With this week’s podcast celebrating the wonder that is the PlayStation 2, it’s only fitting that for Waifu Wednesday this week we look back on a classic character who made her first appearance in a PS2 game.
Yes, this week it’s the turn of Mitsuru Kirijo from Persona 3, the game that established the Shin Megami Tensei spinoff’s current format. She’s a consistently popular character from Persona 3’s core cast, and has put in appearances in several other games from the series over the years, too — including Persona 4, Persona Q, Persona 4 Arena and Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight.
Better get your grades up, though; Mitsuru doesn’t hang out with anyone who isn’t a Genius, remember…
Mitsuru is one of the first characters you meet in Persona 3, as she greets the player-protagonist immediately on their arrival at the dormitory they share. In contrast to the initially rather frantic-seeming Yukari — who is shown crying and unable to make use of the gun-like Evoker to summon her Persona in the introductory animation — Mitsuru puts across an immediate impression of calm responsibility, and a sense that she can be trusted.
There’s perhaps a hint of arrogance there, too, though; she proudly explains that she’s studying college-level material during her final year at Gekkoukan High, for example, and certain aspects of her attitude might put across the impression that she looks down on others. This is quite a long way from the truth, as it happens — but the aura she puts out means that the player-protagonist can’t actually develop the confidence to approach her and explore her Social Link storyline until you’ve bumped up your Academics score to the highest level. The assumption that Mitsuru would only want to hang out with “equals” in her free time is reasonable — but the way she develops over the course of the game suggests that she’s not nearly as aloof as she might initially appear.
In fact, she has an endearingly awkward side to her, thanks to her privileged upbringing as part of a wealthy, influential family. At numerous points over the course of Persona 3’s narrative, we see that Mitsuru hasn’t experienced a lot of situations that would be second nature to teens who grew up under more common circumstances. She’s baffled by the concept of eating a burger without utensils, for example, and prior to her interactions with the protagonist and the rest of the Special Extracurricular Extermination Squad had never indulged in classic Japanese comfort foods such as ramen and takoyaki. Naturally, her unfamiliarity with these situations provides an ideal opportunity for everyone to bond with her… and perhaps poke fun a bit.
Mitsuru is proud, loyal and intolerant of anyone who displays prejudice towards a person’s immutable characteristics. In Persona 3 Portable, for example, she jumps to the female protagonist’s defence when Junpei seemingly objects to her being the leader of the group, and threatens him with unspecified unpleasantness if he dares show any sort of condescension to anyone based on their gender. This, coupled with her initially rigid adherence to Japanese social conventions such as forms of address, can make her seem a little up-tight — but the rest of the group have a positive impact on her over the course of the narrative as a whole, and she learns to let loose a little more as a result.
In terms of her role in the party in Persona 3, she is the de facto leader until the protagonist takes over that position, and is initially by far the most knowledgeable about the use of Personas and the battling of Shadows, as she’s been doing both since an early age. Initially, Mitsuru acts as the party’s main support character, offering advice on enemy strengths and weaknesses and feedback on their progress through the game’s main dungeon Tartarus. Once Fuuka Yamagishi joins the group, and it becomes apparent her Persona is much more suited to this job than Mitsuru’s is, she joins the front lines and battles using a rapier; an elegant weapon for an elegant young woman.
Over the course of the narrative, it becomes clear that there’s some sort of connection between Mitsuru’s family and the strange daily event known as the “Dark Hour”. A significant part of the mystery at the core of Persona 3’s narrative concerns exactly what role they had in bringing this strange condition about — along with what it means, and how, or if, it can be stopped. Naturally, as Mitsuru learns the truth behind everything alongside the rest of the team — and suffers a betrayal and personal tragedy amid all this — she finds the situation rather difficult to deal with, and that seemingly unflappable outer shell that’s been such a reassuring presence throughout the rest of the game cracks completely.
Thankfully, by this point, the team as a whole has built up enough trust that they’re able to pull Mitsuru back from the cycle of self-loathing she finds herself in — even if it does take a good slap from Yukari Takeba to truly bring her back to her senses and convince her that yes, her life does have meaning, and yes, it is worth her continuing to fight alongside everyone.
She’s a complex, interesting character, for sure, and a prime example of one of the core appeal elements of the latter-day Persona series as a whole: characters who undergo significant development over the course of both the game’s main narrative, and their own personal narrative depicted throughout the Social Link sequences. By the end of the game, you’re left feeling like you know Mitsuru very well; you’ll have respect for her strength to endure under incredibly difficult circumstances, and you’ll be very thankful for her support when the time comes to face the ultimate challenge.
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