Persona 5's art book, now available in English, has some...interesting things to say about the design of a couple of the game’s best characters, Takemi and Kawakami.
The book—which is incredible, by the way—is full of developer commentary, explaining the design process behind everything from the Phantom Thieves to the game’s boss battles.
A lot of this is good background info for fans of the game, but there are two passages in particular that stood out to me reading through it yesterday. One concerns Kawakami, the hapless homeroom teacher who you can, for reasons that’ll take too long to get into here, sleep with later in the game.
If you thought she looked plain and kinda boring for a game where everyone else looks so wild and stylish, that’s the point. And also one of the biggest challenges an art team can face.
“While not completely hopeless, she isn’t exactly gifted, either, and the idea when designing her was to make her into a ‘normal’ person”, the book’s “Creator Commentary” explains of her design. “We didn’t put any effort into making her clothes cool or fashionable or adding anything to her that really stood out.”
“Rather, we purposely went for a normal person who appears to be missing something. We didn’t do that to cut corners. We actually had to put a lot of thought into what a thirty-something, normally clothed woman who seems to be missing something would looks like. Fans could probably cosplay as her at minimal expense, but others might not even realise they’re cosplaying.”
Brutal. But also weirdly understandable. Video game artists spend so long dreaming of the fantastic that when asked to produce the mundane, it must be a stretch!
The other passage I thought was worth a look was the one explaining the design of Takemi, aka “Hot Doc”, both for how she ended up looking in the game, but also for the revelation that there was a guiding principle behind the design of most women in Persona 5.
“We originally made her look extremely unapproachable, with the eyes of a killer”, Takemi’s commentary section reads. “However, we received a request from Director Hashino that ‘all female characters should basically be on the cute side’ and eventually softened the design. I suppose we probably overdid it a bit in the beginning [laughs]”
I kinda would rather have seen this more psychotic version of Takemi? Persona 5 isn’t afraid to show its men in all shapes and sizes, would have been nice to see the same principle applied to more of the women as well.