Nanako is the best character in Persona 4: Dancing All Night. From the moment she appeared in trailers, dancing along to the extended cut of the Junes theme, the little girl has stolen our hearts. She was a delight in the original Persona 4, of course, but didn’t receive the attention she deserved. Rather, Nanako was an outsider, an outlier on the edge of a larger story.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a fanservice fiesta, and it only fits that Atlus went ahead and made an ancillary character such as hers a more prominent figure. After all, fans love her. Why not let her get more screen time in what can, at times, be a lighter affair. Make her an ascended extra in action, a breakout star that sends Kanami Mashita, the “real” tritagonist, just another person competing for attention.
Not that Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a bright and sunny game. Don’t let the Technicolor coating fool you. There are some darker elements to the story. The return to the shadow world, kidnapping of Kanamin Kitchen’s cast, and reemergence of Persona 3’s Apathy Syndrome aren’t good things. But there is a side plot involving the Love Meets Bonds festival preparation that’s always looming in the background, and Nanako’s innocence is a fitting mirror to the good intentions of the original performances.
Especially since Nanako’s presence highlights a positive side to fame. Much of Persona 4: Dancing All Night deals with the consequences of the limelight. The need to hide your true self, go with ridiculous trappings to cater to people’s desires, the loneliness that can come with success, and the struggle to get back into the field after reprioritizing. Nanako’s encounters with Kanamin return us to the simple joy that comes from meeting someone notable you admire, and the happiness that comes when you’re acknowledged by them.
Perhaps that’s even why people in-game fawn over Nanako the way that they do. People can’t resist praising her cuteness and dancing ability. It’s understandable, because she is the most precious of all the dancers. There’s a partner performance she does with Kanamin for “Shadow World” in Free Dance that involves the two joining hands and doing this little spin dance thing. It’s the most precious thing you will ever see in a game. People are drawn to her charisma, charmed by her appearance, and applaud her natural ability. The background babble in songs where she shows up is basically reduced to gibberish as everyone is overcome by her cuteness.
Nanako is a highlight in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, whether she’s dancing to a jingle, enhancing the main story, or making a cameo appearance in someone else’s Free Dance performance. She’s the alpha and the omega, and Atlus’ decision to feature her so prominently was a wise one. She’s absolutely at the top of the list of video game mascots that matter.