Disregard Canon, Acquire Representation: Naoto Shirogane is a Transman

Why accept the canon explanation when the story could be so much more interesting?

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This article deals with gender-related terminology. Any unfamiliar terms are available here easy reference.

Undeniably the most attractive characterThe Detective Prince

The Persona games are games set in the Shin Megami Tensei series, and feature a focus that is incredibly different from the main line. In each installment you play a silent protagonist that finds themselves able to awaken their inner self—a Persona, if you will—and enter a dark realm to do battle with monsters that represents the faults of the city they live in and the people around them. Through the course of the games you meet people that can also awaken their Personas, but they have to accept who they are, even the parts of themselves they don’t want to acknowledge. If they reject their faults, their Persona turns into a Shadow: a monster that desires only to be accepted by the person that spawned it, and will kill that person if they keep denying their Shadow.

Oh mister Shirogane~Does this look like a girl to you?

That bit of an infodump is important because Shadows and Personas are key parts of a character’s story arc and development. Through these you learn a lot about the characters you play with in a nontraditional method of character development. However, this isn’t the only major difference with the main Shin Megami Tensei line; while the main line deals with societal reform as a major story element, Persona deals more with interpersonal struggles—getting to know your friends and helping them grow past their issues and insecurities in society. The most recent game, Persona 4, features a character named Naoto Shirogane with a major story arc involving gender identity as a heavy element.

Some men aren't looking for anything logical like money. They can't be bought, bullied, or reasoned with.Some men want to watch the world burn.

When you first meet Naoto Shirogane, you know them as male; everyone uses male pronouns, and nobody assumes otherwise. As the game goes on, Naoto’s narrative focuses around chafing under the misogyny of the Japanese police system, and their dream to become a detective like their parents. Naoto also struggles with femininity, and this is a key element of their story arc. According to the canon story, Naoto just feels like being a man is the only way to accomplish their hopes and dreams in life. With the help of the protagonist, Naoto learns that’s not the case, and that being a woman isn’t bad.

Anime husband right hereNaoto has the largest bust out of the whole cast, and the game goes out of its way to de-emphasize that.

However, it seems that canon and authorial intent disagree with each other. Shigenori Soejima, the art and character designer of Persona, says that Naoto was intended to be male all along, which would make for a boring story that lacks the conflict of the canon story. Another thing is that Naoto responds negatively to being referred to as female. When students do it after acquiring Naoto as a party member, they’re very uncomfortable about it. When doing so during the Social Link scenes, it will cause you to lose Social Link points which are required to realize Naoto’s true potential. In the Japanese script there’s an event that if you pursue a relationship with Naoto, they’ll ask if it’s okay for them to use male pronouns. And while it’s a superficial detail, for almost all of the game Naoto wears a male student’s uniform to school. There’s still even more, however.

His Persona is so~ dreamy...Shadow Naoto(Left), Sukuna-Hikona(Right)

Except for the main character, all of the characters in Persona 4 have Shadows. There’s some aspect of themselves that they are rejecting, whether they know it or not. In the case of Naoto, it’s their gender. Their Shadow takes the form of a robot scientist version of Naoto, and in true Shadow fashion demands acceptance. However, it doesn’t threaten with death; it tries to erase the reason for the rejection. Shadow Naoto offers to make Naoto a man, offering to perform gender reassignment surgery upon Naoto’s body. This represents a key part of the trans identity, deciding if being trans—and transitioning—is something that’s right for you. Refusing this angers Shadow Naoto who turns on the party and they must defeat it. Defeated, Shadow Naoto turns into Sukuna-Hikona, a Japanese god of healing—also take into consideration that all of Naoto’s Personas are male mythical figures.

That collarbone!“Another night spent blocking people in the Naoto Shirogane tag on Tumblr.”

While canon says Naoto Shirogane is a woman, he reads like a transman. His story arc has elements that are present in trans narratives, his own Personas are all exclusively male, and he dresses in ways that emphasize his masculinity. And it’s really important we regard Naoto as a transman; beyond the fact that trans characters don’t get positive representation in media outside of their transition, transmen also do not get much representation as society focuses almost solely on the transition of transwomen. So, rather than accept the canon explanation, let’s embrace the opportunity to gain some representation!


Hello, everyone, and thank you for reading this far down! This has been the first installment of a column I will be doing called “Disregard Canon, Acquire Representation”! In this column, I will look at popular characters and explain why they’re in some way part of a group that’s marginalized by society, and why the canon should be disregarded in favor of representing marginalized people! If there are characters you’d like me to examine, let me know in the comments!

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About the Contributor

Obviously, I'm Robyn. I'm nonbinary/gender neutral(my pronouns are xe/hir), into videogames, and other stuff. Somehow I found myself on this corner of the internet. I hope we all can be friends and have a good year together at this school!

2 Comments

  1. Hmmm…it’s an interesting interpretation, but I think this fails to take into account that this is a Japanese game. Naoto’s idea that she must be a man to accomplish her dreams addresses the very real issue of gender discrimination in the workplace in Japan, which is very high. Naoto realizes that it’s an obstacle and one that seems unconquerable, so she feels she can only overcome it by disguising herself as a man.

    When the protagonist convinces her that this is not the case, she realizes she can be a woman…but she doesn’t necessarily know how to (Japan is big on gender roles), so she is uncomfortable being referred to as such, as it leaves her out of her depth and that is something she hates as a detective. Could it be interpreted as Naoto identifying as a man, and thus he is uncomfortable when others refer to him as a woman? Sure, but I don’t think that was the intended interpretation. She was confused as to how she was supposed to act, as many people who play any sort of role are when said role is done. Furthermore, her Persona is not the first in the series to be of the opposite sex of its user.

    The game wasn’t trying to tackle the issue of transgenderism. It was criticizing how many women feel hopeless in the work place because of gender discrimination in Japanese society and Naoto served to assure players that it’s a hurdle that can be overcome.

    I think that transgenderism needs more representation in media, but I think Naoto is not a character who should serve that purpose. She was created to tackle an entirely different issue and I think it’s a bit of a disservice to deny her role in overcoming that issue for the sake of making her an icon of another issue.

    1. Yeah, that’s the canon interpretation. See Also: The name of this series of columns. My whole purpose with these columns is to give representation to myself and others who feel that video games don’t have characters that represent them. So yeah disregard canon, acquire representation.

      And the whole, “Girls you can succeed in a career!” thing has been done a /lot/ while the narrative of a transman’s transition has not. As well, your interpretation basically says, “With the encouragement of a man, women can strive to be equals in a male dominated world.” And doesn’t quite explain how in the Japanese script Naoto asks if it’s okay to use male pronouns, and the choice that gets Naoto to “accept” being a woman is “No, it’s weird for girls to use male pronouns.” Which is another part of the transition narrative, asking the people closest to you to respect your identity and refer to you by the pronouns you wish to be referred to by.

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