One of the most fascinating things about the Shin Megami Tensei franchise isn’t just its wild compendium of demons to use in battle, but also the lore and mythologies they come from. Almost every demon (or persona in the Persona series) draws from cultures and folklore around the world, and includes several entities you may recognize from various religious texts. They’re all made manifest as enemies and party members, and include a little in-game backstory to give players perspective on each of their origins — an aspect I’m enjoying all over again as I play through Shin Megami Tensei V.
But I was extra hyped up to see one such nasty, vile creature from my own culture’s folktales: The Manananggal. I came across her at around level 25 in the second section of Da’at, the game’s post-apocalyptic Tokyo. At the first encounter, I was like “Hold up, I’ve seen that name before…that’s 1000 percent a Tagalog word…wait, I know her!” And she’s been a vital party member ever since.
(Content warning: The myth of the Manananggal is graphic and deals with pregnancy and unborn children.)
Growing up, my mom and grandma would always warn me not to go outside when it’s dark because “the Mumu is going to get you!” The Mumu is kind of a catch-all term for monster or boogeyman, and honestly, it was very effective to get me to stay inside and not leave the house until I was old enough to realize I ain’t afraid of no Mumu. But what’s still kind of haunting are the Aswang, evil shapeshifting spirits that can appear as normal people and transform into violent creatures in the night. And one of the more notorious Aswang is the Manananggal, whose story is — let me tell you now — pretty fucked up.
The Manananggal is a vampiric woman who either has her torso ripped out and moves her two portions of her remaining body as one, or has the ability to detach herself at the midsection. She is said to feed off the fetuses in the wombs of pregnant women by ripping out the unborn child’s heart (or other vital organs). She has bat wings that let her fly to and from the homes of her victims, and an inexplicably long tongue to feast on the fetus. The Manananggal is also said to appear as an attractive woman to lure in men before eating their organs, too. Yikes! Sounds like a solid party member to me, though!
You can actually read her description from Shin Megami Tensei V‘s in-game lore text below.
This shit is so dark that Shin Megami Tensei V‘s Manananggal herself specializes in Dark elemental attacks and is your early-game go-to if you need Mudo and Mamudo spells on deck. But with her being a vampire as well, she’s of course weak to Light-aspected spells. If you fear her in real life, garlic should do the trick, too. Maybe that’s why Filipino dishes are so heavy in garlic? And if the Manananggal can’t have the best Filipino dishes, maybe that’s why she’s so pissed and eats our children?
Is this a W for representation? Damn, I don’t know, but sure, I’ll take it! We did have Rinok (originally Linog in Tagalog), the Goddess of Earth, in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. But Shin Megami Tensei V went for a real deep cut and pulled from the stories very few people outside the Philippines know. The series has always captivated me with deities from Hinduism, Judeo-Christian texts, Japanese legends, Norse and Greek mythologies, Celtic folklore, and so on. I’ve also loved their imaginative designs that have shone through in the series’ art direction and given form to the myths that inspire the games. And, as disturbing as it is, Filipinos really got one of our own in Shin Megami Tensei V — a certified kababayan moment, even if it’s the Aswang we were warned about growing up.
As you play through the game, take some time to check out the demon lore; you’ll probably learn something new about another culture or a demon you really like. You can just pull up the information of any demon in your party, compendium, or fusion list, check their stats, then hit the ZL button to pull up their backstory. It adds a whole ‘nother layer to the dark, fascinating, and subtle world of Shin Megami Tensei.
This game ain’t no cakewalk, though. If you’re not prepared to handle its tough challenges, be sure to use our Shin Megami Tensei V guide where we compiled 23 useful tips the game doesn’t tell you. If you’re still on the fence about jumping in, you can read our Shin Megami Tensei V review to help with your decision.