I'm going to preface this opinion article with a couple things. ONE: the subject I'm going to talk about is not a culture that live or participate in. TWO: the opinions I'm going to express are based off my observations of what I've seen in the Persona anime, other shows I've seen in the course of my life and sum experiences of my life. THREE: I mean absolutely no offense by what I'm writing, only to express the thoughts running through my head. Got it? Good, now I can move on to what I want to discuss.
Folks who have played Persona 4 have known about the issues running through the head of Kanji Tatsumi. At first presented as a rough punk whose fighting prowess strikes fear into the hearts of student, cop and gang member alike, Kanji is a multifaceted character that is great for the issues that he deals with and less for the victories he achieves. You see, despite the tough veneer that he presents to the outside world, Kanji has an innate fear of his own sexuality and doesn't know how to deal with it.
Hit the jump to read more about my thoughts regarding the male psyche and sexuality as sparked by this interesting punk. Note that there may be spoilers for the Persona 4 game and show.
Many of the characters in the Persona series have multiple layers to their personalities and reasons for acting the way they do. A lot of it has to do with the admission that they're teens and they haven't experienced the rougher things in life. The fights they get into and the events that occur during their arcs mold them and give them the strength they need to not only combat the demons they face on the outside, but on the inside as well. They start off as kids and grow up.
In my eyes, one of the most important things that a teen goes through is their sexual awakening and all of the mental and hormonal baggage that goes along with it. In most mass-market media, this is presented as a normal, heterosexual love interest that usually goes awry. They find the girl, talk to the girl, fall in love with girl and with some variation lose the girl. You see this all the bloody time in anime, since it seems that 70% of all shows are set in middle or high school.
What I don't often see is the challenge of understanding personally sexuality and what that entails. If you see somebody that is homosexual, they've usually gone through their self-discovery and are already on the other side of that difficult journey. Unfortunately, that character is also usually played up for laughs and is rarely interesting. It's sad, because there could be some fascinating and emotional stories to tell if creators would be willing to risk going that route.
That's where Kanji comes in. Kanji is about as manly as you can get for a game/anime. Hell, they even gave him one of the best hot-blooded seiyuus in the anime industry in Tomokazu Seki (Escaflowne, G Gundam). However, all the toughness means nothing when a pretty guy comes along and makes him question all his preconceptions about his personality. Why is he getting all nervous around this guy? What does he mean when he says that he's interested in me and why am I so flustered? You even hear him wonder why he's brushing his hair and looking good for this guy. For me, it's great to see a show/game willing to let a guy (and a manly one at that) let his guard down and question himself.
After he's dragged into the Shadow World and the Scooby Gang go through his dungeon, you see that they're in a bath house, the stereotypical homosexual meeting place. The accompanying taunting by Shadow Kanji and the entire level reflects somebody struggling with a preconception that they suddenly find themselves facing. In Kanji's macho world, it's clear that he had some pretty messed up assumptions about what a gay man is and now he might even be one. That's something I've definitely never seen in any game I've played.
When you get through the dungeon and defeat Shadow Kanji, he comes to terms with his feelings, but not in the way that this article may lead you to believe. While he struggles at first, Kanji accepts that he has some sort of fear of rejection whether it's with a man or woman. His fear personified in the level and boss you just finished dealing with, all in a bid to push away those around him. Regardless of what his sexuality may be, he learns to deal with that fear of rejection and move on.
There really isn't an answer to his sexuality there, but it doesn't really matter. It wasn't so much the fear of being gay that drove him here, but the fear of whatever his choice maybe will make others reject him. By solving this inner riddle, he's learned that no matter which sex he choses, he doesn't have to fear rejection as long as he's happy with it. Then again, you find out later that his fear was for nothing, so there is no final answer on that question.
I've seen criticism on either end due to the ambiguity there. Some saying that he was never gay, just insecure while other say that he's still closeted and Atlus gave fans a cop out answer. Personally, I don't think he is gay, but it doesn't matter. Kanji learned to accept himself, even if he was something completely alien to his life.
I can relate to Kanji in a way. Growing up, I had similar thoughts and fears, as I live in a particular machismo-driven atmosphere. However, I knew deep inside that it was personal insecurities that I didn't know how to handle. As I grew up, thought about what I've been through and experienced both love and loss, I become comfortable with who I was and who I am. It' s something that everybody has to go through and something that I hope everybody is lucky to go though unscathed.
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