Last week, I discussed Persona 4’s Naoto Shirogane. Now, we can’t discuss Naoto as an example of diversity in games done right without also talking about Kanji Tatsumi. No, this won’t be a series of just discussing Persona characters, but these two need to be covered as some of the best examples, especially because of their interesting relationship. Also, I need more time to work through some other games to get more accurate descriptions for you. Yes, loyal readers, I am suffering through Other M for you so I can properly discuss how it ruined our long-lasting awesome character of Samus.
Anyway, back to today’s character. Simply put, Kanji is gay. However, unlike so many other examples of gay men in gaming, he is neither a stereotype nor a villain. In fact, he is struggling with his sexuality when we first meet him. His introduction to the game comes at the same time where we first meet Naoto, when Naoto is thought by all (except most players) to be a guy. Kanji even seems flustered by Naoto’s invitation to get together for a talk later, which is our first sign of his sexuality. These more subtle signs continue during the next day or two of game, until Kanji gets kidnapped and thrown into the TV world.
Here, the subtlety falls away completely, and instead leaves us with a dungeon that symbolizes his sexuality, his problems with authority, and his struggles to understand what it means to be a man. The dungeon is itself a bathhouse, specifically called “Steamy Bathhouse.” When first finding it, the party ends up hearing a couple of men, one stereotypically swishy sounding while the other more butch sounding, talking as they fool around. The male members of your party are all freaked out by this dungeon and want to turn back. However, after fighting through the dungeon, defeating shadows that take the shapes of police officers, body building men, cupids, and more, the party is faced with Kanji’s shadow. Now, the party has run into Shadow Kanji a couple times before, and it’s very clear that he’s camp gay and wearing nothing but a towel. However, when reaching the final part of the dungeon, his shadow reveals all.
See, Kanji is the only child of a couple who run a textile shop, and before his father died, he told Kanji to “be strong.” Kanji, growing up in that kind of environment, likes activities that are traditionally “unmanly,” such as sewing and knitting. However, he also took what his father said to heart, though not entirely understanding it. This desire to be strong coupled with a fear of rejection from others regarding his hobbies leads to him becoming the delinquent we see. His shadow even asks what it means to be manly, and wonders why someone won’t just love him for who he is.
Upon defeating his shadow and having Kanji join the party, he becomes a strong member of the party (some argue the strongest physical attacker in the group). However, the memory of his time in the TV pops up throughout the game, often through teasing from Yosuke. For example, once Teddy obtains a human body and receives clothing, Yosuke remarks that “I bet you think he looks good, don’t you Kanji?” However, Kanji is not always phased by this, instead responding with things like “Oh, I get it, what you’re really saying is ‘please Kanji, won’t you kick my ass?’.” He even lets himself get fired up later on for the cross-dressing pageant that your female party members sign you up for.
It’s in this culture festival that we also see more of his relationship to Naoto. You see, even for his sexuality and his now knowing Naoto is female, he is still attracted to her. This stems from the fact that she is for all intents and purposes (but sadly not canonically so) a trans man. He even goes so far as to say “make me a man” to her as a means of convincing her to participate in the beauty pageant. Even having come to accept his sexuality, he is attracted to Naoto. This does happen from time to time in the real world, where people who are otherwise gay or straight find themselves attracted to someone of a gender they normally wouldn’t be, especially where trans people are involved. Many a married couple (though sadly not all) will remain together after one partner comes out as trans, turning a straight relationship into a “straight with a twist” or even openly gay relationship. Likewise, I’ve known gay people (both men and women) to be attracted to an other sex individual, some even going so far as to get married for a time.
All of that said, there are still issues with Kanji’s representation. As seen in the picture to the right, sometimes his sexuality is made a joke, one that is an ongoing one throughout his entire social link. From “I’m gonna renovate your ass” to a cop saying “tell it to me straight” to you and Kanji. However, the biggest issue with his representation comes from Atlus themselves. As MatPat discussed over at Game Theory, many games that are brought over to the US have positive portrayals of gay and trans characters are censored. While he mentions that Persona is progressive, he actually fails to mention that it fell victim to this as well. Atlus has gone on record saying that they toned down his sexuality, making it “more subtle” for an English-speaking audience, leaving it to the players to decide. So far all of the things that went great with this game, it does have its issues in its portrayal of diversity.