So after an enforced break from Persona 5, I finally managed to continue from where I had left off… though something has been bothering me a little bit. Perhaps its because Ann is starting to get her arse handed to her in recent battles which means she’s on the floor most of the time, or maybe its because there’s been a few more subtle to not-so-subtle dominatrix references in-game, but is it just me or are women being sexualised to a fetishist’s degree in Persona 5? To be more specific, is Ann being too sexualised to be taken seriously?
Hear me out. Look, I know the game is from Japan, and that there are things that come out of Japan that would raise eyebrows if they were made in the West. Atlus in particular is guilty of creating some really strange, really odd game concepts (I’m looking at their puzzle game Catherine in particular here, but I’ve also played Conception II which was released in America and Europe by them… which was also a bit weird), but my previous experiences with Persona entries have been, although there were definitely some questionable content -such as revealing costume options for the female characters in your teams that were available for use- the characters were never overtly sexualised in the main game. I mean of course there are the swimsuit character models that inevitably turn up in one way or another, but in Persona 5 things have gotten a little out of hand.
Okay, yes, I get it. Kamoshida is a pervert. It was made abundantly clear to us that Kamoshida sees himself as king of Shujin Academy, meaning he could sexually harass the girls, abuse the students and generally act however he liked and get away with it, but when cognitive!Ann turns up, nothing quite prepares you for it. It’s not the fact that she’s in underwear or acting like a coquette around him. It’s the cat-eared tiara. It’s the fact the underwear is leopard print. It’s the fact that we already know that the real Ann works part time as a model after school while we’re looking at this image of Ann that Kamoshida has dreamt up. It’s all these little things that sexualise her into some sort of ‘sex kitten’ that makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially since this version of Ann is referred to as a princess… and as Kamoshida’s belonging. Given that Persona 5 is all about outing the “shitty adults” for their hypocrisy, it does leave me to wonder if continuing the ‘sex kitten’ image in Ann’s thief attire is really appropriate.
Now, maybe this is her conciousness’ way of regaining control over her body image because the difference between the cognitive Ann and the Phantom Thief Ann is very evident. Cognitive Ann is submissive, exposed and is used by Kamoshida; Phantom Thief Ann is independent, covered up and fights back against his control. The thing of it is though, both appearances could be looked at as fetishism, particularly since Ann’s Phantom Thief outfit, aka the Red Latex Suit, wouldn’t look out of place on a dominatrix. And okay, given that Ann’s Persona is Carmen from the opera of the same name, and that appearance is very much a big thing for Ann given her work as a model, you can sort of understand why go down the sexy route. (And that the cat imagery is a reference to ‘cat burglar’ but Morgana seems to go down that reference route more than Ann does.) But it doesn’t explain why Ann, a survivor of Kamoshida’s reign of terror, doesn’t appear to have more psychological damage done to her.
She’s seen her best and at the time only friend Shiho jump off the roof of the school. She’s spent days in hospital watching over Shiho, blaming herself for not seeing that Shiho was being abused by Kamoshida too. She only went along with a lot of what Kamoshida did to her -including the attempts to force himself onto her- in order to help Shiho keep her spot on the volleyball team and to protect her. What’s wonderful is the fact that she seems to view herself as a survivor rather than as a victim, yet part of me feels that there could have been so much more covered… like perhaps body image insecurities, how she views men following the Kamoshida affair, etc. etc. While I understand the reasons why Kamoshida was wrapped up neatly into a box and put away after stealing his heart, it just doesn’t feel that satisfying when the fallout is only covered briefly in a Confidant.
I suppose though I’m annoyed mostly because it seems that Ann in particular seems to be the subject of sexualization. For god sakes, her butt is pushed out at every opportunity the game will get, even when she’s knocked down by an attack. It makes some of the other allusions of sexual exploitation in the game -girls being forced into prostitution during the Kaneshiro heist, the Japanese version rather bluntly saying that you have X number of days until “Haru’s body is sold” (aka forced arranged marriage), that one Mementos request that involved stealing the heart of a student dominatrix, etc.- almost pale in contrast. I was growing so sick of it that, eventually, I had to throw Ann out of the team from time to time just so I didn’t have to risk watching her look like a cat in heat when she was knocked down. Call me a prude if you want, but the comedy value of it grates over time when you’re in a battle with a Shadow that spams Mabufu at every turn.
Don’t get me wrong though, Ann is a great character, I just wish it was toned down a bit. While I’m all for her reclaiming her body and identity, and for her to be portrayed as a survivor rather than as a victim, in a game where you feel that most if not all the ladies you form relationships with also function as eye candy for the male gaze, it loses its power somewhat. Then again, you play Persona however you wish. If you have a thing for the punk doctor (seriously, what is it with P5 and dominatrixes?!), or the homeroom teacher that moonlights as a maid-for-hire, or the yamato nadeshiko type that hangs around the church, or any of the girls you meet along the way, then what’s to stop you from romancing one or all of them? Or you don’t have to romance them at all. Maybe even just secretly pine for the fact that you can’t have anything deeper with one of the boys.
Me? Well, despite the fact I’ve been annoyed about how she’s been treated, I actually am planning on going along with romancing Ann in my first playthrough. Though that can change. And maybe will change.