Kanji Tatsumi: A Look at Sexuality and Gender in Persona 4

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Posted by MattBodega (1903 posts) -

Author's Note: Is it still a spoiler when the entire game is available for Viewing on the site?

 

There are so many wonderful characters in Persona 4: the energetic Chie, who will do anything to protect those she loves, the awkward Yosuke, who dreams of a more exciting life, the innocent Nanako, who doesn’t understand why her Father works all the time, and the whipped Dojima, who can’t find the courage to tell his daughter that he works all the time to protect her. Even within the confines of Japanese game storytelling—which doesn’t often have the luxury of subtle, quiet storytelling (with rare exceptions) – Persona 4 creates a cast of compelling, interesting characters who do, indeed, have genuine, human characteristics at their core. The kids and adults of Iniba are flawed people, as flawed  and compelling as anyone in Liberty City. It makes the ridiculous murder plot of Persona 4—which has the characters jump into Television sets to fight shadows created by the insecurities of the town—actually seem somewhat plausible. Persona 4 is a rich, fascinating universe, with one of the greatest ensemble cast of any video game I have ever played.

The character who I found the most interesting of the whole group—the character whose psychological dilemma really touched me the most—was none other than wannabe biker, roughneck, and textile master Kanji Tatsumi. Kanji is brazen, reckless, and incredibly loyal. He isn’t afraid to call out other characters on their bullshit, and he, more than any other member of the Investigation Team, realizes that dealing with your shadow is, in fact, incredible beneficial to those whose minds are so troubled. 

 Who wouldn't want to hang with a guy like Kanji?


And yet, under that tough-as-nails exterior, Kanji, emerges as one of the most complicated and interesting characters in the game;  raising serious questions about the way society handles and understands gender and sexuality. 
 
 I was so connected to the character, and felt that his characteristics and message were so clear, that I was more than a little angered by the way Kanji was interpreted in a recent video on Destuctoid.com. The video in question was a rant, written and performed by site editor Anthony Burch, in which he argued that video games desperately needed homosexual characters that didn't conform to obvious stereotypes. It's a pretty standard video about a topic that has come up a fair number of times; we've all read something like this before, where progressive game writers bemoan the obvious and infuriating stereotypes about minorities that appear so often in games. 
 
What shocked me, about the article, however, was that Mr. Burch called out Persona 4 as an example of a game which handled homosexuality extremely poorly.
 
As P4 players and  Endurance Run viewers remember, Kanji Tatsumi's main struggle is to come to grips with his own sexual orientation. The battle that leads Kanji to understand himself is one of the great moments in any video game to date, period. It provides-- or, at least, I thought it provided--a clear and profound explanation for the character.

Apparently, this is not the case.
  
With the character of Kanji, Mr. Burch thinks that  Atlus, “sotra half-assed it. Is he gay? Is he not gay? You can argue that this is because of different definitions of sexuality in japan vs. here, and that (sexuality) is not as clear cut as that, but the game still made me feel that that was a cowardly move, to make a character, and actually explore what it’s like to be gay in high school when that’s not really the accepted norm, and then refuse to say whether he’s gay or not."

 
I  was shocked by the like. I think Mr. Burch is a pretty smart guy in general, but his analysis of Kanji character constitutes, in my mind, a pretty serious misinterpretation of the character. More surprising still, several people in the comments also wrote that they too were disappointed/upset that the game seemed to duck around the issue of whether or not the character was gay. Clearly, there's a large group of Persona 4 players who either missed or didn't understand why Kanji's sexuality was never fully and clearly stated in the game. 
 
The desire for this kind of explanation is, in my mind, proof positive that some P4 players, straight up, don't understand the issue that's at the core of Kanji's character.

First off, let's get the obvious out of the way, Kanji probably isn’t gay.

Probably not.

As Kanji says inside the T.V, after finally sedating his shadow self, “It ain’t a matter of guys and chicks….”.

The game certainly makes it SEEM like he’s gay. His interaction’s with the “boy” Naoto and, of course, his shadow on the Midnight Channel are all designed to make it look like he’s gay. Persona 4 really goes far to make you, the player think that Kanji is, in fact gay.

And so many people WANT Kanji to be gay. The reason that  Burch included Kanji on the list is specifically for that reason. So many other game players WANTED Kanji to be gay, because video games are in desperate need for those gay characters who are not stereotypes. If Kanji did come out in the game and say hewas gay, it would provide some really interesting interactions throughout the game, just as Burch said; it would allow the game to show interactions of a gay teenager in high school. And that would be just the kind of insightful, meaningful representation of homosexuality that gaming needs.

But Persona 4 doesn’t make the issue of sexuality so simple, and, as a result, Burch punished the game for what it wasn’t; a sophisticated, heartfelt, and honest interactive experience involving someone coming to grips with their homosexual urges.

The problem, though, is just that; Burch punished the game for what it isn’t, instead of understanding what the game actually is.

Persona 4 does have a message about Kanji, and it has nothing do with whether or not he’s actually gay.

Persona 4 doesn’t care if Kanji is gay.

Persona 4 doesn’t care if Kanji is not gay.

The game is not interested in Kanji’s sexuality in and of itself.

No, Persona 4 is interested in Kanji for a different reason.

The key to understanding Kanji isn’t sexuality. It’s Gender.

Now, you may think I’m crazy. You may think that the game puts a ton of time into portraying Kanji as gay, particularly with his near-naked, heavily lisped shadow inside the T.V. The game, you say, seems to want to have Kanji be gay, and doesn’t go through with it.

But take another look at the dialog in the game, particularly from Kanji and Shadow Kanji inside the T.V
 
 
   

Just before the fight against Shadow Kanji begins, he utters this very interesting line;

“What does it mean to ‘be a guy? What does it mean to be ‘manly?’ Shadow Kanji

Shadow Kanii hits upon one of real Kanji’s sorest spots; for all of his tough guy shenanigans, his leather jacket and “shouting at Media”-itude, Kanji, according to his hearts, true desire, doesn’t understand what it means to be a ”guy”….and, more importantly, why he isn’t a guy.

Yes, Kanji has that air of overcompensating manliness that we always link to heterosexuality, but his heart tells a different story…a story about the real reason his shadow has manifested.

“Oh, how I hate girls……

(The girls say)’You like to sew? What a queer!’

‘Painting is so not you!’

‘But you’re a guy! You don’t act like a guy! Why aren’t you manly?’

“They look at me like I’m some kind of disgusting freak, and say that I’m a weirdo!” Shadow Kanji.

“The girls of Yasogami High reject him. They call him queer. Why? Because Kanji likes to sew. He’s good with textiles. He likes to do crafts, He enjoys knitting. He does things that are “queer” for a guy to do.

Kanji, in the opinion of the town of Inaba, has to be gay, because he doesn’t do the things a guy is “supposed” to do. THIS is the key to Kanji.

 

For the people of Inaba, a person’s sexual preferences are not dependent on what sex an individual actually likes. It doesn’t have anything to do with attraction. Heck, it doesn’t have anything to do with sexuality whatsoever. Because Kanji doesn’t act like a ‘man”, he is not engaging in things that are “male”. For the people of Inaba (and, I would absolutely say, the people here in America) you can’t be a man, like to sew, and still be straight. Kanji likes to do girly things, and not manly things. Therefore, he must be gay.

And this gets to the heart of what Kanji represents in Persona 4, and why he’s such a wonderful character; Kanji, as a character, represents the way that society(Japanese society, and, I would say, American society) handle Gender and Sexuality.

People, in general, need to characterize things, separate items and people according to differences. You are gay or straight. You are a Democrat or a Republican. You are Rich or Poor. If you are male, you like to have sex with women. If you’re female, you like to sew and do arts and crafts. If you’re a man, you like to do “manly” things, like play sports or get into fights.

YOU, as an individual, do not make these choices. YOU, as an individual, do not choose whether or not you like guys or girls, whether you like sports or crafts. Society, that all seeing eye, determines what you SHOULD like, what you SHOULD enjoy doing. Your reality, your existence; it’s socially constructed. Society determines what you are supposed to be.

For the kids at Inaba High, because Kanji is a guy who likes to sew, he HAS to be gay. That’s all he’s allowed to be. That’s all society allows him to be.

Kanji has to be gay, because society deems him to be gay, not because he is actually attracted to other men.

Kanji Tatsumi is a character with a startling, and true, revelation: We are trapped in the roles we are given by society, We HAVE to fit into the categories that define people.

In Kanji Tatsumi, we see that sexuality is defined by others, towards us. We don’t choose our sexuality, instead, we have it assigned based on what we are “supposed” to be.

Think I’m still crazy? Good! But I’m not done yet! There’s one final piece to Kanji’s puzzle!

I have no sense of whether or not you made it to the end of the game( and by that, I mean the very very all the way super true super true ending) because the very end of the game provides a final twist on the Midnight Channel.

Remember, at the beginning of the game; the Investigation Team THINKS the mysterious Midnight Channel is a representation of people’s deepest, most secret desires and beliefs. The Shadow bosses are representations of what the individual on the Channel wishes they could be, or yearns to be, or actually is. Denying that truth makes the shadows stronger.

We all believed that interpretation, but the "True Ending" of the game provides a final, important twist. The final final boss actually reveals the actual truth of the Midnight Channel: the mysterious shadows figures are not the representations of the captured student’s greatest fears and desires.

In actuality, the image on the midnight channel is generated by Inaba’s perception of whoever had recently showed up on normal television. The shadow Kanji, almost totally naked and with Heavy Lisp, wasn’t generated inside his heart; it was what the town THOUGHT Kanji was, what Inaba THOUGHT was Kanji’s true self: a closeted homosexual.

Kanji’s story isn’t about what was inside his heart. It’s slyer, sneakier than that: it’s about what Inaba THINKS Kanji is supposed to be.

And we can all relate to that, right? Did you ever have a hobby, or an action, or a habit that others construed as “gay”? Do you have reactions that aren’t considered manly? Well…..why aren’t they manly?

For Persona 4, society limits us; it breaks us down into categories, stereotypes, roles and characters. We are SUPPOSED to act in certain ways, and conform to certain standards.

“What’s the matter with doing what I want to do?” Shadow Kanji

Kanji does things that mean, for society, that he has to be gay.

Kanji isn’t allowed to be the person that he actually is: a guy who enjoys “feminine” pursuits, like sewing and painting. He doesn’t want to be rejected by the people around him. For being something he’s not “supposed” to be. He doesn’t want to have his pursuits laughed at. He instead wants to be respected for who he is, not what he is supposed to be.

“Won’t someone….anyone…..accept me for who I am?!” Shadow Kanji.

“I’m just scared shitless of being rejected….” Regular Kanji

Kanji's story is the story of what it means, and what if feels like, to have a generalization assigned to you.

Burch judged Kanji because he was supposed to be gay. He was supposed to be a meaningful  homosexual character in a video game. When Kanji didn’t easily fit into Burch's group of positive gay characters, he chastised him and the game, and cut him down to size. Burch didn’t see, or respect, the person that Kanji actually was, or the game that Persona 4 actually is.

Sounds familiar? 
 
Persona 4 is a game unafraid to present a complicated character, and trust that it's audience is smart enough to think about it.  It's the reason Persona 4 is one of the best RPGs ever made.
#1 Posted by MattBodega (1903 posts) -

Author's Note: Is it still a spoiler when the entire game is available for Viewing on the site?

 

There are so many wonderful characters in Persona 4: the energetic Chie, who will do anything to protect those she loves, the awkward Yosuke, who dreams of a more exciting life, the innocent Nanako, who doesn’t understand why her Father works all the time, and the whipped Dojima, who can’t find the courage to tell his daughter that he works all the time to protect her. Even within the confines of Japanese game storytelling—which doesn’t often have the luxury of subtle, quiet storytelling (with rare exceptions) – Persona 4 creates a cast of compelling, interesting characters who do, indeed, have genuine, human characteristics at their core. The kids and adults of Iniba are flawed people, as flawed  and compelling as anyone in Liberty City. It makes the ridiculous murder plot of Persona 4—which has the characters jump into Television sets to fight shadows created by the insecurities of the town—actually seem somewhat plausible. Persona 4 is a rich, fascinating universe, with one of the greatest ensemble cast of any video game I have ever played.

The character who I found the most interesting of the whole group—the character whose psychological dilemma really touched me the most—was none other than wannabe biker, roughneck, and textile master Kanji Tatsumi. Kanji is brazen, reckless, and incredibly loyal. He isn’t afraid to call out other characters on their bullshit, and he, more than any other member of the Investigation Team, realizes that dealing with your shadow is, in fact, incredible beneficial to those whose minds are so troubled. 

 Who wouldn't want to hang with a guy like Kanji?


And yet, under that tough-as-nails exterior, Kanji, emerges as one of the most complicated and interesting characters in the game;  raising serious questions about the way society handles and understands gender and sexuality. 
 
 I was so connected to the character, and felt that his characteristics and message were so clear, that I was more than a little angered by the way Kanji was interpreted in a recent video on Destuctoid.com. The video in question was a rant, written and performed by site editor Anthony Burch, in which he argued that video games desperately needed homosexual characters that didn't conform to obvious stereotypes. It's a pretty standard video about a topic that has come up a fair number of times; we've all read something like this before, where progressive game writers bemoan the obvious and infuriating stereotypes about minorities that appear so often in games. 
 
What shocked me, about the article, however, was that Mr. Burch called out Persona 4 as an example of a game which handled homosexuality extremely poorly.
 
As P4 players and  Endurance Run viewers remember, Kanji Tatsumi's main struggle is to come to grips with his own sexual orientation. The battle that leads Kanji to understand himself is one of the great moments in any video game to date, period. It provides-- or, at least, I thought it provided--a clear and profound explanation for the character.

Apparently, this is not the case.
  
With the character of Kanji, Mr. Burch thinks that  Atlus, “sotra half-assed it. Is he gay? Is he not gay? You can argue that this is because of different definitions of sexuality in japan vs. here, and that (sexuality) is not as clear cut as that, but the game still made me feel that that was a cowardly move, to make a character, and actually explore what it’s like to be gay in high school when that’s not really the accepted norm, and then refuse to say whether he’s gay or not."

 
I  was shocked by the like. I think Mr. Burch is a pretty smart guy in general, but his analysis of Kanji character constitutes, in my mind, a pretty serious misinterpretation of the character. More surprising still, several people in the comments also wrote that they too were disappointed/upset that the game seemed to duck around the issue of whether or not the character was gay. Clearly, there's a large group of Persona 4 players who either missed or didn't understand why Kanji's sexuality was never fully and clearly stated in the game. 
 
The desire for this kind of explanation is, in my mind, proof positive that some P4 players, straight up, don't understand the issue that's at the core of Kanji's character.

First off, let's get the obvious out of the way, Kanji probably isn’t gay.

Probably not.

As Kanji says inside the T.V, after finally sedating his shadow self, “It ain’t a matter of guys and chicks….”.

The game certainly makes it SEEM like he’s gay. His interaction’s with the “boy” Naoto and, of course, his shadow on the Midnight Channel are all designed to make it look like he’s gay. Persona 4 really goes far to make you, the player think that Kanji is, in fact gay.

And so many people WANT Kanji to be gay. The reason that  Burch included Kanji on the list is specifically for that reason. So many other game players WANTED Kanji to be gay, because video games are in desperate need for those gay characters who are not stereotypes. If Kanji did come out in the game and say hewas gay, it would provide some really interesting interactions throughout the game, just as Burch said; it would allow the game to show interactions of a gay teenager in high school. And that would be just the kind of insightful, meaningful representation of homosexuality that gaming needs.

But Persona 4 doesn’t make the issue of sexuality so simple, and, as a result, Burch punished the game for what it wasn’t; a sophisticated, heartfelt, and honest interactive experience involving someone coming to grips with their homosexual urges.

The problem, though, is just that; Burch punished the game for what it isn’t, instead of understanding what the game actually is.

Persona 4 does have a message about Kanji, and it has nothing do with whether or not he’s actually gay.

Persona 4 doesn’t care if Kanji is gay.

Persona 4 doesn’t care if Kanji is not gay.

The game is not interested in Kanji’s sexuality in and of itself.

No, Persona 4 is interested in Kanji for a different reason.

The key to understanding Kanji isn’t sexuality. It’s Gender.

Now, you may think I’m crazy. You may think that the game puts a ton of time into portraying Kanji as gay, particularly with his near-naked, heavily lisped shadow inside the T.V. The game, you say, seems to want to have Kanji be gay, and doesn’t go through with it.

But take another look at the dialog in the game, particularly from Kanji and Shadow Kanji inside the T.V
 
 
   

Just before the fight against Shadow Kanji begins, he utters this very interesting line;

“What does it mean to ‘be a guy? What does it mean to be ‘manly?’ Shadow Kanji

Shadow Kanii hits upon one of real Kanji’s sorest spots; for all of his tough guy shenanigans, his leather jacket and “shouting at Media”-itude, Kanji, according to his hearts, true desire, doesn’t understand what it means to be a ”guy”….and, more importantly, why he isn’t a guy.

Yes, Kanji has that air of overcompensating manliness that we always link to heterosexuality, but his heart tells a different story…a story about the real reason his shadow has manifested.

“Oh, how I hate girls……

(The girls say)’You like to sew? What a queer!’

‘Painting is so not you!’

‘But you’re a guy! You don’t act like a guy! Why aren’t you manly?’

“They look at me like I’m some kind of disgusting freak, and say that I’m a weirdo!” Shadow Kanji.

“The girls of Yasogami High reject him. They call him queer. Why? Because Kanji likes to sew. He’s good with textiles. He likes to do crafts, He enjoys knitting. He does things that are “queer” for a guy to do.

Kanji, in the opinion of the town of Inaba, has to be gay, because he doesn’t do the things a guy is “supposed” to do. THIS is the key to Kanji.

 

For the people of Inaba, a person’s sexual preferences are not dependent on what sex an individual actually likes. It doesn’t have anything to do with attraction. Heck, it doesn’t have anything to do with sexuality whatsoever. Because Kanji doesn’t act like a ‘man”, he is not engaging in things that are “male”. For the people of Inaba (and, I would absolutely say, the people here in America) you can’t be a man, like to sew, and still be straight. Kanji likes to do girly things, and not manly things. Therefore, he must be gay.

And this gets to the heart of what Kanji represents in Persona 4, and why he’s such a wonderful character; Kanji, as a character, represents the way that society(Japanese society, and, I would say, American society) handle Gender and Sexuality.

People, in general, need to characterize things, separate items and people according to differences. You are gay or straight. You are a Democrat or a Republican. You are Rich or Poor. If you are male, you like to have sex with women. If you’re female, you like to sew and do arts and crafts. If you’re a man, you like to do “manly” things, like play sports or get into fights.

YOU, as an individual, do not make these choices. YOU, as an individual, do not choose whether or not you like guys or girls, whether you like sports or crafts. Society, that all seeing eye, determines what you SHOULD like, what you SHOULD enjoy doing. Your reality, your existence; it’s socially constructed. Society determines what you are supposed to be.

For the kids at Inaba High, because Kanji is a guy who likes to sew, he HAS to be gay. That’s all he’s allowed to be. That’s all society allows him to be.

Kanji has to be gay, because society deems him to be gay, not because he is actually attracted to other men.

Kanji Tatsumi is a character with a startling, and true, revelation: We are trapped in the roles we are given by society, We HAVE to fit into the categories that define people.

In Kanji Tatsumi, we see that sexuality is defined by others, towards us. We don’t choose our sexuality, instead, we have it assigned based on what we are “supposed” to be.

Think I’m still crazy? Good! But I’m not done yet! There’s one final piece to Kanji’s puzzle!

I have no sense of whether or not you made it to the end of the game( and by that, I mean the very very all the way super true super true ending) because the very end of the game provides a final twist on the Midnight Channel.

Remember, at the beginning of the game; the Investigation Team THINKS the mysterious Midnight Channel is a representation of people’s deepest, most secret desires and beliefs. The Shadow bosses are representations of what the individual on the Channel wishes they could be, or yearns to be, or actually is. Denying that truth makes the shadows stronger.

We all believed that interpretation, but the "True Ending" of the game provides a final, important twist. The final final boss actually reveals the actual truth of the Midnight Channel: the mysterious shadows figures are not the representations of the captured student’s greatest fears and desires.

In actuality, the image on the midnight channel is generated by Inaba’s perception of whoever had recently showed up on normal television. The shadow Kanji, almost totally naked and with Heavy Lisp, wasn’t generated inside his heart; it was what the town THOUGHT Kanji was, what Inaba THOUGHT was Kanji’s true self: a closeted homosexual.

Kanji’s story isn’t about what was inside his heart. It’s slyer, sneakier than that: it’s about what Inaba THINKS Kanji is supposed to be.

And we can all relate to that, right? Did you ever have a hobby, or an action, or a habit that others construed as “gay”? Do you have reactions that aren’t considered manly? Well…..why aren’t they manly?

For Persona 4, society limits us; it breaks us down into categories, stereotypes, roles and characters. We are SUPPOSED to act in certain ways, and conform to certain standards.

“What’s the matter with doing what I want to do?” Shadow Kanji

Kanji does things that mean, for society, that he has to be gay.

Kanji isn’t allowed to be the person that he actually is: a guy who enjoys “feminine” pursuits, like sewing and painting. He doesn’t want to be rejected by the people around him. For being something he’s not “supposed” to be. He doesn’t want to have his pursuits laughed at. He instead wants to be respected for who he is, not what he is supposed to be.

“Won’t someone….anyone…..accept me for who I am?!” Shadow Kanji.

“I’m just scared shitless of being rejected….” Regular Kanji

Kanji's story is the story of what it means, and what if feels like, to have a generalization assigned to you.

Burch judged Kanji because he was supposed to be gay. He was supposed to be a meaningful  homosexual character in a video game. When Kanji didn’t easily fit into Burch's group of positive gay characters, he chastised him and the game, and cut him down to size. Burch didn’t see, or respect, the person that Kanji actually was, or the game that Persona 4 actually is.

Sounds familiar? 
 
Persona 4 is a game unafraid to present a complicated character, and trust that it's audience is smart enough to think about it.  It's the reason Persona 4 is one of the best RPGs ever made.
#2 Posted by Red (5991 posts) -

Fantastic blog. I normally do quite enjoy Burch's rants, but I was pretty disappointed with his recent portrayal of Kanji, which is probably because he hasn't really gotten past the first dungeon in P4, as he mentioned in a previous rant.

#3 Edited by ch3burashka (4910 posts) -

Agreed. I was slightly confused that there was no definite answer as to whether Kanji was gay, but his Social Link scenes cleared much of it up. Very insightful.
 
EDIT: I just read it all the way through. That shit was deep man.

#4 Edited by Vegeta187x (19 posts) -

I never saw Kanji's social link to the end, but I never once thought he was supposed to be a homosexual teenager who hadn't come to grips with his orientation. I always viewed him as, like you said, someone who felt like he had to live up to what society felt he should be. That's why he overcompensated with his tough guy exterior. Instead of saying "nuts to it" and allowing himself to be the person he truly was inside, he tried to conform to what everybody else thought he should be. He took what he perceived to be society's vision of what it is to be "man" and went off the deep end. 
 
 I think it's very interesting that at some time or another, the investigation squad fell victim to the very stereotypical beliefs that they were fighting against. Yousuke didn't want to sleep in the tent with Kanji because of what he feared he might be. Various members of the group idolized Yukiko for her looks and (hidden) sexuality. Multiple members of the group treated Teddy as an accessory that was little more than a glorified tour guide. They all ended up fighting shadows that they, themselves, had helped to create.
 
 
Great read, by the way.

#5 Posted by Teh_Eel (296 posts) -

Thanks for the great read, made me look at Kanji in a different way.

#6 Posted by ZettaSlow (148 posts) -

One sentence paragraphs are not manly. MattBodega likes one sentence paragraphs? What a queer!
 
Great blog post, though. Was good read.

#7 Posted by Sweep (8543 posts) -

My brother once explained fashion to me

"Fashion is all about appearing to look as gay as possible, without actually being gay"

The comedian Steve Hughes enforces this with:

 "In England, apparently, it's gay to have your right ear pierced. Is that true? It's weird, because in Australia it's when you've got your dick in another man's arse".

 
Personally I don't see what all the fuss is about.
Moderator
#8 Posted by NoDeath (797 posts) -

Great read! Truly eye opening. I really have to get to the end of kanji's social link one of these days. Sadly, its not like its June any more and I have enough free time to replay an 80 hour JRPG...

#9 Posted by ajamafalous (11592 posts) -

Great read. Especially great, as Kanji is my favorite character. It's probably because of his awesome leather jacket-cape, though, and not his ambiguous sexuality.

#10 Posted by trophyhunter (5804 posts) -

you know kanji is not actually gay

#11 Posted by Symphony (1913 posts) -

Thank you for the enjoyable read. :) Wish I had something to add to the conversation but alas I don't.

#12 Posted by zitosilva (1837 posts) -

Wow, that was really good read.
 
I normally like Anthony's rants, but I also thought this one was a little strange. I completely agree that it felt like he missed the point of Kanji.
 
And I had never thought about this interpretation of yours, of the perception of gender versus an individual desires. When I played Persona 4, I mostly felt that Kanji was real in the sense that he himself did not know about his sexuality. Is he gay? Maybe. Is he heterosexual? Maybe. Is he bissexual? Could be. The thing is, for me, it looked liked he was genuinely confused and unsure, which is entirely normal and it's something that a lot of people go through. And what was more fantastic was the way that the game did not settle on that. Kanji does come to terms with his insecurities and doubts, but without ever making it concrete if he is something or the other.
 
Just one thing though. I do remember the whole think about the thoughts of Inaba causing the midnight channel and such, but I believe this is unrelated to the way a shadow presents itself. I think the will of Inaba is more related to whoevere will appear, and not how the shadow would be protraied. Because if that's not the case, then we wouldn't be able to explain neither Chie nor Yosuke's shadows, after all they did not appear in the media, nor in the Midnight Channel. I'm not saying there's no relation to how people perceived Kanji and to how his shadow is, but I still believe that his shadow are only his inner thoughts and doubts about himself.
 
And honestly, coming back to Anthony's rant, I don't think I have ever seen the matter of sexuality better protrayed in a videogame. At least not among the games that I have played.

#13 Posted by Hailinel (22737 posts) -

As others have said, this is an excellent read.  As someone that has played the game to the true ending, I agree with many of your points regarding Kanji's sexuality.  It's not that he's gay; it has to do with the perception of gender, which is particularly what makes his relationship with Naoto (a girl masquerading as a boy) so interesting.

#14 Posted by Brunchies (2484 posts) -

I have to get this game, your description tells me that this game has some deep meanings.

#15 Posted by Thordain (959 posts) -

hm, good read. I actually can't believe I missed that final twist about the midnight channel. It certainly explains some stuff.

#16 Posted by JackiJinx (3083 posts) -

Very nice read, and I can tell you since I'm taking a gender in communications class that this is a relief to see: someone that understands what a character like Kanji is. I can sympathize with Kanji, but I more so sympathize with Naoto, especially since I get confused with being a boy on a continual basis. I have strongly masculine interests, including but not limited to: video games (doy), building things, taking things apart, a general liking of things electronic, etc. And I dress in a rather masculine way most of the time. That's not to say that I don't hold feminine interests though, as I do. I've had some people believe that I am a lesbian based upon my activities and appearance, and although it's understandable, it's can get incredibly frustrating in certain situations. I'm sure Kanji/Naoto feel the same way.

#17 Posted by Romination (2768 posts) -

This is the kind of blog I used to write and no one would pay attention to it so I gave up. Awesome, though. Persona 4 could easily have an article written like this for every character, but it's so spelled out for most of them. Truly, had he played the game or watched, he should have known that Kanji was just a man who liked to do traditionally feminine things. I have a few things like that I do, and people have thought I was gay, but if they got to know me they'd see I'm not. It's just a look at gender roles and bigotry, and it's surprising that this slightly bigoted view of Kanji's sexuality being the main point comes from someone arguing that more gay characters are needed..

#18 Posted by eroticfishcake (7780 posts) -

I rarely read large walls of text but considering the content of it I gave it a shot. Fantastically well written piece I have to say. I do agree with you on the how society thinks how we should behave. It's incredibly irritating when you see someone ill-spoken of just because they do something out of the societies "norm". Just because they do something different they're instantly given a label. You're either this or that, no neutral ground to stand on. I've always thought this way and despite my reasoning most people don't seem to think so let alone think about it. It's really disheartening. Fortuneatly, that hasn't always been the case, my love for cooking, housecleaning and even sewing are seen as positive qualities today. Most people refuse to practice them because they're "gay".
 
That's a great analysis on Kanji as well. Captured just about how I felt about the guy. I was hopping to and fro when it came to his sexuality. Was he gay? Or wasn't he? I was led to believe he was gay but when witnessed the true ending and gave it a thought in terms with the characters, it all falls into place. Imagine my surprise when I came to the conclusion that Kanji was straight. It really was a joyous surprise, I felt like a kid who found some rare insect or frog in his Grandfather's backyard. It didn't matter if Kanji was gay or not though. He was fucking cool.

#19 Posted by FrankCanada97 (4039 posts) -

Great read. I don't normally read blogs that long, but I felt compelled to.

#20 Posted by ZmillA (2232 posts) -

Great read. In the camping episode of the ER I made a post that went along the lines of this blog and why P4 was one of the most mature games to come out.

#21 Posted by natetodamax (19140 posts) -

That's a really nice blog, Bodega. Makes you think about society in a different way, not just Kanji.

#22 Posted by tranquilchaos (570 posts) -

Well said. I couldn't agree more on all counts.

#23 Posted by RJPelonia (842 posts) -

Fantastic writing there, my friend. Really enjoyable and enlightening to read.

#24 Posted by thatpinguino (563 posts) -

Great interpretation of the character I completely agree on all accounts.  One question though.  Concidering what is revealed in the true ending what do you make of Naoto's dungeon? 
 
The underground base is a bit of an odd location.  Unlike the bath house its symbolism is less obvious and as such I'm not entirely sure what Inaba could have been thinking that would create a place like that.
Naoto's shadow is in line with the pattern shown by the other characters, but her dungeon is a bit tougher to wrap my head around.  My guess is that the lab is supposed to represent how freekishly
smart Inaba thinks Naoto is; as such it would fit that she was made in or is at least would be associated with labs and secret government things  But thats the only thoughts I have.

#25 Posted by Hailinel (22737 posts) -
@thatpinguino said:
" Great interpretation of the character I completely agree on all accounts.  One question though.  Concidering what is revealed in the true ending what do you make of Naoto's dungeon?   The underground base is a bit of an odd location.  Unlike the bath house its symbolism is less obvious and as such I'm not entirely sure what Inaba could have been thinking that would create a place like that. Naoto's shadow is in line with the pattern shown by the other characters, but her dungeon is a bit tougher to wrap my head around.  My guess is that the lab is supposed to represent how freekishly smart Inaba thinks Naoto is; as such it would fit that she was made in or is at least would be associated with labs and secret government things  But thats the only thoughts I have. "
Naoto's dungeon, the underground base, references the designs of stereotypical "secret bases" found in Japanese superhero shows for children.
#26 Posted by Dethfish (3593 posts) -

Wow, really good blog.  I always thought Kanji was awesome but I guess he's pretty complex as well.
 

 Kanji can eat more topsicles than all of y'all!
#27 Edited by gakon (1940 posts) -

Samantha Xu wrote an excellent editorial on this subject some ten months ago for Gamasutra:  http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=22015
 
According to the devs themselves, Kanji's sexual preferences were left intentionally ambiguous.  They want the player to decide.
 
I don't think Kanji's Shadow can be seen as a reflection of society's expectations though.  That doesn't fit for some of the game's characters, namely Yosuke, Chie, Teddie, and probably Mitsuo, although his Shadow isn't much of anything.  I suppose the Shadows of Rise, Kanji, and Naoto have more of that social element, though.  At the same time, none of those Shadows are misrepresenting who the real person is.  That's why each character accepts his or her Shadow, because it isn't lying about them.  As I understand it, the Shadow self is in part an exaggeration of its human self's psyche.  Every Shadow has its own TV show; hey make for entertaining TV, which is why Kanji's Shadow is mostly a parody of gay stereotypes.  See also: http://www.1up.com/do/feature?pager.offset=2&cId=3172364
 
[edit] I had to rewatch Part 154 of the ER to verify this, because I was positive the following statement isn't true:
 
 In actuality, the image on the midnight channel is generated by Inaba’s perception of whoever had recently showed up on normal television.
 
These are the words of Izanami:  "This "Midnight Channel" you speak of... It is indeed a device to draw hearts into this world.  But it was always your individual wills that would determine what appeared on it.  Humans ache to expose their suppressed sides, while the prying eyes around them are curious to see them laid bare.  The want to show, and the want to see... I granted a "window" that catered to both."  Naoto: "Everyone wished to know more about the people who became famous through the media...  And the Midnight Channel was there to grant their wishes."
 
What viewers wanted to see was not their expectation of what Kanji should be, but rather what he really is.  Individuals who become famous through the media end up as silhouettes on the Midnight Channel, which triggers Namatame to kidnap them.  When Kanji appeared on a news special about biker gangs, the public became curious about him.  And his Shadow self gave Midnight Channel viewers an incredibly over-the-top look at Kanji's hidden side.
 
Man, I can't believe I'm writing this in-universe about a game.  It feels dorky.

#28 Posted by Bones8677 (3171 posts) -
There's nothing wrong with ambiguity, and as such I like what Atlus did with Kanji. Is he gay, is he straight? Y'know what, it's none of your business.  

Frankly, I hate it when creators of TV shows, or movies or games just shoehorn in minorities for the sole purpose of preaching. Turning the whole thing into affirmative action.
#29 Posted by Clubvodka (410 posts) -

Very insightful, all I've got to say that Kanji's confused sexuality is handled very well at times its played for laughs and that makes me uncomfortable. The school campout for example and Youske is hinting that Kanji might do something to them. I understand this is probably how naive high school students would act, however P4 is not a microcosm or reality sim, it's a cleverly built video game.

 Anyway I do agree with most of what you said and for the most of P4 Kanji's arc is interesting and it works. 
Never the less what you've said is an amazingly intellectual textual analysis that should be a book somwhere! 

#30 Edited by FluxWaveZ (19171 posts) -

 @MattBodega: One thing though: what do you make of Kanji having a nose bleed and his cheeks becoming red when the MC and Yosuke get pushed in the water?

#31 Posted by Pie (6937 posts) -

Awesome read. Shame I cant add to the conversation

#32 Posted by Tireyo (6382 posts) -

Interesting! : - )

#33 Posted by Jazz (2046 posts) -

What you mean when the two girls turn up in Bikinis? 
Great read....who cares whether Kanji is or isn't gay. 
 
HE'S KANJI. 
 
He's soo manly he tells everyone else to get bent! 

#34 Posted by Sanj (2239 posts) -

Excellent read! Couldn't agree more.
#35 Posted by Gamer_152 (13976 posts) -

A brilliant article. I watched Mr. Burch's video and I agree with him that we do need more non-stereotypical characters in video games and that Jack Harkness is a great example of a homosexual TV show character who isn't defined solely by his sexuality, but he seemed to completely miss what Kanji was about. I also don't think it's fair that he compares characters in a game like Streets of Rage 3 to modern video game characters or that he take the deliberately over-the-top, satirically-depicted characters of GTA IV and makes it seem like Rockstar wasn't trying to be ironic in the way they designed their characters. I think like all characters in Persona 4 Kanji is a deep and meaningful person but he seems to go even beyond the complexity of most of the other characters in the game and reveals himself to be an amazing character which the creators of the game have used in an original way and made a great statement with.

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#36 Posted by LordAndrew (14001 posts) -
@FluxWaveZ said:
"  @MattBodega: One thing though: what do you make of Kanji having a nose bleed and his cheeks becoming red when the MC and Yosuke get pushed in the water? "
The girls were also there though. It's impossible to say for certain who or what caused Kanji's nosebleed.
#37 Edited by MetalGearSunny (6984 posts) -

I totally wish I could've read this sooner. Great blog, Mr. Bodega. One sentence paragraphs were a tad annoying though. =P 

#38 Posted by InTheEnd (268 posts) -

I never thought he was gay, nonetheless, it was an interesting read.

#39 Posted by AURON570 (1666 posts) -

You may find this article interesting *searches*
 
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_222/6610-Too-Gay-for-the-U-S-A

#40 Edited by Sincillian (530 posts) -
@MattBodega: 
 
This was a great read but I think you got 1 part wrong. About the true true ending. While yes the Midnight Channel is a representation of what the residents of Inaba are thinking about that's not what shows up on the T.V.  
 
What I mean is when someone like Kanji for example showed up on the regular T.V and everyone saw it and started thinking about him, I'm pretty sure that only his silhouette was shown on the Midnight Channel. Only from the people thinking about him, only his silhouette appeared. When he was actually thrown into the T.V and his shadow made that Midnight Channel program, everything that you saw on the program was all Kanji's shadow, no one had any part in what the Shadow did. So yes that Shadow Kanji actually was Kanji's deepest fears, desires, etc. That goes for everyone that got put in the T.V. 
#41 Posted by HypoXenophobia (1045 posts) -
@MattBodega:
Hm, It was a very interesting article. Though I did interpret Kanji as a bisexual. Considering the nosebleeding when he was with MC(Charlie) and Yosuke. But you do bring up a great point though, Kanji is an incredibly fascinating character. I always referrenced him as a prime example as to why I thought Persona 4 was such as great game. Mainly in the sense, that he puts off an incredibly defensive exterior(under my interpretation) to discourage the assumption that he was gay/bisexual. To which the Midnight Channel then displayed his secret feelings, essentially forcing him to reveal his sexuality at an age and maturity where he may not be confident enough to deal with those type of issues.  
 
Though under your interpretation, it did make me have that much more emphatic towards Kanji. As a heterosexual man, I do find it somewhat unsettling that in discussions, the slight mention of me enjoying gardening, while for the most part joking, gets constrewed as 'queer'. Great job, quite though provoking.
#42 Posted by Sincillian (530 posts) -
@MattBodega:  
 
Other than that one part I think you misinterpreted this article was very well written and I want to know your views on some of the other characters in the game.
#43 Posted by pause422 (6154 posts) -

Just saw this read right now Matt, have to say, you did one hell of a write up. I understood entirely the way Kanji was being represented in the game, and this seemed pretty clear to me. Really great job, nothing else I can really add.

#44 Posted by Heartbreak (288 posts) -

Great read, got me thinking on some things in my personal life lol.
 
Kanji's an excellent character.

#45 Posted by EvilTwin (3324 posts) -
@Sincillian said:
" @MattBodega:  This was a great read but I think you got 1 part wrong. About the true true ending. While yes the Midnight Channel is a representation of what the residents of Inaba are thinking about that's not what shows up on the T.V.   What I mean is when someone like Kanji for example showed up on the regular T.V and everyone saw it and started thinking about him, I'm pretty sure that only his silhouette was shown on the Midnight Channel. Only from the people thinking about him, only his silhouette appeared. When he was actually thrown into the T.V and his shadow made that Midnight Channel program, everything that you saw on the program was all Kanji's shadow, no one had any part in what the Shadow did. So yes that Shadow Kanji actually was Kanji's deepest fears, desires, etc. That goes for everyone that got put in the T.V.  "
I believe this is correct.  It makes sense considering that they all eventually accept that the shadows are a part of them.  And for probably all other characters than Kanji, the revelation that what their shadow did was just what people wanted it to do would actually cheapen the character development rather than add to it.  
 
Otherwise, pretty good read.  Probably over long, but good nonetheless. 
#46 Posted by minnim (1 posts) -

First of all I want to say it was a very nice read, and a very nice point of view!                                                                                                                                                        But the thing I wonder is, why everyone has to make such a big deal about this? 
I mean.... either he is gay, or then he isn't.... and so what??  
Why do we feel the need to "categorize" him?  
Personally I just don't think there is any need to categorize characters (or real people for that matter)...  
Can't Kanji just be KanjI? Or is it important that we know exctly every detail about him? 
I think everyone should be able to interpret him however they want... Because we will never (at least most likely never) know the truth about Kanji anyway...                  So wathever makes the player happy, or satisfied, he or she should just be able to believe in that... or? 
I just think people make too big a deal about this... then again, that's just my opinion...    
#47 Edited by Evercaptor (392 posts) -

Nice to read I'm not the only Dtoider who saw Burch got it completely wrong about Kanji. I completely agree with the way you interpreted him, but I fear that it's too subtle for a lot of people to see. Maybe it's how much we resonated with Kanji?

#48 Posted by TwoLines (2762 posts) -

Great read. Very interesting and insightful.
I knew P4's characters were greatly written, this just proves it.

#49 Edited by neoepoch (1290 posts) -

Wow this post resurfaced? Well that is good, I actually meant to look for this, so a win for me. Anyway, I just wanted to add to a few of Matt's points. Kanji not only suffers from problems with gender perception, but even with his tough guy attitude, the police are constantly on him. I feel that his social link is really just about preconceived notions and prejudices in general. Cops are always on him because they see him as a bully, and his classmates mutter behind his back about how they think his sewing hobby makes him gay. It adds to the overall theme of seeking the truth.
 
There is also a strong connection with his past, when he lost his father. During the ninth level of the link, he tells the MC that his father told him before he died that "If you are going to be a man, you have to be strong." Kanji misinterpreted it as his father calling him out on not being a man, which caused him to push others away and get into fights. However, he realized during his s. link, that his dad mean that he needed to stand up for what he is and what he believes in. He didn't care that his son enjoyed sewing, he just wanted him to stand up for what he believed in. Kanji learned that it was okay to be himself, and that he had to put in the effort to make others understand him, instead of just letting them think whatever they wanted to.
 
@HypoXenophobia:  He only had the nosebleed after the girls came out in their suits. The guys were already in their suits and they were talking. I feel that the main reason there he had confusion about his sexuality was due to being around Naoto, a girl who disguised herself as a boy because of a similar problem that Kanji has - preconceived notions of gender in society. Kanji started developing a thing for her, but was under the impression she was a guy, which confused him when you first meet him.

#50 Posted by GunslingerPanda (4487 posts) -

I liked Kanji, he was going through a lot of the same shit I was, and still am really.

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