Persona 4: Social Link Roundup

Let’s go over all the social links before the conclusion, including the ones I didn’t finish in the liveblog.

Yosuke Hanamura (The Magician)

I think I covered this one pretty thoroughly in the liveblog. Yosuke is an immature, emotionally constipated, possibly sociopathic weirdo. Every time he experiences a strong emotion he acts like he’s feeling it for the very first time. The first half of his social link is mainly about Junes, but it and its position in the town economy never goes anywhere. The second half is about how he totally actually cared about Saki, really, which directly contradicts what his Shadow says in the main plot. It ends with him deciding to love Big Brother I mean Inaba, just like everyone else.

I don’t see what this social link has to do with the central theme of “seeking truth”. I guess we get him to admit his “true” feelings about Saki, but his Shadow already did that in the main plot, so it just feels like a confusing retcon.

He apparently had a cut romance with the player character, but the cut voice lines are pretty mild. Honestly, I’d say the most romantic elements are what’s already in the game; his relationship with the PC is already deeply homoerotic. Like, he literally calls you his “special friend”.

Yukiko Amagi (The High Priestess)

Yukiko wants to escape from this dead-end town LOL J/K she loves Big Brother. The subplot about the sleazy producers could have been interesting, but it didn’t go anywhere. The social link overall is just a tedious bait-and-switch of pretending Yukiko might do something interesting before saying actually she’s decided to just passively accept her circumstances. It just waves a magic wand and says she magically gets over her issues instead of engaging with anything her Shadow actually said.

I presume the connection to “seeking truth” is that she never actually wanted to leave, the deepest part of her repressed subconscious was just… lying?

Kanji Tatsumi (The Emperor)

One of the good ones! Kanji demonstrates actual character growth and gets over his issues in a healthy way by embracing his hobby. The conclusion scenes were genuinely sweet and the plot straightforwardly fits the theme of accepting your true self.

Ryotaru Dojima (The Hierophant)

An unnecessarily drawn-out social link where we eventually learn the reason Dojima is a terrible dad is because he’s Dead Wife Sad Man. The PC eventually convinces him to stop neglecting Nanako, then the social link ends with him continuing to choose his work over Nanako but it’s okay because Nanako’s cool with it now.

The connection to “seeking truth” is probably supposed to be in us getting Dojima to admit he’s a terrible dad, but I think the subplot about him obsessing over the killer is much more pertinent, in that it shows a negative side to “seeking truth”. The game does not acknowledge this in any way.

Rise Kujikawa (The Lovers)

I successfully managed to avoid doing this one, so time to hit up YouTube.

Rank 2: PC takes her to the food stall. She reveals she never got to do things like this before because her parents were strict and she rarely showed up at school.

Rank 3: PC takes her to the city. A bunch of fans recognize her, but she denies she’s Risette. Privately, she confides to the PC that she’s happy she’s no longer an idol and that she loves Big Brother.

Rank 4: PC takes her to the Chinese restaurant. When they return, they find Rise’s old manager in front of her house. He wants Rise to return to showbiz, but she refuses, and as an excuse says she’s marrying the PC. 9_9 She at least apologizes afterwards, though of course you can say you want to marry her for real.

RISE: I’m [the manager]‘s daughter’s age, so he treated me like one of the family…

Does he do porn shoots with his daughter too? Everything out of Rise’s mouth is a portal to nightmares.

Rank 5: Rise takes the PC to the hill. She says she’s happy in Inaba because her previous life was terrible: her parents were very strict and only cared about her idol career, and before she was an idol she was bullied at school. A relative of hers sent in the idol application without telling her, but she went along with it because she thought she could make friends if she was popular on TV. However, she came to realize that people only liked Risette, not the real her. But now that she has friends who know the real her, she doesn’t have to be Risette anymore! She’ll just create a new persona instead:

RISE: This time, I’m going to change into a Rise that everyone can like!

It would be really interesting if this was an intentional depiction of how showbiz messes you up even after you escape from it, but we all know these writers are not nearly self-aware enough for that.

Rank 6: Rise notes that fewer fans are ambushing her. Her manager corners the PC while he’s alone and asks him to deliver some fan mail to Rise. He says he knows showbiz is soul-crushing, but he wants her back anyway.

MANAGER: She was genuinely brilliant… Not only that, but she’s strong enough to use her pain as a foundation.

Oh my god. Rise chases him off, and for some reason the player can’t agree with her that he’s a creep, only admonish her or tell her he’s only doing it because he really cares about her. The fan mail is from a girl who was inspired by an anti-bullying campaign Rise did once, and Rise appreciates it because it makes her feel like Risette had a positive impact. This makes her feel guilty for “disappointing” her fans by retiring Risette.

Rank 7: Rise sees one of her juniors at the agency on an ad. She hopes this means the agency will stop bothering her now that they have a replacement. Some boys walk by and Rise overhears them saying the new girl is so much better than Risette, because she’s honest while Risette was fake.

BORED TEENAGER: Yeah, Kanamin’s, like… plain, and honest. Somewhere between a little sister and the girl next door. Like, the kind of girl you want to protect.

This is so creepy. Risette fumes about how Kanamin’s just as fake, then spirals about how the PC only loves her because she’s an ex-idol. Then Nanako shows up and says she knows Kanamin but tells her friends Rise’s better. Rise says she must be disappointed she’s different from how she is on TV, but Nanako says she likes the real Rise. Why can’t the PC say that?

Rank 8: Rise learns Kanamin’s taking her role in the new film. Her manager tries to wheedle her into coming back but she refuses again, then he butters her up by insisting she’s soooo much better than Kanamin and such a great actor. This successfully drives Rise to a breakdown, because she believes it despite admitting that he never told her this when she was actually working for him. She comes out of it by telling herself her friends “need” her and she should be happy for that.

Rank 9: Rise has calmed down, and reflects that Risette was a part of herself as well, and that she’s been running away from and chasing new “selves” her whole life, including the homicide detective role she’s playing now.

RISE: I pick a role… When I’m through with it, I continue chasing the “real me” by picking another role… …When in fact those roles are all “me.”

Rank 10: Rise comes over the PC’s room and demands to know where his porn stash is. (If the player says he doesn’t have any, Rise offers to give him a photobook of her swimsuit shoots. Eugh.) She says she’s going back into showbiz for her fans, as well as her creepy manager and her abusive parents. But don’t worry, this time she’ll be happy because she’s internalized that her acting persona is actually real, because that will definitely make things better and not worse!

RISE: There’s a lot of Rises inside me… I won’t try to change them. Instead… I’ll let people know that those Rises exist. That’s the me I want to be.

I’m sure that’ll last right up until one of your “yous” turns out to be unmarketable.

Capstone: The obsessive fangirl says she won’t be sending letters anymore because her friend likes another idol and forced her to renounce her love of Risette. For some reason this does not give her second thoughts about returning to showbiz. Rise reminds us that parasocial relationships go both ways:

RISE: There’s something like a… mutual respect between her and me. I don’t even know what she looks like, but I know she has a pure heart. I also know that she’s persistent… But when another person enters the picture, things suddenly get complicated. […] There’s no malice involved, and it’s no one’s fault. Yet we end up hurting each other, becoming lost…

So in the main plot, it’s everyone’s fault, but when it comes time to criticize a real industry, suddenly it’s no one’s fault.

RISE: An idol isn’t some doll in a window being held up for public display. I think it means somebody who can endure things and stand their ground, no matter which way they’re pushed. […] I can be her strength, as well as many other peoples’ strengths.

This really cinches it. The writers love showbiz too much to truly criticize it, so they have to rebrand it as secretly good. I don’t know if there’s a similar trend of pinkwashing in Japan, but this really sounds like it to me: Idols aren’t just for porn, they’re Strong Female Role Models™, and so actually it’s feminist that we’re abusing little girls! Absolutely zero self-awareness that inspiration porn is just as objectifying as regular porn, and that this will definitely involve lots of regular porn too.

So like Yukiko, the writers aren’t willing to actually criticize the character’s situation, so all they can do is have the character decide actually it’s fine. I find it darkly hilarious that this is exactly what Izanami accuses humanity of doing: shrinking from uncomfortable truths to repeat comforting lies. The one interesting thing here is the part about Rise acknowledging she has no “true self”, but that’s completely at odds with the psychological model chosen by the game as well as the literal game mechanics; Rise really should have had multiple Personas if they were going to do a plot about her literally having multiple personas.

…And I guess this does, finally, square the circle on her Shadow: She secretly loved showbiz and wanted to go back to it, and that’s what her Shadow was expressing.

Chie Satonaka (The Chariot)

Chie wants to train to become stronger. She gets the chance to stop some punks from mugging a kid, but the PC holds her back because she’s a hysterical woman who’s in over her head. She is also I believe the only character who consistently mentions their Shadow and wanting to overcome it, but this goes nowhere.

…I suppose this fits the general theme of characters finding their “true selves”, in this case Chie deciding she’s a stupid woman who shouldn’t do anything without a man’s approval.

Nanako Dojima (Justice)

Nanako is uncomfortable about Dojima’s neglect but decides it’s fine once she learns it’s because he’s Dead Wife Sad Man, because it’s children’s obligation to be their parents’ therapists. I guess the “truth” here is her discovering Dojima’s reason for being a terrible parent.

This really should have been a joint social link with Dojima, it is so awkward for them to be at different stages when they both cover roughly the same content and emotional beats.

Naoto Shirogane (Fortune)

Naoto’s grandpa gives her a treasure hunt to cheer her up. There’s some digressions into gender stuff, but they’re really forced and confusing and just end on “I’m definitely cis and was only pretending to be a man for professional reasons,” the least interesting possibility. A trans narrative would be extremely relevant to themes of truth, lies, and true selves, but the writers hate trans people so we can’t have that. And once again, the social implications of why she was crossdressing are never criticized, she just has more confidence now so it’ll be fine.

The “truth” element here is once again the most generic one of self-acceptance.

Kou Ichijo (Strength)

Sports boy is an orphan adopted by a stuffy aristocratic family who don’t want him to do sports. Once they finally have biological offspring they stop being strict with him and he worries this means they don’t love him anymore, but they do so it’s fine. Once again, a problem is solved by saying shut up there isn’t a problem.

I presume the “truth” element here is Kou struggling to acknowledge the truth that his family still loves him, but that is such a pathetically tepid connection.

Apparently Daisuke has his own social link, but I don’t care enough to watch it.

Naoki Konishi (The Hanged Man)

Saki’s brother is having trouble processing her death. The media and neighbors flood him with shallow condolences, which frustrates him and makes him feel guilty for continuing to live normally. He offers to quit school to help the family store, but his parents refuse. He feels unmoored by how everyone is giving him pity and special treatment, and isn’t sure what to do.

NAOKI: …You know, I like cream puffs. I know it’s kinda girlish. There’s a good cream puff shop by our house, so every once in a while I’ll buy some and take them home. If I put them in the fridge, Sis would eat ’em. She’d make up some lame excuse like, “I ate them for you since they were about to expire.” So we’d always get into fights over the cream puffs. But now… the cream puffs don’t disappear. I bought some, and they expired in the fridge. When I saw that, I thought, “Oh, maybe… Maybe Sis isn’t here anymore,” y’know.

This is genuinely moving. It’s such a painfully realistic anecdote. Where was this writing quality when they were doing the other social links?

Due to the PC’s encouragement, Naoki works up the nerve to visit Junes, which he’s never done before. Seeing their selection confirms that his family’s store has no hope of competing. Then Yosuke shows up and ruins everything by bringing up Saki and trying to be sympathetic by saying really their situations are the same! No they aren’t, dickwad.

YOSUKE: I liked your sister.
NAOKI: Past tense, huh?

Yes, shred him, Naoki.

YOSUKE: I’m doing what I can right now for my sake… And your sister’s.

I guess this is sort of true in that he is working to avenge her, but once again, according to his Shadow that is absolutely not why he’s doing this.

At rank 9, he visits the site where Saki’s body was found.

NAOKI: This whole time, I could never bring myself to pass through here. I was afraid of remembering Sis, and thinking about how… How her body ended up. But now, I feel like I can finally accept the truth… …You know how it is in TV dramas? People cry for days on end, or their sad memories come back and torment them… It wasn’t like that for me. I was the same as ever… So I thought… I thought I was a cold human being… Because I wasn’t able to cry like the actors on TV, I thought that maybe I didn’t actually like Sis…

Holy crap, actual commentary on TV and media! Where was this thematic resonance in the main plot?

NAOKI: It was easier for me to tell myself that I was a cold person than to think about Sis and suffer. I kept running away from the pain… I never let myself think about her. She must’ve wanted to live more, huh?
> Naoki finally let go and started crying…
NAOKI: I wanted her to live more… I wanted her to live…
[…] Thank you… I finally, finally feel that I’m sad…

This feels like a much, much better version of Yosuke’s rank 8. Just like Yosuke, he was hiding his real feelings and is now finally able to let them out and acknowledge the truth. But this time, it isn’t tainted by the knowledge that a part of his soul already told us his true feelings were that he didn’t really care about her. This makes me feel that Naoki really should have been the party member with a personal connection to Saki in place of Yosuke, because his version of this is so much better.

At rank 10, Naoki visits the riverbank and reminisces about how he and Saki used to play there when they were kids. His capstone item is a Junes receipt, showing that he’s finally able to overcome his apprehension towards the place. He resolves to help out at the store, but only when he can, so he doesn’t have to give up school.

Wow, how was that actually good? This is far and away the best social link. Cynically, I’d say this is the writers going back to safe habits — the previous game already demonstrated they’re good at writing grief narratives, so they’re doing that again. Honestly, it makes me think they should have reused the same theme instead of trying to do a new one and failing miserably at it, especially when they keep slipping into making the story about grief anyway.

Hisano Kuroda (Death)

I never got this one because it requires advancing pedophile nurse’s link. While being sexually harassed by pedophile nurse, the protagonist meets an old lady in mourning garb at the hospital, and she offers to talk more with him later.

Rank 1: The two introduce themselves to each other. Hisano claims, “I am Death,” but refuses to elaborate when the protagonist presses.

HISANO: If you ever have any problems, I can give you some advice. Haha… Though I’m sure you’d rather spend your time with younger ladies.

And already it gets creepy.

Rank 2: Hisano says the protagonist reminds her of her late husband. She keeps going on about how handsome and attractive he was, because we have to turn up the creep factor. She rambles about being Death again and implies she’s responsible for his death.

Rank 3: Hisano gives her backstory: She was born and raised in Inaba, while her husband-to-be was part of a band of traveling performers who visited once every year. They fell in love, and he offered to quit the company to settle down with her. She believes they’ll never see each other again, because he went to Heaven and she’s sure she will go to Hell.

Rank 4: Hisano has come back from visiting her husband’s grave.

HISANO: Do you know what Death is? Death is the entity that takes people to the gods. For those trying to reach the gods, and to the families of those people, Death can be an ally.

Ah, there’s SMT’s pro-death propaganda. I didn’t miss you. Hisano rambles about grief and how people use religion to cope with it.

HISANO: I looked forward to Death too much… and became Death myself. Before I realized it, I… I’m sorry, you don’t want to hear this, do you?

“I just remembered we need to pad this out over more scenes!”

Rank 5: Hisano questions why we’re bothering to listen to a weird old lady’s stories. Maybe don’t draw attention to your own plot holes, game. Hisano asks the protagonist to talk about himself instead. Though she enjoys his stories, she says she doesn’t want to see him anymore because he reminds her too much of her husband.

Rank 6: Hisano wants to hang out with Protagonist-kun again because she’s a flighty indecisive woman.

HISANO: Being noncommittal… floating around, never deciding to be one thing nor another. Can a man understand that?

No, really.

Hisano says that before they were married, her and her husband wrote letters to each other. She pontificates about the beauty of love letters, then reveals she’s lost the letters he sent to her.

Rank 7: The protagonist finds the letters at Daidara’s and gives them to her. Hisano is happy to have them back, but says she’s going to burn them. Protagonist-kun sneaks a peek at the letters (they’re generically sappy romantic poems), and Hisano laments that she deceived her husband because while he loved her, she wanted to see him dead. She finally explains: Her husband became ill and bedridden, forcing Hisano to work to support the family. As his illness worsened, he took out his frustrations on her. She was willing to forgive that, but then his memory deteriorated and he forgot about her. That, she couldn’t stand, and she resolved to kill him, but ultimately couldn’t bring herself to do it. When he finally passed away, she was relieved. This is why she believes she’s Death.

Rank 8: The protagonist also finds the letters Hisano sent to her husband. Reading them reminds her how much she loved him.

Rank 9: Hisano decides she’s not actually Death and didn’t magically cause her husband to die. She decides that he did really love her even if he forgot her in the end.

Rank 10: Hisano tells us she’s leaving Inaba to move in with her children. She realizes that if she stays in Inaba she’ll just mope about her husband. She gives the protagonist the fountain pen she used to write her letters.

Well, that was better than most of the social links and had decent verisimilitude, but didn’t have much of anything to do with truth. Once again, it seems like they really, really just wanted to write about grief again.

Eri Minami (Temperance)

Eri is the stepmother of one of the children at the daycare center. Her husband has left on a work trip, so she has to take care of the kid by herself. However, she’s doing an absolutely terrible job of it.

Rank 1: She introduces herself and forgets she’s supposed to be picking her son up from the daycare.

Rank 2: Eri’s son throws a tantrum and runs away when she comes to pick him up. She asks if Protagonist-kun likes kids, and the response she likes best is if he says he hates them. Eri says, “I don’t hate [my son], but…” and refuses to elaborate. She also doesn’t like coming to the daycare center because she runs into other mothers. After our conversation, the other mothers remind her not to leave her kid unattended and she sheepishly goes off to deal with that.

Rank 3: Another kid is picked up by his dad, and Eri’s son asks when his dad is coming back. Eri doesn’t know, so her son is upset and says he’s going home with his friend instead. Eri just sighs and lets this happen. She laments to us that her husband only told her he had a child right before they were married, and right after he left on a business trip, leaving her to take care of the kid on her own. If the player asks if she lovers her son, she sheepishly says of course she does, then projects onto her son by saying he just can’t possibly love his stepmother.

Rank 4: Eri’s son won’t speak to her. She tries bribing him by offering to eat out, but he says he’s not hungry and runs off. Eri is fed up with this, complaining that she left in the middle of watching TV to be on time. Eri declares she’s giving up, because there’s just no way adoptive family can love each other. Then she gets extra weird:

ERI: They say when a woman starts breastfeeding, her maternal instincts awaken. …It’s true, I saw it on television.

Oh hey, finally a connection to the main theme! Eri goes onto reveal she believes free will is a lie and everyone is a pre-programmed robot. She likes this because it absolves her of any responsibility.

ERI: I saw it on TV. I was so intrigued, I went to see a lecture by that speaker, too. I was moved to tears… I was so relieved to know that there’s a higher power!

Huh, TV again. Are we actually going to get into this? Eri goes onto say that she spends all her time on TV and the internet, because there’s nothing to do here compared to the city.

Rank 5: Eri’s son doesn’t want to go home. Eri declares she’s leaving without him, forcing the protagonist to walk him home. They find Eri under the riverbank pavillion, and Eri’s son says that she hates him, but he feels sorry for her because she has to take care of him. Remarkable social intelligence from an elementary schooler. Protagonist-kun talks to Eri, who says she’s glad her son is happy at the daycare, “especially on the days you’re there,” because Protagonist-kun must always be the specialest boy.

Rank 6: Eri has followed through on her threat and doesn’t come to pick him up at all. Jesus, lady. Protagonist-kun walks him home again, and he reveals he’s never seen the cartoon the other kids talk about because Eri’s always watching TV and he’s too scared to ask her to change the channel. At this point Eri finally shows up and apologizes for being late. She once again offers to bribe her son to make up for it, and her son just throws a tantrum. Fortunately, the player can tell her he wants to watch the cartoon. This goes completely over her head, as she thinks she just need to buy him a toy from the show.

ERI: Haha, it’s like I’m earning brownie points.

You are awful.

Rank 7: Once again Protagonist-kun has to walk the kid home. Eri got him a DVD of the cartoon, so he knows Protagonist-kun blabbed, and now he wants to do something nice for Eri in exchange. So I see we’re putting the responsibility on the kid once again. He resolves to give her a bunch of four-leaf clovers, because unlike her he listens to people and remembers she said she likes them. Eri shows up, the kid runs away again, and this time the player can finally tell her to stop being an idiot and acknowledge she’s just as scared of intimacy as he is.

Rank 8: Eri’s son stands up for a bullied kid. Eri does show up this time, but Protagonist-kun walks home with them. On the way, they meet a teacher at the kid’s school, and the kid immediately runs off. The teacher complains he’s too disruptive and blames it on Eri’s parenting. She notices Protagonist-kun and asks how they know each other. The player can say he’s her husband. 9_9 She rants more about how awful the kid is. Eri laments how she can’t make any friends because she’s an outsider and all the other mothers gossip about her, then blames it on her son not being studious enough. The player can actually tell her it’s her fault, yessss. In response she just has a breakdown. The kid sees this and punches Protagonist-kun, and Eri calms down.

Rank 9: Eri apologizes to Protagonist-kun for getting punched.

“I’m not that weak.”
ERI: *giggle* I should have known. You are a man, after all.

The kid apologizes too and then runs off. Eri fauns over how sweet it was that he defended her. She says she believed all the bad things everyone else said about the kid, because she apparently never paid attention to him, but now she realizes he’s a good kid. She does, at least, acknowledge that it was her own fault for pushing him away and resolves to try harder to connect with him.

Rank 10: Eri reveals her kid won’t be coming to the daycare anymore so that they can spend more time together. Yeah, it is pretty weird that a stay-at-home mom was warehousing her kid. Her item is a four-leaf clover she made into a bookmark. Eri finally admits that she was selfishly trying to escape from life and shut everyone else out, and she’s going to do better from now on.

I suppose that had more to do with truth than usual, but the connection to TV and media was just dropped after being brought up once. And once again too much responsibility is placed on the child, though unlike Dojima she does actually change her behavior.

I can’t help but feel like Eri was designed chiefly as a fetish character — she’s young and attractive, has a cute kid, and has a husband who’s conveniently absent and she isn’t very attached to anyway. She’s like a checklist of MILF tropes.

Sayoko Uehara (The Devil)

Hoo boy, it’s pedophile nurse. This one doesn’t really start until rank 4. After sexually assaulting the protagonist a bunch and him failing to report this to HR for some reason, Sayoko finally has a normal conversation with him where she whines about feeling lonely because the patients she cares for always leave.

Rank 5: Sayoko had an affair with a doctor at the last hospital she worked at, and now his wife has shown up to call her a slut. She suddenly starts navel-gazing about why she’s doing anything, which I half-suspect is a question the writers were asking themselves.

Rank 6: A patient Sayoko cared for at her previous hospital dies and Sayoko has a breakdown over it. Said patient was a kid who proposed to her, and she (apparently in all seriousness) told him she’d think about it when he became an adult, because we have to keep making this creepy. She also berates herself for transferring hospitals and leaving him behind, even though in the previous scene she explained she was forced to transfer because of the affair she had. Did the writers forget their own script between scenes?

Rank 7: Sayoko has become a harsh taskmaster obsessed with work.

Rank 8: The hospital staff are concerned Sayoko is overworking herself, but she insists she’s fine.

Rank 9: Sayoko faints and one of the other nurses forces her to get rest, but she gets up again shortly after. Protagonist-kun tells her to stop working herself to death, but she insists she has to keep working because she’s responsible for peoples’ lives. Protagonist-kun gets her to realize she’s actually using work as an unhealthy coping mechanism for her grief.

Rank 10: Sayoko remembers she became a nurse to help people, but over time the stress of her job made her bitter and lonely. She says she’s going to leave the hospital to “find that path I gave up on”, whatever that’s supposed to be? Is she not going to continue nursing, is she going to help people another way? It’s not explained. Her item is her hospital ID: “I give you the person I was when I was here.” Okay, weirdo.

SAYOKO: …I tend to go for older rich men, and I landed a child.

And we can’t end without a reminder of the creepiness.

This really reeks of the writers not having enough material for 10 scenes. The 3 scenes of sexual harassment are completely out of nowhere, have no relation to the actual plot thread, and are never brought up again. If they had cut those this would have been a perfectly serviceable story about the stress and guilt of working in healthcare, but no, they just had to make this sexual harassment simulator.

I don’t see what this one has to do with “truth”. Once again, it has much more to do with grief.

Shu Nakajima (The Tower)

I mostly covered this one in the liveblog except for the ending, which is just as well because that’s the only point anything significant happens. Shu is a genius adored by his mother, but he feels like he’s being railroaded through life. He also feels disillusioned by the education system and that he’s just memorizing things rather than truly learning them.

SHU: I’ve been having this dream lately. In my dream, I’m on a train… It keeps speeding up, but I don’t know where the tracks lead. There are no exits, so I can’t get out, but there’s someone coming from the car behind me.

Surprisingly good imagery, if terribly unsubtle.

This finally comes to a head in rank 9. Shu cheated on a test and was caught, leading to him getting suspended, and his mother is furious. Shu is so distraught he forgets his own birthday, which is mother isn’t even present for, so Protagonist-kun calls up the investigation team to hold a birthday party for Shu. After, he explains that he cheated because he thought if he didn’t get the best score he’d have no value and his mom wouldn’t love him anymore. But it’s okay, they talk it over and his mom says she totally still loves him! Also his permanent record is now stained and he’ll never get into a good college, but it’s cool because now he can do things other than studying.

Shu repeatedly mentions a transfer student at his school who’s getting bullied, but it’s a bit confusing — he seems like he’s talking about himself at a remove, but then at the end he says the transfer student was real, but actually the transfer student was better than him at everything and everyone liked him more, so I think he was talking about himself?

So, we continue to promote personal solutions for societal problems. I really wonder how this reads in Japan, where “get into a good college or else” very much is the reality. When Shu gushes about how it’s cool he’s tanked his career prospects because he gets to play baseball now, all I can think is that he’s going to be regretting it when he’s 25 and trapped in a horrible wage slavery job. “We put too much pressure on kids to succeed at academics” is a real problem, but it’s a problem that’s a symptom of a cutthroat capitalist society, and you can’t fix that just by telling kids not to worry about it so much. And of course we can’t get into the issue of parents who really do only love their kids conditionally, that would be too complex; she loves him unconditionally so it’s fine he was worrying over nothing shut up.

This once again doesn’t seem to have much to do with “truth” beyond the basic theme of self-acceptance.

Ai Ebihara (The Moon)

It’s the sugar mommy social link! Ai is the team manager for the sports club, but she’s also a rich snob who doesn’t take anything seriously. After 3 ranks of her being a raging dick, her plot starts: Protagonist-kun runs into Kou and mentions Ai, which makes a bunch of other boys come over to make creepy comments about her and spread a rumor that she’s a gold digger. Kou shuts them down, and afterwards Ai reveals she heard the whole thing. She acts indifferent but is clearly upset.

Ai reveals she has a crush on Kou and conscripts Protagonist-kun into asking him what’s his type. He says “Nice girls,” which throws Ai into a panic because he didn’t say anything about beauty, her only redeeming feature. She then demands Protagonist-kun ask Kou outright if he has a crush on anyone, and he says Chie.

Well, that escalated quickly. Ai screams about how dare ugly Chie beat a hottie like her. Protagonist-kun is unfazed by her insulting his friend and talks her down from jumping. Ai trauma-dumps her backstory: She used to be fat, ugly, and poor, but then her family came into money and she moved here to get a new start. But now she feels it’s all for nothing, because she can’t get what she really wants, which is ~true love~.

AI: It’s not like I have any other redeeming qualities…

This is true. Protagonist-kun is railroaded into saying something nice to her, which immediately causes her to latch onto him. I find this both pitiable, in that she’s so desperate she’ll throw herself on the slightest crumb of kindness, and awful, in that she cares so little about the other person that she’ll date a blob with no personality. The player can at least turn her down by pointing out she’s clearly not thinking straight right now, which to her credit she acknowledges. After she calms down, she has an identity crisis.

AI: I always thought that if I couldn’t be pretty, I’d be better off dead…

Jesus.

Rank 8: She says she talked to Kou, but she no longer felt attracted to him. She reflects that, similarly to Rise, there’s a disconnect between her public persona and the real her.

Rank 9: One of her previous boyfriends shows up to be a dick and Ai insists she never really loved him. He takes this poorly.

TWITCHING SENIOR: You want me to leave a mark on that precious face of yours? I’ll call up some friends! It’ll be a party.

Jesus. For some reason, the player is given the choice to leave her hanging, but if Protagonist-kun steps in, the creep attacks him and Ai takes the blow for him. Despite the narration claiming her face is messed up by this, her portrait doesn’t change, thus confirming Ai’s assumption that beauty counts for all.

Rank 10: Ai confesses her feelings for the protagonist for real and gives him her compact, which like most of the capstone items is a really weird thing to give him.

AI: From now on, people like you will be my mirror. I’ll look for my reflection in you, so that I’ll never forget who I am. I won’t be able to lie to myself anymore…

Your true self is how others perceive you, apparently. I don’t know why they insist on using Jungian psychology when they so clearly believe in a Stanislavskian model.

Yet again the game promotes personal solutions to systemic problems. Ai’s trauma was caused by bullying and misogyny, but that goes completely unaddressed and unacknowledged. No followup on her being suicidal, that’s just a totally normal and unremarkable way for girls to feel. Is there anything or anyone who might be responsible for encouraging her deeply messed up psychology? No, misogyny is just a fact of the universe that girls have to deal with. Nor are we allowed to stand up to her for insulting Chie; girl-on-girl violence is also just a fact of the universe we have no part in. (I guess this is consistent with the game’s indifference to Kashiwagi’s staggering misogyny.)

I’ll acknowledge it does at least engage with the “truth” theme a little more than normal by showing a character who projects a false public persona, but Rise’s subplot already did that with more nuance and complexity, and it goes to no effort to actually show us what the “real Ai” is like other than blandly nice.

Yumi Ozawa (The Sun)

I covered this one pretty thoroughly in the liveblog. Yumi’s deadbeat dad successfully guilts her into caring for him as he dies, and this is framed as a good thing because your family owns you uwu. This is a terrible, cowardly, and regressive message.

This is yet another social link that has way more to do with grief than with truth. I assume the “truth” is supposed to be in Yumi realizing she actually loved her dad/her dad loved her, but that’s clearly a lie because he’s a selfish bastard to the end.

Marie (Aeon)

Born Sexy Yesterday waifubait shoehorned into the rerelease, because Persona 3 didn’t give us enough of that already. Marie is a terrible character and I hate everything about her. I honestly think she’s worse than Elizabeth; Elizabeth was at least occasionally funny. Her surprise plot relevance comes out of nowhere and reads like something awkwardly tacked onto the existing plot, probably because it was.

Tohru Adachi (The Jester/Hunger)

In theory, I think it’s a really cool idea to give us a social link with the villain; it’s a great opportunity to humanize them and give them more depth. So of course it doesn’t do that and instead just wastes our time with stupid filler about Adachi avoiding an old lady’s attempts to be nice to him. It gives us some very oblique foreshadowing towards him being the killer by showing that he’s a huge dick, but that doesn’t really stand out because everyone in this game is a dick. The bad ending related to this is very stupid and out-of-character for the protagonist, and really feels like something they threw in just because they could. The relationship somehow being two-way with Adachi deciding he’s grateful for being beaten to a pulp and thrown in jail is equally stupid. Grappling with the fact that a friendly relationship was all a lie would have been great fodder for the “truth” theme, but then no actually your bond with the crazy serial killer was real, because these writers are allergic to doing anything actually subversive.

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