Last month, I finished the 3DS dungeon crawler/crossover between Persona 3 and Persona 4/somehow canon Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. This 2014 game was made in response to the popularity of both previous installments of Atlus’ Persona franchise and included “super-deformed” sprites of all of our favorite characters as they interacted with each other in an alternate reality. The gameplay is based on another one of Atlus’ franchises, Etrian Odyssey, and involves first-person dungeon crawling, map-drawing, and at-times pretty difficult battles. I enjoyed it for the most part, mainly as a fan of both series’ characters, and while the gameplay was a fun challenge, it got a little grindy near the end.
In this post, I want to highlight one of the many interesting friendships shown in Persona Q between characters across the two games: Kanji Tatsumi and Ken Amada. Although they definitely seemed like an unlikely pair at first, throughout the story, their friendship/relationship builds in a way that seems to have a significant impact on their own story arcs in their respective games.
[This post contains HEAVY SPOILERS for Persona 3 and mild spoilers for Persona 4 and Persona Q. If you haven’t already, please play these wonderful games before reading this post!]
I wrote about Kanji extensively in my Persona 4 character profile posts a while back, but I’ll summarize some of the relevant parts here. In Inaba, Kanji Tatsumi’s initial impression as a tough gang buster makes many of the small town’s residents assume him to be a typical delinquent who bullies others. However, Kanji’s hobbies set him apart from society’s depiction of “manly” men in that he enjoys sewing, arts, crafts, and helping his family’s textile shop. As a result, Kanji’s main struggle in Persona 4 lies in his confusion about his identity in his gender, as well as what role he can play in society given his interests and what others think of him.
At the time of Persona Q (still autumn during Persona 4), it’s assumed that Kanji has yet to fully wrestle with his struggle through his social link with the protagonist. This is especially obvious during his reactions to the jabs that douche-bag homophobe Yosuke makes during Persona Q.
On the other hand, Ken’s negative emotions in Persona 3 come from the heavy baggage due to his mother’s death and the one behind her passing. He actually joins SEES in order to find the one behind the tragedy and seek revenge, and is appalled to find out that Shinjiro, a senior member of the group, was actually the one who took his mother’s life due to an accident with his persona. Due to this darkness in his heart, other members of SEES view his outward demeanor as much more serious and mature compared to other elementary school students.
When Persona Q begins, Ken has just found out about Shinjiro’s role in his mother’s death and is debating internally about taking revenge by murdering Shinjiro. This is clear in his avoiding Shinjiro throughout the game, since before he found out, he actually admired Shinjiro more than any other member in the group.
Kanji and Ken first bond when Ken’s shoelace breaks during dungeon crawling and Kanji temporarily fixes it with a hand towel and a sewing kit. Later, Kanji seemingly kidnaps Ken (at least, that’s what Fuuka thinks) and the two of them spend some time together to properly make a replacement shoelace. During this time, they have one of the realest conversations in the game:
Ken: “Knitting is annoying, huh…”
Ken: “It’s a lot of work… But she did it for me. Mom made a scarf for me… But the other kids always said that it’s embarrassing to wear something your mother made in school. So I’ve… never worn it. I kept lying at her, telling her I wasn’t cold and ended up not wearing it even once. Until… Mom died…”
Ken: “They said that her death was an accident, but… That’s not what happened. I… hate the culprit. But… lately, I just don’t know anymore. I want to avenge her, but… I feel like I can’t do it… Hey, you guys are investigating into a murder case, right? Let’s… let’s say your culprit was actually… not that bad of a person. What would you do? What if they didn’t mean to do it?”
Kanji: “…We’d talk. Until everything’s been said.”
Ken: “But I’m scared of talking… What if I talk and it doesn’t help at all? What if I’ll keep hating him, no matter what I do…!?”
Kanji: “… What does it matter if you hate him or not? It’s not like it can be forgiven either way. But, hey, what you’re gonna do’s up to you, isn’t it? Doesn’t matter if you wanna hate him or don’t wanna hate him. It’s still your freedom.”
Ken: “My… freedom?”
Kanji: “Take a while to think it over. If you don’t know what you gotta do, you gotta get your thoughts in order first. That’s what I mean by ‘Emptying out your head’. If you keep making a fool outta yourself, you’re just gonna regret it later. It’s not gonna help to lie at yourself. I’d know. I’ve been there.”
Ken: “…You have?”
Kanji: “Senpai and the others taught me to stop lying at myself and accept myself, just as I am. …Turns out all I needed was a bit of courage. And when I did, that narrow place I thought was a dead end all along? It suddenly opened up. Like some huge clearing with a nice wind in my back… It’s thanks to that that I’m enjoying every day now. Now I think that just doing stupid, dumb shit with my stupid, dumb self isn’t half bad. But you look like you’re still stuck in some narrow place. Just like your feet in those narrow shoes. Wouldn’t you like to move a lil’ more… freely?”
Kanji: “What you’re thinking is your own thing. Nobody else’s got your answers. That’s why it’s your freedom to… think ‘bout it.”
Ken: “It’s my own…”
Later in the story, Kanji makes a request through Elizabeth where you have to help him teach Ken. Unfortunately for Kanji, he’s not the brightest bulb and ends up needing your help for the lesson, even though Ken’s only an elementary school student. After you give him all the answers, the two have a conversation:
Ken: “…Kanji-san. Are you alright?”
Kanji: “…I can’t do this. I just ain’t cut to be a teacher. If my Senpai hadn’t helped me out here, I’d have just stuttered around like an idiot all day… I can’t be a teacher. I just ain’t the type…”
Ken: “…Maybe. Maybe you’re not cut for it.”
Ken: “…But actually, I think most people really aren’t cut to teach. Not even the ones who are teachers. Wouldn’t it be great for you to just be a teacher your own way? …I think it would be.”
Both of these conversations (and some others) play a prominent role in how Kanji and Ken deal with their own issues and inner struggles. First, Ken’s conversation with Kanji taught him that someone else’s action doesn’t always force you to do the same thing. In the end, there’s no point in being stuck in a “narrow place” without freedom, and his actions (whether or not he takes revenge for his mother) are his own choice and no one else can tell him what to do with his freedom. Then, Kanji learned from Ken that a traditional sense of a teacher doesn’t have to be what Kanji emulates if he decides to go down that path. This encourages him to consider teaching in his own way without following society’s views about what kind of person he is.
However, the heartbreaking ending to all of this is that while Persona Q is canon, its canonicity only exists to the extent that all of the characters forget the events of the game when they return to the world, including their interactions and conversations with anyone else. This means that these life lessons Ken and Kanji learned from each other only exist in their subconcious/heart, if at all, after they return to their respective lives. Given the subsequent events of Persona 3 in which Ken goes through with his plan to avenge his mother by confronting Shinjiro, it seems like all was forgotten. And who knows if Kanji will ever gain the confidence he got from Ken to attend college and pursue teaching as a career?