|“||Still, I'm glad I was able to save you in court. I've never felt so happy in my entire life. I'm not quite sure how to put it, but... saving your future meant more to me than my own career. I feel like you even taught me how to live.||„|
|~ Sae Niijima|
Sae Niijima is an antagonist-turned-supporting protagonist in the video game Persona 5. She is the older sister of Makoto Niijima, and her legal guardian since their father's murder a few years before the beginning of the story. Sae works as a Public Prosecutor of the Tokyo District Special Investigation Department at the Public Prosecutors Office.
She is voiced by Yūko Kaida in the Japanese version of the anime, and by Elizabeth Maxwell in the English version of the anime.
Although Sae is 24 years old, she has the appearance of a woman much older. She is a tall woman with long gray hair asymmetrically parted on her right side and brown eyes, sometimes depicted with a hint of mauve red.
She wears a black business suit with a black turtleneck. Her blazer's cuffs and the lower part have clamshell-like designs. Accessory-wise, she wears a necklace of a section sign (§) which references her judicial occupation (it also appears in the top right of Shujin Academy's emblem), earrings and a few dark hair clips can be seen above her right ear. She has violet fingernails and wears black or dark gray high heels. She is sometimes seen with a smartphone and a black bag slung over her shoulder.
Sae is intelligent, professional and serious, although her actual maturity is debatable. A workaholic, Sae is very strict in both her work as prosecutor and guardian for her younger sister, Makoto, constantly telling her to focus on her studies and such. With many responsibilities, Sae is always working due to Japan's work pressure, and is very stressed and exhausted. She must care for Makoto, almost putting her in a single mother's role. Her father's ideals, who died in the line of duty, is her sore spot. She resents him for throwing his life away in the name of justice, to the point that when Makoto asks for her opinion on whether he would think the Phantom Thieves of Hearts were just, Sae snaps and says a bunch of cruel things that she instantly regrets, up to and including that she views Makoto as a burden.
Because of her father's death, Sae views the concept of justice as meaningless. This has made her hyper-competitive and obsessed with getting ahead, to the point of telling Makoto that success is all that matters in life. This is very much to her detriment, as it clouds her judgement and leads to her trusting all of the wrong people; throughout the investigation of the Phantom Thieves, she remains completely unaware that her boss is taking her for a complete fool and while she doesn't get along with Akechi, she nevertheless trusts his judgement regarding the Phantom Thieves. She also gets angry at the public for not caring about the death of Principal Kobayakawa, a man who covered up the acts of a sex criminal just to protect his school's reputation. It goes both ways, as she's easily willing to believe that Sojiro, the manager of a cafe she frequents, is abusing his daughter (though Makoto suspects the same thing for a time) and completely refuses to change her mind about the Phantom Thieves no matter what good deeds they do, to the point that she's willing to believe the worst of them at any time.
Sae's most consistent flaw is her hypocrisy. For all her supposed disgust of the Phantom Thieves, she's perfectly willing to resort to methods very similar to theirs in order to catch them, claiming that they "can't be caught by following the rules." Akechi even points out to her that, in doing so, she is no different from the very people she claims to hate. This trait of hers is especially prominent in her Shadow, who repeatedly states that she wishes to do things "fair and square" despite constantly cheating.
Regardless of her many flaws, Sae isn't without standards or moments of compassion, a prominent example being when the protagonist was feeling fatigued over the drug injections making her feel concerned for him despite him being labelled a criminal. There were even times when she would be worried the protagonist would pass out. She is also genuinely disgusted and even disturbed at the cops for inflicting such pain on the protagonist. Despite Sae's hard demeanour and strict relationship with Makoto, she loves her sister deeply and has even shown consolation for her, as it's indicated that some of her stricter attitude is born out of a desire to keep Makoto out of trouble and ensure that she succeeds.
Envious of her sister and colleagues, Sae feels they have freedom to do whatever they want, while she is stuck in a dead-end slave job. This envy, combined with her growing disillusionment and frustration with her profession as a concept due to being regularly strung along by political corruption, manifests as a Palace resembling a casino and a hypercompetitive and dishonest Shadow Self hellbent on winning, desiring everyone to feel as helpless as she does while stuck in an unfair and corrupt system. She forces the Phantom Thieves into rigged gambling games that are impossible to win fairly. Her distorted and pitiful worldview is shown during her battle quotes, claiming that a society must have rules and order to operate, and those who do not follow society's rules must be punished and penalized but also that it is natural and right to alter the rules to favor one side, then call the rigged victory "justice." After being caught cheating in her supposedly "fair" game, this is her final straw as she goes berserk and attempts to kill everyone-offhandedly revealing that she didn't think it was possible to be fair until she gave up on the game. Unlike other Shadow Selves of Palaces, Sae is open to listen to reason; after defeat, the Phantom Thieves convince her to let go of her jealousy without stealing Sae's Treasure. As a result, Sae has an epiphany about how pointless her grudges and overcompensation are without fundamentally changing her personality by using her feelings in a more proactive way.
Sae Nijima grew up with her father and younger sis, Makoto. Sae and her sis admired her father's work as a police employee and his work on exposing much crime and corruption. At some point, Sae's father was murdered. This caused much pain for Sae, as not only her father was gone but now she had to take care of Makoto alone at such a young age. Sae became a prosecutor for the SIU and started to investigate the Mental Shutdown instances. Around 2 years later, she had learned of the protagonist being falsely accused. She planned on taking him in, but when she mentioned it to Sojiro Sakura, he decided to take on the duty instead.
Sae is first seen at the beginning of the game after the protagonist is arrested. She comes to interrogate him, however, the guards refused. However, she gains permission after Sae's director gives her it. Sae comes in and recognizes the protagonist, saying she didn't think the protagonist would be the suspected culprit. She tells him that he needs to talk to her honestly and tell his story to her, for her sake. She tells him to start from the beginning. From then, the protagonist starts to tell his story.
Throughout the game
Sae first appears in the past after the first heist. She comes into Leblanc for a cup of coffee. She sees the protagonist, not recognizing him though. She instead assumed he was a part timer and commented about how she thought the Mental Shutdown cases were all connected.
Throughout the game, Sae becomes increasingly suspicious of the Phantom Thieves, starting to show her darker side. The first time she uncontrollably calls her sister useless. Later she is criticized by Goro Akechi for wanting to win by any means possible, even illegal ones. Later it is revealed that Sae had been following the Mental Shutdowns.
The game will also go back to the present where Sae will do one of two things. When the player acquires a new Confidant, Sae will question something about the protagonist, usually about how he did something due to the Confidant's abilities. Other times Sae will comment on the story and then introduce the next Target (with the exception of Futaba).
Sixth Heist: Sae Niijima
The Thieves hoped to acquire intel by inviting Goro Akechi to their School Party. However, it turned out that Akechi knew that they were the Phantom Thieves. Akechi strikes a deal saying that if they can change the corrupted Sae Niijima's heart and stop being the Phantom Thieves, he will clear them of all charges due to Sae not launching her new task of investigating the Phantom Thieves.
The Thieves, knowing that this was a scam of a deal, take it and make Sae Nijima their next target. The Thieves enter the Casino of Envy where they were tasked by Sahdow Sae to play both casino games and special games, such as an arena. They did need to cheat to eventually get to the floor with the treasure. Once they did this the Thieves sent Sae the card by Makoto giving it to her. Sae believes Makoto when she said it was in the mailbox and decides that she needed to go ahead and launch the investigation. The Thieves go after the treasure and confront Niijima's Shadow.
However, Niijima forces the Thieves to partake in a game of chance, rigged in her favor, rather than fighting. The Thieves are able to reveal her cheating, but that's when Shadow Sae turned into Leviathan and fought the Phantom Thieves. After her defeat, Makoto kneels down to her and asks her to remember, however, Shadow Sae just gave confused responses. Yusuke and Ryuji put the Thieves' plan to trick Akechi into place as they grab a fake treasure and separate. The protagonist is arrested by the Police because of a trap set up by Akechi.
Change of Heart
Because her treasure was never stolen, Sae didn't have a change of heart until after the interrogation. Once the protagonist refuses to sell out his teammates and after he tells Sae to give his phone to the "traitor.", Sae's Confidant is maxed out, causing her to have a natural change of heart. She then confronts Akechi in the hall and shows him the phone, dragging them both into Sae's Palace, but not in the actual Palace (assumingly while it was crumbling). Sae leaves when the protagonist's phone sounds a pre-recorded message from Futaba, pleading Sae to save the protagonist from Akechi (despite Akechi not killing the true protagonist due to the Phantom Thieves' plan). Sae finds the protagonist safe and sneaks him out through her car. She then reunites him and the rest of the Phantom Thieves.
Seventh and Eighth Heist
Sae asks the Phantom Thieves to steal Shido's heart and then to let her and the rest of the adults take charge. When the Thieves send the calling card, a few detectives confront her due to her being responsible for the protagonist's case, after they found out the protagonist was alive. Sae pretends to act delusional due to her being targeted, however, the detectives still threaten her, saying she was going to be punished. This never happened since Shido's heart was changed. After this Sae dedicates herself to form a case against Shido.
Sae tries to make a case, but she is shut down by the new SIU director who orders her to stand down. The Thieves stumble upon what to do when they finally decide to erase the Metaverse as a whole by stealing Mementos's treasure. Sae then promises the Thieves that the adults would get it together. The Thieves failed to do this, which resulted in the real world becoming fused with Mementos. She, along with any other max Confidants, realize this unlike the blind public.
After the game, the protagonist finds Sae. Sae thanks him for everything he has done before requesting him to turn himself in. She realizes that if he doesn't the police will track down and possibly arrest all of the Thieves. The protagonist, wanting to keep his friends safe, does so. This disappoints the Thieves heavily, and they start to do everything they can to get him out of juvie. Eventually, Sae comes to the protagonist after nearly two months to inform him that he is free to go. She asks him what her treasure is, however it is never revealed.
Sae last appears on April 19 to give the protagonist her business card, her Confidant gift.
- Sae's Shadow is the only shadow self (besides Shadow Futaba) to be referred to by the person's first name as the game calls her "Shadow Sae."
- Sae is the only major target (excluding Futaba who does not have a villainous role and neither does her Shadow) that is portrayed in a truly sympathetic tone, being motivated by insecurity instead of selfishness.
- Sae is the only major target (excluding Futaba who does not have a villainous role and neither does her Shadow) that truly redeems herself and becomes an ally to the Thieves, without having her Treasure stolen or her palace destroyed.
- Sae's Treasure is the only one that is never explicitly shown, either in the Palace or out of it. Prior to its materialization, however, Makoto theorizes that Sae's real world Treasure is their father's notebook on investigations he's done, as his death in the line of duty is the major catalyst of her cynicism.
- Because leaving her Treasure alone is a major component of the thieves' plan to trick the conspiracy, Sae's Palace is the only one that is not destroyed in the game.