Almost all the villains in Persona 5 are based on real events that happened in Japan. Despite what the game claims at the beginning, this is not all fictional. To have such a high-profile game so blatantly show the underside of Japanese society is quite daring, and marks it as one of the most important games of recent years. However, the game is not perfect. One if its most persistent flaws is how it focuses so much on the villains, that their victims end up marginalized or forgotten in the process. Today we’re going to talk about one of these victims. Suzui Shiho. Spoilers after the jump, content warning for discussion of attempted suicide and rape.
The first villain of the game is Kamoshida Suguru, a gym teacher and volleyball coach at Shujin Academy, where most of the protagonists attend school. It is revealed that he’s been abusing the athletes on the volleyball teams, beating them when they don’t perform up to his expectations. He also caused the disbanding of the track team by goading Sakamoto Ryuuji, one of the protagonists, into punching him.
At first, Kamoshida’s villainy seems to mostly be about physical abuse. Most notably shown through the character Mishima Yuuki, who later becomes an important Confidant for the main character. However that is not all that is going on. Kamoshida is also sexually harassing female athletes, and is actively pursuing Takamaki Ann, another main character, who seems to reciprocate his affections. Eventually, Ann reveals she’s leading Kamoshida on because he promised to make her friend, Suzui Shiho, a starter on the girls volleyball team if Ann went out with him.
Then Shiho attempts suicide by jumping off the roof of the school. Ann had finally refused when Kamoshida tried to go further, and the he raped Shiho as revenge on Ann. The game doesn’t explicitly say he raped her, but that’s the only possible interpretation. He says he took from Shiho what Ann refused to give him. This is the first major issue we encounter, here and elsewhere in the game. By calling what he did to Shiho “molestation”, the game plays it down. While physical violence will be explicitly called out, sexual violence is shied away from.
Shiho survives her suicide attempt, but after she is loaded into the ambulance with Ann by her side, she effectively exits the game. She’ll be referenced occasionally, and she’s included in Kamoshida’s confession, but you won’t ever see her again in the main story. Shiho represents the height of Kamoshida’s depravity. He raped her and abused her and caused her to attempt suicide. When Shiho is referenced, it’s always about her being in a hospital to recover…from her physical injuries. Ann talks about how well she’s doing in rehab, and how she’s able to walk again. The effects of her rape aren’t ever discussed.
When we finally see her again, in the rank 9 event for Ann’s Confidant Link, she’s wearing a knee brace, and still seems to be struggling physically, but still nothing is really said about her mental state. Only that she’s transferring to another school, which could be interpreted as Shujin causing too much stress and trauma for her to handle. But again, not really discussed. Shiho and Ann have a tearful goodbye, and Shiho tells Ann she loves her. Then Shiho leaves the story. Her only mention after that is late in the game, where when trying to encourage Ann to not give up, one of the choices is for her to do it for Shiho.
While not a terrible treatment for a character, this is actually the most in-depth we go into any of the female victims of the villains in the game. The only one who comes close is Haru, but her situation is nowhere near as extreme. Violence against women and girls exists as a constant backdrop in Persona 5. This makes sense, it’s a constant issue in the real world as well. Unfortunately, outside of strictly physical violence, many of the issues society imposes on women are ignored or barely addressed in passing.
Shiho was the game’s best chance to really tackle the situation head on, and ultimately nothing comes of it. It’s an incredible missed opportunity. For a game that has so much to say about how people mistreat each others, it just brushes away her psychological trauma, both from her attempted suicide and the rape. This is the biggest flaw, not her being a minor character or anything, but that they didn’t even try to address that aspect of what happened to her.
Persona 5 is not, by any means, a bad game. It is frequently an excellent game, one that covers subjects rarely broached even in other mediums. That however does not mean its perfect, or it doesn’t have some major blind spots. Sadly, those blind spots are focused mostly around the treatment of women, as well as LGBT issues. These problems were all avoidable with slightly smarter writing choices and more empathy for other people.