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Man vs. Man: Kanji Tatsumi's sexuality in Persona 4

Tera Kirk's picture

A young man in profile with long, silvery-blond hair and a black jacket and pants. He's looking up, and off into the distance.

In Sexuality and Homophobia in Persona 4 from Gamasutra, Samantha Xu examines the tension between Persona 4's "rough-and-tumble teen" Kanji Tatsumi and his flamboyant alter-ego:

Kanji is feared by the locals and maintains a confrontational machismo toward the other characters throughout the game. He is a loyal son and employee at his family's textile shop, and it's not until the debut of his alter-ego Shadow Kanji that we are made aware of his inner sexual turmoil.

Xu looks at how homosexuality is viewed in Japanese culture and interviews people at Atlus USA who worked on Persona 4, game journalists and Sex in Video Games author Brenda Brathwaite. Brenda likes many things about Kanji's portrayal, but one thing she dislikes is "the game's juvenile nature in dealing with his sexuality."

Though I haven't been able to play Persona 4 yet (damn you, Atlus rarity!), I wonder: is this "juvenile nature" really the game's, or is it the teenage characters'...especially Kanji's? At that age, he might only just be realizing that he's attracted to men. Not only that, but Kanji's grown up in a culture where straightness is seen as the default. What he knows of openly gay men is what his heteronormative society has told him over the years. Is it any wonder that his personal version of a gay man—the fey, girl-hating, most of all dangerous Shadow Kanji—is these ideas personified?:

Like Kanji, I too spent my teenage years thinking about how the person I was fit in with my environment—and I don't think we are at all unusual.  I'd known I had a disability for years, but it was only during adolescence that I started to work out what it means to be a disabled person in this world. I read lots of books by other disabled people and was interested in self-advocacy; I also thought a lot of stupid, ableist things. Over the years, I've been able to tear apart a bunch of my own prejudices and cultural baggage. When Kanji defeats his alter-ego in battle, it's not his sexuality that he crushes; it's the culturally-sanctioned idea that his sexuality is bad.

Yes, Kanji's journey toward accepting his sexuality is messy. It's bogged down in the lies society tells him. But from what I can see, it is an honest one. And by battling his own fears and prejudices in such a literal way, Kanji makes his struggle to accept his sexuality a story best told by a video game.

Category Tags
Platform(s): PS2  
Developer(s): Atlus  
Series: Shin Megami Tensei  
Genre(s): Role-Playing  

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Hey Tera, good post and

Hey Tera, good post and thanks for the link to the article... it was a pretty well-written one that I agreed with, for the most part.

Playing Persona 4, I did find that Kanji’s character was one of my favorites, and that his particular storyline was one of the most interesting. Although on the one hand I did have some misgivings about the fact that they don't really blatantly say that he is gay, I do think that it's a pretty accurate reflection of life in general; there is very rarely ever a black or white answer to any question, and sexuality is a subject that's very personal and subjective anyway you slice it. Toss in the fact that Kanji’s still in high school, and when all was said and done, I thought that the game did a really good job of portraying him as a sympathetic, likable, and very human character.

I was a little curious that the article didn't spend a lot of time talking about Naoto… tackling Kanji’s sexuality, I was doubly surprised that the game also managed to insert (what I see, anyway) as transgender issues, specifically her desire to go from F to M. I didn't play the game a second time and I wasn't able to completely finish Naoto’s storyline, but there are some excellent comments after the main article in that link that go into what either is or isn't an exploration of transgender issues… regardless of the (debatable) outcome, the fact that these issues are brought up ***at all*** is simply a feather in the cap of Persona 4.

Kudos to Atlus, and to the best JRPG to come out since… Persona 3. ; )



Great piece btw Tera. I thought Gamasutra's criticism of it was well intentioned, but missed the mark. Turns out the game is deeper than the critics.

I love Kanji

He's so sweet and badass and shy and cool. I think they did a good job with him. It's not easy to deal with teh gay at that age, especially with so many kids right here in America being bullied on a daily basis even if they are not gay.
It's a great game and it's awesome how he learns, eventually to accept himself and Naoto who is also a cool character learns a similar lesson.
If he wasn't gay, or at least bi him and Naoto would be a good pair because they are both so badass. Japanese culture has an interesting history when it comes to gender and sexuality.

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