“You should make a flower too, big bro!” — Nanako
If I had to assign a theme to 5/8, it would be “tough choices.” There are three notable decisions Yu had to make today, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t agonize a little bit over all of them.
First up: school vs. romance. Obviously, Yu is crushing pretty hard on Chie right now. The feeling seems to be mutual. But hey, midterms are right around the corner, and Yu promised that he’d rededicate himself to his schoolwork. Just as he (and I) plan on staying in all Sunday and cramming — riiiiiiiing.
She totally knows what she’s doing, too. She pitches it to Yu like she’s asking him a favor. She “needs to get her mind off of studying for a bit.” The two of them talk past each other, both knowing the truth, both too scared to admit it. Young love.
As the well-meaning God of Inaba, this is but one of many conflicts I contend with on a daily basis. The flawless, virtuous version of Yu would keep his head down and ensure an excellent grade. After all, those who do better on the tests will become more popular, and everyone knows that popularity leads to intimacy.
Flawless characters are boring, though, so I let him have his way and trucked on over to the Samegawa River.
It’s a nice scene, written in that charming, low-key Persona 4 kind of way. Nanako wanders over, probably looking to hang with someone other than Dojima. A grasshopper jumps on Chie, and she freaks out. Nanako thinks grasshoppers are neat. Chie: “You’re just like Yukiko.”
Then, she turns her gaze toward Yu. Another tough choice.
One of the nice things about being God of Inaba is that I get to shape Yu according to my own social politics. I object to the middle option on grounds of “outmoded gender stereotypes,” your honor. That leaves us with two equally risky options. “It’s cute” vs. “It’s hilarious.”
The “cute” option’s main positive quality is honesty, but it runs the risk of making Chie uncomfortable. We’re still in the flirty, “hey you wanna hang out?” phase. Would Yu be moving too fast? We all know where this relationship is headed, but stories are supposed to have this measured pace to them. Ebb and flow, or something.
The “hilarious” option’s less confrontational, but also more condescending. We already know that Chie’s got some self-esteem issues, so is commiserating with her reflexive put-down really the best idea? Is this her way of trying to get Yu to compliment her in a way she can never quite compliment herself?!
I take a deep breath, and unstick time. Yu is going full “cute.”
Except, god damn it, he doesn’t have the courage. With a capital C.
He’s upset. I’m upset. We’re all upset. Social interactions are tricky business, and sometimes the one thing you know you should say is harder than the thing you’ll be kicking yourself for saying later. Head down, thinking of all the time he could have spent studying, Yu goes with “hilarious.”
It’s painful, but sometimes young love is painful. And at the end of the day, things seem like they’re going to work out anyways.
Yu walks home, self-doubt clouding his judgment. Did he make the right choice? Does Chie feel the same way? Should he talk more? Or is he just a great listener? All of these questions fade away when he steps in the door and sees Nanako, sitting alone. Nothing about this looks good.
Nanako is a person who attacks her grief with boundless enthusiasm and/or earnestness. I’ve mentioned before how she’s the true embodiment of emotional honesty among Persona 4‘s cast, and that’s especially true in this heartbreaking interlude. Mother’s Day is fast approaching, so Nanako’s teacher told her to make some origami flowers and give them to her mom. Nanako’s follow-up is one of earnestness rather than enthusiasm: “I don’t have a mom… so I don’t know what to do with these flowers.”
Choices, choices, choices.
This is probably the most textured and nuanced dialogue choice in all of Persona 4 up to this moment. Let’s look at this from every angle.
“You can give them to her.”
The implication here, I’d imagine, is that Nanako should lay the flowers down at her mother’s grave. I’m mixed on this as a healthy course of action. On the one hand, it’s a way of coming to terms with her mother’s passing while still honoring her memory. On the other hand, would we be honoring her memory or nudging Nanako to stay lodged firmly in the past? If the flowers are a gift to her “mother” in a symbolic sense, shouldn’t they be given to someone who cares for her, as a mother would, in the present?
“Let’s give them to your dad.”
Persona 4 just answered my question, it seems. Dojima is child-rearing for two now, and perhaps that effort should be respected with a Mother’s Day gift. But what does it say about Dojima’s parenting if we reward him now? Does that encourage him to stay on his destructive path, bottling his emotions, focusing on his work, drinking his sorrows away?
“Give them to me.”
If the “cute” option in Chie’s dialogue had the risk of moving too fast, this option is speeding down I-5 in the middle of the night, trying to catch up to the horizon line. Even the syntax is a little frightening. It’s not, “would you like me to have them?” It’s “give them to me.” There’s a nice sentiment there, but it’s just so presumptuous. You would have to be both incredibly arrogant and momentarily desperate for affection to even think about saying that.
As I thought about Yu’s day, I realized something. Something about his choices.
Choice one: school vs. romance. Yu pursued romance. Admirable, but in this specific context, silly. Why?
Choice two: “cute” vs. “hilarious.” Yu wanted to choose “cute,” but he couldn’t, thereby invalidating his previous choice. So instead he walked home, angry with himself and looking for an ego boost.
Yu is the Chosen One, because Persona 4 and its systems deemed him the Chosen One. On 5/8, he negotiated that power poorly. He failed to live up to his own standards, and his spiral of teenage angst led him to take advantage of Nanako and make himself feel better. Will these decisions turn out well in the long run? Maybe. But that doesn’t change where they came from. Doubt. Social frustration. Selfishness.
Yu may be the Chosen One, but Persona 4 is about teamwork. Let’s hope he remembers that by Saturday.