'Persona 5' Can't Champion Marginalized Underdogs Without Queer Characters

Atlus created a cast with outsider status and insider privileges.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/3kn8nn/persona-5-cant-champion-marginalized-underdogs-without-queer-characters

Atlus at this point are hitting the breaking point where they need to expand the different groups teenagers are in now. With a new team working on the next Persona there a chance they’ll be the ones to do it with how they are looking out for new ideas.

The more I read about P5 the less I want to play it. I had no idea about the homophobic jokes in the game.

I’m not surprised (just saddened) that P5 failed in this regard, considering P4 was too afraid to commit to the queer themes it brought up then quietly brushed aside when it came to Kanji and Naoto. I really wish there was a game like Persona in terms of gameplay and story that did justice with queer characters and story.


This is honestly why I can’t see myself picking up a Persona game, and why I knew I wouldn’t bother with Persona 5 the minute news about it started getting released.

Like… Your underage protagonist can have a romantic relationship with several adult women, but somehow portraying him in a romantic relationship with his best friend is a bit too far. Miss me w/ that shit. :unamused:


honestly I frickin loved the game, but: yeah

edit: also I mean like you don’t accidentally name a character after an author who wrote books about being sad and gay, right
(okay I haven’t read them this might be an unfair assessment. I have one reserved at the library so, I guess we’ll see.)


I wonder how much of this issue stems from the fact that the Persona games are very much “japanese games made for japan” and the conversation about sexuality (among other things) in Japan is very, very different compared to what is going on in the rest of the world. The issues that Persona 5 did choose to attack about the generational divide are absolutely meaningful in and of themselves in regards to modern day Japan but it also doesn’t exactly translate as well to the rest of the world comparatively. I don’t know, I think Japanese games in general have a difficult time tackling subject matter like sexuality in a way that at face value isn’t at best questionable and at worst super fucked up. At some point they will have to get better at that shit.


I’m curious if there’s any good Japanese media (not just games) that do a good job tackling sexuality

The great irony in this is that I’m pretty sure Persona 2: Innocent Sin actually had a bisexual main character, and it wasn’t treated like a punchline? You had four teammates, two ladies and two men, and you could get romantically involved with any of them.

I haven’t actually played through the game, but from what I’ve heard it treats every romance option as being completely valid. So it’s even more jarring to see a game in the same series, ten or more years later, actually backpedal on this.

It isn’t as bad as it made out to be since it only shows up in 2 scenes and just disappears. That said they could had been better by not having it at all.

Yukio Mishima’s book Confessions of a Mask (mentioned earlier ITT) is an incredibly moving portrait of a boy growing up in Japan who’s grappling with his sexuality and societal pressures to conform to heterosexual norms. It’s strongly based on Mishima’s own… shall we say, very complicated relationship with his own sexual identity, so it’s not resolved in a cohesive fashion, but as someone who was closeted for a long period of time I felt it very accurately captured a lot of the emotional turmoil I grappled with.

He later explored the same themes (to an extent) in his Sea of Fertility series, although by then he had also developed a fairly fascistic personal ideology that permeates the work and makes it a bit harder to approach.


It doesn’t help that, in the second encounter, it immediately follows some of the most blatant fanservice in the game to that point. Fanservice focused on a 14 year old girl.

It’s only a small fraction of the game, sure, but it’s a heck of a one-two hit of just being in the poorest taste.

That true. And without having any counter to it with a good queer character it really does come off pretty poor. I wouldn’t say the fanservice is a problem since they are teens who are growing into maturity but Atlus does need to be better at where they have those so that it doesn’t conflict the important message.

I feel like this piece is veering off into culturalimperialism.club territory, by which I mean imposing a Western lens on interpreting a work and then criticizing the work for failing to meet Western standards, as if it had been made to conform to that Western lens. Japan has a long and complicated history with homosexuality and LGBT issues which is proceeding at a pace that is different and divorced from that of the West.

I’m not saying that Persona 5 is great at representation in this respect (it isn’t) and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ask it to be better. But I think it’s incorrect to react to this game as if it had anything to say about LGBT representation from a Western perspective. It was not created in a post-Mass Effect/Dragon Age game development milieu which supports player choice in romance. It was created in Japan and is simply not responding to larger trends toward representation and inclusion in Western game development. The issue simply isn’t as visible in Japan’s corporate dev scene so “it simply didn’t occur to me” is a perfectly valid response to “why didn’t you think about LGBT stuff?” in Japan, whereas that would not fly at all in the West.

1 Like

I feel like people who use the excuse of “well it’s Japan they just don’t get being queer yet” are… Being way more condescending and “culturally imperial” than anyone who criticizes a Japanese work for having issues could ever be.

Queer people exist in Japan. There is a queer movement. There are queer Japanese books, manga, anime. Granted a lot of those have problems but that’s ALSO true of Western media. There is nothing inherent in Japanese culture to being queerphobic. I’m really tired of people trying to put Japan in a bubble where it is simultaneously the worst place ever for queer rep and also completely immune to criticism for that.

Like, no. It’s really not THAT different from anywhere else and it’s perfectly fair to be critical when stuff fucks up.


Do we still let transphobic/homophobic media off the hook just because of cultural differences, though? Like, is it “cultural imperialism” to take issue with the way marginalized groups are portrayed in media by people who aren’t a part of those marginalized groups?

Adding on to what people have said, it’s not like Atlus is completely unaware of LGBT issues. As I mentioned above they came close with regards to P4 and how two of the characters there dealt with their sexuality/gender. The fact that it’s all but not touched upon in the next installment is something to take note off.


I can say I watched 2 or 3 animes that talked about character’s discovery of being queer and feeling of being pushed away from their original place in life. Funny how it was told through bears and magical girls.

Right and with changes to their studios with new people running P-Studio and their fantasy game it their chance now to get in new ideas in. I think it our job to let them know that they can do better by expanding their views.

first, this article is entirely correct in its critique and i stand behind it. that being said, because i’m a pedant and this is the subject of my masters thesis, i think they missed something in their reading of the intentions of atlus. like, the outsider heroes archetype in japan is often very conservative, based on a vision of individuals armed with personal conviction and moral clarity who stand against conformism, the subsuming of the individual identity into the collective soup and the inability to understand or articulate a coherent self. in recent years, this has often been used in support of neoliberal campaigns that call on individuals to take greater personal responsibility while undermining social services. when the people at atlus talk about the desire to reach out to discouraged youth i hear them talking to young people who haven’t managed to find a place in the new economy telling them to buck up and get with the gig economy, an important part of which is establishing a certain comfort with actions that are self or internal in origin. there is a certain anxiety in japan that japanese people are incapable of being independent enough for japan to transition successfully in to the new stage of capitalism, which works like p5, i argue, work to negotiate. i’m not sure i believe atlus ever set out to produce anything resembling radical social critique, in fact just the oppositeーthis is the dream of the establishment of a new status quo, not revolutionary change.