“I always wanted to tell Hana-chan…
that he was a real pain in the ass.”
— Saki’s voice
Saki Konishi is not a cipher.
There’s a concept in character development I call the “inner life,” and it’s pretty self-explanatory. Let’s use Persona 4 as an example. Given that we’re dealing with an ensemble cast, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Yosuke (aka Cycling Student), one of the protagonists. And given that Saki Konishi is found dead on the game’s fifth playable day, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call her an “insignificant” character.
In my mind, as both a critic and a fiction writer, an insignificant character’s inner life speaks volumes. A great storyteller will know that all people, whether or not they’re in the spotlight, have depth and flaws and secrets. They have a purpose beyond their relation to our protagonist, and to our narrative. They have their own narrative.
4/15 is the first day in Persona 4 to feel practically overstuffed — or maybe it’s just because of the way I’m playing? Most people would be comfortable gliding past the details I have to focus on, which is really messing with my sense of pacing. Point A to point B, there’s an awful lot of ground to cover: from Yu hearing some girls gossip about the murder case on the way to school, to Yosuke confronting his Shadow, to Yukiko appearing on the Midnight Channel.
All of these developments hinge upon Saki Konishi. Just as it wouldn’t be a stretch to call her insignificant, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call her the keystone of 4/15. So, let’s talk about her.
Saki is the eldest daughter of a family that runs a quaint liquor store in the shopping district. She has a younger brother, Naoki. It’s possible that you overheard her arguing with Naoki back on Monday. She works part-time at Junes with Yosuke, and seems to have a playful, teasing friendship with him. She’s a high school student. On Wednesday, she discovered the corpse of Mayumi Yamano. Today, she was found dead.
“You think we can rely on the police?!” Yosuke thinks the “soulmate” on the Midnight Channel was Saki, and he thinks Yamano appeared on the same channel days earlier. What conclusion can be drawn here? People show up on the Midnight Channel, then they die. Yosuke’s plan is to head back into the television set and find out what’s going on. Maybe talk to that Mysterious Bear a little bit more. It’s all very heroic and brooding. Chie is concerned. Yu might be, or he might not, but either way, he’s on board within minutes and ready to fight off some inner demons with a golf club.
And when they get to the TV world, they do meet the Mysterious Bear, and they do talk. The whole encounter is a lengthy exercise in miscommunication; Mysterious Bear thinks that “you’re the ones who’ve been throwing people in here,” and Yosuke thinks Mysterious Bear might be up to something. They go back and forth and back and forth and by the time they’re done, you’ve gotten magic glasses that help you see through the thick fog, and you know that the Mysterious Bear’s name is Teddie. With another discovered name, we step timidly across another threshold: the one between us and the Shadows.
It is often said that in the most dire of situations, normal people become capable of almost superhuman feats. It would follow, then, that in the single most dire situation since arriving in Inaba, Yu discovers his true potential and summons his Persona. “He has obtained the facade used to overcome life’s hardships.” A sentiment that is best left pondered.
Yosuke, curiously, can do nothing but watch. He doesn’t have a Persona, and he doesn’t know how to get one. That’s not to suggest he’s useless, though. He correctly identifies this corner of the TV world as a facsimile of Inaba’s shopping district, and wonders aloud if “this was Saki’s reality when she wandered in here.”
So the two of them enter Saki’s family’s liquor store, and get this: it’s really creepy. A muted blue tint hangs over everything, and there are cut-up photos of Saki on the table. Occasionally, an intense whisper rings out, and unknown voices begin to gossip. The whispers cut out abrasively, moments after they’ve started. In short, the TV world doesn’t seem like much fun.
After a bit of time spent soaking in the surroundings, Yosuke begins to hear Saki’s voice. Here, Persona 4 draws a line in the sand. A lot of stories don’t care about their insignificant characters. A lot of video games don’t care about telling stories. If you want to know why I love Persona 4 deeply, here’s why.
Saki is the eldest daughter of a family that runs a quaint liquor store in the shopping district. Similar to Yukiko, she seems groomed to take over the business once her parents retire. Rumor has it, though, that she’s dating a guy who’s in college, and wants to get out of Inaba as fast as possible. She has a younger brother, Naoki. It’s possible that you overheard her arguing with Naoki back on Monday. She works part-time at Junes with Yosuke, and seems to have a playful, teasing friendship with him. That’s not actually true, though. She hates Yosuke. She hates Junes, because it’s destroying her family’s business. She hates that she has to take a part-time job at Junes to get enough money to leave Inaba with her boyfriend. Her family hates that she’s betrayed them, that she’s working for the enemy. The town talks about her behind her back, all the time, and she knows it, and she hates it. She hates Yosuke. She wishes that her thinly veiled contempt could register in his clouded, narcissistic, Nice Guy brain. She wishes “everything would just disappear.” She’s a high school student. On Wednesday, she discovered the corpse of Mayumi Yamano.
Today, she was found dead.
“You’re just trying to act like a big shot… If all went well, hey, maybe you could even be a hero! And that Senpai you were so sweet on? Her death was the perfect excuse!”
If you’ve played any video game ever made, then you’re familiar with the same old story — white guy has girl/daughter/family, white guy loses girl/daughter/family, white guy goes on spree of terror and murder with a single tear dripping down his cheek. It is the calling card of the storyteller who does not give a single shit about the inner lives of insignificant characters. Especially insignificant women.
With that in mind, the above quote (thrown at Yosuke by his snarling Shadow) reads like a searing indictment. Yosuke didn’t even care about “avenging Saki.” That’s not the goal. The goal is to get Yosuke from page one to page two. The goal is to explain how Yosuke, a timid, goofy high school student, would risk his life in a mysterious television hellscape. This is a means to an end. In a normal video game, that “means” would be the life of a caring, innocent, insignificant woman.
In Persona 4, it’s because Yosuke was bored.
“You just came because you thought it sounded like a good time! What else is there to do out in this shithole?”
Yosuke is able to tame his Shadow and gain his Persona by accepting that Saki had a life outside of his head. He might not like what he hears, and he might not want to keep listening, but he needs to. Saki Konishi was not a reason to go on an exciting, emotional adventure. She was not someone who wanted to be saved, least of all by you. She was a person, and she deserved the same respect we afford our heroes.
You decide to go to bed for tonight.