Family is the first example of relationships most people learn from, for better or worse. The nucleus family, specifically, has been the capstone for support of all forms for a growing young person. Characters coming from traditional nucleus family, as in blood related parents and siblings, tend to feel a sense of attachment and responsibility towards their kin; from Ryo Hazuki avenging his dad in Shenmue to Kazuya and Heihachi Mishima’s constant clashing, it’s easy to tie two characters’ arcs together with familial bonds. But what of characters put into different circumstances; what happens when a character is an adoptee?
Adoption is an arduous process, littered with paperwork and red tape; but for some it’s the best or only option for having children. It can be a new opportunity for parents to provide for a child, but it can also be a source of division between the two. It can be difficult for the child to keep a connection with the adopted family, because of a slight inkling that they don’t belong. It’s impossible to understand completely, but it works like transferring to a new school or playing for a new team. Two great examples of this division are present in Persona 4 with Kou Ichijou and–to a lesser extent–the player character.
Early in Kou’s Social Link, Daisuke (the alternate sports bro you hang out with) lets slip that Kou comes from an old fashioned family, and that he has responsibilities tied to his name. In Japanese culture, it is imperative of storied families such as the Ichijou to ensure the name and family affairs are passed on to a proper heir. Kou admits to being adopted by his father for this purpose–a practice not unheard of if there is no heir apparent–and humorously adds his father later had a daughter. Kou is still required to take up the family name, and is even meeting potential marriage partners under this premise and bemoans how he didn’t want any of this responsibility. Kou feels by his own admission that being adopted into this kind of life was not his choice. Basketball and junk food–his hobbies and interests–are looked down upon by his family because they aren’t expected of him given his higher status. He spends most of his time avoiding his family so he can continue to play ball behind their backs. At one point, Kou seeks out the orphanage he came from to find out more about his birth parents, a common wish of adoptees. This investigation ends up bringing him closer to his adopted family and responsibilities as he realizes that his family chose him. in the same way that the player character is brought into Dojima’s home during the murders in Inaba.
While Dojima is your surrogate parent and uncle, he passes this off as being the “mother’s younger brother” and does his best to distance himself early in the game. While there is still a very parental nature to the detective as the game progresses, the character is constantly at ends with him over getting involved in dangerous activities a normal teenager shouldn’t. The player feels vindicated to act on the murder mystery given their new found powers, in the same way a rebellious teenager justifies chaffing against a parent’s tight rules. It’s perfectly sane for Dojima to want you out of the strange happenings in town even if the Investigation Team is the only well prepared sortie delving into the trial. Every run in with Dojima or any other law enforcement feels like a misunderstood kid in the right place at the wrong time. Any attempt to explain the player character’s interference is swept under the rug until it has major consequences. Though the disconnect between Dojima and the player isn’t as direct as Kou and his family it still showcases the cracks that form between a surrogate family.
I went through this same phase in my teenage and early 20s-going behind my family’s back in order to learn about my adoption and even getting involved in a career path they didn’t first accept (one I’m still on to this day). Something in my mind excused doing things my own way because I wasn’t blood related to my family: often this would end with trouble for me, much like the delinquency present in Persona 4 and the upcoming 5. All the talk of the new Persona protagonist being a delinquent has me wondering how this attitude will continue in the series; and I’m starting to suspect why I relate well to the silent protagonists in these games given the history of moving around and latch-keyism in my life.