Naoto Shirogane Character Analysis

Spoiler Warning – The following short character analysis contains spoilers for Naoto Shirogane’s character in Persona 4.

While playing Persona 4, I had a strong reaction to Naoto Shirogane’s character, so I have written a brief summary of the context behind Naoto, and a brief analysis of their character. Having viewed films and read comics with characters who identify as transgender, I assumed Naoto was a transgender character. With Netflix shows like Sens8, and The OA, and comics such as Shutter,  all featuring transgender characters, I was expecting Naoto’s character to explore issues of gender identity.

It became clear that Naoto’s gender identity struggles tie into society gender roles instead of exploring transgender issues.

I was initially frustrated with the revelation that Naoto’s struggle was professional, and not on gender identity. To me, this was a missed opportunity for diversity in games. However, I began to consider the context.

In 2017, more film and games star more transgender characters, and employ trans folk as actors and writers, compared to content produced 10 to 15 years ago. Persona 4 was created before 2008 (the game was released on July 10 2008). Diversity was still emerging as important in our culture nine years ago. Alongside the cultural timeline, Japan’s perspective on gender is also entirely different from the context I applied to analysing Naoto’s character. Gender fluidity appears more often in Manga and Anime.

It makes sense that Naoto’s arc would recruit some of the gender disguise tropes commonly found in Anime.

To briefly analyse Naoto’s character – alongside enforced, professional challenges, Naoto is brilliant but young, and has experienced significant loss in their life.

Without delving too deeply into Naoto’s psyche, under workplace pressure Naoto would experience some self esteem impact. Detectives who are women experience unnecessary challenges to their capacity to solve crimes because gender roles in workplaces value logic from people presenting as male, and devalue logical analysis from people presenting as female, or as non-binary, or as any presentation that does not include 20th to 21st century masculine traits.

Naoto adopted male coded behaviour and dress to reduces pressure from enforced gender roles. Rewarded with praise for their work, Naoto’s sense of self efficacy would have increased. The temporary disguise as a male detective slowly became a permanent behaviour. A self esteem support to avoid any further trauma.

Naoto’s story is coming to terms with the truth that she can be a woman and a brilliant detective, moving beyond the protective “boy-genius detective” persona they had constructed.

The Persona games are know for their complex characters, and Naoto’s is a good example of character design. Their story ties into Persona 4‘s theme – uncovering the truth, and discarding faulty, temporary masks in the form of beliefs or behaviours, that provide temporary solace from acknowledging harder truths.

The game definitely does not pull any punches when staring down tough issues in our culture, but this is what makes Persona 4 valuable.



2 thoughts on “Naoto Shirogane Character Analysis

  1. Naoto seems to fit into a specifically Japanese trope of girls presenting as boys so that they will be perceived as/actually be stronger. For example, I was reading A Silent Voice recently and one girl’s mother tries to force her to get a short boy’s haircut so she will be more resilient of bullying (it’s unclear if the idea was that she would be bullied less if she had a boy’s haircut, or if having a boys haircut was supposed to somehow make her stronger inherently). Taking on the traits of a boy/man very explicitly seems to be treated as a way to be ‘strong’ in life in Japanese media in a different way than in western media. Other examples that spring up are Dororo and one Ace Attorney character who’s gender identity turns out to be a twist.

    I feel like Naoto’s arc is a little hard to get your head around initially because we don’t quite grasp the gender roles at play. My first assumption was that it was a bit of a botched transgender story, but thinking on it more later I think it’s not as badly implemented as that, I just don’t quite have the right cultural touchstones for it to work.Typically in western media the story is either: A woman disguises herself as a man to achieve some goal, but in her mind is firmly a woman, OR, it’s a transgender story. The fact that Naoto’s story is more about being insecure for having feminine traits and needing to overcome that is actually kind of obscured by the framing that makes it seem to a western audience that it’s going to be about something else.

    In a way Naoto and Kanji have a very similar story arc (behaving in an overtly masculine way to mask their perceived feminine weakness) but they just each handle that different based on the expectations they put on themselves.

    I’d say more but I’m not 100% clear how far in Naoto’s arc you are 🙂

    • Great to hear there are examples of the trope in A Silent Voice, Ace Attorney, and Dororo – it clarifies that this is a trope that has appeared before. The framing leading up to the battle against Shadow-Naoto did invite a Western-culture reading, implying that gender reassignment was the large issue the story was recruiting. Kanji Tatsumi does have that in common with Naoto, that’s a good point. Discussing the differences and perceived strengths of gender role traits between Japan, American, and Australian cultures would warrant a long form essay :). There’s a lot to discuss.

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