Persona 5 is a multifaceted Japanese role-playing game with some of the most engaging characters I've ever had the pleasure of playing throughout the Shin Megami Tensei series, with mature situations that play out in ways that keep you at the edge of your seat.
There's been some murmuring, however, ever since the game's release, about one character in particular and the way she's supposedly treated during her arc. Her name is Ann Takamaki, and she's one of the major protagonists of Persona 5.
She's also one of the most divisive, with some fans accusing the game of sexism and subjecting her to untoward abuse. I'm here to say this certainly isn't the case. Ann is a powerful character who begins to own her sexuality so that she may use it as a weapon toward all who would come to harm here. And isn't that one of the greatest examples of "girl power" we claim to be seeking in games?
Note: Major spoilers for Persona 5 will follow. You've been warned!
Ann Takamaki is one of the first friends you'll make in Persona 5, during an investigation into why Shujin Academy's volleyball coach Suguru Kamoshida is such a disgusting sleazeball. He abuses male and female students alike, and we're not talking purely psychological damage. His slimy hands have battered his own volleyball players and sexually abused his students as well. He's truly scum, having terrorized and threatened and mistreated his students in ways that have scarred some of them for life.
He even went so far as to provoke one of his top track team members, Persona 5 mainstay Ryuji Sakamoto, so he could have an excuse to break Ryuji's leg and remove him from track activities as a result. The former professional athlete and Olympian was obsessed with his own fame and ego, and thus couldn't deal with anyone stealing his thunder. Unfortunately, the students whose lives Kamoshida toyed with on a daily basis couldn't speak out against him for fear of expulsion and further difficulties, with the school faculty and even parents in on the abuse but powerless to do anything about it thanks to Kamoshida's influence.
This brings us back around to Ann, who's popular with the guys at school but doesn't seem to have that many friends aside from Shiho Suzui, her best friend at Shujin. Not long after Shiho joins the volleyball club, she suffers an injury during training that keeps her from playing. Kamoshida, being the snake that he is, decides he's going to sexually abuse Shiho in an effort to get to Ann, his "true" prize since he can often be found flirting with her and forcing unwanted sexual advances on her.
Kamoshida bullies and abuses Shiho to the point where it appears she's trying to kill herself by jumping off a building, an action that you can look into further later in the game, but she does fall and hurt herself, scaring Ann half to death. She vows to avenge Shiho and everyone else Kamoshida has hurt, including her, by stealing his heart and making things right as a Phantom Thief. In the end she’s able to do this, and continues visiting Shiho in the hospital long after Kamoshida has confessed for his sins and has been stripped of his elite status.
The fighting in Persona 5 takes place in an alternate world known as the Kamoshida, creating a "Shadow Ann" in his own "Palace," or what Persona 5 utilizes as dungeons in-game, sleazes all over the fake Ann in a bikini before fighting the real one, who's awakened as a Persona user. In short, she's got her own Persona to fight with against those who would threaten her way of life, and as she rallies her friends to take out this disgusting creep, she comes into her own.
Ann summons the Persona named Carmen, who resembles a beautiful flamenco dancer and dominatrix with a cigar clenched between her teeth and men dangling from chains as well as perched under her feet. It's a manifestation of the way Ann likely sees men after going through such a nightmarish time at her school, somewhere that should have been a safe haven for her. Let's not forget that she's also a young teenager, which is the most confusing time ever for folks of every walk of life.
She's not going to stand for effigies of herself clad in bikinis fawning over fake Kamoshidas, nor is she going to let her friends be pushed to suicide or treated like cattle. Ann destroys the effigy Kamoshida has created in half after becoming Panther and Kamoshida is rattled. Not only is she not going to stand for his abuse, but even the fake version of her has to go, too. It's a powerful moment where we see just how strong Ann truly is. With a crack of Carmen's whip and a newfound resolve she becomes clad in a sexy maroon catsuit, code-named Panther. A new version of Ann is born, one that's not going to take any untoward advances from anyone and one that's not afraid to do what she has to do to keep the people she loves safe.
In every aspect of her time as a Persona user, Ann is fighting back and reclaiming her sexuality, partially as a big middle finger to Kamoshida, who preyed not only on Ann but on her best friend, who was considerably more helpless than her. She's an attractive girl, and she knows she can leverage this fact for good. So she does joins the Phantom Thieves officially. Occasionally there's banter from the party, including kitty companion Morgana and Ryuji, about her appearance, but it never appears to really cut Ann deeply — and why would it when she's just felled the ultimate creepster?
The scene where she's meant to be "seducing" an artist named Yusuke Kitagawa finds Ann clad in several layers of clothing, meant to be a humorous take. She's meant to model for a "nude" portrait to get more information about Madarame, the next in-game target. There's an in-game sequence where the party gathers together to get Ann to use her physique to model for Yusuke. She's clad in so many layers of clothing that there's no real way she ever planned on actually taking all of her clothes off ... and in fact she never does, stripping only down to a camouflage tank top and jean shorts.
Ann obviously isn't all about stripping down to thwart a random guy she doesn't know, but she realizes this may be their only chance to get insider knowledge on a target the Phantom Thieves have to go after. It doesn't make her the most comfortable, the same way it wouldn't delight anyone to think they might have to use their body to garner information from a possibly dangerous source. But she goes through with it and the operation is (mostly) a success. Interestingly, Ann's Confidant pathway takes her down a road that looks her feelings of being objectified and the fact that she's a part-time model looking to go professional and take it seriously — this isn't a new subject to her, nor is it one that she isn't coming to terms with. She's capable of making her own decisions, and more modeling is part of making a life that she thinks is best for her.
There's something to be said about the way Ann has handled all of the hardships that came her way throughout the entire game, such as being forced to just deal with a teacher who's sexually harassing her and her friends and being treated like a second-class citizen. Her story is inspirational, especially for victims of similar crimes who thought that perhaps they didn't have a voice. Unfortunately the real world doesn't let you "steal" someone's heart as Ann did to Kamoshida, which forces the perpetrators to confess their sins. But it does send a message that you can do something about it, and it puts a spotlight on things women are forced to resort to so they can protect their own in these situations. Ann took the pain of almost losing her best friend to suicide and weaponized her sexuality, truly owning it and acting as a beacon of hope for other students who fell victim to the very same thing.
Ann Takamaki isn’t a "victim" of Persona 5’s misogyny or anything like it, you see. In fact, she's an empowered character with a tragic backstory who gets a chance to change her life, make new friends and live life as the woman she chooses to be. And if that means dressing in a catsuit and calling herself Panther while being fawned over, that's her decision. I'd take Ann's whip-smart attitude and intriguing story over another boring princess any day, wouldn't you?