Carolyn Petit in her recent article (Denial of the Self: Queer Characters in Persona 4) criticised Kanji’s character for his rejection of homosexuality, as she believes it “sends the message that homosexuality is shameful and should not be accepted.” This is not the impression that I got from my own experiences with Persona 4. You’re own reaction to a game is personal and influenced by who you are, and what you have experienced. If you can back up why you feel a certain way, as Carolyn has done, then it is valid. Multiple interpretations are a good thing. Very few games require you to think beyond what is directly shown, and so for two people to have conflicting readings shows a depth to the narrative that can only be positive.
My personal interpretation of Kanji is that his story arc is focused, not on his sexuality, but on the societal expectations imposed on him because of his gender.
Persona 4 certainly strongly suggests that Kanji is gay. Throughout the entirety of his dungeon there is a heavy emphasis on Kanji’s sexuality. With his shadow-self making frequent suggestions of his homosexuality. He even takes on a lisp and more effeminate appearance to mimic the stereotypical view of homosexuals. The game really drives home the homosexual nature of his shadow-self with the appearance that his boss form takes. It uses two mars symbols as weapons as is flanked by two hulking, scantily clad body builders.
Yet, Kanji is probably not a homosexual. His shadow self is only a fragment of himself and this fragment is derived, not from his own thoughts and feelings, but from those of others. He recalls the mockery that he has suffered at the hands of girls: “You like to sew? What a queer!” and “You don’t act like a guy…” The fact he does not conform to the social expectations of what it is to be a man is met with the assertions that he then can’t be a “normal” man, and so can’t be straight. Shadow Kanji raises the questions of “What does it mean to “be a guy”? What does it mean it be “manly”? The answer we are given is that to be manly you have to meet the social expectations of what men do. You cannot, as Kanji does, engage in pastimes that are seen as girly. Society needs to categorise, and when you step outside the lines of one category you are just moved to another.