I’ve already written a somewhat thorough review about Persona 5, and I also have discussed it at length in a podcast. Now I’m back to talk more about Persona 5! Why, you might ask? Haven’t you covered everything you need to say about Persona 5? No, I absolutely have not. I want to talk more about the arc and treatment of Ann Takamaki within the game and in the merchandising surrounding it.
Hint: It’s not good. Spoilers below.
Let’s discuss for a moment what Ann’s arc is within the game–specifically the first palace. When we first meet Ann, she is rumored to be sleeping with a teacher named Kamoshida, and as the story continues, we learn that said teacher is physically abusing the students on his volleyball team. In addition, he is threatening to remove Ann’s best friend Shiho from her spot on the team if Ann does not sleep with him. When this fails, he rapes Shiho as a punishment to take out his anger, and she then tries to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of the school.
Ann becomes determined to do something about the teacher, and she enters the palace via following the Protagonist and Ryuji. She is taken hostage and set up in a torture device by the henchmen of Kamoshida, and we learn that he considers Ann his “Queen” and keeps a cognitive version of her in his palace, where she is dressed in a skimpy bikini and fawning over his every move. It later becomes extremely apparent that Kamoshida only sees Ann as a sexual object, and she is extremely uncomfortable with that notion. Further, when she first has her transformation in a Phantom Thief, she is distraught at the outfit she transforms into, which is her Panther costume. His final boss form has cognitive versions of Ann in wine glasses, and he is shown devouring young women to regain his strength. Needless to say, the entirety of Kamoshida’s palace is extremely tough on Ann. She personally blames herself a lot for what happened to Shiho, and her sexuality was exploited in a way that clearly upset her.
In the build up to the next dungeon, Yusuke, due to his lack of social understanding and intense pressure to produce a new art piece for his mentor, asks Ann to model nude for him. While he is clearly wrong for asking it, and she explicitly says she does not want to do it, it is sort of played up as a joke. This was uncomfortable given what we had literally just seen in the last dungeon. Ann does not want to be reduced to her body and sexuality. She is uncomfortable by the situation.
She is again reduced to her body later in the game when they are in Shido’s cruise ship. There is a descendent of royalty that has a vice for women, so Ryuji’s solution is to send Ann out in a bikini. 1 It is really strange and inappropriate for the game to treat Ann as a sexual object when they feel it is appropriate, when the writing of the game also indicates that she does not want it. She is also uncomfortable trying to seduce the guy and with his advances, and it’s honestly a pointless and fanservicey scene because you have to fight the guy anyway. It felt inconsistent and gross that Persona 5 has Ann arguing for agency of her own sexuality and body throughout, but then where it is “funny” or for fanservice, it’s a-okay. This is seen in the scene where Ann is sweating in the Morgana car, and the boys oogle her breasts, which she is justifiably angry about. This happens once again during the fireworks yukata scene. Ann is trying to remove excess water from her yukata and shows off her thigh. The boys leer at Ann, and it is played once again for laughs. It does not end there. There is another scene where the team goes to the beach, and when Ann comes out of the dressing room, Ryuji makes grabby hands at her breasts. Although she plays it off as Ryuji not thinking she was so bad because he has now seen her in a bikini, it was once again a strange departure from her own narrative of what she felt about her body. These are just in game ways that Ann’s own feelings and thoughts about her body and sexuality are completely disregarded for the enjoyment of men or for laughs. 2
We also as the consumer need to remember that Ann is sixteen years old in canon. She is not an adult, and it makes it even more disturbing to play through the game with these situations when she is arguing for her own agency as a teenager who is uncomfortable with the treatment she receives because of her looks. I do want to clarify–women are allowed to be sexy. I know this argument will come up, so here it is. Women are and can be sexy. However, this is not a real, actual woman making these choices in how she is presented or dressing. Even in the narrative, she argues she doesn’t want to be seen that way. This is a teenage girl that writers are making into a sexual object for laughs and fanservice despite the attempt at progressiveness in the beginning with her first dungeon.
On the topic of the gross sexualizing of Ann, the merchandise that has been revealed follows that trend. One figure in particular is the worst offender. Besides the back-breaking pose that I think is supposed to invoke her art pose3, it’s a figure that is purely fap bait. Her pose is overtly sexy, her breasts and butt are pushed out and visible, and worst of all, they have sculpted the figure to show off her vulva. This is offensive. This is a sixteen year old girl who struggles with being sexualized and reduced to only her body, and that is exactly what this figure does with zero shame about it. There are ways to sculpt a female character in a skin tight suit without making it vulgar and sexualized.4 This figure does not do that. It doesn’t respect the character and her narrative, it doesn’t respect that she is an underage girl, and honestly, the character of Ann and the players of Persona 5 deserve better than this nonsense.
It is strange that Ann is a character that Atlus seems to have little qualms throwing to the wolves. It was great to have a narrative in a game of a girl openly explaining what she is comfortable and uncomfortable with when it comes to her body, especially in tandem with an intense story about sexual harassment, abuse of power, rape, attempted suicide, and friendship between two girls. She is one of the strongest characters in the game, and her arc is fascinating. To have her reduced down to her body is exactly what Kamoshida did, and he was quite literally the villain of the first palace. What does that say about Atlus and the writers who allowed this treatment of Ann?
- While the rest of the girls also go, it is clear who the target is here.
- It is also extremely strange that she has a tone of a dominatrix within her battle costume. The latex and boob window were far enough as it was, but having her use a whip and yell, “squeal like a pig!” while whipping the enemies is a bit uncomfortable to watch.
- but instead just looks uncomfortable
- I actually have a couple