Watch Out, They Move, They Diss You Loud! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(c)-Characters: Akihiko and Mitsuru

Part 6(a) S.E.E.S. and Protag

Part 6(b)Yukari and Junpei

Akihiko Sanada

The Emperor

Akihiko is basically the ace of your group.  Which is fitting.  He is left-handed, after all, a member of that genetically superior race.  Dude is good at nearly everything.  He’s an excellent boxer, and is riding on a 16-match win streak as of the game’s start.  He’s a great combatant against shadows as well, shown taking them on without backup in the game’s opening act and being one of two people you need available to be allowed to take on the tower of Tartarus in the early game.  And he’s got a sharp mind and a stable core, to boot, coming up with great tactics on his own while also keeping S.E.E.S. emotionally grounded during its most difficult moments.

Unfortunately, Akihiko’s also the character most ruined by the sequels completely discarding a lot of what makes him special and the character growth he went through here in favor of over-emphasizing just a few strange moments from him.  So let’s go over just who Akihiko is in Persona 3.

The big, central thing to Akihiko’s arc and personality is his constant drive for self-improvement. He’s incredibly competitive, although it often seems that he’s competing more with himself than others.  He often drives others to do the same as well, taking on a sort of mentoring/managerial role.  He’s the one who guides and protects you as you’re new to the art of shadow-fighting, introducing you to all the resources S.E.E.S. has mustered thus far and making sure you’re adequately prepared.  He also takes a direct hand in helping the academically-challenged members of S.E.E.S. prep for big tests.  When others are trying to temper your expectations of an upcoming athletic meet you’re competing in in the face of the stiff competition you’re set to face there, he’s the one to encourage you most whole-heartedly.  His drive to improve does go too far at times, seeing him take risks alone that others are really uncomfortable with and leave him injured, refuse to rest to allow his injuries to heal, and do make him seem insensitive others when they think he’s focusing on the wrong things.  It can also make him a bit single-minded.  Shinjiro does remark at one point that he is so focused on the future that seeing him think about the past even a bit means that something is dearly wrong.  

The game dances around this a bit, spending a lot of time hinting that Akihiko’s got some traumatic events in his past, before coming out that this drive for self-improvement comes from the death of his sister in a fire. It seems they were living at an orphanage at that point, but otherwise, there aren’t a whole lot of details to go around on it.  He felt a whole lot of guilt for not being able to save her, and devoted everything to getting strong enough that he’d never lose someone like that again.  That pursuit of improvement has its good and bad points throughout the story, as seen above, and continues up until the death of one of his closest friends, Shinjiro.  At that point, he’s forced to come face-to-face with the fact that, as powerful and skilled in so many different ways as he has gotten, there are things in life that he will still be completely unable to prevent.  His pursuit of improvement as a safety measure will never be absolute, and he won’t be able to save everyone important to him from everything arrayed against them.  At that realization, he recommits himself to fighting against the dark hour, knowing that he’ll need to find a new way to live once its done.

And with that, maybe you can see a bit why I find the ‘Let’s eat protein! Train all the time!  Fight fight fight!’ personality he adopts in Persona 4 Arena and Persona Q so disgusting.

Akihiko’s notably rather strange in social interactions, particularly when he’s in situations he’s unfamiliar with.  He will often callously state something very rude and direct, not out of any sort of cruelty, but simply out of pure lack of thought of any other way to handle it.  His mysterious demeanor, good looks and sharp clothes, and success in the boxing ring makes him very popular amongst the ladies, yet he very obviously doesn’t care and finds his fan club to be annoying.  His competitive drive makes it very easy for Junpei to rope him into shenanigans, and when he does, Akihiko generally awkwardly stumbles along until disaster occurs.  Particularly interesting to me is his part in the infamous Operation Babe Hunt, wherein Akihiko does have an easy time getting women’s attention, using the same surface-level features that makes him so popular among his classmates, yet completely fumbles when it’s time to engage them in conversation.  He’s oftentimes very awkward in conversation, with strangers and children in particular, and when dialogue among S.E.E.S. goes more philosophical, he seems to have a great deal of trouble expressing his ideas with much nuance.  Several times, he bows out of a difficult social situation and expressly puts responsibility on you to handle it.

And yet among his in-group, he shows a lot more thoughtfulness and care, and can converse a bit more freely.  He steps into the peer mentor role well, taking responsibility as senpai to both ensure you’re doing well in school and that you keeping safe and up to date with your shadow-hunting work.  He also has a surprising amount of insight when he cares to use it, and is often the first to pick up on things going wrong with others.  In the notes I was taking as I played through the game in prep for these articles, I wrote down multiple times that Akihiko is the glue holding S.E.E.S. together.  When there’s friction between members of the group, or when events are driving them apart, Akihiko is the one that holds everyone steady, that mediates between them, or gives them the foundation to return to the core.  With the people he knows well, Shinjiro and Mitsuru, he’s very adept at predicting their reactions and creating the circumstances needed to get them to move in his desired direction.  He seems to have a degree of intimacy with Mitsuru in particular, knowing her beyond the professional demeanor she maintains with everyone else.  He does get into a bit of conflict here and there with other S.E.E.S. members himself, as what’s important to him doesn’t always line up with what’s important to the group as a whole and he’s very willing to go off on his own, but he never works against the group and you never get a hint of disloyalty from him.  

In combat, Akihiko plays something of a red mage role, being good at pretty much everything but not specializing in any one area.  He can use physical attacks and his thunder magic about equally well.  His defense is a little weak, but he gets enough HP that he usually won’t be the first one down.  If you need him in a support role, he’s got the single-member heal spells and enemy debuffs to perform decently there.  He uses gloves and punching weapons, fitting for a boxer, which are kind of low damage but have very high accuracy, making him rather reliable even against evasive enemies.  Red mage-types are often doomed to fade in prominence as the game goes on and they get outperformed by well-built combinations of more specialized characters, but Akihiko actually works well here.  Both due to him being more experienced then the rest of you, translated into gameplay as him starting at a higher level than the rest of your party members, and with him being the first party member to get his ultimate persona, it’s really easy for him to get more playtime than the others and naturally end up at a higher level at the end as a result.  Moreover, with your companion’s AI being somewhat unreliable, having another party member there who can play multiple roles without the amount of setup your protag requires and having an array of skills of which there’s no bad options is actually rather helpful, at least in the PS2 versions of the game.  Akihiko’s initial Persona is Polydeuces, who is more commonly known as Pollux, half of the gemini twins and one of the Argonauts alongside Jason.  His ultimate persona is Caesar.  As in Julius.  That guy.  You know, the one with the salad.

Mitsuru Kirijo

The Empress

I am a man of principles.  I live my life by a code.  Nothing major, just a set of rules to guide me through all of the complicated situations life throws at me.  One of those rules is “Date the redheads first.”

Unfortunately, I had to break that rule with Mitsuru.  For two reasons.  The first is that the game just doesn’t let you start her social link until you’re almost in the endgame. Even though I am, legitimately, a Genius.  The second reason… eh, let’s forget about that for now.

While your protagonist is the chief of S.E.E.S. in the field, Mitsuru is the group’s official leader overall.  She’s the CEO to your protagonist’s COO.  She’ll follow your guidance in battle, but as far as overall strategy, management, and development go, she’s in charge. Mitsuru is also the heir of the Kirijo group, a massive business conglomerate, and was raised full of wealth and privilege. Her grandfather was a wicked man, and was the one behind the experiments seeking to control time that ended up causing the Dark Hour in the first place.  Mitsuru finds herself driven to combat the Dark Hour to redeem her family’s sins.

In personality, Mitsuru is formal and professional in nearly all things.  Aside from Akihiko, she refers to everybody by their last names, in keeping with proper Japanese formality.  She’s often rather cold with people, and it really seems that both trust and openness are very rare from her.  Akihiko and, late in the game, Yukari and maybe the protagonist, are the only people who really get any degree of closeness with her, and she spends much of the game hiding important information because its content is uncomfortable to her.  She seems very cold and distant from her father in a very one-sided way, as he seems to be a genuinely good guy who wants what’s best for her while still respecting her independence.  She has a lot of leadership roles, being the head of S.E.E.S., student council president, and future leader of the Kirijo Group, and being that the Kirijo Group owns Gekkoukan Academy, she has some authority over the teachers, which is kind of freaky for a student to have.  She can be rather authoritarian at times, deciding on her own what’s best for other people and doling out punishments herself or going behind other’s backs to push them in the direction she thinks is right.  She also views things in black or white terms; things are either right or wrong on their surface, and that’s all that matters to her.  No mitigating factors or explanations will be considered.

The game presents a lot of background that could feasibly develop Mitsuru to this point.  Mitsuru lived a very sheltered childhood, to the point that she’s completely unfamiliar with how to handle very common things and reacts to simple stuff like fast food restaurants in a very similar way to the alien Elizabeth discovering things about our world.  She spent her whole life being groomed to inherit and lead the Kirijo group, and between that and her limited experience, my read on her is that she’s got some very specific ideas about authority and how it works that time hasn’t tempered yet.  Her social link reveals that she holds herself and her role to the same group-oriented standards that she holds everyone else to, and is resolved to make great personal sacrifice to uphold her role before you lead her to a better realization.  And, she’s spent almost the entirety of her teenage years in combat against Shadows, having awakened to her persona at 13.  With so much of her developmental years devoted to fighting and surviving, that’s going to change the way she approaches the world a bit.  However, with her strong avoidance of uncomfortable conversations while facing the strict problems of her role head on, her rules-based thought processing and her black and white views of morality, one of the things I’ve been wondering is whether she might fit in on the autism spectrum somewhere.  Obviously not an intended read by the developers, and it’s not a subject I’m too educated on, but it’s a thought that keeps coming up for me as I watch her operate.

Her arc is a bit more mild and simple in comparison to the others, mostly relating to her learning to put trust in her allies.  In the beginning of the story, she knows full well what caused the Dark Hour and why the shadows keep arising, as well as the fate of Yukari’s father and what is thought to be his role in the happenings, but keeps it all to herself out of guilt and not wanting the confrontation.  This leads to a lot of distrust and suspicion from other members of S.E.E.S., particularly Yukari, and it’s not until her father gets involved and moves things forward that she finally owns up to her family’s involvement.  Some cracks in her professional facade do start to show, after that, but she isn’t truly vulnerable with anyone else until after Ikutsuki’s betrayal and her father’s death, when she has to take an extended amount of time and Yukari, who went through a similar loss, helps her face her feelings.  With Yukari’s help, she learns the value of letting others in, and awakens to her new persona, with a new way of approaching the world.

Mitsuru initially serves as your party’s scanner and operations manager, coordinating your activities from behind the lines.  Her persona’s capable but not especially well-suited to do that, picking up no special skills to assist you in that role, and she joins the combat team as soon as the group recruits someone else who’s able to take that role.  In combat, Mitsuru is….. eheheh.  She’s good on paper, having really high magic stats as well as picking up skills that increase the damage of her ice spells, making her a heavy hitter magically.  With her one-handed swords, she can also hold her own in physical encounters, although she’ll definitely be outclassed there by many other characters.  She also picks up multi-target healing spells, and her high magic stats make her pretty good at that.  The problem is that she also gets status effect magic.  Normally, those would be the type of spells you’d largely ignore except for specific situations, but remember that, P3P aside, your characters are controlled by an AI, and you’ll see her use that in situations where they’ve got no hope of success.  It’s become legendary, Mitsuru’s odd priorities having her cast useless spells in desperate situations.  I didn’t find it so bad, this most recent run through the game, but I definitely remember it being more of a problem in my earlier moves.  It’s strange, for a character that’s touted as being so intelligent and as much an overachiever as she is, that she ends up making the least intelligent moves of your party thanks to AI quirks.  Anyways, her high magic skills and the fact that lots of enemies are weak to ice makes her rather useful overall, but she’s not as predictable or reliable an ally as many others.  Her initial persona is Penthesilea, the Amazonian queen, while her ultimate persona is Artemis, goddess of hunting and the wilderness.

Part 6(a) S.E.E.S. and Protag

Part 6(b)Yukari and Junpei

2 responses to “Watch Out, They Move, They Diss You Loud! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(c)-Characters: Akihiko and Mitsuru

  1. Mitsuru’s AI is infamously bad, yeah. Her Marin Karin overuse is so bad it became a joke. As far as her story goes, it’s a pretty rough one. I never considered the autism spectrum thing, but I can really see it. Maybe a mild sort of case.

    Akihiko was one of my favorite characters in P3. He’s exactly the type you’d want on your team — loyal and capable, even if he does have his hangups like everyone else. Thanks for bringing up his treatment in the spinoff games, though. I actually hate how those games just took a bunch of Persona characters and exaggerated a few of their most basic traits (Akihiko: “Let’s train”; Chie: “I love kung fu and steak” etc.) I get that those games are lighter in tone and maybe try to play for comedy more, but it’s still irritating.

    • Oh yeah, she’s definitely high functioning, if she’s on the spectrum at all and my weird brain theorizing isn’t completely off base. But it’s weird that for the most part the AI is at least somewhat predictable, if occasionally frustrating, but with Mitsuru, the most intelligent character, it goes completely wild.

      And yeah, the spinoff games do stretch the personalities a fair bit. I don’t mind so much with the Persona Q games, as that’s clearly a non-canon dream match, but the dancing games proport to use the same characters from the same settings while the various Persona 4 continuations shoot to continue the stories in canon, so my standards are higher there. And Akihiko’s treatment in particular, going from being an intelligent, nuanced character to a total meathead, really frustrates me.

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