Imagine a scenario in which one late night, you hear a woman’s cries for help. As you run around the corner, you witness a drunk man harassing her. Thoughts race through your mind. Should I help her or not? Let’s say you do! Well, good job! You’ve done exactly what the PERSONA 5 protagonist did. However, there’s a catch!

You, as the protagonist, soon find yourself under arrest for assault — will be explained later. So, maybe intervening wasn’t the best course of action after all. Despite this, there’s another catch to this scene: ignorance. You could’ve been blissful just being on your merry way instead of intervening. But, is ignorance really blissful?

According to Thomas Gray, the English poet who coined the phrase, it is — sort of. In his poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” Gray writes, “Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.” The latter part implies that knowledge may bring more harm than good in the context of foolishness. Is this really the case though? You’ve heard the woman’s cries and witnessed the scene. I can’t imagine what would ensue, but it’d be pretty horrible — much more horrid than you being somehow incriminated. 

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So, I ask again: is ignorance really that blissful? PERSONA 5 will answer that by exploring a society’s problems. However, before this, let’s familiarize ourselves with what PERSONA 5 is about!

SPOILERS AHEAD: Do you wish to be blissful? Then do not read on as there will be massive PERSONA 5 spoilers. You’ve been warned! For those who wish to be rehabilitated, muster on! 

What’s Going On?

p5 thieves
The Phantom Thieves of Hearts. Image courtesy of Atlus.

PERSONA 5 follows the picaresque story of protagonist Ren Amamiya (his anime name) and his new friends during his one year stay in Tokyo as a transfer student. Due to his intervention from the same scene described earlier, Ren is placed on probation for assault against the drunk man — so much for bliss. Because of this, our hero gets expelled from his high school and, like all previous PERSONA protagonists before him, transfers to a new one. For Ren, it’s Shujin Academy, a prestigious institution.

Most of the gameplay will involve managing Ren’s life during his rehabilitation as an honest student. Those who have played the previous PERSONA titles will find managing the hero’s life rather familiar (i.e., attending class, working part-time jobs, developing relationships, etc.). Sounds quite droll, right? The merit, of course, is that you’ll rank up certain stats for Ren like “Knowledge” and gain experience points.

Now here comes the fun part of the game. It wouldn’t be an RPG without fantasy elements. Ren’s “honest” school life is only a facade. He is also a gentleman thief named Joker who leads a Robin Hood group known as the Phantom Thieves of Hearts. Rather than money, they steal and change the hearts of toxic individuals. Societal reform is their main goal. They want Tokyo’s public to be aware of their society’s issues and to have the individuality to stand up to corruption.

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Thus, the game’s theme is not only about tackling ignorance but to gain individuality and freedom from negative influences. So just how do the thieves do it?    

Will Power

Like characters from previous PERSONA titles, the phantom thieves can harness a latent power within themselves called Persona. Our heroes can summon manifestations of their other selves, which take the form of famous fictional gentleman thieves or spies. For example, Ren’s main Persona is Arsène, based on the same famous Arsène Lupin in literature. Other Persona portrayals include the dashing masked Spanish vigilante Zorro and the Japanese outlaw hero Ishikawa Goemon.

Additionally, the phantom thieves can access a shared alternate reality called the Metaverse by utilizing a navigation app. The Metaverse is shaped by cognition, or how people and society perceive the world as reality. As such, this shared reality houses the collective unconscious of people’s thoughts and desires. How people see things will take shape as reality in the Metaverse.

P5 Queen
Makoto “Queen” Niijima awakens to her Persona Johanna.

When an individual’s perceptions are highly corrupt and negative, a Palace will form. These Palaces are essentially the dungeons you’ll traverse, or infiltrate, as the phantom thieves. Deep within the bowels of them lies an individual’s Treasure or the physical representation of their distorted desires. The phantom thieves seek these objects to change the hearts, or cognition, of corrupt adults. Any individual with their Treasure stolen will no longer hold negative desires and will undergo a “change of heart.” They will then confess their evil ways.

With both their supernatural power and the ability to traverse the Metaverse, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts have their eyes set on reform. Now they just have to generate awareness of Tokyo’s societal issues. Here are some they face in PERSONA 5:

Blooming Villain

Immediately into the first week of school at Shujin Academy, Ren is thrust into rumors about physical abuse and sexual harassment concerning the volleyball coach, Suguru Kamoshida. The rumors are revealed to be true as Ren, along with the victims of Kamoshida’s bullying, investigate the matter further. Kamoshida, who is the first target and boss you face, is an ex-Olympian who prides himself on achieving results for his own personal glory.

P5 S Kamoshida
Kamoshida’s Shadow with Cognitive Ann.

His students are subject to rigorous and torturous training. His female volleyball members have it worse as they are subject to Kamoshida’s sexual advances as well. Ignorance plays its ugly hand on this issue. Students don’t stand up to Kamoshida for fear of expulsion or loss of their athletic standing. What’s worse is that even the principal is aware of these rumors, but decides to do nothing to preserve Shujin’s image as a top-notch high school. As such, Kamoshida uses these rumors to his advantage to freely reign supreme at Shujin.

So, his Palace is Shujin Academy in the guise of a castle where he, or rather his Shadow Self, presides over as a king. Within, his true perceptions unfold — cognitive versions of his volleyball team exist as slaves for his amusement. Kamoshida’s torturous training, while exaggerated in his Palace (tied upside while being pummeled endlessly by volleyballs), depicts what his students experience in reality. You’ll often see a member or two covered in bandages with a depressing expression.

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Worse yet, Ann Takamaki’s best friend, a volleyball member, fails to commit suicide due to Kamoshida’s advances on her to get to Ann. Disgusted, Ann joins Ren along with her childhood friend and an anthropomorphic feline to steal Kamoshida’s heart and end his tyranny forever.

Price

There is a price to pay, even in ignorance. To combat it and to generate more awareness, the phantom thieves have to tackle bigger criminals and more serious issues. As PERSONA 5’s crime lord and the third target, Junya Kaneshiro fits the description.

Sometime after the second target, rumors circulate of Shujin students falling prey to a blackmailing scheme. It turns out that Kaneshiro’s henchmen provide students with jobs to deliver “goods” (or drugs) and later blackmails them into paying back money earned with interest. Students must continue working said jobs to pay off the debt or risk their lives being destroyed forever.

P5 Kaneshiro

With the help of Makoto Niijima, the student council president and sixth phantom thief member, Kaneshiro’s motives are unveiled by Ren and gang. Despite being one of the wealthiest criminals thanks to his drug trafficking scheme, Kaneshiro still wants more money. His Palace, a floating bank that sucks up money, and his cognition of the public in Shibuya as walking ATMs say just as much.

Money is all that sums up Kaneshiro’s distorted perceptions. He views people as tools to extort money from, hence the walking ATM cognitive beings. Despite the extortion, Kaneshiro is actually quite clever. The police have had a difficult time tracking his whereabouts or making any leeway into his drug trafficking scheme. He uses his henchmen to take measures to only target students in broad daylight when there are fewer acts of suspicious activity.

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Still, Kaneshiro and his drug trafficking case is only part of something larger. A more sinister evil lurks in the shadows that wish to steer society into darkness.

Rivers in the Desert

It’s unsurprising with the phantom thieves’ growing popularity and membership that they will eventually attract the attention of a higher power. That power would possibly be the main villain.

This individual has the power to influence others from a high position. If you’re thinking of a company head, you’re quite close — you do fight a CEO. However, the main villain even influences said CEO’s company. If your next guess is a government official, then you’re correct. It’s actually someone you’ve met since the very beginning of PERSONA 5. Think back to that scenario I highlighted at the beginning of this article.

P5 S Shido

Ironically, Ren ends up fighting the same drunk man that blackmailed him into probation. Masayoshi Shido is one of PERSONA 5’s main antagonists (not the true mastermind) and a corrupt politician who wants to run for Prime Minister. Shido is also the leader of the Conspiracy that wishes to control Tokyo and uses the Metaverse to eliminate those in opposition. 

As the seventh target, Shido cares not for Tokyo and its society. His Palace is a representation of this as it takes the form of an enormous luxury cruise liner that sails over a sunken Tokyo. He only wishes to rule Japan for his and the Conspiracy’s own selfish ends. Solidifying his desire, his ship only carries patrons as well as his trusted Conspiracy members. 

Despite a failed assassination attempt on Ren, the phantom thieves band together to tackle Shido and unveil his corrupt politics.

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Life Will Change

Despite Shido’s successful change of heart, the public is still in disbelief of the phantom thieves’ existence and methods. Early on in a mission, the thieves were framed as murderers by the Conspiracy. The organization continues to manipulate the media into thinking that Shido is merely suffering from poor health. While it seems the phantom thieves may have lost, our heroes still have an ace up their sleeve. To have the public believe in them, they have to venture into the Palace that holds the public’s hearts.

That Palace is Mementos. It is a hive of intricate, ever-changing subway tunnels located deep within the bowels of Tokyo’s subway in the Metaverse. You can even say it represents Tokyo’s underbelly of the deepest darkest desires or even the underworld itself!

P5 False God
We don’t need no thought control!

The truth about Mementos is that a sinister false god resides deep within it. This god, Yaldabaoth, or the “God of Control,” is the manifestation of the public’s selfish desires and ignorance to confront their problems. Yaldabaoth also acts as the public’s Treasure, which is why he takes the form of the Holy Grail at first. This form truly is a disgusting representation of humanity’s laziness and ignorance.

His true form is that of a seven-armed faceless mechanical angel who wields the “seven deadly sins,” which you fight in the form of Palace bosses. Seeing that the public wishes to be controlled, Yaldabaoth takes matters into his own hands by fusing the real world with Mementos. Furthermore, he erases the phantom thieves’ existence due to the public’s fading belief in them. Despite Yaldabaoth’s efforts to “save” humanity, the phantom thieves defeat him and save Tokyo once the public believes in them again.

Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There

As you can see, bullying, sexual harassment, drug trafficking, and political corruption are a few of the presented issues in PERSONA 5. Others include plagiarism, overworking, and gender inequality. As such, PERSONA 5 explores and tackles these realistic issues pretty well. These issues pertain to not only Tokyo’s society but also to America or any developed society. 

For example, in Kamoshida’s case, bullying and sexual assault in schools is a common national problem. Same goes for political corruption if you have someone like Shido running for Prime Minister of Japan or any similar high government position. Even in Kaneshiro’s case, drug trafficking or smuggling is pretty pervasive. Are there solutions to these problems that doesn’t involve the fictional stealing of hearts? Yes, but I’m not here to provide you with those. The ultimate message of PERSONA 5’s social commentary for these issues is to not ignore them and to be sure to voice your concerns about them.

P5 ignorance
We do need education.

Ignorance is what makes us slaves to be controlled by higher authoritative beings. Even Ren’s social studies teacher, Mr. Ushimaru, brings up a good point about ignorance in the first month of the game. He lectures about Socrates and his philosophy that evil is born from ignorance. 

Going back to Thomas Gray’s “ignorance is bliss” quote, I believe Gray makes a good point when it comes to ignoring minor problems. Unfortunately, not all things like corruption can remain ignored. As such, I’d like to rephrase Gray’s quote and reinterpret it as, “Ignorance may be bliss, tis evil to truly ignore.”

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We should all strive to be individuals like the Phantom Thieves of Hearts. I’m not saying we need to resort to thievery to make a point, but instead to cast off the masks of ignorance and to face our problems. Only by doing so do we realize the actual inner strength we do have as individuals. This to me may be the true power of Persona (speaking metaphorically of course) that individuals should strive to achieve.

PERSONA 5 is not only about dealing with ignorance, but it’s also about pursuing individuality and freedom. By being your true self (a theme that’s heavily explored in P4), then can you cast off the mask of ignorance that society’s standards have set for you. With this mindset, then can you be free to find solutions to problems.

Even if you can’t make an impact on society, you should at least attempt to change yourself for the better. Because at the end of the day, laziness will only get you so far in life. If you want emancipation, you’re going to have to earn it!

Feature image courtesy of Atlus.

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