Taking a look at the LGBT representation in Persona 5 (Light Spoilers)

Burbeting

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NOTE: This thread will have slight spoilers about the existence of few characters, and light spoilers about Social Link/Confidant of few characters. Nothing major story-wise is spoiled here. Also, this OP will be very picture heavy and long, but no gifs are used, so it should be fine for mobile users. I will also note that I really like this game, it’s right now in the top of my GOTY list of this year, even surpassing Zelda.

Persona 5 was released in west three weeks ago, and people have started to clear the game’s story mode. I completed the game last week myself. Since then, I’ve been thinking about the way the game shows LGBT themes. LGBT themes aren’t exactly the forefront of this game, especially less so than they were in Persona 4. But I want to discuss the way Persona 5 handles it’s LGBT themes.

In short, they don’t do exactly stellar job about it. There is very, very little LGBT representation in this game. The examples I’m going to go through are basically all there is in this game about the subject matter. I’ll be going through negative and positive examples about LGBT representation in Persona 5. Since I know this opening post is very long, there is a very brief TL;DR in the bottom.

Negative Example A: Those Two Guys

If you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about. These two unnamed men are the only explicitly gay characters in the game:

The game goes pretty much all out on the stereotype about these characters. They are effeminative gay men, who are basically preying on the innocent straight minor Ryuji.

The game lets you respond with a joke response to Ryuji that he has to basically ’man up’ against these unmanly gay men.

The men then take Ryuji away, and only implications about what happen are comedically referenced the next day in the game:

This isn’t the last time these two characters are seen, though. They can be seen throughout the game in one of the districts in Tokyo, although they can be ignored there. They do end up appearing again in the beach scene. This time the game stops with the implications, and pretty much outright says, that these two men want to at least sexually harass minors.

So the scene starts with the two gay men making their entrance.

The scene is framed as being reflection to the boy’s attempts to hit on women earlier, so it’s more or less meant as a ”punishment” towards them with the cost of showing these gay men again in an offensive light.

This whole scene feels very awkward and out of place, same as that earlier scene pictured above. But the worst part comes at the end, when the game outright states that these men are going to sexually harass these minors (16-year-olds, in this case).

The Boys react with running away in agony

And then the gay men running after them, since they are going to forcibly harass them. The game doesn’t say they would molest them, but the way this whole thing is framed, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the intent of the writing.

The boys manage to escape, and the two gay men are never referenced directly in the game again, unless you go out of your way to talk to them in Shinjuku, where they make remarks about another male character who is still a minor.

So why is this stereotype harmful?

This is basically yet another example of a very troublesome trope widely known as "All Gays are Pedophiles". Although in this case the targets of the men’s affections are 16, they are still definitely minors, and so fits this trope. This showing in this game is especially bad due to these two characters being the only two definitely gay men in Tokyo Protagonist will interact with.

The idea that ”All gay men are sexual predators, hunting for especially minors/children” is especially troubling due to how this stereotype about gay men is actively used as a reason to abuse and hunt Gay minority in Russia especially. (Warning, some pictures in the link might be NSFW)

“Occupy Pedophilia,” is a Russian vigilante group founded by Maxim Sergeyevich Martsinkevich. Members of the group are alleged to have lured LGBT youth to abusive encounters through fake social media profiles under the guise of meeting other LGBT youth. The encounters are often recorded and then posted online. The group is said to equate homosexuality to pedophilia, and is also alleged to target gay men and subject them to similar abusive treatment.
So it is worrying and harmful to see the game use this very damaging stereotype towards gay men, especially in this case where these two characters are the only explicitly gay men in the whole game.

---
Moving on to the other major problem the game has with LGBT representation:

Negative Example B: Lack of Choice

Persona 5 is a social life JRPG, where you can hang out, and make romantic connections to people. The game gives you multiple different romance options, including multiple women who are significantly older than the protagonist, which can lead into questions about power balance between the two sides of said romance. But the game gives you explicitly no gay romance choices, which is unfortunate, although not exactly a surprise, given how Persona 3 (Outside of P3P where Female Protagonist could romance Elizabeth and Aigis) and 4 were absolutely no-no to gay choices, even when it would have been the most logical conclusion writing wise (Persona 4 for example removed Yosuke’s romance option completely, even though there are signs that he was originally going to be one.).

But even more interestingly, there is nearly nothing in terms of LGBT representation in any of the social links of this game. There is only one reference to LGBT in most of the social links in this game, and it’s this scene with Yusuke, where you go out to a lake in a rowing boat. The lake is apparently popular among couples.

Right from the start you can make a reconfirmation that your character is indeed straight, with the option ”I should bring a girl here.” But there’s nothing to worry, since Yusuke is only interested in the passion between man and a woman.

At the end of the scene, the people in the boat next to you and Yusuke think you two are a gay couple.

Which your protagonist responds with seemingly distressed emotion of hearing the idea, while Yusuke didn’t seem to hear the subject matter at all.

I wanted to talk about this scene in particular, because it’s more or less the only confidant scene in the game with any sort of LGBT theming in it. It’s also a scene where the main protagonist shows some distress of being even labeled gay, and you are not given any other option about it. This is weird, especially since you are able to otherwise mostly choose your reactions to some level, and most definitely can choose what kind of women your character is attracted to, you can even choose them all.

So it’s a shame how this game is definitely against the idea of even having a gay option for you to romance. This is weird, especially in comparison to Persona 2, which actually let you choose a gay romance option in a very respectful manner. It’s also a real missed oppoturnity, especially since the only gay characters shown before are harmful stereotypes.

---

Although the two examples talked above are negative, there is one positive example in the game about LGBT-representation, in my opinion:

Positive Example: Lala Escargot

Around the same time in the game you meet with the two gay men, you also meet up with Lala Escargot.



The game never explicitly states, if Lala is a Drag Queen, or a transgender character. By the framing of the narrative, the latter option seems more likely to me, personally. She runs a bar called ”Crossroads” in the game, and while is not a confidant, seems to be fairly close to one of the confidants in the game, who hangs out in the bar. While she is never really the focus of the game, her being a drag queen/trans is not her defining characteristic, and it’s never used as a joke/take that against her. Instead it’s simply part of who she is, and nobody seems to question it, which is refreshing to see. The only gag you can really make about her being drag queen is if you take a job in the bar, and ask if you have to cross-dress too.



Not all about Lala is perfect, though. Her writing is more or less the stereotype of a hostess in Okama Bar (Okama Bar is a gay bar with usually drag queen hosts), yet the bar she seems to be running is not a gay bar at least explicitly. Her voice in the english dub is also very masculine, which might be so just to bring contrast to her visual design otherwise. Still, the way she is written is fairly tasteful, especially in comparison to the negative examples talked earlier.

---

So why does the LGBT representation in this game even matter?

The usual answer to criticism about LGBT representation in JRPG’s is ”it’s a japanese game, so it’s a cultural difference.” And while this is true, Persona 5’s main themes are definitely about challenging the more problematic aspects and stereotypes about the Japanese society. The game talks about sexual harassment, women’s worse position in work and even politics in a very well written manner. Yet even then, it falls back to these harmful stereotypes when discussing LGBT, even though it’s one of those problematic aspects the game is supposedly trying to challenge and rebel against. This makes the issues the game has with writing LGBT stand out way more than it would have otherwise.

It’s also worth discussing this, since this is the third mainline Persona game in a row where the LGBT-community is written as either jokes or obstacles in some manner. Persona 3 had this transphobic joke:

Persona 4 first seemed to go deep into LGBT themes, but then backed out twice in favor of different types of story arcs altogether, while letting one of the main characters (Yosuke) act like a rampant homophobic with no one actually calling him out if it during the whole game. And like mentioned before, Persona 4 also seems to have removed a gay romance option at some point during development, even though those lines were even dubbed in english.

So I was really hoping that Persona 5 would be better about this, especially due to it’s main theme of rebellion, but I was left very disappointed about it. I’m interested in hearing other people's opinions about the subject.

TL;DR: While Persona 5 has one fairly well written LGBT character, overall the game does bad job writing about the sexual minorities, with outright harmful stereotypes and complete lack of gay romance options.
 

Jamix012

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baby steps I guess. Kanji was great in Persona 4, but the way characters treated him was really, really poor.

The fact that I was happy that the gay stereotypes only appeared twice should speak to how low the bar was from P4. Both games I love, btw, it's just a shame.
 

Blackquill

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The beach scene was so embarassing goddamnit.

But the boat scene with Yusuke was funny tho, I just thought at the time that the protag didn't want people to think that he dated Yusuke more than he dated someone of the same sex.
 
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Good write-up, I found this stuff incredibly off-putting in conjunction with some of the other problematic things in the game (the female adult Confidant romances, specifically). The gay panic shit is so damn regressive, holy shit.

Also I think Lala might be a cross-dresser, because if you go to work at the bar the first time, you can ask the question "Do I have to cross-dress to work here".
 

Vamphuntr

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I was surprised they didn't try to rewrite the beach scene in the English version. It implied the two creeps were really into molesting high school kids.

baby steps I guess. Kanji was great in Persona 4, but the way characters treated him was really, really poor.

The fact that I was happy that the gay stereotypes only appeared twice should speak to how low the bar was from P4. Both games I love, btw, it's just a shame.
Kanji in the end was a cop-out. He liked tomboys or girls that acted like men. It's pretty evident in the awful dancing game where he has a crush on the idol that acts like a man.
 

epmode

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If you get a job at that bar, the game explicitly talks about cross-dressing.

edit: Beaten!
 

nynt9

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This answer maybe makes things worse instead of alleviating it, but considering the age of consent in Japan is not as clear cut as it is here in the west, maybe those dudes hitting on Ryuji isn't meant to be seen as hitting on an underage person. After all, your MC enters romantic relationships with adults as well. (Not trying to defend Japan's age of consent, just that the intent might not be as we read it, maybe a Japanese person can clarify further).

That being said, those characters are still excessively stereotypical.
 
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I like Persona 5, but scenes like these are tiring and make me want to not buy the next release.

It 2017, Atlus. Grow up.
 

NotLiquid

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Credit where it's due; I don't think it's as overtly bad as the previous games. P4 in particular got pretty bad in the way it used Yosuke to carry it's tone deaf approach to things and to me that kind of mentality made me like a lot of characters in P4 less. Thankfully no such expose ruins any characters in here. Ryuji is the closest any character gets to being someone projecting that kind of mentality, but it thankfully doesn't commit to anything when it comes to him and doesn't crater what I think is a good character in comparison to previous "best friend" archetypes.

Still got many ways to go, mind you, but in some aspects, like Lala as you mention, I think they're learning just a little. Let's hope they can go all the way with P6.
 
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Japan isn't that good when it comes to gay stereotypes/representation.
This isn't "not that good", this is just full-on hateful. Whatever the intent behind it was, the end result is hateful. Sufficient negligence is indistinguishable from malicious intent. They clearly consider gays sub-human, a punchline, or both.

Also this isn't true anymore, and you need look no further than this year's Nier Automata. It's just lazy art that still indulges in homophobic shit.
 

Bladenic

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I'm just tired of these moments clashing with the game's themes. Same with P4. I said this in the thread, they need to make up their minds if they wanna be mature takes on societal issues in Japan or a bunch of animu bullshit. It's not just the gay stuff, but even with the sexual harassment stuff. Like Ann is completely objectified by the game and characters numerous times and it's so tiring. Her in battle pose is a freaking 90 degree bend boobs and ass pose.

It's all just stupid. The game's story, characters, and themes could be so much more realized if they didn't succumb to typical Japanese anime shit.
 

Jamix012

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Kanji in the end was a cop-out. He liked tomboys or girls that acted like men. It's pretty evident in the awful dancing game where he has a crush on the idol that acts like a man.
First and foremost, I think pretty lowly of any of the writing outside of the actual numbered games. P4:DAN is atrocious in this regard, and I don't really take anything from that game (or Arenas or Q) to be representative of the characters in the way they were portrayed in the numbered games.

Regardless, I see Kanji as Bisexual, with a preference towards masculinity. I don't personally see this as a cop out seeing as I strongly relate to that myself, but I can understand that some gay men seeking representation might see it as disappointing.
 

AtomskEater

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Did they seriously not learn fucking anything from their shitty "gay panic" jokes in Persona 4?

Fucking hell, Atlus...
That whole bit seriously worsened by opinion of Yosuke as a character, and I'm not alone there. Persona 2 definitely handled the subject more tastefully with the rest of the party just being accepting of it. I guess since the games since then added in waifu elements to capture more of certain audiences they aren't really interested in being tasteful or thought provoking in their portrayals of lgbt characters.
 

Majora

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It's also a game where your teacher acts incredibly inappropriately with you, even though a male colleague at the same damn school got arrested literally a few weeks earlier for broadly the same stuff (though more extreme/violent admittedly). The game just flat-out doesn't deal well with the fact that the main characters are minors.

This is still shitty from a stereotyping perspective though, obviously.
 

SliceSabre

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While I agree about the two stereotypical gay guys being a bad low point, I don't agree about the boating scene with Yusuke. The way I approached it was the MC just didn't want to be seen as 'dating' another guy which I mean I would expect out of any straight male.

I mean he just had the 'sweat' emotive it isn't like he had an over the top reaction to it.


As for gay options I'm not sure where I stand on it, while I would like to see them in more game I'm not going to begrudge the devs for not making the MC bisexual and I say that as someone who is bi.
 

Jotakori

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I haven't finished this game yet, but I did get past the beach stuff at least. How they portray these two guys in the game bothers me SO MUCH. Like, it's the huge blemish on an otherwise really enjoyable game.

You'd think Persona of all things would want to seriously address LGBT stuff given how hard they go on other social issues, but instead they're just constantly boiled down to being offensive jokes. It's such a shame, and I'd rather they just not have the subject in their games at all than stuff like this. :/
 

ArchedThunder

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As for gay options I'm not sure where I stand on it, while I would like to see them in more game I'm not going to begrudge the devs for not making the MC bisexual and I say that as someone who is bi.
They don't need to "make the main character bisexual", let the player choose the sexuality.
 

Flowmoney

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Persona 2 is better with it and it came at a much different time , better than a lot of games honestly.
 

Curufinwe

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Did they seriously not learn fucking anything from their shitty "gay panic" jokes in Persona 4?

Fucking hell, Atlus...
It's OK for a fictional character to not be a perfect model of tolerance. Yousuke was being a dick; that's what he does.
 

gun_haver

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Did they seriously not learn fucking anything from their shitty "gay panic" jokes in Persona 4?

Fucking hell, Atlus...
They didn't at all, don't see a problem with any of it, think it's funny, haven't grown up at all.

Less and less to like about Persona 5/this series as I go on, really.
 

NotLiquid

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Also yeah I agree with the above that I think you're reading a little too into the Yusuke boat scene. Keep in mind that Yusuke, from the moment he's introduced, is depicted as someone who's very socially dense and lacking in grace. He has poor sense of self awareness and I think that's what the game tries to highlight with that boat scene - not that the protag is scared about being labeled gay.

I do think that there was some missed potential with Yusuke admittedly, I think he'd make for a great choice in terms of gay romance.
 

E_Darkness

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Yusuke is a missed chance honestly, he would've been a perfect romance option.

I'm glad Lala was mentioned as a positive. Honestly I really wish Lala was an actual social link. The scenes they're in I really enjoy.
 

Burbeting

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For the Yusuke's boat scene, the point is that I would have wanted a choice in this matter in how the MC reacts. Now the reaction is pre-determined, even though in most cases you can choose your reaction to some extent.
 

Blackquill

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Did they seriously not learn fucking anything from their shitty "gay panic" jokes in Persona 4?

Fucking hell, Atlus...
To be honest I liked Yosuke most of the time but when I remember things like that I can only hate that

For the Yusuke's boat scene, the point is that I would have wanted a choice in this matter in how the MC reacts. Now the reaction is pre-determined, even though in most cases you can choose your reaction to some extent.
True and that would have been interesting to see his reaction
 

Maledict

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I don't personally agree with this as Kanji's whole character dilemma isn't about whether he is gay/straight/bi; his whole arc was about toxic masculinity.
Yeah, and it made that point by shitting on gay people. Kanji's arc could have been really good, but it went down the cheap and easy road - 'thank god im not gay!'. Kanji ended up being a fairly insulting and unpleasant stereotype instead of something that was positive and thoughtful.

(That's not a complaint about him not being gay - that's fine. It's the fact that it had to make being gay a really bad thing to make his storyline work).
 

JonnyDBrit

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I remember discussing this with a friend a few days ago. One of the conclusions from such was that an unfortunate reality with the game is that while it has a big thing challenging 'society's norms and assumptions', it does it from the most bog-standard, very Japanese perspective possible - that of a male high schooler accused of delinquency. It tackles issues regarding presumptions of guilt, sexualisation, arranged marriage, 'wasted potential', but these are pretty typical concepts within Japanese media and society - anyone on these forums who has watched a high school based anime will recognise the tropes easily enough. They're 'safe' issues to tackle, in all honesty, versus LGBT issues for a country that doesn't easily acknowledge the existence of anything but the L in that, and even then for the sake of the male gaze more than real representation.
 

Delio

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Yusuke is a missed chance honestly, he would've been a perfect romance option.

I'm glad Lala was mentioned as a positive. Honestly I really wish Lala was an actual social link. The scenes they're in I really enjoy.
I really wanted Lala to be a social link. Just have that link open through the reporter since you have to go there anyways.

Also yeah the gay guys were terrible and it's the biggest problem I have with the game.
 

EmiPrime

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This is why I don't buy Persona games and have a general distrust of Atlas that they keep affirming over and over again. It's also an example of stuff localisers should take a scalpel to IMO.

Cheap jokes about gay men beng sexual predators are not okay.
 

Burbeting

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Another GAF user reminded me of a scene where you go with Mishima and Ryuji somewhere, and Mishima recommeds going for Crepes, which Ryuji responds with "dude, are you a girl?" or something similar.
 

Loz246789

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As for gay options I'm not sure where I stand on it, while I would like to see them in more game I'm not going to begrudge the devs for not making the MC bisexual and I say that as someone who is bi.
Whilst I'd be less inclined to say that it should apply here (Since the P5 MC, despite having some minimal character traits, is largely a projection of the player), I agree that the idea of the creators having a story they want to tell is something to consider. I've played a few games where a character has said some variation of "are you hitting on me", and the main character has said independently of me that they're not interested. I have no problem with this. They wanted the main character to be straight, and that's fine, that's the story they want to tell.

The problem with Persona 5 is that you the player, can choose flirtatious dialogue options with some male characters at several points throughout the game.
"Honey I'm home", you can offer to strip for Yusuke, that sort of thing.
These were probably intended as a joking option, but if so it's not always apparent that this is the case. It's at best a little misleading, and at worst adding insult to injury.
 

NinjaCoachZ

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I'm just tired of these moments clashing with the game's themes. Same with P4. I said this in the thread, they need to make up their minds if they wanna be mature takes on societal issues in Japan or a bunch of animu bullshit. It's not just the gay stuff, but even with the sexual harassment stuff. Like Ann is completely objectified by the game and characters numerous times and it's so tiring. Her in battle pose is a freaking 90 degree bend boobs and ass pose.

It's all just stupid. The game's story, characters, and themes could be so much more realized if they didn't succumb to typical Japanese anime shit.
I remember discussing this with a friend a few days ago. One of the conclusions from such was that an unfortunate reality with the game is that while it has a big thing challenging 'society's norms and assumptions', it does it from the most bog-standard, very Japanese perspective possible - that of a male high schooler accused of delinquency. It tackles issues regarding presumptions of guilt, sexualisation, arranged marriage, 'wasted potential', but these are pretty typical concepts within Japanese media and society - anyone on these forums who has watched a high school based anime will recognise the tropes easily enough. They're 'safe' issues to tackle, in all honesty, versus LGBT issues for a country that doesn't easily acknowledge the existence of anything but the L in that, and even then for the sake of the male gaze more than real representation.
These posts nail it on the head for me. Very well-said, and nice writeup OP.

I really wish the series would've pushed the envelope a bit more and challenged itself to better accommodate this sort of thing. Have a clearly-gay party member who's portrayed positively and accepted by their peers, or give more options to the player in pursuing such relationships. Don't fall back on cheap, harmful tropes and portrayals without thinking twice. It's that element of safeness, of trying to go against the system in the most acceptable ways while happily conforming to it in others, that gives the series a real sense of dissonance.
 

Phamit

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I'm not very far into the game but is Yusuke suppose to be Asexual? It sounded a bit like he is suppose to be gay. When you are in Madarames house and he reveals that he wanted to make a nude painting, he says something along the lines that he has no desire for the opposite sex
 

Frozenprince

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While Yusuke is adorable and I love him, o honestly think it would have been even better if Ryuji was gay.

That's a character archetype that doesn't really get explored, Yusuke is a "safe" choice but they really could have done something unique and cool with Ryuji.
 
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These scenes tend to be the ones that really throw me out of the past few Persona games. There always seems to be the overarching theme of embracing yourself and sides of you which society may not. Homosexuality fits in great with these ideas and yet so often it's regarded as unwelcome.... which just doesn't really add up to me?
Like, 'it's great to be different! No wait, not that kind of different!'.
 

F0rneus

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While Yusuke is adorable and I love him, o honestly think it would have been even better if Ryuji was gay.

That's a character archetype that doesn't really get explored, Yusuke is a "safe" choice but they really could have done something unique and cool with Ryuji.
Yusuke is not gay though. He lusts after Ann just like the rest of the guys. Tons of scenes of him "sweating" while Ann does something sexy.

Anyway....the game's LGBT representation is absolutely terrible. It's a joke. They haven't learned anything, and it's the game's biggest flaw. Some of the moments are downright disgusting.
 
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While Yusuke is adorable and I love him, o honestly think it would have been even better if Ryuji was gay.

That's a character archetype that doesn't really get explored, Yusuke is a "safe" choice but they really could have done something unique and cool with Ryuji.
Totally agree. Though I would've taken anything over the nothing we ended up getting. 😧
 

Dice//

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Crepes are the best, fuck this shit.
"Crepes are just pancakes for assholes"


Butt i agree they're delicious

I'm not very far into the game but is Yusuke suppose to be Asexual? It sounded a bit like he is suppose to be gay. When you are in Madarames house and he reveals that he wanted to make a nude painting, he says something along the lines that he has no desire for the opposite sex
I don't really think so, it's just "off the table". Art is the first, second, and third thing on his mind.
 

Frozenprince

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These scenes tend to be the ones that really throw me out of the past few Persona games. There always seems to be the overarching theme of embracing yourself and sides of you which society may not. Homosexuality fits in great with these ideas and yet so often it's regarded as unwelcome.... which just doesn't really add up to me?
Like, 'it's great to be different! No wait, not that kind of different!'.
Homosexuality in Japan is considered a joke on the best days.

But given the setting is in Tokyo and about outsiders I was surprised they didn't even mention Ni-Chome.
 

Delio

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While Yusuke is adorable and I love him, o honestly think it would have been even better if Ryuji was gay.

That's a character archetype that doesn't really get explored, Yusuke is a "safe" choice but they really could have done something unique and cool with Ryuji.
I would have been slightly annoyed if Ryuji was the gay option mostly because i hate his personality. But I do get that it would have been interesting for his archetype to be gay.
 

AtomskEater

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I'm not very far into the game but is Yusuke suppose to be Asexual? It sounded a bit like he is suppose to be gay. When you are in Madarames house and he reveals that he wanted to make a nude painting, he says something along the lines that he has no desire for the opposite sex
I have no idea what they were going for with Yusuke. *spoilers for past that scene, if you've seen the summer vacation events you're good*
He got flustered when Ann started taking off her clothes, and in the perving on Ann anime scenes he's included with MC and Ryuji (although in the desert scene it looks like he may have been looking at Makoto). He also doesn't want to participate in the embarrassing hitting-on-girls scene at the beach (understandable, bro). I think they may have been going for more of an eccentric who is too involved with his art and kinda socially stunted so he never really thinks about sex or relationships at all.