Disclaimer: The article contains heavy Persona 5 Royal spoilers. Those that haven’t finished it should stop reading.
Persona 5 attempted a personal approach to storytelling by framing a conflict between adolescents and corrupt adults in positions of power. Conceptually, it mirrors many real-world issues. In practice, however, its string of villains fell flat. Persona 5 Royal, on the other hand, realizes that potential by introducing the game’s only good antagonist.
Persona 5 Royal’s First Bad Guy
Persona 5 opened strong with Suguru Kamoshida. As coach, he’s responsible for Shujin Academy’s esteemed reputation—one whose sports output is enough to deflect controversies. Because of this, Kamoshida is respected and feared by the school.
He’s respected for his coaching chops, but feared because of his manipulative nature and abusive tendency toward students. Kamoshida regularly beats underlings that don’t perform to his standards while making sexual advances at female students. Through the first story arc, Kamoshida makes passes at Ann Takamaki, hoping to get in her panties in exchange for keeping Shiho Suzui’s starting position on the volleyball team.
The rage imbued within Kamoshida by Ann’s fierce rejection leads to him sexually assaulting Shiho. Although his students regularly endure abuse, they’re human beings with limits. Being called into Kamoshida’s office on THAT day was Shiho’s limit, driving her to attempt suicide.
It’s an effective opening arc with a gradual build-up as Ryuji, Joker, and Ann learn about the metaverse while coming to grips with their ability to change hearts. He’s the best villain until Royal’s new arc because every phantom thief holds a personal stake in the proceedings. Ann’s had to endure a creepy adult trying to sleep with her, followed by the guilt instilled by Shiho’s attempted suicide. Ryuji broke his leg and got the track team disbanded because of Kamoshida. Joker, meanwhile, who’s been expelled from another school due to false criminal charges, faces possible expulsion despite holding Ryuji back from punching Kamoshida.
The Problem with Kamoshida and Other Villains
Each character has a defined motivation, however, it’s a low blow. Yes, teachers abusing students is a serious real-world issue that hits close to home for many. People in power taking advantage of those under them is a broad enough subject to resonate with a large portion of its audience. That’s what makes it such an easy emotional gut-punch. The quality of the writing doesn’t matter because humans inherently react more intensely to certain subject matter.
Kamoshida’s abuse is akin to killing off a dog with 15 seconds of screen time. Audience members will cry simply because a dog died. Kamoshida is so unquestionably evil, as are the rest of Persona 5’s caricatured villains, that it’s difficult to consider him a strong antagonist.
Persona 5 Royal Begins with Maruki
This binary moral compass changes with Takuto Maruki, a Shujin Academy guidance counselor, who gets introduced after Kamoshida’s change of heart. Maruki offers a refreshing perspective on the original game’s events and its characters with his mental health angle. He’s a bumbling, soft-spoken man with a sympathetic demeanor. Guidance counselors are expected to show concern for students, but there’s a genuine aura surrounding every interaction with Maruki. His awkward mannerisms and apologetic nature scream social anxiety. He continually offers snacks to each main character as if they’re a consolation prize—an apology for wasted time on their end.
Confidant rank two is one of the first explicit showcases of Maruki’s ever-present anxiety. After rambling on about Joker’s ability to parse between his external and internal realities, Maruki caps off his admiration by saying, “Then again, maybe that’s a little weird for you to hear from a guy you just met, huh?” Self-deprecating over doing his job hints at his deeply rooted insecurities that don’t become clear until the third semester.
After the counseling session, Maruki proposes a deal. In exchange for providing mental training exercises, Joker helps Maruki with his research, which is later learned to involve the same cognitive psience that got Wakaba Isshiki killed. Even though he downplayed his own counseling session, Maruki’s insecurities show up again after his proposal, stating, “Please! Any time’s good for me—I can work around your schedule. And uh…I’ve got a lot of snacks, too! You can have them! They’re yours!”
Maruki’s lack of confidence characterizes him as a damaged soul; a fact players come to learn near the story’s conclusion. His apprehension comes from a painful place.
Maruki as the Persona 5 Royal Antagonist
Things get interesting by the time Maruki is re-revealed as the third semester’s antagonist. In a non-Persona-like twist, the school counselor wasn’t some deity posing as a human to gather incriminating evidence on humans. Everything players learned about Maruki through his confidant remains true, though, the arc’s circumstances showcase him in a more confident light.
The final arc takes place in an alternative reality whereby everyone is living the life they’ve always wanted. Makoto’s father never died, meaning the relationship between her and Sae never changed. Futaba is still an awkward nerd, but due to her mother remaining alive, she didn’t spiral into depression. The track team never got disbanded because Kamoshida didn’t become a manipulator.
Ann and Shiho’s friendship and mental states never experienced turmoil because of Kamoshida’s newfound kindness. Meanwhile, Haru’s father respects her and willingly spends time with her. Morgana is human. Akechi survived Shido’s palace. Even Maruki exudes more confidence, though, not to an unrecognizable extent. The list continues.
Maruki used his awakened persona’s power to create an ideal reality free of pain and suffering. His frustration with life’s injustices, a sentiment which spiked with his ex-girlfriend’s condition, hastened his search into the cognitive world’s secrets.
This explains Maruki’s sessions with each phantom thief. They come abruptly, slotting themselves awkwardly into the story compared to the other new scenes, but they serve to humanize Maruki post-revelation. He wasn’t counseling them simply to ease their mental trauma. He wanted to pinpoint the root of each individual’s suffering to create their most ideal realities.
Maruki also stands out amongst Persona 5’s cast because of his level-headed nature. When players come across Maruki in his palace, he offers Joker the chance of accepting the reality created for him. Even after rejecting the deal, Maruki gives the protagonist almost a month to live in the new reality and to let Sumire Yoshizawa recover from her awakening. By the end of the deadline, he shows up to Leblanc as a friend hoping to drink coffee over idle chatter. In fact, he begins the conversation by inquiring into Yoshizawa’s health. His concern for his opposers in the face of impending conflict illuminates his selfless heart.
Maruki understands his students’ suffering because of Rumi, his ex-girlfriend. He always showed interest in cognitive psience because of its potential to prevent criminals from committing crimes, but it’s Rumi’s condition that sparked his persona’s awakening, an indication of his emotional peak. It’s through witnessing one of Rumi’s post-traumatic episodes that Maruki realizes changing people’s cognitions can also undo already inflicted trauma.
In that moment, his Persona wipes the presumed assault from Rumi’s mind, but her memories of Maruki are wiped along with it. Instead of attempting to convince her they’re dating, Maruki maintains emotional distance for her sake. Understanding that his presence could inadvertently spark her remembrance of the reality in which she was assaulted, Maruki leaves her be regardless of the pain it causes him because it isn’t about him. It, along with his cognitive psience research, is about others.
Takuto Maruki in Persona 5 Royal
Takuto Maruki is Persona 5 Royal’s only good antagonist. He isn’t a caricature created to bolster the adolescent pride coursing through the game’s veins. Kamoshida, Madarame, Kaneshiro, Okumura, and Shido only exhibit abhorrent traits, mistreating those around them. Maruki is the only antagonist whose moral compass aligns with the phantom thieves. He doesn’t want a world in which he’s recognized for his achievements.
At the end of the day, they both want to end people’s suffering because it hurts them to see others in pain. His apologetic nature and soft-spoken demeanor, which continue up until the final encounter, further bolster his genuineness. Maruki isn’t a villain. He’s a damaged soul with good intentions using methods with which the phantom thieves happened to disagree.