There are few characters in Persona 5 that get more hate than Ichiko Ohya, the Devil confidant, but I’m really not sure it’s warranted.
A big part of that for me is her journey. When you meet Ohya in Persona 5, she’s a cynical journalist doing whatever’s necessary to get attention for her articles on entertainment. It’s clear she likes the attention those articles bring her, but she doesn’t actually care much for the work itself.
As you get to know Ohya more, you discover that she’d once been a journalist with a drive to get at the truth. What changed everything was her own encounter with Persona 5 antagonist Masayoshi Shido. Essentially, Ohya and her partner, Kayo Murakami, attempted to expose Shido’s misdeeds. However, their investigation was stymied and Kayo disappeared.
Everything changes for Ohya when she meets the protagonist of Persona 5. With help from you as the player, she gets back that drive to start looking into what happened to Kayo and that earlier investigation. She begins once again pursuing work that’s meaningful to her. However, in the process, she’s also forced to contend with her boss, Shinpei Honjo, who wants her to get back to that work she despises and stop doing what’s meaningful to her.
There are a lot of threads online talking about why Ohya is the worst confidant in Persona 5, and she regularly bottoms lists on the subject. Those lists tend to single out a few things about Ohya. In terms of her in-game mechanics, Ohya really doesn’t offer much. The abilities she gives the player are focused on stealth, something that’s no problem for pretty much anyone. She’s also romanceable, which is just plain ick, and part of a bigger problem Persona 5 has that centers around the relationship between adults and minors.
There are also critiques of Ohya as a person. She can, at times, be capricious, and she has a penchant for drinking that can definitely be off-putting. Many also note they’d have preferred to have gotten to know Lala Escargot, the bartender of Crossroads, the place where Ohya hangs out, more. I don’t think any of these are invalid critiques. Yet at the same time, I think it’s important to look at the reaction we have to a character and why we have that rather than just have that reaction in and of itself.
Ohya, as she is in Persona 5, is the perfect embodiment of the Devil in tarot.
Before I get too much into this, I have two disclaimers. The first is that I’m not the most knowledgeable person in the world about tarot. Persona 5 and my partner made me interested in it, and now I’m burdened with knowledge that requires me to seek out more knowledge like some sort of trivia Katamari. Secondly, I’m going to simplify things, because this is an article on Persona 5 and why I think Ohya is neat. It’s not a dissertation on tarot.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the Devil in tarot, as the card can have a few different meanings. It’s important to understand that the Devil is part of the Fool’s Journey, which is the story that tarot tells. That story sees an innocence or naive person setting out on a journey that will teach them valuable lessons, with the goal of attaining the transformation embodied in the final card in the cycle: The World.
Each step along the way, known as the Major Arcana, are representative of some part of the larger human experience. In the case of the Devil, that experience is a profound stuckness. The Devil is associated with feelings of being trapped, and so is often associated with addiction, such as Ohya’s alcoholism. This specific kind of bondage is also tied to materialism. Essentially, the Fool finds what seems to be material fulfillment. However, to complete the journey, they must move past that into the next part of the cycle. This is accomplished with the Tower, which is a sort of breaking down and destruction of what is, laying the groundwork for a new and different future.
That’s exactly where Ohya is in her journey. She’s stuck in material comforts, but she finds herself deeply dissatisfied. She’s descending into alcoholism. However, playing the part of the Tower, you as the player get a chance to shake things up for her forever, and you do. By the end, Ohya is in a place where she can continue on her own version of the Fool’s Journey, and in doing so make herself better.
Persona 5 is, fundamentally, a story about people being stuck. Everyone has some problem that’s consumed them and kept them from moving forward. The game emphasizes this at several points, and it’s constantly the job of the player to help someone move forward, past where they are into a better future. There’s no character more stuck than the Devil.
I know what it means to be stuck, and you just might, too.
There are moments in my life where I’ve had to do difficult things to reach a better future, and it’s so easy to end up stuck in something. I’ve known so many people who ended up in relationships that lasted almost a decade when they knew they didn’t want to be with that person for very long at all, because the material comfort of that relationship and the fear associated with being single kept them stuck. There are people who end up stuck in their jobs, because they’re afraid to pursue what they’re really passionate about and to move forward on their Fool’s Journey.
It’s so easy to stay stuck like Ohya and to find yourself at the same bar every night, drinking to drive out those feelings of stuckness.
For me, my reaction to Ohya isn’t based in the fact her story isn’t very good or that she has negative characteristics. It’s that, when I react to Ohya, I’m reacting to a part of myself that loves being comfortable, when I know that making myself uncomfortable is the way I’m going to grow as a person. We are all constantly balancing the need for material security against the need for creative, spiritual, emotional, and other sorts of fulfillment. It’s difficult, and it’s easy to hate Ohya for embodying that.
The Devil is vital part of the Fool’s Journey, because it’s the moment at which you decide whether you’re going to move forward and what that looks like. The lesson from Ohya’s story in Persona 5 is that, when you work to unstick yourself, you eventually restart that process of moving towards the end of the journey, and the happiness that comes along with that and the beginning of a new journey.
While I fully admit there are problems with Ohya in Persona 5, I really do think it’s worth considering how her role fits into tarot from which she draws, because in so many ways, she embodies it perfectly. For me at least, my discomfort with Ohya stems from the parts of myself I see in her, and that allure of the material over the meaningful. I think it’s worth giving some love to Ohya, because the Fool’s Journey is hard, and she’s at a particularly difficult place. However, the journey is also worth it.