Last month we saw the re-emergence of a truly great JRPG that had spent the better part of 8 years locked on the PS Vita – Persona 4: Golden. I had played through P4G a couple of times before its release on Steam, but that didn’t stop me immediately jumping back in and exploring the foggy town of Inaba with my friends once again. But the PC release of P4G didn’t just herald our return into the ever-mysterious TV World, it also sparked a series of online threads and conversations about the girls in the game, specifically Pop-Idol Rise Kujikawa.
Persona has always had a strange relationship towards the young women in its games. When I played P4G for the first time, I didn’t think too much of the misogyny and let myself get swept away in the mystery of it all. Now I’m older and more socially aware, and I actually live in Japan and teach at schools with students the same age as our Investigation Team. So when I am looking for high-quality P4G memes about Teddy being the worst and then stumble upon gross, hyper-sexual comments and videos aimed at the girls in-game, especially Rise, it makes me shudder. To fully explain why, I’m going to break down the key arguments found online justifying this lustful behaviour towards a FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD GIRL.
But the legal age of consent in Japan is 13!
Okay, to start, it’s just straight-up gross if this is your leading argument, even though it’s technically correct. Articles 176 and 177 of the Penal Code Of Japan (1907) stipulate that the legal age of consent is 13 years old. Does that then make it okay to sexualise a teenager? Well, to make an informed judgement, we have to really dive into the nuances of the argument, but first I would like to say that OF COURSE IT DOESN’T. This 113-year-old law isn’t even really applicable, as municipalities in Japan actually have their own laws that typically stipulate the age of consent as being somewhere in the 18-20 region.
But even if the general consensus was that 13 was genuinely the legal age of consent, that doesn’t mean you as a grown adult can get your jollies to young girls in school uniform guilt-free. I’m not sure if you remember being a teenager, but it’s an awkward transitional period in your life. Your face is breaking out in spots, you’re emotional and often erratic in your behaviour and, especially in Japan, studying 6 days a week in school and completely shattered all the time. The last thing these kids need is to be over-sexualised. Yes, I am aware that Rise is fictional, but that really isn’t a defence as she is still, and I can’t stress this enough, FIFTEEN-YEARS-OLD.
Why did Atlus make Rise so sexual then?
As I said above, Persona has always had an issue with how it represents women throughout the history of the franchise, but the sexualisation of Rise is very much a reflection of the wider issues of Japanese Idol culture. The very idea of an Idol is to be a merchandising machine, somebody who is recruited at a young age with talent but next to no experience, signed to extreme working contracts and stripped of personal autonomy. You can see a clear example of this in the very first moments of P4G when Rise is selling a drink that “even she could handle”.
Of course, not all Idols are treated poorly but this extreme work schedule plays fully into Rise’s story arc. She is burnt out and looking to just have a quiet life, go to high school and be a normal teenage girl. The lustful advances of older men are not only what Rise as a character is actively avoiding, but are evocative of what real-world Idols are also subjected to. “Moe” (the Japanese term for extreme affection toward anime characters, particularly those that are perceived as submissive) bleeds into Idol culture, often with devastating consequences such as the stabbing of Mayu Tomita in 2017. Atlus made Rise sexual because that’s what the real world does to these young girls. We as an audience have to recognise this and treat Rise with the same respect that real-world Idols deserve.
If they didn’t want me to love Rise, why can I romance her?
Like most JRPGs, P4G offers a multitude of romantic partners for you to fall in love with. I understand that P4G is a role-playing game, but I implore you to treat the young love for exactly what it is – young love. These kids are discovering who they are in the world through awkward interactions and occasional hand-holding. It’s sweet, embarrassing and by and large quite innocent. Of course, there are some moments of innuendo but when you are playing this game put yourself back into the mindset of a 16-year-old. Yes, hormones are flying everywhere but even just spending time with the person you love, going to the shops and hanging out is a thrill. Stapling sexuality onto the whole thing just sullies the beauty of young love.
I’m not here to tell you how to play your games. At the end of the day, you as a consumer are allowed to enjoy media how you see fit. I just want you to take some time to consider the wider implications of infatuating over a teenage girl. Rise has one of the most rewarding, multilayered and interesting personal stories in the Persona series. Take the time to see the world through a young girl’s eyes, rather than eyeing her up.