(Missed the introduction? Check it out here: [Persona 4] Reaching Out to the Truth Pt. 1: Taku’s New Favorite Game)
The Seekers of Truth: The Investigation Team
(If you haven’t finished Persona 4, spoilers start here)
So, one of the things I value very highly in both games and anime are the characters and development of characters within these works. Some of my favorite works feature deeply fleshed-out cast members with interesting and thought-provoking motives and themes behind their characters. As such, the cast of a show/game will often make or break my enjoyment of that particular work. The development of the cast is an area I feel Persona 4 excelled and blew away its competition, so much so that I’ve actually had to split up this write-up in order to properly capture what it is that makes Persona 4’s cast. So, today’s piece will focus solely on the main playable cast of Persona 4 and the next write-up will focus in more on the game’s supporting cast outside of the Investigation Team. That being said, let’s dive right in, shall we?
Starting off, we have our protagonist, the unnamed MC who you control throughout the course of the game (dubbed Yu Narukami in official adaptations). While the protagonist’s actions and story is entirely dependent on the individual player, we can see a couple things from taking the most optimal route moving towards the Golden Ending. The Protagonist is a leader at heart, being the first to gain his Persona, Izanagi, and being given the role of leader by Yosuke and Chie from early within the game. While this seems rather obvious, giving the player character the lead and control of how the game progresses, Protagonist’s actions throughout the game express his leadership through the simple “game” action of choosing parties to advance through the game’s many dungeons. Again, while this is simply a game mechanic, it instills a sense of leadership and forward thinking in the main character.
Moving to the Protagonist’s first “real friend”, we meet the son of the local Junes department store’s manager, Yosuke Hanamura. Yosuke is a chipper, bright-eyed second-year who quickly befriends the Protagonist upon his move to Inaba. Yosuke is one of the first members of the cast affected by the emergence of the Midnight Channel and the serial murders, as his upperclassman co-worker and crush Saki Konishi appears on the TV and is later found murdered. Yosuke is a transfer student from the big city, much like the Protagonist, and initially holds resentment towards Inaba in fear that the opening of the Junes would cause the local townspeople to hate him. This insecurity in himself plays into his development as a character and his fear of being alone, which causes his Shadow to initially emerge. This fear of being alone is very relatable for me, due to personal issues I had with separation anxiety as a child because of my mother working a long-distance job. The feeling of being alone in the world is a scary thing and it made me able to connect with Yosuke as a character, with his Shadow claiming that he views people not as friends but a way to help himself feel secure. This security can be seen through Yosuke’s friendship with the Protagonist and Chie as the game progresses and he begins to move on with his life in the wake of Saki’s death.
Moving on from Yosuke, we have the spunky, sporty Chie Satonaka, an energetic girl who is shown to love both meat and kung-fu movies. While I admit I wasn’t a big fan of Chie at the beginning of the game, she was one of the characters that grew on me most due to her go-getting and outgoing personality. Jealousy is a very big theme among characters within Persona 4 and it comes into play with Chie’s biggest insecurity, her own femininity. Chie grew up as childhood friends with Yukiko, who is seen as the perfect example of a woman and a young maiden, which caused Chie to view herself as inferior to Yukiko. This causes her to become unapproachable for many boys due to her boyish personality, only feeling satisfaction from protecting Yukiko and Yukiko’s reliance on her as can be seen through the words of Chie’s Shadow. Inferiority complexes are something I’ve grown very familiar with throughout my life, both through myself and that of some of my closer friends, and it made me feel for Chie as I’ve felt the same feelings she does. Throughout her Social Link, Chie battles with her own femininity and her desire to protect her friends and overcomes her own insecurity, allowing her to grow both as a woman and a person.
I’m not going to talk too much about Yukiko at this point, as I have something more planned for her later on. Yukiko was easily my favorite character from the entire game, from a design and character standpoint. Yukiko’s storyline and Social Link development, especially her feelings of being locked into her family business and wanting to break away from it, ring really close to home. Coming from a long line of ancestors who have all followed the same career path in life and one of my best friends following that same storyline, it’s a storyline that I was able to personally connect with and it gave me a greater appreciation of Yukiko’s character. She was the character I ultimately chose to romance and I have a lot to say about her Social Link and personality, but we’ll get to that later.
Moving on, we have the first-year delinquent with a heart of gold, Kanji Tatsumi. Admittedly, I did not do much with Kanji’s Social Link and character development throughout my first playthrough of the game, but I really wanted to take a moment to discuss how his character development through the emergence of his Shadow and how that affects him later in the story. From the time his Shadow emerges, Kanji’s sexuality is thrown into question as he seems to be attracted to men as well as women, whether or not he will admit the former. I’ve had many friends who have battled with the same issues and questioning of their sexuality throughout my life and I felt like Kanji’s was handled really well, as he doesn’t really seem to know one way or another. Kanji seems to be as confused as the player is, leading me to believe that he is bi-sexual and this leads into another development of Kanji’s in the game: His attraction to Naoto. From Naoto’s first appearance and after Naoto is revealed as a girl, Kanji shows signs of attraction to Naoto at several points, with the two pairing off together at several occasions during the game and leading the two to be one of the game’s most popular shippings. The ship throws a nod to and keeps the topic of Kanji’s sexuality persistent throughout the game, and nails the feeling of Kanji questioning himself and his own desires throughout the game. While he may not have been my favorite character individually, his themes may have been one of my favorites of the entire game.
Following Kanji, we’ll talk about the character that was probably my least favorite of the main cast, Teddie. While I didn’t dislike Teddie whatsoever, there were more than a few moments of his that rubbed me the wrong way, mainly dealing with how he interacted with the female members of the cast. Despite that, Teddie’s storyline and development throughout the game was another I particularly liked for its theme of self-identity. While Kanji’s dealt more with his own sexuality, Teddie’s story deals with him learning about himself, having little memory of who he really is early on, and learning the truth about himself as the group deals with the onslaught of new people being thrown into the TV world. Eventually, Teddie learns that he was originally a Shadow, which causes a load of inner turmoil for himself resulting in almost leaving entirely. Teddie’s story was one of my favorites as it brings up questions and problems that everyone has to deal with at some point in their life: “Who am I? Where am I going in life? What is my purpose?” Teddie’s development as a character is relatable on a very base level for me and his discovery of himself and how he deals with it throughout the story, choosing to accept his own origins as a Shadow and push forward with the idea of restoring the TV World to its former glory, is immensely satisfying to watch executed, likability of his personality aside.
With our last two, we come to my other top 3 females of the Persona 4 cast starting with my #3, the flirtatious idol Rise Kujikawa or “Risette”. Rise is first introduced into the main portion of the game after taking a break from show business to stay with her grandmother, using health reasons as her excuse. Upon interacting with and joining the main party, Rise is flirtatious and bold with the Protagonist, flirting with him openly in front of the rest of the cast to the ire of the other girls. Rise shares the same general idea and theme as Teddie in her own self-identity, though executed in a different way than Teddie’s. For Rise, she struggles to find what she considers to be the “real Rise”, with the conflict between her normal self and the idol persona that is shown on TV. This personal conflict mirrors a topic that I remember discussing previously in my Comic Books as Literature class, though that was in relation to V for Vendetta. We as people all wear masks and put on different faces when we interact with different people. For Rise, her struggle comes from no one looking past the idol image to see the real her behind the stage lights and production until the main cast. In the Protagonist and the Investigation Team, Rise finds a group of people who accept and befriend her for who she is as a person, not the idol that everyone admires. This theme, along with her personal conflict on whether or not to return to showbiz, makes up the major progression of her Social Link, as we get to see the after-effects of her decision to quit being an idol and the regret she holds towards that decision. Rise’s development was handled exceptionally well and I found myself tearing up at multiple moments later in her Social Link.
Finally, we round out the main cast with the character who grew to be my second favorite member of the game’s main cast, the “Detective Prince” Naoto Shirogane. Naoto’s initial character development and her growth around her Shadow and Social Link hit home really hard for me for several reasons. Introduced initially as a famous detective who comes to town to investigate the murders, the Investigation Team learns through her dungeon that she is indeed a female, despite beliefs otherwise from the general populace. This is all surrounded with insecurities from Naoto related to her own gender, with her own desires to become a detective and her belief that she won’t be taken seriously as a woman in her profession. Her discomfort with her own gender leads to her passing herself as a boy and rejecting her own femininity initially until she meets and becomes involved with the main group. Her interactions with the Investigation Team lead her to wanting to be accepted as her true self and not the “socially acceptable” option, embracing her own womanhood (as can be seen on display in the summer vacation epilogue) and continuing to pursue her own dreams. While not exactly the same, many of my close friends have dealt with issues related to their own gender and discomfort with who they are, which really brought Naoto’s personal struggle to a new level in my eyes.
With that, we just about wrap up the main cast of Persona 4, but there is so much to say and so many more cast members that have been left untouched as of yet. I certainly wouldn’t be able to accept myself not talking about the wide supporting cast that blesses Persona 4 and makes the entire game feel alive. There’s a lot of great and relatable characters outside of the main 8 of Persona 4, so stay tuned for more in the next write-up.