Video Game Crushes: Mitsuru Kirijo

If a game has a dating system, you can be pretty sure that I have a “crush” from that game. How could I not? I love romance systems in games, and I’ve gushed about how much I enjoyed those systems in the Persona series, which famously includes a dating sim-like feature. I’d already played Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 by the time I got around to Persona 3 Portable, so I knew going in that my character would have to keep an eye out for his future bae. Wait… do people say bae anymore? I don’t think they do. I haven’t heard it in… a long time. Man, that word was all over the place for a while, and it was so useful for describing silly crushes on fictional characters. Let’s just pretend that I’m writing this post in 2018 and run with it. Where was I? Oh yes. In 2018. Looking for bae in all the wrong places.

You meet Mitsuru Kirijo pretty early in P3P, and as soon as I saw her I remember thinking “welp, call off the search, I think I found my future waifu.” Wait… do people still use waifu? Stop it, Joey, no one’s reading this and no one cares. Waifu. Bae. Booboo babykins. Okay, no one ever used that one. Let’s just move on.

I have long had a thing for red hair, so Mitsuru’s long, crimson locks, draped mysteriously over one eye, almost had me sold on her just by virtue of existing. It worked so well with her white and red outfit, too, so I pretty instantly had cartoon heart eyes and was ready to have my character virtually propose marriage. But I hope I’ve made it clear, if you’ve read any of the other entries in this series, that looks aren’t always what draws me to these fictional ladies. Some of them are stunning, yes, but there are literally thousands of attractively drawn/modelled characters, spanning decades of games. Hell, in the Persona series alone, most of the characters are some kind of cute/attractive. I needed to know more about Mitsuru before I went shopping for a little pixel engagement ring.

And, I have to say, as quickly as I fell for her appearance, I was almost as quickly turning my attention elsewhere. As beautiful as Mitsuru is, I found her to be cold, calculating, and dedicated almost exclusively to work. I found out pretty early that she is heir to her father’s company, The Kirijo Group, which executes shadowy research and development all around the world. As it turned out, Mitsuru took her responsibility to her father and the company very seriously, so every move she made was done in service to her role as future president of the company. Every class, every hobby, every friend had to either serve her future goals or stand aside. And romance? What’s that? Mitsuru agreed to an arranged marriage because it would strategically benefit her father’s company. It’s not uncommon to marry for reasons other than love in Japan, but Mitsuru’s fiancé was a really piece of classist, arrogant, manipulative, abusive shit.

It’s not that I didn’t respect her situation and the immense stress she must feel with such a future hanging over her head, but it created an impenetrable wall that I just couldn’t crack, no matter how charming and flirty I was. Well, the protagonist in P3P isn’t exactly smooth, so my many attempts to chat her up between missions were probably more awkward than debonair. Less “hey, baby,” and more “uh……………….. hi?” Which, if we’re being honest, is far more like me in real life, so I guess it works out. My point is that I didn’t get very far when I tried to get to get to know her. She was all work and no play, and as the leader of our merry gang, that philosophy extended to those around her as well. The summer break is much shorter in Japan than it is in US schools, but it’s still a welcome respite from seemingly endless exams and studying. Well, thanks to Mitsuru, we didn’t get that break, because she signed the whole group up for extra classes. For our own benefit, she said. So it wasn’t long before I just accepted that Mitsuru and I probably weren’t meant to be and began considering my other options.

Yukari seemed an obvious candidate, and maybe even the character the game intends for you to get with. She’s cute, funny, pretty laid back. She’s a good friend. And what about Aigis? She’s a badass robot chick! She is literally made to kick ass, she undergoes incredible growth and development as she becomes more and more human, and her voice is absolutely amazing. Heck, I was even considering Toriumi. As the staple teacher romance option, there is the taboo element that comes with a teacher/student relationship, even in Japan, but she is a writing teacher who loves video games and computers, and she’s pretty dang attractive. She is almost too perfectly suited for me. Luckily for me, I played Portable, the only version of the game that actually allows you to romance every character without penalty (unless you don’t make a final, definitive choice, I think). I was able to explore what relationships with all of these characters and more would be like. Mitsuru was not among them, at first. My uncertainty toward her may have played a part, but she was also not interested in pursuing a romance, given her arranged engagement.

So we beat on, fists against the faces of shadows. But things began to change. With the social, academic, and familial pressures on her mounting, Mitsuru came to some vital realizations about her life. One of the key lessons in Persona games (and most JRPGs, really) is that you can’t do it all on your own. We are at our best and most powerful, these games suggest, when we have the support of our friends, family, teammates, and community. Mitsuru began to let me in. We hung out. We talked. I actually made her laugh. And in what began as an uncomfortable conflict with her fiancé, where he threatened her and the future of her company if she didn’t honor their engagement, she snapped. Not then, in the moment, but the crack had formed that would break her open and reveal her true self. Like a true persona user, she was undergoing a dramatic awakening.

She maintained all of her strengths, including her brilliance with business, fierce intelligence, selfless leadership acumen, and determination to succeed, only now she added steadfast independence, loyalty to herself and her friends, infinite charm, and an empathy that allows her to see the world in a less fixed, impermanent way. She is still the heir to a huge company, still a top student with infinite potential, and still a badass fighter and friend. And, of course, she still rocks those red tresses and that coy smile, meaning she is a dangerous combo of beauty and beastly intellect and strength. I had fun flirting with the other characters in Persona 3 Portable, but with her awakening, Mitsuru became my clear favorite. I’m grateful that I was able to see her again in Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, but I’m really hoping for the long-rumored Persona 3 remake/remaster to come out so I can revisit all of my friends and, above all, my bae. My waifu. My redheaded booboobabykins. Mitsuru.

Video Game Crushes: Ann Takamaki

I am fairly deep into Persona 5 Strikers right now, and although I’ll probably dedicate a separate post to my thoughts about the game overall, I will say now that I am loving my time with it. I doubt I’m the only Persona 5 fan that was expecting this game to be a simple, shallow distraction while we waited for a new mainline Persona game (or a remake of Persona 3, *fingers crossed emoji*), but it feels far more like a true sequel to Persona 5 than I could have hoped for. Part of the reason for that feeling, I think, is that so much of my love for Persona 5 was due to the excellent cast of characters, and all of our favorite Phantom Thieves are back at it in Strikers, with their original voice actors in tow. The subject of this particular post is one such character: Ann Takamaki, aka Panther.

Before I start, I have to acknowledge the issue of age. While these entries aren’t meant to critically analyze these characters, I want to be clear that I understand there are issues with how this series sexualizes some of its teenage female characters, and Ann happens to be a prime example of that. Aside from that, I am quickly becoming an Aging, Ancient Gamer, so for me to be writing about characters that are so much younger than I am is, maybe, a little icky for some. I understand that, but I want to make it clear (if it’s not obvious) that I don’t have actual crushes on these characters, especially the morally problematic ones such as Ann. My “crush” on Ann is as a character, for one, but more importantly it comes from the context of the game. If I allow myself to live the fantasy presented to me, that I am a teen boy in high school, then Ann would be my crush in that fictional world. I know this might seem like an excessive and unnecessary prelude for some, because the romance aspect of these games is often cited as something that people love, so I know I’m not the only one with a “crush” character, but I delayed writing this entry for so long because I worried that it might come across as lecherous or gross. My opinions about Ann as an element of a product created by people are very different than my feelings about her as a character in this fictional world that I love. Okay. I think I’ve probably said more than I need to, so let’s get back to Ann.

Although Persona 5 was my introduction to the series, I had some idea of what to expect in terms of gameplay and content before playing it. I knew there was a social aspect to its RPG elements, and you could increase your link with characters to the point where you romanced them. Being a fan of romance options in games, I had fun guessing who I might romance before I actually sat down to play the game. Makoto seemed like an obvious choice, followed closely by Kawakami (who I think resembles Alison Brie, particularly in the show GLOW, who is my celebrity crush). Ann? The seemingly stereotypical preppy, pretty girl? Nah. Booooring.

Ann is one of the first characters you can romance, though, because she joins your group very early and you’re able to spend a lot of time with her before you even meet other characters. So, as my social link with her crept up, I almost felt like the game was treating her like the default choice. Early on, I was sure I’d resist the temptation to up and romance the first character that came my way. As the story progressed and I spent more time with her, however, I began to have a… change of heart. Yes, yes, I said The Thing. Take a shot if you’ve played the game and were waiting for that.

It’s easy for me as an American to look at Ann and imagine that she is probably very popular and highly sought after. She has some of the very basic markers of “traditional beauty” for western women and girls: the fair skin, the blonde hair, the impossibly blue eyes. As it turns out, these features make her something of an oddity in a Japanese high school, and she talks about feeling alienated and ostracized. I was a little dismissive of that at first, I have to admit. “Oh, really? The blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty feels like a freak? Okay. Sure.” But Ann’s background and history really broke me down over time, and I began to think that my western idea of what is “beautiful” is probably a bit restrictive. Not in the sense that I think her beauty is superior to anyone else’s, but more that I imagine that others value it the same way I might. That’s not to say that Ann wouldn’t be considered beautiful in Japan. She’s a model, so clearly her looks are valued by people. But as many people can attest, high schoolers can be cruel, and students who are different are often not exactly treated kindly.

After I let the fact sink in that she, like Ryuji and Joker, was a bit of an outcast, I began to see her differently. She’s not motivated by popularity and the adulation of others, as I suspected she might be from the game’s promotional art. She’s incredibly determined to be successful at her career, to the point where she is even unavailable for a time due to balancing her work and school life. I certainly don’t fetishize work culture, but I like that she has the drive to keep trying, even when she faces the setbacks that she does. One of those setbacks is that she isn’t as fit or trim as the other models she’s competing against, which is very weird to consider given the fact that virtually everyone in these games is pretty thin. She makes a couple of valiant attempts to lose weight and get fitter, but her love of sweet always wins out in the end. It me, as the kids say.

Part of what might be at the center of her tenacity is her seemingly eternal optimism. She’s not the kind of flighty blonde you might find in other media, where her optimism comes from a lack of awareness or detachment from reality. Ann is smart and knows when things are grim, but she also knows that it’s important for a friend group to have someone who reminds them that things aren’t as terrible as they seem. Hope is never lost. In Strikers, the first major enemy you face is an idol whose twisted desires for revenge have made her into a cruel, abusive, malevolent pop star who delights in using her fame to treat people the way she was treated when she was in high school. Recognizing a fellow outcast and victim of bullying, Ann acts as the group’s moral compass when tensions run high and some want to make her pay in much harsher ways. Ann’s ability to empathize with even some of the most unlikeable and aggressive enemies is something I admire. She doesn’t empathize with Kamoshida, though, which is good. Because fuck that guy.

Aside from all that, she’s just a great, funny teammate with some serious firepower. Get it? Fire power? Because her particular magical affinity is fire? What’s that? You didn’t know that because you’ve never played the game? You’re just being nice and reading this because you’re my friend? Fair enough. But, trust me; it was almost a funny joke. Seriously, though, in my first playthrough of the game, Ann was my heaviest hitter. While JRPGs have a long history of making the “pretty” girls healers, Ann was nothing of the sort for me. She was a whip-cracking, flame-slinging, Persona-wielding, badass bitch, and I was here for it. Or, er, there for it. In the past. In that fictional realm.

I love so many of the characters in the Persona games, but Ann has become something of a representative of my love for the series and characters as a whole. She’s great all on her own, but being my first bae in a series that I would come to adore and obsess over, she’s kind of a symbol of my love for the entire series. I have an Ann poster, t-shirt, statue, phone case, mask… I even have an Ann tattoo! So, yes, I have a crush on the fictional character of Ann, but she also represents my even bigger real-world crush on Persona and all of the magic that has come with every single game I’ve played since my first adventures in Persona 5. I am grateful that I’m getting a whole new set of adventures with these characters in Strikers, and I hope there are even more games with this cast to come. This summer, I am planning on watching every Persona anime available, so I’m excited to get even more time with my virtual, fictional friends soon. *nerd emoji*

Video Game Crushes: Momiji

In my discussion of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Fortune, I called Momiji a new video game crush, and having recently played the newly released Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Scarlet, I figured now would be as good a time as any to write an official entry about her. Momiji is not an original Dead or Alive character, but the team behind the DoA games – Team Ninja – also made the Ninja Gaiden games, where Momiji originated from. She is the apprentice to that series’ protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa, so her ability to kick serious ass should be apparent.

DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme 3 Fortune

I haven’t played any of the newer Ninja Gaiden games, though, so my only video game experience with Momiji is in the DoA volleyball games. I realize that saying I have a crush on a character from a series known for scantily clad, heavy-chested, anime-esque girls probably sounds a little skeezy, but I’m not normally into the “big tiddy anime girl” archetype. Does Momiji have an incredible body? Yes. But what made her stand out was her attitude and personality. Most of the women in these games come from fighting games, so they are hyper-competitive and, at times, harsh in their criticism of teammates. There were certain women, like Nyotengu, who would openly berate you for missing a shot, even when they themselves had made several mistakes. Momiji, on the other hand, was kind, supportive, and sweet as a partner. I was so conditioned by the other players to expect some snarky or snide comment when I missed a block or dove for a ball too late, so when I first played with Momiji and she had nothing but encouraging comments for me, I was taken aback. In a way, she reminds me of Chun-Li: strong, skilled, dedicated to her training, but somehow still sweet, carefree, and capable of having fun.

Momiiji_DS
Original Character Design — source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momiji_(Ninja_Gaiden)

Given the similarities between Momiji, Chun-Li, and the next character I plan on writing about (my special lady from Fire Emblem: Three Houses), I’m starting to wonder if I have a type. This “crush” series might prove enlightening in that way, so maybe after a certain number of entries I’ll write a summary of what my choices say about me. Or maybe that’s too personal, not game-centric enough. For now, I’ll just conclude by saying that Momiji, my shrine maiden ninja, with her elegant high ponytail and twinkling hazel eyes, has a part of my pixelized heart.

DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme 3 Fortune