Portrayal of LGBT characters in Persona

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is a JRPG series that has existed since 1996, but has only recently gained notable popularity through Persona 4. Throughout It’s entirety, Persona has had a very high amount of homoeroticism. Even though a lot of the eroticism could be portrayed as admiration, or pseudo-crushes, some of these are still notable. Also, there are characters who actually deal with LGBT issues, though unlike most media, Persona used to deal with LGBT issues a lot better in the past compared to how they deal with them now.

The following is a list of LGBT or pseudo-LGBT characters in the Persona Series.

1. Jun Kurosu (Persona 2: Innocent Sin)

Jun is definitely the most well portrayed LGBT character in the Persona series. In Persona 2, the male protagonist, Tatsuya, can choose to date Lisa, Maya, Eikichi, or Jun depending on the specific dialogue choices that the player makes. If Tatsuya chooses Jun, they are able to have a positively portrayed homosexual romantic relationship that the other playable character don’t disapprove of. Also, the character designer for the game, Kazuma Kaneko, said that he considers Tatsuya/Jun to be the canon relationship choice, which also says a lot about the Persona series’ views on LGBT characters and relationships.

2. Tatsuya Suou (Persona 2: Innocent Sin)

Tatsuya is the protagonist of Innocent Sin and a playable character in Eternal Punishment. As stated above while talking about Jun, Tatsuya can fall in love with Lisa, Maya, Eikichi, or Jun which makes him openly bisexual. He also makes some comments as to the beauty of men that further point to his bisexuality. Overall, his homosexual relationship with Jun is never questioned and does not change the story in any way.

Tatsuya choosing which character he likes.

3. Kanji Tatsumi (Persona 4)

In Persona 4, characters must face their inner demons (referred to as their Shadows) living inside of a mystical TV land and learn to accept themselves. Their Shadow manifests itself as a doppelganger, and reveals the inner desire of the character. The characters don’t accept their Shadows initially which prompts the party to fight the Shadows. However, once defeated, the characters must learn to accept themselves (at least to some degree) in order for their Shadow to disappear and be replaced with their Persona.

Kanji is a former gang leader who must face the fact that he likes men (a fact that his Shadow reveals within the TV land). However, the game makes this extremely ambiguous, sometimes implying that he might be struggling with the idea of liking men and other times implying that he is just afraid of women making fun of him for being secretly effeminate. Later he develops a huge crush on Naoto, whom everyone believes is male at first but is later revealed to be female. While Kanji had a crush on her earlier, he wasn’t completely open about his feelings until knowing she was a girl. This might imply that he was unhappy thinking of himself as homosexual.

Kanji’s actions highly weaken his portrayal as a homosexual character, making it seem more like he’s pretending to be gay. The only real homosexual crush that Kanji develops is on the protagonist, Yu, through his Social Link. Even then, Kanji never outwardly states these feelings and, ultimately, they are unrequited.

Also, to make the portrayal even more negative, one of the other playable characters, Yosuke, consistently makes fun of Kanji’s homosexuality throughout the story. When Tatsuya proclaimed his adoration for Jun in Persona 2, his admitted crush wasn’t met with constant ridicule; however, when Kanji says he likes guys, he is not seen as normal until he gets a crush on someone who turns out to be a girl. Yosuke’s homophobia is a consistent factor that keeps Kanji from being comfortable with himself. 

Kanji is probably the most negatively portrayed LGBT character in Persona, however, he is the only character who directly addresses his homosexuality and therefore the audience sees him as the most prominent LGBT representation.

4. Naoto Shirogane (Persona 4)

Naoto is more like a wasted opportunity than an actual negative portrayal. When Naoto was initially presented,everyone believed her to be male. Later that was retracted when she revealed that she only started identifying as a boy to become a detective, which she saw as a field where only men are respected. This retraction was a lost opportunity to explore a transgender character and directly relates to the fact that Kanji’s homosexuality was retracted by this reveal of Naoto’s true gender.

5. Aigis (Persona 3 Portable)

In Persona 3 Portable you can choose to be a female protagonist named Minako or you can choose to be the male protagonist who was also in the original Persona 3. Whether you choose a male or female player character, following Aigis’ Social Link will cause her to fall in love with you. While I don’t know if a bisexual robot is the most progressive character ever, I found Aigis to be a positive portrayal, except when she claims that she wishes she was male so that she could to be with Minako.

6. Minako Arisato [female protagonist] (Persona 3 Portable)

Minako is somewhat less outwardly bisexual than Aigis, however she does still have a romance with Aigis and a heavily implied romance with Mitsuru. These interactions are natural and considered positive.

7. Mitsuru Kirijo (Persona 3 Portable)

As stated above, Mitsuru’s Social Link with Minako is highly romantic and homoerotic. She consistently expresses feelings of adoration and romantic desire towards Minako. She blushes frequently and, at the end of the Social Link, Mitsuru gives her Motorcycle key to Minako as a representation of their relationship. Mitsuru then proceeds to ask if she can hold Minako’s hand while they watch a scary movie together.

Mitsuru expressing her feelings towards Minako (which the player has named Lenalee).

8. Chie Satonaka (Persona 4)

Chie’s shadow reveals that she wants to dominate over Yukiko. Although later on in the game, their relationship is shown to be symbiotic (though Chie still seems in control for the most part). Their relationship is one built on how they help each other feel worthy and how they admire each other in a way that comes off as more than just friends. If Persona was more definitive about their relationship, I think they could be an excellently portrayed pair.

9. Yukiko Amagi (Persona 4)

A trope that seems to commonly appear in Japanese media is that when someone feels same-sex attraction, they say they should become the opposite gender to “fit their sexuality”. This is a harmful way of looking at things because it’s saying that “being gay is wrong, so I wish I was the opposite sex so I could be with you”. They aren’t actually transgender, they just want to be with someone who is of the same-sex, but they don’t want to identify as gay. Nevertheless, Yukiko’s Shadow reveals that she wants Chie to become her Prince and whisk her away into happily ever after. While this topic doesn’t get addressed much later in the game, it is apparent that Yukiko needs Chie and Chie needs her. They both aren’t necessarily LGBT characters, but they both have excellent potential to be.

Yukiko’s Shadow talking about how her life only has meaning because of Chie.

The big thing about Chie and Yukiko is that the game portrays them in a way similar to a heterosexual relationship; they fall into “traditional” gender roles, with Chie in a masculine role, and Yukiko in a feminine one. Their relationship strays away from “best friends” and opts for a more romantic-esque relationship.

Overall, the Persona series is doing a good job at being inclusive, and it’s really nice to see these kinds of characters in games that are getting popular. Unfortunately, some of their portrayals aren’t entirely positive. But it’s nicer to have negative portrayals than to not have any portrayals at all. Hopefully, the creators will learn from their mistakes and progress even further with the upcoming Persona 5.

on September 18, 2014