The Persona Series was a Fucking Mistake

A modest compilation of sheisty ass shit Atlus okayed back at the office.


Trigger Warning: This article contains content that discusses sexual predation, pedophilia., homophobia, and transphobia.

Spoilers: Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Persona 3/Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4, and Persona 5.


Persona 5 Royal has been announced recently, so I’ve been thinking back on Persona 5 and the series as a whole. I’ve been into Shin Megami Tensei for about a decade. I’ve been in before Persona 4: Arena brought in new fans, I’ve played Persona 1, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, some of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, Persona 3: Portable, Persona 4: Golden, Persona 5, and this list doesn’t include games like Strange Journey, Shin Megami Tensei IV, or Devil Survivor. There’s a lot. I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting a couple of things. Anyway, I ain’t blowing smoke up people’s asses about games I don’t play or making mistakes like Kotaku UK made this month.

As one of my favorite series behind Yakuza, there’s been some elements of the game I don’t like. This article isn’t new or a hot take because others have noticed, or brought it up, and written about it. We been knew. But people will stan this series so hard that they don’t want to hear shit about nothing. Ignoring criticism just because you’re a fan doesn’t erase problems that should be highlighted though. This article lists the Persona series’ issues that especially affects marginalized or otherwise vulnerable groups.

Pedophilia. Predation.

This is something that exists outside of the villain narrative, but is written without the same condemnation. As a writer who dabbles in creative fiction writing, I know it’s essential to have antagonists. Persona 5′s theme for its antagonists are loosely based on the seven deadly sins and makes a point to have them embody the characteristics of the worst kind of humans. What’s important when creating immoral, evil characters is how the work responds to them and their actions. In reference to Persona 5, one thing that strikes me as hypocritical is that everyone agrees Suguru Kamoshida, an antagonist whose theme is lust, is highly condemnable for sexually exploiting and preying on students in Shujin Academy, but the romance between main character Akira Kurusu and his homeroom teacher Sadayo Kawakami is fine. I’m aware that the difference between the two is that Kamoshida (although it’s not explicitly stated, it is heavily implied) rapes a student athlete and with Kawakami, it is framed as just a “teacher-student fling.” Regardless, both have engaged in actions that are exploitative of characters who are not on the same power levels because 1) they are authority figures and 2) they are adults. It’s common in discussion to use this comparison because they both operate on similar power structures sans gender dynamics.

Kamoshida doesn’t need as much analysis to determine why he falls under an example of predation and pedophilia. He’s a rapist who views his students as sexual objects. It’s blatant. Persona 5’s tone makes sure to illustrate during his arc how rape and sexual harassment are reprehensible. Afterwards, the message is completely undermined by turning Ann, one of his primary victims, into a sexualized joke for the rest of the game. Something even I’d forgotten when reviewing the game? Ann is not supported when her future team member Yusuke insists on drawing her naked. This article written by Ryan Khosravi delves into more detail, explaining how it’s unsettling to not have a choice as the player and being forced into complacency when Ann asks if she has to be a decoy in order to advance the game’s plot.

ann bait

Sexual harassment is played off as a joke when it’s between friends. This same nonchalance is met with Akira’s relationships with his teacher and all the other women he can date: the journalist Ohya Ichiko, the doctor Tae Takemi, and the fortune teller Chihaya Mifune. This is not the only game where this happens.

If you play as a girl in Persona 3 Portable, there is a romance route with Ken Amada, an 11-year-old boy in elementary school. He is a child who lost his mother and still grieves for her. In the North American version, they even specifically alter a recurring phrase of Persona that implies sex to try and fix it by saying that Minako Arisato is only talking to him. Ken having dialogue in this route saying, “we can’t tell the others because they’ll think it’s weird and kick me out and I won’t see you anymore,” is particularly jarring because I identify it with signs of abuse, like isolation and grooming.

It’s incredibly fucked up. Years ago while browsing forums about this, people also defended it by saying it was an innocent “mentorship.” This is also said of Kawakami and Akira’s relationship. Minako cooks for Ken and talks to him and there’s a point where he says he is lonely. Kawakami provides cleaning for Akira and the player can assert that he’s lonely as well. Individuals who lack support or feel this way can oftentimes fall prey to these sorts of relationships because they’re vulnerable. Would they rely on the same people for warmth if circumstances were different? Not likely. Ken’s social link shows he’s latching onto Minako, probably because he misses his mother. I’m not persuaded by the music ques and the facial expressions and language that this is ever okay. It’s definitely wrong.

People who try to refute that this isn’t predatory/pedophilic behavior with the “cultural differences” argument seemingly have glossed over some of these social links’ dialogue that mentions how Akira is a minor or how Minako should have people her age. So, it isn’t something that the writers and the developer team in general are not aware of as a problem: “We can’t do this, we’re a teacher and a student.” “Let’s go to a place where I can have fun with a minor.” “Is your guardian home?” “Don’t you have a lot of friends your age?” Even with this self-awareness, the romances are still available.

My other issue with the Persona series: There’s homophobia and transphobia.

It’s not a surprise to me that it would contain this tripe. From character presentation to interactions, the developers do a disservice to their LGBTQ fanbase. Here, I’ll start off with Persona 2: Innocent Sin, an entry that’s not as widely played and the only Persona game where players have a same-gender romance option. Jun Kurosu is a gay character who is well-rounded and has good character development. He’s pleasant. Although there’s still some homophobic punchlines (Lisa Silverman with her offhand, “You look better than me in makeup!” and bitter “Love who you love” attitude when Tatsuya returns Jun’s feelings), it was nice having him in the party to offer flower language definitions and astrology tidbits. He’s not the predator—Yukino Mayuzumi is. Or rather, her shadow, but even the game makes the assertion that shadows are their host. From what I can gather, Yukino is more specifically bisexual (she’s in love with a colleague who is a man) and her shadow is one who takes advantage of 17-year-old Anna Yoshizaka. A victim of a hit-and-run that leaves her career as a star athlete destroyed, she is devastated to the point where she skips class, smokes, drinks, and ultimately drops out of school. She ends up idolizing the older Yukino because she is someone who takes care of her and tries to get her back on track. Anna develops romantic feelings for Yukino and this is exploited by the shadow. This scene happens if the player decides to leave Yukino behind on their way to Caracol.

Here, Anna is dehumanized, used, and killed. The presentations in Persona 2: Innocent Sin are subtle while the interactions between characters are not. Jun and Anna are reformed villains of the Masked Circle cult who are the catalyst for the main conflict of the game. I’d say this is adjacent to how Black people feel about horror movies where we either die first or horribly. Or comparable to our experience where dark skin Black people end up as villains in video games (or antagonists in other media). This kind of subtext may not be the highest on the list of concerns, but it’s still, “here we go with this bullshit.” And things get worse in the series.

Persona 3’s has “Operation: Babe Hunt” where the boys of the party decide to test their game and get some numbers off women on the beach. One woman they meet has stubble that she missed and the scenario can be summed up as a cheap, transphobic “trap” scenario where transgender women are viewed as “actually men.” Adding to this, the woman is depicted as preying on the boys by saying she “almost snagged her a little boy-toy.” The updated version omits overt misgendering from Junpei and adds a line where she mentions that it may be “too early” to invite a relationship with either of them, but still closes with her urging them to come to her when they want to try something new. This is harmful because 1) it misgenders characters and gives off the incorrect notion that a trans person’s gender isn’t actual and 2) it supports the incorrect notion that transgender women are “tricking” people because they haven’t disclosed their past, and 3) adds fetishizing of a marginalized group of people who are already at risk for hate crime violence. This poor representation contributes to how real life society perceives and treats transgender people, which can lead to real life murders.

Persona 4 is the most transparent with homophobia and transphobia. There is a lot of omission about the character’s identities even when they are heavily coded. Yosuke Hanamura is flat out changed from an originally a gay romance option, to a “No homo, damn I love coochie” archetype who harasses Kanji Tatsumi about his sexuality. When Yosuke shares a tent with Kanji, he asks will they be safe with him there. His character has to go so far into being straight that he sexually harasses his own friends and never shutting up about girls. It reveals a lot about priorities back at the office. The conclusion to Kanji’s character arc also omits identity where he has a lot of ambiguous dialogue that hints at something, but doesn’t have him coming to terms with his sexuality or at least his unknowing. Persona is all about that “Thou art I, I art thou,” bullshit, but shies away from concrete discourse about characteristics that make up who a character is. It’s left up to the players to decide, but Kanji’s actions and feelings are what made me feel as though he was either gay or bi. How he feels about Naoto Shirogane while believing they are a boy is an example. Taking note of these things, Naoto’s arc looks to be intentionally vague.

The closing monologue with Naoto saying “I’ll never be be able to be a man,” them nodding when a party member asks if they do not like being a girl, and the use of “sex” instead of “gender” really didn’t sell me on whatever Naoto’s arc is supposedly about: “You must know that you don’t want to really be a boy or an adult.” Why the fuck was so much time focused on talking about patriarchal career paths and age insecurities if that ain’t fuckin’ it? If it isn’t about misogyny and it isn’t about being taken seriously at their age, then there isn’t much else places to go with the context clues given. Along with this avoidance, the connotation of the operating table with bloodied tools and the shadow preparing for Naoto’s gender reassignment is a goddamn mess. Using horrific imagery while the setting is hostile suggests that this is a bad thing when it isn’t. Transgender people don’t have to get a surgery in order to be; but for some, it is life changing. The game insisting that Naoto has to be cisgender in order to proceed when they are coded as trans (anger and aversion to forced femininity, implied chest binding, accepting masculine pronouns) is transphobia if I ever did see it. And with how Atlus has previously treated transgender characters in their games, to even go as far as deadnaming Erica Anderson in the separate series Catherine, I’m sure this was a calculated measure. Catherine is another bag of worms for another day.

When it comes to the Persona series, trying to negate its problems and insist that the shit ain’t there or doesn’t matter is not realistic. It’s not debatable and there’s more when it comes to the list of qualms and so much more outside of just Persona with Atlus. And if anybody wanna cry about it being just fiction and it’s not that deep, how ’bout you shut yo goofy ass up.

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