Atlus, We Haven't Forgotten Your Mishandling of LGBTQ Characters


#1

Content-warning: transphobia, and graphic descriptions of transphobic violence

There are two defining images in the reveal of Catherine: Full Body's newest character, Rin. The first is in the trailer, which ends with protagonist Vincent waking up next to a naked Rin and getting a good look below her waist, eyes going wide with terror as he lets out a horrified wail. The second image is in a poster with Rin lifting her skirt to show us her genitals, which are obscured in shadow while Vincent's traumatized eyes stand right in front of them. Ads with the other Catherine girls also covered their genitals for titillation. Rin's ad is not titillation. The framing, the contrast of colors, Vincent's eyes, all convey a specific visual language of dread, of an unspeakable horror hiding in plain sight, a monstrosity in the guise of a girl.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/wjpnam/atlus-we-havent-forgotten-your-mishandling-of-lgbtq-characters-catherine-full-body

#2

I don’t have a lot of skin in the Catherine game, I didn’t enjoy its story or writing on any level. But I want to say I appreciaite that Waypoint publishes articles like.


#3

This is a good piece, and sums up why I have no interest in giving Atlus any benefit of doubt these days.

(The fifth paragraph confusingly swaps between using “their” and “him” when referring to Naoto, btw.)


#4

I don’t know if I can support the Persona team anymore. They’ve traveled a long way down in my eyes now. I’ll always appreciate their games’ cool visual touches, merging of gameplay progress with player actions in the world and quirky ideas. I think we need more games like Catherine, in a gameplay sense–you have this weird bar relaxation segment that I love, but it’s connected to a block puzzle and a branching story? What? And Persona 5 is the blueprint for RPGs moving forward in gameplay, I really think that.

But all these great things are connected to a rotten core that, if the additions to this remaster are any indication, are just going to keep pulling Atlus down further and further in quality. I know that Persona and Catherine director Hashino is stepping down, but I think there’s no way he is the sole cause of some of the unbelievably backwards story content in these games.


#5

Excellent article. I will say this debate has got me reconsidering how I approach Catherine and other Atlus games. It’s pretty eye opening to see how much anti-LGBT sentiment I’ve missed in these games due to my cishet point of view. I’m still considering what that means for me purchasing and playing Atlus games in the future, but at least I’ll now be going in with a better understanding of their problematic history.

In the other Catherine thread I kinda gushed over my experience playing the game and I do apologize if anyone read that as insensitive.


#6

In Persona 5 it was legitimately infuriating to have an attempt to have a not awfully written character in Lala Escargot be immediately rendered moot by having stereotypical depictions of gay men in the same area about fifty meters away.

And jesus, I forgot about that whole operation thing with Naoto in P4. Even though I know I was a dumb teenager who didn’t know better at the time, I feel bad for ever thinking Persona 4 was good ‘representation’ of LGBTQ+ characters just because they had Kanji, who in retrospect they treated like shit most of the way.


#7

Excellent Article. Wraps up my feeling about the whole thing perfectly.


#8

The whole Naoto stuff is hard to pin down since Naoto’s story can be looked at from different ways from a women trying to find their place in a once male heavy career to one struggling with their gender. That said it the confessing your love to Naoto is where most of the problem is as the option that sets you up to fall in love with Naoto is saying you’re happy Naoto is a girl, which sounds real bad as could had been written to better by avoiding any gender identifying.

This mishandling of LGBTQ characters is much bigger than Atlus as most Japanese games, from old to recent releases, have treated these characters as if their not people at all or devices to jokes. From the anime I seen from Yuri on ice, Flip Flappers, Yuri Kuma, and much more that shows there creators that are pushing back to bring better light to LGBTQ characters but in games it pretty slow. As westerns look at this we need a little more info on the LGBTQ community in Japan from someone who there to really understand why this is happening and what we can really do to make things better other than not buy certain games (So far on the Waypoint twitter there a user name @MadAdam will do an article that helps give us context to the matter of Japan’s LGBTQ that would help).


#9

Kind of in the same boat, I really like their take on RPG + VN and the visuals that go with it. Is there any other game out there that’s done similar but is respectful to all parties represented?


#10

Agreed - the traditional method of voting with your dollars doesn’t work if “your dollars” represents a foreign market that is nice for the developer/publisher to get, but which isn’t their primary domestic market. The way to get our point across that this depiction of LGBTQ characters (Yuri On Ice, Ikuhara’s work, Flip Flappers, etc.) is better than that depiction of LGBTQ characters (Catherine, One Punch Man, Ouran), is to basically signal-boost LGBTQ-friendly creators (and creators who are LGBTQ themselves) to such a degree that we can turn around, point to the success (that we’ve helped create) of these other works and say to the creators of those regressive works: “If you’d been like these creators, you would have made all this extra money. But you weren’t - you treated LGBTQ characters terribly. Here’s you incentive to do better.”


#11

I don’t know that I buy that Japan is the actual primary market for these games Persona 5 sold roughly half it’s copies in Japan yes but Persona 5 is not a game that can get made on half it’s total sales. We may not be the primary market but that’s only because there isn’t one primary market anymore much like how movies like The Avengers don’t get made without the Chinese market


#12

Persona 5 was really pushing it with their gay panic shit. (For context, Ryuji, one of your character’s friends, who is presented as a sort of anarchist punk kid who wants to stand up for oppressed folks in Japan at large, is used in a joke where two queer men chase him around various locations in an attempt to sexually assault him because of course, they can’t resist due to their sexuality)

The straw that broke the camels back for me though was Futaba Sakura, a shut-in hacker and middle school student who I immediately read as neurodivergent. I don’t think the problem in this case stems from Futaba herself. I think she is, on her own, in the text conversations, in her Confidant, actually pretty well written. But the Protagonists friends. They’re the issue. Almost as soon as you finish her Palace, your crew (despite the player’s potential protests and everyone barely knowing her) decides it’s time high time to “fix” Futaba. This involves you going out to busy places in Tokyo, forcing her to talk with strangers, and having her run the till in her father’s coffee shop.
None of this works for them and Futaba still doesn’t interact like a “normal” person, so the crew decides that she’s is a sort of project to work on. Instead of realizing that Futaba’s experience is valid despite her differences, they decide that because she doesn’t meet the status quo the characters in Persona 5 theoretically seek to quash she must be changed and “fixed”. The only saving grace in this sequence is that you can choose dialogue that implies your Protagonist isn’t okay with whats happening, but it happens anyways. Your friends take the lead on this one, and your friends are assholes.

This, along with Atlus’ historic poor treatment of LGBTQ characters that’s also present in Persona 5, literally made me stop playing the game. It felt like they just got it wrong. Persona 5 is a game ostensibly about kids who are fed up with the oppressive shackles put on them by the police, school, corporations, the government, which is cool! But the game makes it so clear that resistance is for cis, straight, nuerotypical people, and I think this is deeply flawed. Resistance doesn’t exist if it doesn’t include queer and trans folks, it doesn’t exist if it doesn’t include neurodivergent folks, and thats true globally.

Ugh. I kinda just needed to get that off my chest I think.

Edit: I think there are people in the Persona writing room who are trying to push for better representation. Like I said Futaba is well written despite your crew being shitty, characters like Lala Escargot are getting there, and I actually think your protagonist responses in P5 are pretty good, but there needs to be a complete shift in narrative direction for me to really love those games again.


#13

This was an excellent article. I’m really happy to see a big site cover this, and bring up their past history of badly handling such topics in the past.

I will say, that though perhaps it’s a little outside the scope of the article, I would have appreciated a small mention of the alternative possibility going around that Rin will potentially be an angel to match Catherine being a succubus (and therefore be genital-less or else a hermaphrodite, and that’d be what Vincent’s reacting to). Not because I think that frees them from the expectation that they’re about to be transphobic as hell, but because I think that’s bad in its own way. They’re clearly playing up the trans panic aspect of this regardless, and I think if they’re using that as a gross decoy to obscure what’s actually going on, that’s pretty terrible in itself!

But like I said, the article’s excellent as is and I think it’s a little outside its scope, hmm.


#14

It’s telling to me that they see gay men as predators while they themselves can hardly go fifteen minutes without ogling Ann with her battle pose or a damn beach scene


#15
CW transphobia/murder

Dee Whigham was murdered in July 2016, not 2017. Her murderer was convicted in 2017. http://www.wlox.com/story/33074252/deputy-transgender-woman-stabbed-119-times


#17

It’s true that Persona sold half it’s total sales in Japan, but on the other hand - the general cultural assumptions behind game development (along with other works of media) are that the domestic market is paramount, and everything international is gravy - before the rise of the Chinese market for US films, the same assumption worked for US movies - US market is most important, everything else is gravy.

Consequently, the assumptions when it comes to depictions of characters will go first and foremost what the writers and creators think will fly at home. This is why even in the 2000s, it was incredibly easy Japanese animation with very… unpleasant depictions of African American characters (remember Ella in Sonic X?). The number of people of color in the domestic market is ultimately small enough that nobody working on the show thought about the implications of that character being the primary (if not sole) depiction of people of color in the show, because nobody in Japan is going to complain, even though they know that they’re making a show about Sega’s mascot character, which is almost definitely going to get aired internationally, bringing in a ton of cash in licensing fees.

However, again, because everyone working on the show is (generally), Japanese, living in Japan, and thinking about a Japanese audience, with all the prejudices that go with that, nobody looked at Ella and went - “Maybe this shouldn’t be the only black character. Maybe this character shouldn’t be a stereotype.”

This applies just as much to Japanese modern cultural assumptions about LGBTQ people, and to neuro-divergent people.


#18

This was a very interesting read, but I must admit to having conflicting feelings about the topic.

First, I definitely agree that Erica’s portrayal in Catherine was not good. Sadly, the way they’re introducing a new character for the latest edition of the game doesn’t seem to suggest there has been anything close to an improvement in this area at Atlus.

That’s disappointing. I don’t think we can expect much change from the developers in Japan, but hopefully the backlash and criticism will at least make any potential localization team aware of the issues, so that they try to keep LGBTQ sensibilities in mind while working on the script.

Second, I actually disagree with the way the author describes and interprets the main storyline of Catherine. I didn’t get that impression about the game somehow freeing Vincent from any responsibility or guilt. Quite the opposite.

Finally, I think Naoto’s specific case in Persona 4 was also not perfectly handled, but I feel the situation was more of a gray area in context. If it were up to me, that romance option would have at least two radically different endings which would be equally valid.


#19

Hey.

Don’t defend Rin with a possible theory that she’s something else. That just changes the type of awful shit being done - and also makes no sense. Shin Megami Tensei angels aren’t good, they’re bloody bondage slaves for an uncaring egotist tricking humanity into worshiping it as a god.


#20

I don’t think anyone is defending Rin when they use that argument though. It’s pretty gross and exploitative either way.


#21

I didn’t know about how SMT handles them historically (I’ve only played TMS + P5 + a little Devil Survivor) but I hope my post didn’t come across as defending it. I think that even if she ends up being an angel instead, they’re clearly trying to make it seem like she’s trans currently, and that he’s ~of course~ reacting like that as a result, and being transphobic in attempt to obscure the actual story is bad in itself.