HEROINE [her-oh-in ]
- a woman noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.
- a woman who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal
- the principal female character in a story, play, film, etc.
Here is the essay 2 of 3. The most important one. Intro I find harem anime repulsive. I hated that Persona 4 was one in disguise, undermining its own messages about the "Power of Friendship/Love" being something you build with personal growth, emotional intelligence and interpersonal outreach, not something handed to you because you're a hot protagonist.
I was unpleasantly surprised that P4 Arena's hero Yu, in the original game, turned out to be a nameless, perfect boy that was supposed to be "me," who was the center of the universe, to help young men feel like a sex god. I was very disappointed and disgusted when P4’s anime leaned into this
instead of the good parts. They made him an emotionless Gary Stu that stared at the wall, while three girls worshiped him, instead of making him grow into an emotionally intelligent man-among-boys, because they were simply too terrified
to get him to speak, smile, chat about the weather with a girl his age, or look at them too long
. I'm troubled that incels can't see through it and think he's cool.
But after an eight year hiatus from "weeb @#%&," I finally completed Vanilla P5 in April 2020, and was shocked
. If I knew Atlus and P5 created a character as thoughtful as Makoto "Queen" Nijima, I would have played P5 upon release. Makoto is the most popular woman in the franchise. She is simultaneously praised, analyzed, hated,
and the subject of so many mature, hard hitting fics from her perspective. And I spotted why as I played. She shatters the self-insert, harem anime narrative boundaries that P4 set up and takes Persona's character writing to new heights, especially for its women. Anime feminism done right.
This redeemed Persona in my eyes, tore down a lot of things I hate about it, and is very good news
for the series. This means Persona could be growing up.
I didn't start this fire. P5 came out years ago. A lot of what is written here is derived from players between 2017 to 2020, by searching ("Makoto popular"
) on Reddit and Google.
- Anime law broken: A human among anime characters
She gets flak that she's portrayed as the "genius' surrounded by idiots, or that she's "boring." She's actually a positive representation of a high-performance young woman...surrounded by wacky anime characters. It’s tough being a hard-working student figuring out your future and pursuing college without really knowing why. It’s even harder to make living in reality look cool when an anime model, anime punk, anime mascot, anime artist, anime hacker, anime zaibatsu heiress, anime gymnast, anime Shogi idol, anime hippy, anime big-#[email protected]\ goth doctor and anime maid/teacher don't need to think about those things.
* She's may be a Student Council President, but she remains believable and relatable, because she has none of the godly power and respect that most anime counterparts have. Plenty of schools in the west have equivalent leadership programs. She's as normal and hardworking...as Joker.
Look back at some of Persona's most beloved darlings, and you'll see Makoto have pieces of them while being more believable yet less "anime."
She's a leader like Mitsuru and Naoto but more down to earth and approachable. She's defies Yukiko's "Yamato Nadeshiko" trope. She tells a subtle story on gender roles like Kanji and Naoto without taking ten rankups to do it. She's a calmer, more believable feminist warrior than Chie (who would not survive Shinjuku.) And she is central to the plot and themes without being the clone
of the hero like Yosuke. Joker may be the player's self insert, but it turned out many men and women identify with Makoto. Women find her empowering, and singles want to adopt her traits and find a partner like her in real life because they absolutely can do both. 2. Persona law broken: A strong, independent woman who don't need no man for character development This is the most important part: Don't like her? Then leave her alone all year. She doesn't need you, and she's not interested unless your grades are in order! Not only will she still grow strong and whole in the plot, she will also do so without Joker's help in many critical POV swaps.
Her "boring" problems are the ones that feel real, relatable, and thematic. The themes of Rebellion and Justice are obvious. The less obvious theme of P5 is seeking approval from the wrong people (this nearly destroys the Phantom Thieves, many of the Confidants, and does destroy Akechi). Her setup as a party member is a very thoughtful, thematic and slow burn.
Going through life doing absolutely nothing but what the adults in her life say is important (grades) left her socially and emotionally malnourished. If this were P4, she'd have been the darling of the school and she'd be fighting off dudes with a broom like Yukiko. Instead, she was lonely because everyone found her unapproachable and bitchy. But why? Surely, she's doing all the right things in life, right? She didn't know it yet, but she was being set up for an unhappy adulthood. All the while being shunned by peers, mocked by Akechi, and run ragged by her faculty.
Threatened by the Principal and starving for approval, she spied on Joker...poorly. She had no clue how ridiculous (and cute) she looked. Ashamed of the state of her school and feeling powerless, she became desperate and aggressive, and homed in on the Phantom Thieves rapidly. But it was no longer for approval: The scene happened and then it was known why.
Her only real social support, Sae, losing her shot to fame because of the Phantom Thieves, let out traumatic verbal abuse, revealed her own abandonment trauma, and lashed out for Makoto's grievous sin of being a dependent. The most realistic, intimate, mundane yet heartbreaking scene in P5.
The hearts of players raised by a struggling single parent, or had a bad fight with a sibling, bled for both of them. Players who were starting to hate Makoto suddenly saw her in a new light. In that moment, she could never make them happy, and that it was time to test the virtues of the Phantom Thieves. Little did she know she was going to join them. It couldn't have ended in any other way than a nuclear blast.
As the "strategist" (more like second leader
,) she discards the senpai title and comes down to the team's level while letting her intellect and leadership speak for themselves (a critical leadership skill that Mitsuru never figured out.) She reconciles with Ann and becomes her friend (and this should have been explored more.) She betrays her sister at every turn (while still loving her) and abandons the principal, saying she no longer needs his "vouch" for college (a dangerous
move as a woman in Japan.) All of it without Joker.
Her growing talent for deception, analysis, leadership and empathy make her the leader in all but name. Her "arc" is slow burning and almost game-wide. In her conclusion, she reveals her dirty little secret that her sister developed a Palace, and must musters the courage to change her heart, partially to save the Phantom Thieves, and partially because she was secretly craving it. Her stalking is her true Rank 1 and Sae's Palace is her true Rank 10.
She is so well written that she would have been a stellar playable protagonist.
How to tell if a character is a Satellite, only existing to be a friend or lover: "What would this character be like if they'd never met the protagonist or vice versa?"
Who loses their purpose or never had one? Who takes charge?
If Joker wasn't in P5, she would have stalked Ryuji or Ann instead, caught them all over again, and took the lead all over again. If Persona wasn't aimed at thirsty dudes, and Joker wasn't in it, she would be the hero, no matter who got the Wild Card. Persona 5 is her story, as much as it is Joker's story. 3. Persona rule broken: A character with an actual parent
A parent?! Persona teens don't have parents! Sae's outburst was the moment
I knew she was actually a single "mother," aged down for fanservice, and that Makoto and Sae were going to be special. The best Persona characters are the ones with flawed, but sustained, social support that doesn't involve the hero, invisible parents, or throwaway NPCs. It gives them roots, makes them more alive, and prevents them from being Satellites (a major problem in anime and Persona.)
These relationships that don’t revolve around the hero are a breath of fresh air. Makoto and Sae's relationship is sustained throughout the game, and more important to her character than her rankups. Makoto has been heavily shaped by Sae, intentionally or not, for better or worse. Sae raised her to survive, but not live, and she suffers for it. Its Sae's suffering too because they both had to grow up too fast. Like most emotionally immature parents, Makoto's emotional well being was trumped by Sae's survival needs. That is a very realistic parent/child relationship. Her Personas are women who "stole" the positions of power from men, trying to strive in a man's world, just like her and Sae. Which leads me to 4.
- An anime Mulan
Together, Sae and Makoto tell a feminist tale. Japan is struggling with misogyny, and Persona is a product of that (it is
a harem visual novel in disguise after all.) Japan is bad to women and orphans. Makoto and Sae are both.
I once walked the streets of Rappongi, Tokyo. Trafficked Southeast Asian women would try to grab me and persuade me to walk into their bars, under the watchful eye of bouncers, asking if I wanted "******s and Beer". Makoto's father was murdered trying to create a better Japan for women and Makoto instinctively carried his torch on a smaller, more interpersonal scale. Makoto and Sae are attracted to masculine empowerment. But Makoto also favors justice and heroism, two things that were fading from Sae. This is reflected in the 80s Shounen aesthetics of her Queen form, and her interest in motorcycles, action movies, and Aikido (these hobbies are taboo for women in Japan!)
Queen clothes and arms
herself with what she craves in the real world. Take your eyes off her ass, and you'll notice Queen wants to look scary
. Panther is dressed for kinks, but Queen is dressed for war
. In combat, she shouts cheesy, empowering Shounen lines. She's not "dom," its an act
that makes her feel empowered! Female cosplayers always talk about how powerful they feel as Queen. In Mementos, she is a shieldmaiden,
A resilient tank/healer that protects others, matching her values, and even the real-life nature of Aikido. In the real world, she performs a feminist deed by mentoring an immature, emotionally vulnerable girl being manipulated into selling her body.
In fact, elements 1-3 are traits in good feminist characters too (and good women characters in general.) She doesn't turn to putty around Joker. She has a social circle without Joker, and she has plot agency without him.
5: A guide through the "Grownups are Bad" discussion
Before Makoto showed up, the Phantom Thieves were not good at their jobs outside of the Metaverse. Furthermore, they were not critically thinking about why
they were changing hearts, beyond "grownups are bad, Approval Rating is good."
If you ever watched the movie Kick Ass, you knew the Phan-site was hubris. Ann and Ryuji's suffering at the hands of Kamoshida was perfectly valid, but its not until Yusuke must face the soul of his abusive parental figure that the tough questions start to get asked.
Then came Makoto, who with a quick poke of her phone, gave the Phantom Thieves' anime nonsense a needed dose of reality. Sae's outburst was not just about Makoto feeling like a burden. It revealed Sae's abandonment trauma and blaming her father's values and the martyrdom it led to. Makoto liked the results the Phantom Thieves were getting but was still wrestling with the ethics of "mind control" Akechi was complaining about, so she issued a challenge to hunt and change the heart of a wicked mobster who was tormenting the students of Shibuya. He became the first target none of the original Phantom Thieves had a vendetta towards but would have if they got their heads out of their asses. The dungeon was not about her, but the team, and the community they lived in.
She did the team a massive favor, raising the stakes, taking the Phantom Thieves on the path to fame they were craving, getting them thinking more critically about what they do, and steering the conversation about why. And this never really went away. When she learned Sae had a palace, she kept it bottled up for months because she was terrified to change her heart and felt it was selfish. Unlike Yusuke and Haru, she had no anime vocation to keep herself afloat if Sae’s had a career ending confession. She could have become homeless. She hits P5's theme of Justice harder than any other character. She starts the real "Grownups are Bad" conversation, and Sae
- Persona law broken: A FeMC in disguise
Those who weren't paying attention to her "boring" rank-ups were missing something special, long overdue and desperately needed: seeing a character Social-Linking someone else
and solving their
problems, just like Joker does, revealing that she's as strong and virtuous as him. This is something that needs to be explored more. Imagine Ann and Shiho confronting the sexist entertainment industry they work in. Imagine Futaba helping Mishima with the Phan-Site. Imagine Futaba getting mentorship from Ann, Makoto, Taekemi or Haru, instead of from the sexy boy next door...
Her inner voice tells her Eiko is in trouble. She is forced to put her senpai hat back on and risk her friendship to become a mentor to Eiko. She applies what she's already learned in the plot about approval
to help a friend who is looking for love in all the wrong places. Its not all about Eiko.
Eiko's loneliness hits close to home for Makoto, and she also reflects on the values that her father died for, and that were slipping away from Sae, who was slowly rationalizing "Justice" as the thing that killed their father. Joker is brought along as an assistant and fake boyfriend because she feels safe with him, oblivious to what an awkward and steamy position that puts him in. There are few things sexier than a man making a woman safe after all, which leads me to.... 7. Romance part 1 - A subtle, yearning romantic
Some relationships have women making the first move, and in some, men make the first move. Makoto is the latter, and there is no right or wrong to that. After all, the characters who express interest first making their desire part of their characters with no way to stop them are the divisive ones (Aigis, Yukiko, Rise, Haru, Kasumi, etc). Its a limitation of shounen romance and Persona's lack of story branching. Wouldn't it be nice to say "I like you" at Rank 1 or "lets be friends" at Rank 1, instead of leading them on until their hearts are ready to burst?
Don't like her? Friendzone her, and she'll be fine. No blubbering, and no guilt, like Chie. She was oblivious to the thought of him admiring her, as is happy being "the big sister." She dismisses Eiko's poisonous words, knowing she has the capacity to give and receive love. If Joker makes his famous move in Rank 9, she is so shocked and delighted that her heart swells three sizes. She ultimately reveals her capacity for love, intimacy and subtle, High Priestess sensuality (dat cake move, hoo boy!
) Being the older one and being college bound, she didn’t bat an eye at the inevitable long-distance relationship, giving Joker someone to never stop striving for. It’s not an ending, but a beginning. In a relationship, she explicitly says she wants to be equal partners,
something progressives adore (and Japan needs more of.) But she never really had to say that, because she always was... 8. Romance part 2 - An equal The overall message of Persona from P3 and beyond is that what happens in the real world is more important than all the anime superpowers. That the hard work and personal development needed for friendship, family, love gives you power and makes you a hero, NOT the other way around. She doesn't look like a FeMC, but she lives like one.
Many players who (rightfully) can't see themselves as Joker, and those who aren't playing P5 "4 tha waifuz"
(gasp) favor her because they see her as his social, intellectual and thematic equal, wanting whats best for both of them. Makoto is Joker's equal in what she says
, what she does
, and who she is in the real world
. She doesn't
dress like him in combat, her Persona doesn't
match his, and her Thief name matching is a reach. She is 100% her own independent person. She leads, takes charge, craves Justice, gives a damn about school, protects friends, deceives enemies, seeks growth, and solves the problems of others like Joker. Joker defied a corrupt adult and was crushed by it. She did everything the adults around her wanted and was being crushed anyway. As he is a male beacon of rebellion, she becomes another beacon, not just as a woman, but for women.
Royal changed dialog of Valentine’s Day, adding a bit more tension after a tragic moment. One that the girls seemingly ignored in Vanilla P5. Of all the women, only the Phantom Thieves express an unselfish grasp on what happened and why. Of the four, her words reinforce their equal partnership harder and more maturely than any other girl in P5R. She brings up Joker's flaw of taking on everything bad by himself (just like her,) his pain (not just her own,) and a desire to share in that pain. That is true love.
Atlus buried a genuine, healthy relationship beneath a harem game. Was that an accident?
Their relationship may have been confined by the "Persona Bubble" because Persona has no story branching, but players simply cannot help but fill the gaps. The words that get thrown around are "Power Couple" and "Romance" and "Sae." So many more moments could have been more intense, joyful or painful if Sae was aware of their relationship and it wasn't hidden in a "bubble." And they didn't add it in Royal, as if they knew it would be "too perfect." But all that did was make fans bonkers and create ammo for all the fic writers.
The ocean of fanarts and love they get depict the aura of a power couple everyone wants to stand in (why yes, that does
sexy). Delightfully mature and disciplined fic writers write (POV swaps
) and alternate universes for them that work over (Cop & Robber
), and over (The Gun, the Sword and the Vampires
), and over (Until the Sun Sets
) because P5 gives them so much to work with, emphasizing their independence from each other, similarities, and equality.
I like comparing them to FF9's Zidane and Dagger. Take the relationship away, and she'll still be the best written character in P5, and the franchise, as the first true heroine seen since the P3 FeMC. You want a FeMC? She's it.
The Bingo sheet of why she’s hated
Because she's overwhelmingly popular, globally, and evergreen. Not even Royal could take her down a peg. This has never happened in the franchise's history, and I have never seen such hypocrisy and petulance in response.
As I gathered up what people praised, I also gathered the very shallow complaints, and there's a pattern to them.
Modern Persona is a harem anime in disguise, and its dynamics stir something black in males (especially if they're young.
) Makoto breaks "harem anime law."
- What's a Mary Sue?
A Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) is a character that exists for a kind of blatantly selfish fantasy. Sometimes it is for the author, viewer, reader, or player (Yu.) There are many kinds. Sometimes they are perfect, invincible and always get what they want. Sometimes their dreadful behavior is portrayed as cute and endearing (called a Jerk Sue
, like P4G's Marie.) Sometimes they warp the story and its tone or themes (Rin from Catherine Full Body). Sometimes they are handcrafted to exist to love with the hero and be perfect for them through shallow brute force (Relationship Sue
) Makoto fits none of them. Alas, in certain internet circles, any
woman with plot agency is a Mary Sue...
She also has subtle, realistic, and non-anime
flaws she becomes very aware of. She is an anxious, internalizing liar, forged from a brutal upbringing. She could have saved herself pain if she was open about her feelings towards the Phantom Thieves. She bottles up her emotions (because she is punished for expressing them at home.) She explicitly admits she feels the need to take on everything by herself in the worst of times (she tells Joker he has the same problem on Royal's Valentine's Day
.) She kept three very secrets from the Phantom Thieves because she was too terrified to speak up: that she believed the Phantom Thieves were being set up, that her sister had a palace for months, and that (she organized visiting Sae's Palace behind Joker's back
.) Just because no one is yelling
at her for her shortcomings like Morgana/Ryuji doesn't mean the flaws aren't there, or that she doesn't suffer for them.
(Points to Kasumi)
Again, ignore Makoto all year, and she will still grow without Joker's help. She will not be interested unless Joker has his social skills up. And the player can reject her without guilt or pressure. Like Chie! Everybody loves Chie, right?
- Too smart, everyone else looks like idiots!
Ryuji was always loud, Ann was always average, Joker was always silent,
Yusuke was always Yusuke,
and they didn't get dumber when she showed up. I shelved P5 for eight months after the Kamoshida Arc because I was fed up with their nonsense.
Ryuji and Ann verbally
delegated decision making to her. If that intelligence and maturity came from nowhere, it would be concerning. She was raised by a tiger mom (Sae,) college bound (which is on a whole other level from the west,) participating in a perfectly normal school leadership program, had been busting ass in school her whole life, and forced to grow up too fast. Where does Futaba's
intelligence come from?
Re-watch her scene with the principal. She wasn't doing it because she wanted to.
- She became friends too fast!
I guess only Joker gets that privilege. She got a Persona. Then she and Ann mutually reconciled. They're gonna be friends.
I'd be worried if they didn't (see Ryuji, Morgana & Kasumi.)
Someday, you will meet someone like her. Don't call them boring
Also, she only gets two "wacky anime moments" and she's hated for both: wrapping herself around Joker scared, and the volleyball spike. Its comedy! Laugh!
- She's always right
No, Joker is
(unless the player makes him agree with Ryuji's obsession with fame). She was dead
wrong about jumping to conclusions that Futaba was abused. She should have opened up about Sae's and Okumura's palaces earlier. But if she did she would get hate for that too.
- Queen is just to make her look cool! She never acts like that in real life!
she act? Punching bar hosts in Shinjuku? Buying a real motorcycle? Look at what happened to Joker for stopping a rapist. The Phantom Thieves project power differently in reality because its reality.
Ann is comically terrible
at manipulating men, Ryuji doesn't hit people with pipes, and Haru is not
a sadist (that's a meme.) The Thief forms are a better metaphor for Personas than the Personas
, which are simply SMT PokeDemons. And if she acted any more "tough and badass" in her leadership role, then she'd be P3's over-the-top ouju Mitsuru.
She was testing their values and questionable
competency, comparing them to her father. Yusuke, Futaba and Akechi each genuinely
blackmailed the team. In the end she gave them exactly what they wanted: a target to raise the Approval Rating.
Oops, they forgot about Sae!
- If [insert girl here] had her role, she'd be Best Girl!
Personalities would need to be reshaped by being raised by her. If they're fine with that, they're separating girls by appearance.
More commonly, they think that girl's anime tropes are more interesting than the dynamic between Makoto and Sae yet somehow they should magically be a strategist.
- If [insert girl here] got more lines and character development, she'd be Best Gurl!
Lines and development with who? Let me guess: Joker?
How did that work out for Kasumi?
the characters aren't as strong as her. But improving them doesn't look like what fans think it does (forcing them on Joker earlier and more often.) Strong characters have sustained, walking, talking, visible family and social circles. Strong characters have agency and empowerment. Strong characters make decisions, grow, and commit feats without a hero breathing down their neck.
What Makoto does hasn't been seen since P3. Atlus, and their fanbase, need to understand this for P6. (See conclusion.)
I have laid out theories that would put other characters on her level without jamming them in Joker's lap
If you want to see what this should
look like, check out the fic (Crimson
). Haru is established established as a friend early, and it works
. There are many
POV swaps. Ann successfully
manipulates others and its scary
- She's Yukiko! A Yamato Nadeshiko! Crafted to appeal to Japan!
Yukiko and Makoto have nothing in common. P5 has only one blushing, wealthy, modern Japanese princess with a hidden comical mean streak, thirsty for a worthy fiance despite being a teen: Haru.
- She took Hifumi's role---
- She's just Joker's voice!
Watch P4 or P5's animes (or better yet, don't waste your time.) Yu & Ren take no
lines from anyone.
Atlus gave them standard harem protagonist personalities: none.
Pay attention to the 1st person view shots, to make sure you never know their emotions. Yosuke is not Yu's voice, and Makoto is not Ren's voice: they have no voice or soul. They never will. The worst fans will not allow it.
The animes get a bad rep for a reason. They try to make everyone happy, but they make no one happy instead (the awful animation and "psst, buy the game for more"
undertones don't help either.)
And yet P5 is kicked off with Joker stopping a rapist. He makes repeated
painful sacrifices for justice and the protection of others. The original Joker has triple the personality of Yu or Ren, craving rebellion and justice. Like Makoto...
- Her rankups are about Eiko!
I guess its only cool when Joker helps others. Nevermind that he's helping Makoto in a dangerous part of town. Listen to her.
She is helping Eiko because she knows what its like to feel abandoned at home. She is also reflecting on the values that her father died for, and Sae was abandoning (which is where Sae's palace comes from.) If she made it any more clear, like start crying over her dad or something, she'd get hate for that too. Makoto is not a damsel in distress Confidant, and that's a good thing.
Her growth happens in the plot,
without the need of a hero.
- There's no chemistry or romance!
one. When people say this, they're talking about "anime
chemistry and romance" (when a girl acts exaggeratedly thirsty.) Turning to quivering, blushing jelly (Yukiko.) Getting clingy and flirty (Rise.) Maybe going "OMG I LOVE YOU"
at Rank 9 (several.) She acts interested enough in Hawaii, late in the rankups, and drops hints subtly & maturely
without getting her hopes up. And her game is tight once in a relationship. This is what no force looks like.
Its also called interiority
(her personality doesn't change near Joker.)
If she got thirsty she would
be forced, slip into "anime girl" territory, and lose feminist strength. It doesn't matter how physically or politically powerful a woman is if their brain rots when near a man. What do they want? More "anime chemistry"
or less force? Who are they giving a pass to?
The sad part? Yes
, in real life (and non-anime romance,) its okay
for women to express desire first at "Rank 1," because men could discuss it at "Rank 1" (and vise versa.) But in P5, JRPGs & shounen, men can't respond and the women
are forced to fawn, agonize and get their hopes up to tantalize male viewers who think one-sided desperation and dependency are "chemistry & romance."
A male saying "I like you" is a dramatic, forbidden ending, instead of a beginning.
People who think like this prioritize Persona as a harem sim first and an RPG second, whether they know it or not. What are they supposed to do? Introduce every girl simultaneously, all being raised by Sae? All equally intelligent no matter their background? All taking turns in Joker's lap like P4's crappy anime? All taking turns to speak?
- The girls are supposed to be balanced!
See 9 for what real
balance looks like.
If harem balance is so more important
than storytelling, they can be honest about what they really want and watch a harem anime, or play some harem sim on Steam. Or they can play Harvest Moon where every love interest is equally
plot irrelevant. They have all the balance
they want. They'll be back feeling unfulfilled (or prefer feeling like a sex god and never return.) :D
- Harem? I didn't play harem route!
Neither did Tenchi in Tenchi Muyo,
or Tsukune in Rosario + Vampire,
but they were still in harems.
In a harem anime, all attractive females exist for the hero and the fantasies of the consumer. They rarely feel attraction to anyone else, and the hero is the gatekeeper to their sexuality and happiness. They are hero-sexual. Sometimes desperately so. Harems are often not about sex, they're about availability. Possessive sexuality. Whether the player dates one girl, all of them or none of them, they belong to the hero, so its still a harem.
- What's wrong with harem elements?! Its not real!
They should play Persona, a harem visual novel, or watch a harem anime with their friends or loved ones watching and tell them that
. See what happens.
- Too important
I saved this for last.
Conclusion - Why there's simultaneous hate and praise: A Heroine in a Harem.
In harem manga, anime, and even JRPGs with a love triangle, a ridiculous zero-sum balance is sought out. Women rotate their time, importance, dialog amount and proximity to the hero, with him disallowed to react
to their increasingly aggressive advances. The women have very little life beyond the man. Neither are called out for it. In stories that aren't trashy, people don't behave that way. Women don't obsess, take turns, tolerate divided attention, or need a hero's presence to develop. And real gentlemen do not meander between them. When gentlemen get signals at "Rank 1," they respond at "Rank 1."
Persona's harem elements were born from Atlus's attitude that men and women could not be friends, else the man would be labeled an "herbivore" (equivalent to incel words I refuse to utter.) This is why they didn't figure out friend-zoning until P4.
P4 was a harem vacation
with a Shinto murder mystery on the side. Yu was the center of the universe, and no one
grew or made decisions without him. Chie, Yukiko and Rise were "balanced" because they were equally
useless to the plot. Naoto and Yosuke were far more important, but this was accepted because Naoto joined late and Yosuke was male. P4 set bad expectations for P5.
But P5 turned out to be the the opposite. A story with mature social commentary on Japan with harem elements on the side.
That story takes precedence over "harem balance." Joker, Makoto, Morgana and Sae were always meant to shoulder the most narrative burden. P5 makes a statement
, through them.
Typical JRPG players don't play them "for the girls." They will usually single out a hero and heroine. The majority came, chose Makoto, praised her, and moved on to new games (as they should.
) To understand Makoto, lets talk about Yosuke.
Yosuke was the thematic clone of Yu, and like Makoto, would have been the hero if it wasn't for the player. P4 did everything
it could to make him look bad compared to Yu. He was a fun, multifaceted trickster, and like Yu, a city slicker forced to live in a small sleepy town. Driven by revenge for a puppy love crush Saki, he established and lead the team, all the while still secretly mourning for her. Players always forget about this. He ultimately came to cherish his new town, and though he never found a girlfriend, he valued a handful of friendships over the crowds of the city and the Sounds of Silence
it produces. Privately between him and the hero, he outright states the overarching moral of P3 and beyond: "I always wanted to be special. I thought my life'd finally have meaning if I was special to someone. That's why I was really exited when I got my Persona. But I really didn't need it. It’s not what you have or what you can do. Just being born, living your life. Before you know it, you're already special to someone. Like you! You're special to me, you know!"
I wished Chie and Yukiko heard this. I wished so bad
I could help him date one of them...
Close your eyes, look back at P4, and replace Yosuke with a woman, seeking revenge for a male crush. Still lacking glaring anime flaws, realistic, leading the team, and central to the plot and themes. Picture her telling Yu all that. People back then would have praised "her" as "best girl," crying out for "her" happiness, and the haters would say terribly similar things you hear now. And if it were to flip, Makoto being a male with no shot at a girl, there would be no complaints, and "his" role as a leader and deuteragonist would be accepted, (but there would be plenty of gay shipping.)
Makoto is a "Lady Yosuke," central to the plot and themes, fighting harder, and growing stronger than the rest of the team. Yet she is no one's clone or voice: Atlus accidentally created a A Heroine in a Harem. Even if the player leaves her alone all year and dates everyone but her, she would still be the heroine, and P5 would still be her story. She matches all three definitions of Heroine. Fans, new and old, aren't afraid to call her the heroine. Joker and Akechi's Japanese VAs called her the heroine. Makoto Nijima bursts through the trashy genre she is in, she is praised globally for it, and P5 is stronger and more mature for it. The anime and Royal couldn't "undo" it. Players can't unsee it. There is no going back, and I'm not just talking about P5... Atlus has proof that down to earth, independent and well developed heroines are cooler and more popular than thirsty, fetishized, or emotionally vulnerable "waifus." They're rediscovering how to cut characters loose from the player like P1 through P3, how to write real parents, and that it takes more than ten rankups and a silent hero's presence for good character development. If Atlus understands this, its great news for Persona 6.
For that, a loud, petulant minority lashes out, because in a harem, no woman can have that much appeal, independence, leadership, and plot agency. And if someone really thinks this way, it says a lot
why they buy Persona and how they perceive women in it. But for every player that doesn't like it, two or three do.
She is proof that harem balance and good writing are mutually exclusive. Proof that Persona doesn't need an army of fetishy love interests. Proof that Persona's too good
for it. Maybe Atlus is returning to their pre-P3 roots. Maybe Persona is finally outgrowing its need to be a trashy self-insert harem sim, and that's for another essay. A highly divisive one...
Newly revised Analysis 1 - How Persona 5 turned what I expected upside down Analysis 3 - Bad Romance - Persona is held back by the self-insert harem genre Analysis 4 - Techniques and Reading Lists to make You a Gentleman Thief or Femme Fatale!