Inspired by anime and manga comics, R:IL Persona Vol. 1: Identity Negotiation drops its readers smack down in the middle of a post-apocalyptic conflict. Each side employs gloriously violent methods, some even have dark magic at their disposal. The world is divided, guns are at the ready- but there’s one small problem. See, our protagonist… is amnesiac.
This volume is very aptly named because Rade, an elite magic-wielding soldier clad in Iron Man-like bioarmor, wakes up next to a woman he’s killed with no memory of who she is, who he is, or of the conflict around him. Once his partner, Strykes, finds him, we learn through Rade’s confusion about their quest and the people they are fighting. Having an amnesiac protagonist is a brilliant way to set up exposition without it feeling repetitive or slowing down the plot. And beginning the story in medias res heightens both the tension and the mystery of what’s to come.
Rade and Strykes are an interesting pair of protagonists for us to follow. Their banter is funny and fast-paced and makes for an enjoyable time between action scenes. The moral differences between the two are sharp (at least they are when Rade is without his memory), but the two must work together regardless. It’s a classic buddy-cop formula that works great. This comic is mature, no doubt about it, in its graphic nature and its subject matter. But thankfully, R:IL Persona‘s maturity lends itself to more compelling dilemmas for its characters, including Rade and Strykes.
Speaking of other characters, we are also introduced to Tara Kannon, an intrepid lieutenant of Squad Scoperto, who we meet toward the end of the first episode (or chapter). The rest of her teammates are little more than cannon fodder for Strykes later on in the volume, but we do learn more about Tara through their albeit brief interactions. Their sudden and surprising deaths leave Tara a vengeful survivor, setting her up as a good force of opposition for Rade and Strykes later on in the story. I look forward to seeing more of her.
All around, the action is breakneck and bloody. R:IL Persona does not shy away from violence nor does it tone down the gorier aspects of war. Sharp diagonal panels superbly enhance the streaks of fire and sword slices shown within them. The inclusion of magic-based attacks often come out of left-field and with little explanation, but it’s entertaining enough to suspend disbelief. One much-liked detail in particular is the way this comic illustrates explosions. Billowing clouds of smoke and ash have never looked so dense and seeing soldiers duck and weave through them guns in hand is a delight.
(I should note that while the epilogue and some interjected splash pages of the comic are in color, the main stories of my copy were in black and white. I am unable to comment on the majority of the book’s color design, but from the limited amount I have seen in color, I’ve enjoyed a vibrant range of color and lighting that lends itself well to the story’s military setting.)
Now, this is only a review of the first volume of a very ambitious and lengthy story. The political and military situations of the large-scale civil war that this comic contains are barely touched on. Wisely, the focus is instead placed on a relatively small number of principal characters. But I do want to see the larger-scale parts of this world discussed and shown, and hopefully the next volumes of this story delve deeper into them. R:IL Persona Vol. 1 leaves much to be desired, but only in addition to what I’ve read, not in place of it. The world of this comic is impressive and ever-expanding; it’s certainly got this reader curious to see the rest of it.