Video Games: The Women of ‘Persona 5’

Image of ‘Persona 5’ characters (from left) Ann, Makoto, Futaba, and Haru. Copyright goes to P-Studio, Atlus, and PlayStation.

Hi! It’s Annie!

So, currently I’m trying to distract myself from the stress of attempting to get tickets to the Las Vegas ‘Permission to Dance’ BTS concert. I mean, this feels less stressful than last time since I already saw them in LA, but seeing them again while they’re on tour would be amazing. So, in attempting to distract myself I’ve thrown myself into one of my favorite video games, though I usually mostly just watch my sister play it. I’ve also been watching the Anime and diving into panels done by voice actors from the dub. Because the voice actors from the dub are amazing and I’ve been a fan of a lot of them for a long time. Mathew Mercer??? Robbie Daymond??? Erica Lindbeck??? Count me in! But the women in particular from this game have been discussed a lot, because of the strides they took for representation and some of the shortcomings of the game itself. Because while the female characters in this game are some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and while they also have taken massive strides, there are still some flaws here I want to point out. And all of them have their merits! I’m definitely not here to say who’s “best girl”. I will specifically be going over Ann, Makoto, and Futaba with a little bit of Haru at the end. As this is about the original game, I won’t talk about Kasumi. Especially because I already have a post about her in our ‘Twins in Media’ section, and it isn’t…the most flattering towards the character. I’m just going to get into it! WARNING: This article will have spoilers and possible triggers. I won’t get fully into the triggers, but they will be there!

Ann Takamaki:

The fact that a medium that is known for over-sexualizing women tackled the over- sexualization of women, is amazing in itself. Though the purpose of the game is more for tackling societal issues. Specifically, societal issues in Japan. And though I am not well versed in Japanese cultures, I think there are some things that everyone can relate to here. Specifically the way women are often over-sexualized by the male gaze and how disturbingly often this can happen to even young women. In fact, in getting into this fandom, I’ve seen a lot of over-sexualized artwork of the female characters in this game. Keep in mind these characters are between the ages of fifteen and seventeen in this game. And it really makes me wonder if the people making this artwork even payed attention to the entire story arc of Ann. Ann starts out this game fending off the advances of a teacher, Kamoshida, while also going along with his games sometimes because of his hold over her best friend’s slot on a team. Ann watches as this man destroys her best friend’s life, and through her own guilt decides to take action. Through this she learns that some men only see women as sexual objects and that she won’t let herself or anyone else be treated like that anymore. Her first action upon unleashing her Persona, is to destroy Kamoshida’s warped and sexualized version of her in his Palace. Which was such a clever move! She forces Kamoshida to live in order to atone for his crimes and forever have them linger over his head. A fate that she deems worse than death. While this is one of the best ways I’ve seen anything handle over-sexualization, there are some tone deaf things that happen with Ann later in the game. Such as just after when she has to pretend to agree to model for a nude picture, or several comments specifically made towards her by Morgana. I know that this kind of sense of humor is often common in Japanese media, but they felt very misplaced after the storyline they created for Ann. I also feel that her costume was created to be slightly sexualized with the idea of her taking it back for herself; but, especially with her negative response to the outfit, this isn’t clear. Again, it took strides but it isn’t perfect. It’s still important though and I love how opinionated and strong Ann remains throughout the game

Makoto Niijima:

While Ann dealt with the over-sexualization of women; Makoto dealt with a very different problem that woman all over the world face. Realizing your career choice is extremely male dominated and having to come to terms with how you’re going to move through that. This is where some of the differences between America and Japan come in. While we are still nowhere near equality in the workplace, we are actually quite a bit above a few other countries. Japan is a country that values men in power specifically, and that means that Makoto realizing she wants to become a police chief is extremely difficult. When we meet her, she doesn’t quite know this about herself yet. Which is also extremely relatable for young people. She feels indebted to her sister who she feels she is a burden to, and feels that following in her sister’s footsteps will make everyone happy. So she makes the decision to be a lawyer, without actually wanting to be one. In doing this, and also her sister being who she is, puts a lot of expectations on her shoulders, suffering under her own expectations and the expectations of others after a while. Which is something that anyone can relate to in some way. She is also used as a tool by the principal and other authority figures because of her brain and position. Women being used my men in power in unfortunately common. Eventually she realizes that she would be more suited to the position of a police chief, which is an extremely difficult position for a woman to get into in Japan. Her entire story involves being used by and then navigating around men professionally. And the narrative portrays her as the smartest one there, especially over the men in her life. Makoto’s issue is less with this and mostly also with over-sexualization. Though Ann suffers from this more, the show still takes time to over-sexualize Makoto too. Even though the entire point of her character is her brain.

Futaba Sakura:

Her story arc more involves the positive portrayal of those who are neurodivergent or suffer from mental illness. Which is a topic that is more important now than ever. Only in recent years have we started to truly understand neurodivergence and have been open with the fact that most everyone deals with mental illness at some point in their lives. This conversation has been important through the pandemic especially and assured everyone that they aren’t alone in their thoughts and feelings. Futaba herself canonically suffers from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Some have also thrown ADHD and Autism into that mix too, but those two haven’t been canonically confirmed. Though they most certainly could be and the signs are there too. Because the conversation about mental illness is so new, we still have hilariously poor representation for mental illness in media all over the world. Futaba is one of the first positive and completely inclusive depictions that is good. She doesn’t just magically get over it. She has to go through steps to get help and ultimately also help herself. She learns how to deal with social anxiety by slowly getting more used to crowds with the help of Joker. This was so important for me to see because I sometimes also deal with social anxiety in this way. She is the one who realizes that her own negative thoughts are just an illusion and not her personal truth. And she also has to get used to the members of the team in chunks. A newer game came out that revealed that, a few years later, she is still making strides with dealing with her anxiety. Futaba is never shown as dumb or less capable for being neurodivergent, in fact she’s also one of the smartest on the team. I love that some of the smartest members of this team are Makoto and Futaba who are both women. Anyways, most of the time she is portrayed as completely capable. But she does need help and asks for it sometimes too, which is important. It’s maybe taken a step too far when she refuses to leave Joker and still completely relies on him by the end of the game. Ryuji also calls her a pet hamster in the dance game, which wasn’t well though out. But overall, she’s one of the best examples of a neurodivergent character I’ve ever seen.

Haru Okumura:

I won’t talk as much about her as she isn’t a very focused on character and comes in very late to the game. But her storyline is also important for women, though the cultural difference here is also prevalent. She is constantly used by her father to gain political status, is stuck in an arranged marriage, and is held under “ladylike” standards. She takes her life back into her own hands, finding a way for herself and rejecting all the ways that she is used by the men in her life. For hundreds of years, women in many societies were viewed as objects. This is an example of how women are still sometimes seen that way, and it rightfully demonizes it. Women should be able to choose their own lives for themselves, in marriage and with everything else. The fact that these expectations for women still exist in some places is horrible, but it’s important to point out.

All of these characters are nothing short of amazing. As are every other character in this game. Maybe Morgana isn’t always my favorite, but I love every other character in this game and what they represent. Like Joker being an ex-con for example, which is amazing! This game especially needs more recognition for having mental health being the most essential theme of the game. Everything has faults, but this might be one of my favorite pieces of media just for its representation of these things in general. And it’s very aesthetic and is very realistic in the way it shows young people hanging out. Like just vibing together and occasionally being on phones or going out. It’s nice that it feels so natural! So, if you haven’t dove into this yet, I would highly recommend it. These are the superheroes that we need now.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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