One of the most compelling parts of Atlus’ Persona 4 is the question of one of its characters’ possible homosexuality. The game gives no easy answers, but members of the Persona 4 team have shared their opinions.
Persona 4 made great strides in the portrayal of homosexuality in games with the character of Kanji, a rough-and-tumble delinquent who may or may not be gay. In the game, players enter an alternate world where a character’s hidden desires manifest themselves in the form of an “other self” and a dungeon. In Kanji’s alternate world, his other self appears as a near-nude, “gay” sounding version of himself who inhabits a men’s bathhouse, strongly suggesting that the character houses homosexual desires. The game, however, never really makes it concrete whether or not Kanji’s gay or just sexually confused, which has frustrated some gamers. Now, commenting in a Gamasutra opinion piece, Atlus has spoken out definitively on the topic.
“We would like everyone to play through the game and come up with their own answers to that question; there is no official answer,” Yu Namba, the project lead on Persona 4, said. “What matters is that Kanji’s other self cries out, ‘Accept me for who I am!’ I think it’s a powerful message which many, if not all of us can relate to.”
Other Atlus staff feel the same way, and have drawn their own conclusions. “At the end of Kanji’s Social Link, should you choose to advance it that far, he does say specifically in reference to his Shadow self, ‘That ‘other me’ is me,” Nich Maragos, an editor at Atlus, said.
The ambiguity of Kanji’s sexual persuasion might frustrate American gamers who have more black-and-white concepts of sexuality, but it’s true to Japanese culture, according to experts. “[In Japan] there is an understanding that you can play with fantasies that you might not want to live out in your normal life,” Dr. Antonia Levi, a scholar of Japanese culture and anime, said. “The Japanese are more comfortable with the concept of being gay and not being gay at the same time. In this case, it makes sense that, in the end, the game is not telling you what to think about Kanji or even if he is gay.”
For Atlus’ localization team, staying true to that aspect of Japanese culture was central to their aims. “We did encounter a small number of sexually oriented instances which we decided to make more subtle, but the meaning of everything is still intact,” Namba said. And in some cases, it often complimented the game’s portrayal of modern life. “That flamboyance was also what the viewers of the Midnight Channel [a TV channel that shows what’s happening in the alternate world] wanted to see: a typical gay person on TV that people would laugh at. The TV station broadcasts what the audience prefers to watch – it’s a stark portrayal of modern society.”