Persona’s Stage Shows Are Overlooked Gems

Stage shows based on popular anime, manga and video game franchises are a common thing in Japan. Any franchise that gets big enough will receive a stage play that either retells the core story or, in the case of franchises like Sailor Moon, tells a unique story set within the franchise's continuity. The Persona franchise is no stranger to this, and the announcement of a new show, Persona 5 the Stage #3, proves that there is no sign of these shows stopping anytime soon.

As the name suggests, Persona 5 the Stage #3, is the third stage show based on Persona 5. The first Persona 5 play, Persona 5 the Stage, was performed in December 2019, with its sequel Persona 5 the Stage #2, debuting in December 2020. Like the previous two shows, Stage #3 will be written and directed by Hideyuki Nishimori, the person behind the Danganronpa and My Hero Academia stage shows. The Persona 5 shows tell altered versions of the game's story, often pulling in elements from the anime adaptation. This leads to a unique performance that is based on the games but is also a stand-alone experience.

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Persona 5 Stage

However, Persona 5 isn't the first Persona game to get the stage show treatment. Persona 3 received five different stage shows (though the final two ran as a double feature) under the collective title of Persona 3: the Weird Masquerade. These musicals retold Persona 3 as a stage musical. This musical also had a cool meta concept as, due to the game allowing you to pick the protagonist's gender, two versions of the show ran at once, one with a female lead, the other with a male lead.

These shows set the format all later Persona stage shows would follow, from the rock-inspired musical numbers, the highly-choreographed dance numbers and stage combat routines. The performances also use large video screens rather than physical sets, allowing the shows to recreate the strange dimension seen in the games. All this is combined with puppets and costuming that draw heavily from traditional Japanese theater, including Bunraku puppet theater and classical Kabuki plays.

Persona 4, also had two stage musicals, dubbed Persona 4 Visualive and Visualive Evolution. Written by prolific scriptwriter Shintarō Asanuma, this show retells an abridged version of the Persona 4 story. Visualive, much like Weird Masquerade, used a combination of screens and puppetry to recreate the game's environments. However, as Persona 4 has a fixed protagonist gender, this show instead allowed the audience to pick the hero's name by giving fans the opportunity to submit their own names before the show began.

Every night one of these names was drawn at random as the name for the protagonist, reflecting players' ability to pick their name in the game -- a concept that the Persona 5 show still uses. Visualive improved on the screens used in the Persona 3 shows by adding several smaller moving screens that could create various effects and made it easier to have characters transition from a puppet to game footage and back again.

Persona 3 Stage Show

On top of this, Persona 4 Arena got a stage production dubbed Persona 4 The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena Stage Project. These performances used a similar setup to the Persona 4 shows, but also featured a moving tilted stage that allowed for some rather unique choreography and visual effects. This was followed by a sequel called Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold Stageplay, based on Arena's sequel Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. These shows are stunning due to the sheer number of characters fighting on stage, especially when the choreography has the cast trading spotlight time.

While these shows do get released on DVD and Blu-ray, they can be rather hard to find, especially for international fans who rely on import services. This is a shame as they are visually stunning and a lot of fun to watch. While they are similar to the anime versions due to their shared source material, their format offers a unique take on the story that gives a different view of the world and the characters within it. Hopefully, in the future, these shows get proper releases in English so everyone can enjoy their unique stories and staging.

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