Trigger Warnings: Mentions of suicide, suicidal ideations, murder, death, child abuse
Spoilers for the events of Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal.
s a very divisive character, but at the end of the day, he was so popular amongst fans that Atlus gave us Persona 5 Royal
to expand on his story and let us play with him as Black Mask.
On the surface, Akechi, the second coming of the detective prince, appears to be a well-mannered local celebrity who also works as a detective. Throughout the progression of the game, we learn that he is one of Shido’s many pawns in his plan to become Prime Minister and is behind the mental shutdowns that have been happening all over Tokyo.
Akechi’s a character who was constantly handed the short end of the stick in life, but he took matters into his own hands to survive in a world that refused him support and kindness. It wasn’t until the protagonist (Akira) showed him true kindness and camaraderie that he was able to bring some of his walls down and be a bit more of his authentic self.
The people around me usually dismiss Akechi as ‘Pancake Boy’. While it’s a joke, it does nothing to hint at the complexity of his character and how being alone and trying to survive in a cruel world can make people take drastic measures to ensure their survival and find a makeshift purpose in life to stay grounded. It’s a story I believe resonates with a lot of people with similar backgrounds, but it also serves as a cautionary tale.
Akechi’s mother was a sex worker who would send him to the bathhouses when she would have customers over. It is implied that Shido was one of his mother’s clients who ended up impregnating her. Now to us, Shido’s the bad guy we beat up and save Japan from, but to Akechi, he’s his father who is the pinnacle of political power. Shido has bribed entire police forces, politicians,and business owners who will help erase any and all existence of you with a wave of Shido’s hand.
His mother committed suicide when Akechi was a child for an unknown reason, but it is implied she had a history of mental illness. Regardless, dealing with the death of a parent at a young age is one thing, but to deal with the death of a parent at their own hands is a completely different kind of trauma that would have an enormous impact on anyone, especially if said child does not have a good support system.
Given that Akechi does not speak of other relatives, it is safe to say they are not involved in his life which means he was most likely bounced around from foster home to foster home. A key point to consider is that in Japan, children are abused in the foster care system because they are seen as a burden on society. Therefore, it’s very likely that Akechi was abused as well.
As a result, he had to grow up and mature at a much faster rate than others in order to survive in this world. This shaped his warped conception of the world which led him to become bitter and see the world as ugly.
Taking all of this under consideration, his actions in both games make sense given the type of environment he grew up in.
Survival of the Fittest
People who grow up in dysfunctional living situations tend to have their fair share of trauma, and everyone copes differently.
In Akechi’s case, he submerged himself in the world that hurt him, but also sought out what he lacked: validation and a genuine human connection.
He had only seen all the ugliness in the world, and as he lived in a world without love or compassion, he fought the only way he knew how: corruption, deceit, and murder.
He approached Shido, two years prior to the events of the games, with his ability to cause mental shutdowns as a ploy to get closer to him and start his work to orchestrate Shido’s fall from grace as his own personal compensation for the horrible life he was given due to Shido’s boorish insolence.
During that time, he created a celebrity persona by “solving” crimes he committed, keeping up with trends, even though he doesn’t care much for the latest trends, to put himself in a position where people would openly seek and praise him, but it ended up doing the opposite. It isolated him as his celebrity status made his fans put him on a pedestal as their fanaticism was never rooted in genuine care for him, until Akira entered his life.
As his relationship with Akira developed throughout the game, he found himself having complicated feelings towards the protagonist. Akechi felt like he had finally made his first genuine connection with someone and found what he was searching for when he created his celebrity persona.
However, seeing the Phantom Thieves doing everything the opposite way he knew infuriated him because it went against everything he knew. They were doing the same thing he did, but with hope, love and support, everything Akechi craved, and it instilled doubt in his execution of his grand plan.
By this point in the game, Akechi was pretty much near the end of his grand scheme, and he couldn’t back out. He had gone so far down this dark road, going back would be a bigger injustice to himself given everything had to do to even get to that point.
So…Why Do You Even Like Him?
As someone with many similarities to Akechi’s story, it’s easy for me to empathize with him, but it’s also a chilling reminder that I, too, could have easily gone down a similar self-destructive path.
By all means, Akechi isn’t a character made to be liked, but my main reason for liking him is simple: I, too, would go to hell and back if anyone hurt my mom like that.
I grew up without a father, so my mom’s my entire world. Seeing a character like Akechi go through great lengths to make sure the man who caused his mother and him so much suffering has a dramatic fall from grace makes me cheer him on.
On a deeper level, I understand his struggle with finding genuine kindness. Growing up, I faced a lot of situations that drove me to coming up with multiple personas to appease and fit in with different groups of people just to have some semblance of validation and affirmation. Long story short: just like Akechi, it did nothing to fill the void. If anything, it almost drove me down a very dark path, and I honestly would have gone down that rabbit hole if I hadn’t met the right people when I did.
Seeing how far down he went without any support sends a chill down my spine, and I’m left wondering how far I would’ve gone if my life didn’t play out the way it did. It’s a scary thought, but his story makes me appreciate what I have going for me now.
While I see a lot of my past self throughout his actions and motivations in the mainline game, I also see a lot of who I am now in the person he is in the third semester in Royal
In the third semester, everything is “perfect”, but Akechi is the only other character besides Akira who isn’t under the influence of the new world, at first. Akechi’s reintroduction to the story shows that he’s dropped the pleasant facade and becomes much more blunt. He’s discarded the need to be liked by everyone because he found one person who genuinely cares for him and fills in a void in his life…even if he did try to murder him a couple of times.
Just like Akechi, I’ve found that I’m happier being my authentic self. As a result, I’ve been able to make genuine connections that have been nothing but enriching to my life. It may be cliche to say, but things do get better, even if it seems very hard to believe. I didn’t, but here I am.
It’s been about 5 years since Persona 5
and a year since Royal
was released, but in that time, I’ve done a lot of personal healing just by empathizing with his story. It’s helped me find the words to address a lot of my inner struggles and find the help I need to move forward in my own personal journey to be the best version of myself I can be.