Kanji’s Struggle


Very minor Persona 4 spoilers ahead.

I’ve been playing copious amounts of Atlus’ Persona 4 lately. It has a full cast of compelling personalities, but compared to the other characters in the game, I find Kanji Tatsumi’s struggle the most captivating.

The cycle that the characters endure follows a very concrete pattern. Right from the start, they wind up confronting their “other selves” – manifestations of their suppressed emotions. These sequences usually lead to an immediate development of the character at hand, an embracement of one’s self. But this isn’t so with Kanji; his struggle is prolonged and multifaceted. His confrontation with his alternate self (a half-naked, puckered lipped, blushing, flamboyantly speaking version of himself) is just the beginning of Kanji’s struggle.

Kanji’s sexual orientation is fairly ambiguous from this point on. He never directly announces his sexual preferences, but the characters that surround him hint at his homosexual undertones, ridicule them, and encourage him to shut them away. At other times, the story has Kanji pursuing women in order to prove his machismo, and he embarrasses himself in doing so.  His internal battle is interesting and complex. It often pulls him in multiple directions, which makes his orientation even more indistinct.

The game doesn’t embrace political correctness, because the world isn’t always politically correct. These are high school students, and if there’s any time in a person’s life where political correctness is nonexistent, it’s in high school. Dealing with the topic of sexuality at that age isn’t easy. This awkwardness and confusion embeds itself accurately into Persona 4’s story, leaving characters unable to approach the topic head on.

I appreciate the ambiguity and juvenile awkwardness that Atlus has created. It’s true to life, and far from black and white. Kanji’s friends treat him abnormally and are often unsupportive, and he’s constantly trying to validate his masculinity through ridiculous means. This behavior displays itself genuinely in scenes such as the school camping trip. It’s moments like these that seem authentic. If Kanji, along with the other characters, embraced his sexuality immediately, It would have felt unnatural.

Dealing with internal turmoil can be complex. It’s not always as easy as confronting your “other self”; it’s about accepting it.  Atlus understands this. Persona 4 realistically draws out Kanji’s sexual confusion, because, sometimes, it takes more than a ten minute cutscene for a character to accept who they are.

  • //twitter.com/ZoeQuinnzel Zoë Quinn

    If you max your social link though, he discusses how it was more that he felt like he was questioning his masculinity because he enjoys making dolls, not his actual orientation, so it’s not really ambiguous if you finish his storyline.

    • //twitter.com/Notcrucial Jarrett P.

      I probably should have mentioned that I’ve yet to complete his social link. Even knowing what you just said, I still think he was dealing with his sexuality. Gay or straight, Kanji’s emotional struggle is still very compelling to me.

  • Sage

    I have to say, I was a lot more disappointed than you were in how Kanji’s storyline was handled in Persona 4; but then again, I went into it knowing what Zoë Quinn’s comment has already acknowledged, and I was fully aware that Kanji wouldn’t be acknowledged as gay and that any pretenses otherwise would be excused under the idea of masculinity. I thought the game played a lot more into the ‘change and being different isn’t really all that great’ set of ideals (Yukiko choosing to stay in Inaba rather than leave, Kanji being heterosexual but just ‘confused’ about his masculinity, Rise accepting the idol industry and not working to change it, Naoto conforming to whatever the protagonist’s choices in that social link are) and it honestly left me with the impression that they chickened out on making any bold statements about halfway through.

    I agree that they did a great job with handling his storyline, up to a point, but then it just starts to all go sour. Yosuke is honestly the character who’s storyline is most fulfilled, in my opinion, and even his storyline doesn’t quite explore why Yosuke was so alienated from the get-go — the rest of the characters, though, all just left a bad taste in my mouth.