1. Half the Kids' Powers are Basically Fueled by Fetishes
Persona has long maintained a tradition of characters learning to face their "true" selves. No matter how painful, embarrassing, or nontraditional those selves may be. Speaking of which, have you looked at the game's main cast? Because there's definitely a running theme.
When members of the heroic Phantom Thieves awaken to their supernatural powers of the psychological, they get new duds that represent who they truly are. In the case of our protagonist, codenamed Joker, this basically amounts to a nice jacket and a mask. The rest of the team is... Slightly more specific.
The first partner whose power raises a red flag is the one who literally wears only red. Ann's persona is Carmen -- based on the character from the once-scandalous French play of the same name. Actually, though, it's something of a three-for-one deal as Carmen isn't actually alone. See, Carmen is accompanied by two diminutive footmen: one which she's choking with a rose stem and another getting ground under her stiletto heel. Neither of the creatures seem particularly perturbed (their eyes and faces are even hearts).
Combine this with Ann's red vinyl bodysuit and whip. It's pretty clear that her supernatural power -- the inner mental strength that makes her able to fight evil not meant for mortal eyes -- is that she's a domme. It doesn't end there, either. Makoto prefers to infiltrate enemy strongholds fully wrapped in spiked leather. Yusuke, with his full-face fox mask and puffy tail, is pretty clearly a furry.
Futaba, the Phantom Thieves' resident otaku/hacker who spends most of her free time on the internet, has the second most obvious kink-fueled powers after Ann. Her persona takes the shape of a classic flying saucer. When she summons it, it literally binds her body in tentacles before drawing her up into its body.
It all makes a certain amount of sense, really. If these are teens suddenly discovering their inner strengths and desires to use them against paranormal baddies then of course part of that self-discovery would involve figuring out what turns them on. Persona has also always been a decidedly horny series. Half of the last three games have been about developing relationships with other characters -- up to and including romantic and sexual partners. Not to mention the developers sure do love their beach and hot springs scenes. It's just a little jarring to see that horniness given actual, physical shape.
2. You constantly execute monsters to become more powerful
A core pillar of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise (the overarching brand which Persona 5 falls under) has always been demon fusion. That's the act of taking two or more of your demons -- or personas in the case of, well, Persona -- and smooshing them together to make a newer, more powerful one.
It's always been a little screwed up. Demons are your allies and often actual party members in SMT games. Fusion basically means treating them like grist for the mill. "Friendship" isn't as important as raw, unmitigated mathematics. Despite the emphasis the Persona games in particular put on building relationships with other people. They are literal demons however. It's hard to feel all that bad for them in the grand scheme of things.
It's different in Persona 5 for a couple of reasons. First, personas aren't demons. They're psychological aspects of the playable characters. Second, the fusion animations are nothing short of painstakingly gruesome. Whereas other games in the series keep things abstract -- the demons, personas, or what have you dissolve into light and take a new shape -- here they are brutally murdered by a pair of pint-sized guards who then bleed their life energy into the final result. It's sort of like catching a Pokemon and caring for it until it reaches maturity and evolves into a wondrous new form. Except, the Pokemon "evolution" in this case is a one-way trip to the electric chair.
There's nothing abstract about it. You literally see the personas get their heads chopped off, or even hanged by the noose until they're dead. Why this is necessary is never really explained. The closest we get is that the fusion process, and the so-called Velvet Room in which it takes place, reflect the state of the mostly silent protagonist's mental state. Since in Persona 5 he feels like he's been unfairly branded a criminal the Velvet Room looks like a prison.
That doesn't change the implication of the imagery. Namely that the hero is tearing out chunks of his own psyche and clicking them together like Legos to make some numbers go higher. What kind of effect does that have on a person? If he cold-cock murders the wrong persona does that just mean he loses the ability to feel love? To do long division? To cry at the appropriate scenes in Bambi like any other rational human being? Is he even the same person?
The possibilities are psychologically horrifying -- literally. At least previous Persona games didn't draw too much attention to this little wrinkle. Instead, Persona 5 makes us watch as parts of our character's brain are shrouded, chained up, and killed while still wriggling. It's hard not to think about.
3. Your Best Friend is a Walking, Talking Anime Reference that Lives in Your Backpack
Along with dick monsters and horny teens, Persona games have long held another tradition. That of the animal mascot. Persona 3 had Koromaru -- a knife and persona wielding Shiba Inu with a heart of gold. At least we assume he had a heart of gold. He was, you know, a dog. He couldn't actually speak. A dog with fucking knives! Actually, come to think of it, maybe Koromaru was a bit more of an ambiguous character than we assumed.
That's probably why Persona 4 sidestepped the issue by giving its mascot a voice. Teddy wasn't an animal per se. He was a walking, talking, empty bear costume that eventually spontaneously generated a human form. He was also horny as hell and constantly hit on pretty much the entire cast of that game. Now that is at least a character that makes it clear where you stand.
Persona 5 elected to split the difference. We're back to a fully animal mascot -- this time a cat named Morgana -- but they can also speak. More than that, Morgana is actually something of a shapeshifter who assumes humanoid form whenever it's time for the Phantom Thieves to throw down. They're cute. They're useful. They're capable of basic human expression. They're also a small bus.
See, Morgana's power to change shape, like most of the supernatural elements of Persona 5, depends on psychology and perception. They're a cat in the real world because that's what cats look like in the real world. They're more humanlike in Persona 5's fantasy reality because things there can be more surreal and metaphorical.
Yet very early on in Persona 5 Morgana reveals they can assume one other form. "For some reason" the people of Japan have a very clear mental image of cats being related to buses. For copyright reasons, Morgana doesn't then say they can turn into a mid-sized motor vehicle because people love My Neighbor Totoro. So much so that, while half of the rest of the main cast derives its powers from their own fetishes, Morgana is fueled Peter Pan-like by the power of belief in anime.
When they're not acting as the gang's Mystery Machine, Morgana mostly hangs out with the protagonist. And we do mean "mostly." Hardly a moment goes by in Persona 5 that your feline friend isn't present: at home, out on the town, on the subway, and at school. Apparently the rest of the world either A) doesn't notice the living creature present inside your backpack and school desk during every in-game day or B) just doesn't think it's a big deal. Honestly, it doesn't really matter. It's nice to dream of a world where everyone can just smuggle their own personal kitten with them at all times. It sounds like a really pleasant distraction to get through the mundane horror of existence.
4. Japanese Cops are Apparently Unchecked Stormtroopers
Persona 5 opens on a pretty action-packed note compared to much of the rest of the series. We catch our protagonists mid-heist. They've just stolen something vitally important from a casino and need to get themselves gone. The trouble is that magical enforcers are hot on their trail and ready to kill the gang on sight.
Things go well, not to mention incredibly stylishly, for the first few minutes. It's not until the playable main character actually escapes the casino that things go totally sour. Apparently, someone has betrayed the cast. Because the first thing our hero sees after exiting the building is an army of coppers so thick it'd make, well, the average American city look tame by comparison.
In the ensuing cutscene they beat the protagonist to a pulp, cuff him, and drag him off to an interrogation room. Okay. Fine. We know he's a masked criminal of some sort. Clearly he's done something wrong and, what with his face being covered it's easy to believe the police don't know they're sacking a teenager with all the force of the Patriots' defensive line on caffeine pills.
Except then we see the player's character not only getting his ass further beat in an interrogation room, but drugged up and down with truth serum and forced to sign a confession while chewing on some overzealous detective's loafers.
We're no experts on Japanese law enforcement but seriously: what the hell!? After learning their captive is a minor the fuzz proceeds to turn the main character's beautiful face into hamburger. Even if we assume they're corrupt you'd at least think they'd worry about making sure their convict was presentable. The opening moments of Persona 5 indicate that, not only are the police in the game's world uncaring and brutal, they apparently have zero public or bureaucratic oversight.
Also, where does somebody even get truth serum outside of a Jason Bourne movie? Is there, like, a generic brand that doesn't require a prescription? What does this further say about Japan's pharmaceutical regulations? These are questions that are absolutely not answered in Persona 5 at any point but goddammit if we're not super curious.
5. There Are Not One But THREE Giant Dick Demons
Shin Megami Tensei's demons (or personas, or shadows, or whatever) are based on real-world legends and mythology. Which is why you repeated creatures based on the likes of Odin, Lucifer, Shiva, and even Zorro coexisting from game-to-game. The developers (and the artists in particular), however, have taken some... liberties with their character designs over the years.
Case in point: Incubus. If you've ever played a fantasy video game before you've likely encountered some horny developer's interpretation of a succubus. Well, incubi are the male equivalent. They're sex demons that sleep with women in order to steal their life force. They are not, to the best of our knowledge, directly related to Incubus -- the world's most milquetoast rock band of the last two decades.
Incubus is one of the earliest enemies/personas you encounter in Persona 5 and he makes a striking first impression. New players will no doubt first be drawn to the sight of his enormous... wings. There's also his extremely unusually curvy... smile. Oh, and he has a red, leopard-spotted cock the size of a housecat. Although his choice of eveningwear has led at least some players to speculate about the nature of that particular attachment.
In contrast, there is absolutely no speculation about Mara.
He appears much later in Persona 5 -- and most Shin Megami Tensei games. He's just, inarguably, a great big dick. With a mouth. Riding a chariot. And it's got tentacles. Honestly, there's a lot to unpack here.
In reality Mara was the mythological being who tried to tempt the Buddha with pleasures of the flesh. Specifically, the demon offered up his three daughters. Given that Mara was dealing with the actual freaking Buddha that didn't work so well. Yet it didn't stop Persona developer Atlus from leaning, uh, hard into associating Mara with male horniness.
Hell, an early version of Mara looks like the severed end of a penis, complete with a uh, suspicious white liquid smattered across its head.
Honestly we can wrap our minds around a giant, evil, talking dick. Pubescent boys the world over have been creating them in school notebooks for millennia. What we can't get over is the strange, presumably metaphorical craft that goes into Mara's design. Are those tentacles meant to be pubes? Loose, demonically animated veins? Does the chariot represent the tireless nature of dudes who can't take a hint? It all bears more investigation. Luckily, Atlus is putting out a real-world 3D sculpture of the thing that you can buy with real money.
You know, just in case you'd like to re-live a feverish nightmare every time you look over at the side table.
BONUS: Your Surrogate Dad is Secretly Rusty Venture
my favorite character in Persona 5 is Dr. Venture pic.twitter.com/gOFKkEa9sL
-- Chris Person (@Papapishu) April 4, 2017
my favorite character in Persona 5 is Dr. Venture pic.twitter.com/gOFKkEa9sL
It can't be intentional, right? This has to be a coincidence. Someone please tell us it's just a coincidence. It's been keeping us up at night for days.