“…and now I have a brother, too.” — Nanako
It should be clear by now that Persona 4 is chock full of heady rumination and drama. All I can hope to do with this series is poke at its seams, and stitch together an analysis from whichever scraps happen to hit the ground. I’d like to think I do an okay job of toeing the line between pop psychological dissection and full-on narrated playthrough, but I’m also self-aware enough to realize how indulgent it might seem to wring meaning out of every. Last. Fucking. Word.
In walks 5/3, a day off from school that sheds all portent and simply insists on being as adorable as possible. Unexpectedly, Chie shows up to ask if Yu wants to go to Junes, and Nanako, standing sheepishly behind him, is invited too.
I think we’ve all been in Nanako’s shoes before. You get the rare chance to hang out with a tier of people who are smarter, older, and by all accounts cooler than you. This is an especially precious feeling when you’re a child amongst teenagers, gasping for air and trying not to make a huge fool of yourself.
Nanako is a beacon of purity and honesty and confidence. She is the ideal ego in Persona 4‘s torrential downpour of doubt and self-flagellation. This makes her a symbol, and there’s a big, big problem with turning a character into a symbol: they stop being a person. And yet, somehow, Nanako is a person. Why?
Consider 5/3, and the roundtable discussion at its core. This is a scene written by people who are in complete, effortless control of their characters. There’s not a bum line in whole conversation. Not a single word that feel forced or written. It’s just five people talking, with thoughts and tangents that emerge organically from their personalities. Examples!
Chie playfully needles Yu in that predictable Chie way.
Nanako, perceptive and impressionable, latches onto Chie’s punchline in a big way.
While Yosuke, still harboring the biggest crush on Yu, trips over his words.
The reason this scene feels frivolous is because it was written flawlessly. Each line introduces new context while solidifying existing character motivations. Each new piece of information leads perfectly to the next, and each voice is confidently defined. It is a precious gem, and it would be more notable if Persona 4 weren’t full of ’em.
And to trace this back a bit; Nanako can be both a symbol and a person because she’s written that way. It’s not rocket science. It just takes talent, care, and effort for a writer to merge the symbolic aspects of a character with their naturalistic aspects. Nanako is a perfect example, because while her innocence is a force to be reckoned with in Persona 4‘s greater plans, she’s never anything but an authentically adorable 6-year-old girl. (Okay, maybe she’s a little precocious for a 6-year-old.)
It’s a fun day. It moves fast and manages to bounce between light-hearted banter and brief discussions of Nanako’s deceased mother. Yu begins Nanako’s Social Link. He then goes home, checks the weather (it’s raining next Saturday), and eats a weird-looking pickle.
At the end of the day, all are impressed by Nanako’s maturity. She is a symbol, yet to be corrupted. We’ll see how long that lasts.