Persona 5 is a manga adaptation of the videogame Persona 5, named for being the fifth game in the Persona series and written and drawn by Hisato Murasaki. The game and all its adaptations revolve around a group of teenagers known as the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, bent on reforming society by transforming people’s hearts and causing wrongdoers to confess their crimes. The story conveys a deep need in young people to improve the world around them, as well as a rebellion against complacency and apathy.

What are the stakes, then? The plot starts with high schooler Akira Kurusu getting his own apartment above a cafe and getting ready for his first day of school at Shujin Academy. He’s on strict probation following expulsion from his previous school after he attacked a man on the subway who was abusing his girlfriend. He sued Akira, which uprooted his life. “That’s what happens when you try to play white knight. You get expelled from school and get a criminal record to boot. Butting into other people’s business will get you nowhere,” his landlord says. Persona 5 exists to tear that worldview apart and tell its audience not to settle for looking out for themselves and ignoring fixable problems.

Akira is promptly thrust into a new moral crossroads when everyone he meets at Shujin Academy seems linked to the perverted and abusive gym teacher, Mr. Kamoshida. Kamoshida dotes on and rapes female students and physically abuses male students. His coaching prowess gets the school to national championships, which gives him enough leeway among faculty and staff to act without oversight. “It’ll be real quick and easy. You just hold still and shut up,” he tells a girl who attempts suicide soon after being sexually assaulted in his office. “You’re just another loser. A waste of space. Trash like you won’t ever beat me,” he tells a boy whose track team he disbanded in order to hog the athletic spotlight.

Not hard to hate, this antagonist. What to do? Videogame logic leads the way: a mysterious app appears on Akira’s cell phone that takes him and any accomplices to Kamoshida’s “Palace,” or mental state. It’s an entire magical location twisted by the owner’s desires, and there Kamoshida is a king, complete with crown, robe, and speedo. Akira and his classmate Ryuji are powerless, but for the guidance of the catlike Morgana, who reveals the power of the Persona to them. A mask appears on their face for them to tear off and form a pact with a super-powered ghoul, or persona, that fights on their behalf. Naturally, this pact includes a costume change, with Akira and Ryuiji’s school uniforms traded in for high-collar coats and belts, as well as a massive influx of confidence and power. Persona is popularly regarded as a stylish series, so it’s good to see real-world fashions clash against the fantasy-medieval “palace” aesthetic so well. One minute Akira’s wearing a long-sleeve shirt and pants to bed, the next he’s decked out in prison stripes and answering to a fiend-eyed goblin about his magical potential. Pumpkin-headed wizards are cut in half, and sentient suits of armor batter opponents.

Persona 5 may not be a great comic, but it’s a great adolescent power fantasy about challenging selfish adults even when the odds are stacked against you. Kamoshida’s victims either can’t or don’t speak out against him for various fearful motives, but the dose of fantasy action ensures that justice still has a chance… in volume two, anyway. Persona 5 is rated OT for Older Teen, and the subject matter falls squarely in mature territory, to be sure. Sexual abuse is discussed but not shown, and Kamoshida beats students to a pulp in his “palace,” complete with a torture chamber. Violence includes some blood, and language includes some mild hells, damns, and bastards. Fans of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure will quickly pick up the “bonding with super-powered ghosts” angle, and Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) gamers will flock to this opportunity to give their hearts to their favorite Phantom Thieves.

By the end of this first volume, the villain is far from defeated, and a closing note from the author teases several more characters awaiting their debut. Count on picking up this series for a while, a proposal that should make your readers happy. Persona 5’s teenagers are modern-day superheroes, tearing off the masks society forces on them and taking on revolutionary roles to tear down structures corrupted by adults. I say, lead the way and transform our hearts!

Persona 5, Vol. 1
By Hisato Murasaki
ISBN: 9781974711758
Viz, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)

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  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

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