Welcome to the first article in a new series, where I will be looking at the pop-culture influences on the Persona series. This entry will focus on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Be warned though, this article will have plenty of spoilers for both series.
Now, before we start, here’s a little disclaimer. This is just a list of ways JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure influenced Persona (and the SMT series, as I will also look into that in this entry) and how SMT games referenced JJBA. This is in no way meant to say that one is superior to the other or that, say, Persona 4 is a ripoff of Diamond is Unbreakable. All the references are intentional and loving and there’s nothing wrong with that. JJBA is one of the most influential manga of all time and the concept of guardian deities or spirits is neither exclusive to nor was it invented by Araki. The concept just found its way into Japanese pop-culture through JJBA, directly inspiring Persona, Shaman King and even Yu-Gi-Oh (Yami Yugi is a Stand, let that sink in).
So what better place to start than with the concept of thoughtform. Thoughtform is the idea that a person can manifest an astral being that resembles the user, an animal or is the embodiment of an abstract emotion through magic or sheer force of will. It bears resemblance to the Ancient Greek and Roman Genius and Daemon. While those are not man-made, they still serve to embody abstract ideas. The imperial genii, for example, are the guardian deities of a particular family (often the family of Roman emperors) and embody everything that is good about them. There are more similar concepts to this like tulpa or guardian angels but as you can see, the idea is not novel, and so is really not a specific reference to JoJo.
The shared focus on major arcana however should definitely be considered one. Major arcana refer to the 22 illustrated trump cards in a tarot deck meant to represent the unconscious or unknown. Starting from Stardust Crusaders, Stands become an essential part of JJBA and are initially based on and named after arcana. Jotaro’s Star Platinum thus is based on the Star arcana. Similarly, the Personas are all assigned arcana as well. While the tarot aspect is much more important and elaborate in Persona, it’s not too much of a stretch to see this as a direct influence.
As each series progresses, the influences become clearer. Which series is this? In Part 2, our heroes apparently ditch their boy-band aspirations—but not the hair—and set out to fight ancient gods. Oh, and the Nazis are there too. Persona 2: Innocent Sin? Battle Tendency? You decide. Or are you going to tell me Joseph and Caesar don’t look like ‘80s boy band applicants who failed the auditions? They look like the best Wham cover band to have never existed. You just know Caesar would rock that Keytar. For those who haven’t played Innocent Sin yet, Tatsuya, Jun and Eikichi actually form a band, so I guess they wanted to hit that high after all. Now go and play Innocent Sin (wait, no, stay and read first, then play).
That said, the series remain distinct. For example the inspirations behind the two foes are, of course, completely different from another. In Battle Tendency the seemingly omnipotent ancient god-like beings that our heroes must defeat are the Pillar Men, while Persona 2 features the ominous Nyarlathotep. Whereas the former are based on ancient Roman and Greek statues of near-perfect heroes and gods, the later is based on a monster in H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu-myth. Furthermore, in JJBA, the Nazis are not the enemies but allies by necessity. The one parallel between both that cannot be denied, however, is that Tasuya and Jun love each other just like Joseph and Caesar do.
As you can see, the references are rather surface-level, yet still very apparent. However, allusions become much stronger when you call to mind how Personas are evoked in Persona 3 and look at these panels in the very first chapter of Stardust Crusaders:
The way the SEES-members evoke their Personas, namely by pointing gun-shaped devices called Evokers to their heads and pulling the trigger, seems to be a direct reference to these panels of Jotaro evoking his Stand Star Platinum for the first time.
Apart from this panel, there are also parallels in their respective plots, as both parts sees a group trying to rid the world of a disease. The Apathy Syndrome, a mysterious condition that leaves those inflicted in an apathetic state, is that disease in P3, whereas in Stardust Crusaders it’s Jotaro’s mother Holly who suffers from a Stand-induced illness that threatens to take her life. In order to cure the illnesses, the heroes must defeat a greater evil, but to get to the main big-baddie-of-greater-evil they have to defeat their minions-of-not-quite-so-great-in-fact-definitely-lesser-evil first. Again, the basic plot descriptions sound familiar and it is only when you begin to look under the surface that you see the many, many differences.
Oh, and there’s also their canine companions Iggy and Koromaru.
Similarly to Part 2, the fourth entries in Persona and JJBA share virtually the same plot description. A group of high schoolers, with the power of thoughtform, hunt down a serial murderer in their small Japanese town. Of course the “High Schoolers investigate a murder mystery”-angle is nothing new at all, but the many parallels between the main antagonists is what makes Persona 4 and Diamond is Unbreakable so similar to one another.
Both parts have great main villains: Persona 4's Adachi is especially memorable and complex, and in my opinion one of the best villains I’ve ever come across in any medium. Like Kira in DiU, he’s very misogynistic and misanthropic, mainly targeting women and showing no remorse or sympathy for their victims. Their killing sprees are direct results of their egocentric nature. The difference here is that Kira is compelled to kill by his obsessive-compulsive tendencies, whereas Adachi is much more complex, yet no less broken. Kira and Adachi often come off as childish, throwing a murderous tantrum because they can’t get what they want. Another similarity between the two murderers is their behaviour. While they normally appear kind, plain and even unremarkable, their demeanour drastically changes when their true faces are revealed, turning much more impulsive, openly taunting their victims and generally showing an air of arrogance and superiority towards everyone they deem lesser than themselves. The comedic relief character Adachi turns into an smug and petty madman with a habit of insulting P4's Investigation Team. Kira, who initially shuns attentions, goes out of his way to kill whoever dares disrupt his “peace.”
Other characters, like Yukiko and Yukako, share some similarities as well. Apart from the similar sounding names, they both represent the Yamato Nadeshiko - the personification of a pure, Japanese beauty - which, however, is a very common concept in Japanese culture. Thus, I wouldn’t really consider Yukiko a reference to Yukako. Anyway, all possible subtlely is thrown overboard in Persona Q. Just look at Teddie going “WRYYYYY!”
Since Persona 5 hasn’t been released yet, we of course can’t know which references to JJBA it will have if it even will have more than the very obvious ones. But if the Phantom Thieves end up stealing all the cars I will lose it. Both fifth entries focus on a group of good-hearted rogues, yet, this is not really too much of a parallel. Sure, it’s similar but Lupin III seems to be the bigger influence when it comes to Persona 5 than Vento Aureo, given all the visual references that can be found in P5's marketing.
There is one possible reference which I’m not really willing to accept as coincidence, though. The JoJolion character Kyo Nijimura and Persona 5's Makoto Niijima not only have similar names and sense of style but, unlike Yukiko and Yukako, they also practically have the same thoughtform as Stand Born This Way and Persona Johanna take on the form of motorcycles.
Not only the Persona series was inspired and influeced by Araki’s manga but the whole Shin Megami Tensei line, too. Though the 2009 Nintendo DS game Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (the title itself is synonymous to Bizarre Adventure) was mainly inspired by the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter’s The Thing, it features a rather obvious nod towards Kira’s Stand, Killer Queen (aside from, you know, Queen the band). There’s an enemy in the game called Piasca, who can use the attack “Bites the Dust” which inflicts the “bomb” status ailment upon you. When the character inflicted gets hit by an attack, the bomb is set off, damaging the player’s whole party. In JJBA, Killer Queen possesses an attack with the very same name that functions the very same way. Just as with the attack in Strange Journey, Killer Queen’s “Bites the Dust” is also a bomb that explodes when triggered. Further nods towards the JJBA franchise can be found in many SMT titles, including Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE, where...well, you’ll just see for yourself:
As you can see, each entry in the Persona series seems to correspond to the same numbered part in JJBA, bar for the first part (unless I’m missing something, which totally couldn’t definitely probably happen?) and while there are many similarities at first glance, they begin to disappear with their treatment. Yet, these surface-level similarities are nothing to be dismissed. It shows how JJBA influenced Persona and how the people behind Persona took JJBA as an inspiriation to create something of their own. I love both series and finding reference to one in the other is a great source of joy for every fan.
Next time, I’ll be taking a look at the way Twin Peaks influenced Persona. Until then, thank you very much for reading.
The Gespenst finds it immensely difficult to describe himself so he’ll be talking about his love for manga and anime instead. A fan of anime and manga since he first laid eyes on Sailor Moon, he mostly writes Anime Series Blogs and the occasional review. While suspense and mystery are his genre of choice, he’s always on the lookout for the next soothing Slice-of-Life. He can be found on Twitter@TheGespenst where he regularly talks about his favourite manga and anime in over-excited, yet eloquent(?) ways.