What's Wrong About Persona 5's Handling of the Protagonist

*tw: Sexual Assault in the second half of the piece

At 118 hours clocked so far in Persona 5, I can't deny I love that game. The aesthetics overall, soundtrack, storyline, and characters are all of high, high quality. I haven't had as much fun with a Japanese RPG since its immediate predecessor, Persona 4 Golden, a fact which places Persona 5 in the running for my favorite game of all time. It's that good. But as much as I enjoy Persona 5, there are things about it that are deeply fucked up and need to be addressed. And it all has somethin' to do with the rampant misogyny, present from the game's inception, courtesy of Persona 5 director, Katsura Hashino. But let me start from the top.

The Persona series is 20 years old and has had 2 female protagonists. One in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment and one in Persona 3 Portable. We can set Persona 2 aside because it was created before Katsura Hashino became the series' lead director. So the other female protagonist came into Persona 3 in its third iteration, Persona 3 Portable, after Persona 3 and, Persona 3 FES. When asked about the lack of a female lead in Persona 4 and Persona 5, during an interview with Waypoint, Hashino had this to say,

Every time the development on a new Persona game starts, this subject always comes up at the very beginning. When thinking about how much work goes into accomplishing such a feat, it’s a huge amount. Honestly, to put that option into the game, we’d have to cut out other things to compensate for the workload, and every time that’s the situation we’ll basically say, ‘it’s not worth it’.
— Katsura Hashino

Not worth it. So, already I have some things to say. You know the usual, about representation mattering and women mattering but, you know that's fairly obvious and, he  wasn't done. He was then asked about why Persona 3 Portable had a female option but not Persona 4 Golden, and the bullshit continued...

With the way that game’s world worked, it was okay for the protagonist to be female [in Persona 3]. With Persona 4, though, we needed the character to come from a big city to a small country town to be the driving force of the story, and it seemed more natural for a male character to fulfill that role. There are story aspects to this decision, as well.
— Still Katsura Hashino
Naoto the "BOY" detective. 

Naoto the "BOY" detective. 

In a game where you're a leader of a Scooby Doo Crew gaggle of teens going into alternate dimensions to fight supernatural horrors, a female protagonist wouldn't fit because it wouldn't be natural. So unless supernatural horrors suddenly became a natural everyday occurrence without me noticing (US and UK elections excluded), this is some monkey ass bullshit. In a series of games that deal with themes of, isolation, sexuality, murder, sexual assault, dead parents, police brutality, corporate corruption in a democratic government, crushing familial obligations, toxic masculinity, and fucked up gender standards, Katsura Hashino has decided to be utterly archaic on the issue of gender. Which is utterly bizarre considering that his games have female characters breaking gender stereotypes all the goddamn time (Naoto Shirogane). But oddness aside, should there have been a female option in Persona 5? Honestly, I don't give a fuck that the protagonist is a man, I just wish Hashino could have kept his mouth shut because, though it's not an issue to have a game where the protagonist is male but reasoning is fucked. But, that's not the only issue I have with the way Persona 5's protagonist is treated. 

So, without giving away anything, Persona 5 deals with an arc involving a teacher assaulting his female students. It's, obviously, real bad for all of the standard reasons. First and foremost its non-consensual, second of all they're minors (but regrettably the age of consent in Japan is 13), third of all a teacher who enters into a  sexual relationship with a student is wrong. There's an inequity of power that fundamentally perverts the nature of the exchange. It's abusive. And the game seems to acknowledge this fact so, it is surprising that the game does a rapid 180 and allows you to date your homeroom teacher. Which is wrong for all of the reasons I said before. It's creepy and portrays something that's deeply abusive in real life and doesn't address that abuse in the slightest. In fact, if you didn't want to date the sexy maid teacher you can also date the hot 30 year-old doctor or even the sexy 30 year old photographer. All of which canonizes statutory rape. And fuck cultural differences in this situation, minors shouldn't be involved with 30 year olds. And it seems the only reason Persona 5 allows this to happen is because it's a teenage boy with a adult woman and it's only creepy if it's a predatory 30 year old man creeping on teenage girls right? Wrong Persona 5. Fucking wrong.

The misogyny which permeates Persona 5 is hard to ignore. It's everywhere. But especially in the game's handling of its protagonist. From the reasoning behind having a  male protagonist and not a female protagonist to the canonization of statutory rape without comment. And perhaps its it worse coming from the Persona because of the series' deftness  at addressing sensitive issues is often quite remarkable. So it hurts to see to see such huge blind spots. And oh boy there are more ugly blind spots. But each one deserves some special care and attention. So I'll leave things here.