Nothing puts a bigger smile on my face than hearing Nanako say “Welcome home Big Bro!” as I return to the Dojima household in Persona 4 Golden. Chasing the truth by infiltrating dungeons and diving through TVs to rescue my high school friends is tiring, but coming home to the adorable Nanako and spending time with her and her father Dojima is always a bonus to the day. For a game about seeking the truth and saving your friends from being murdered, Nanako’s innocent childishness is refreshing, but the depth of her character doesn’t wane despite her youthfulness. Nanako remains one of the most interesting and unique characters of the Persona series through her ability to stay strong and push through life despite every obstruction thrown her way.
Ryotaro Dojima is the uncle of the protagonist and caretaker as you spend your time in the sleepy country town of Inaba. Dojima is a single father making a living for him and his daughter, but his hard-work ethic and dedication to the police force make a lonely home for Nanako to reside in. It doesn’t help that Dojima grew stoic and distant from his daughter following the death of Nanako’s mother, Chisato. A hit-and-run tragically took the life of Dojima’s wife, causing him to develop a hapless obsession with finding the killer and leaving Nanako to fend for herself.
Despite being an elementary school student, Nanako displays a strong sense of responsibility. This comes in part with her father’s absence but also her innate reliability. Dojima looks to Nanako for household chores like washing clothes and cleaning the house, but Nanako even takes it upon herself to grocery shop for her, the player, and her father while Dojima is busy with detective work. This responsible nature is admirable despite everything Nanako is put through. In the face of her late mother, aloof father, and remote town, Nanako manages to smile and push through her life, bringing warmth to those around her
Source: Megami Tensei Wiki.
Nanako’s escapism from her melancholic feelings about her parents is the television. From the moment you meet Nanako and spend dinner with her in front of the TV, it’s apparent she fills her loneliness with the images and colors presented on the television. She even adopted a catchphrase from the TV commercial for department store Junes that she sings alongside the television
But Nanako’s front of a strong and kept together young girl can only hold for so long before she breaks down. In Nanako’s social link, she expresses her sadness for her mother’s death. Yet, hopefulness shines through this sorrow by Nanako’s expression that her mother is in Heaven watching over her. No matter how much Nanako convinces herself that things are okay, her internal feelings about being lonely and missing her mother surface.
“A little kid… telling herself she’s not lonely so she doesn’t fall apart…” — Kanji Tatsumi
Nanako’s desire to be with her mother is so strong that, when her cognition is manifested in the TV world, she imagines Heaven as a dungeon for the players to progress through. This dungeon is one of my favorites in the game for its aesthetic design as well as metaphorical significance. Nanako’s inner thoughts during the dungeon are portrayed to the party, shining a light on her internal struggles.
“Mom…Where are you…? Why did you disappear…? Why did you leave me…? No…Come back…But I’m not lonely…I have Dad with me…I know he’s always late coming home…and he never plays with me because he’s always so busy…he can’t cook or do laundry either…he tries to be nice, though he’s a little scary sometimes…but I love him…Big bro is with me now, too…so I’m not alone…I’m not lonely!”
Sad, right? But Nanako doesn’t wallow forever. She picks herself up and continues onward, acknowledging her sadness and reminding herself of the good in her life. Nanako Dojima’s ability to find her own strength and live despite everything that has happened to her is refreshing and her childlike view on the world is warming, especially during stressful times such as these. For Nanako’s bravery and perseverance at such a young age, she remains as one of the strongest characters I’ve seen in a video game; not for her massive muscles or sharp intelligence, but her simplistic nature of putting on a smile and walking forward.
Since Persona 4 Golden was released on Steam this year, I had the opportunity to play it for the first time. Characters like Nanako remind me that I, too, can be strong during trying times. Her love for the TV lets me know it’s okay to retreat to things that provide semblances of escapism during trying times. Often I questioned whether or not it was healthy to spend most of my time during the COVID-19 quarantine powering through video games, but if Nanako is okay with spending her lonely hours with the television then I can too.