already experienced Persona 4's story before. If you want it again in another format, it's a solid but as-of-yet unexceptional adaptation. Yosuke's translated characterization is well done, but not something to sell an entire work on. For those uninitiated, this doesn't look to represent the entire 100+ hour game, but it's been competent at transcribing the main story beats. Also keep in mind that this manga predates Persona 4 Golden, so material from that expanded re-release – Marie, Adachi's social link – will not be present. In the end, this volume isn't equivalent to playing Persona 4, but it's also hardly a shadow of its former self.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Attractive art that recreates the game's style, interesting attempt to characterize a silent protagonist, good adaptive changes to the presentation of Yosuke's story
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