When it comes to the Yakuza series, Kazuma Kiryu isn’t the only beloved and iconic character. Equally notable is Goro Majima, a man who is as often Kiryu’s ally as he is an enemy. A rival who happens to be a member of a different family in the same clan, the two men aren’t all that dissimilar. Each one is a renowned member of the underworld, so respected, revered and feared that they have their own nickname. But profession and reputation aside, the two men couldn’t be more different. It is because of this that the Yakuza series becomes more interesting; the two men’s interactions make things more compelling.
Goro “Mad Dog” Majima is the Majima family Patriarch and former member of the Shimano family. He’s often a part of the Tojo clan, though his loyalties tend to shift. The only people with his guaranteed allegiance are his sword brother, Taiga Saejima, and Kazuma Kiryu, his longtime friend. He is a strong, fearless and reckless man, but one who isn’t afraid to do something unpopular or go against orders if he feels it is the right thing to do, whether that attempting to back Saejima or Kiryu up or protecting Makoto Makimura, a woman the Tojo clan’s Shimano family and Omi Alliance’s Sagawa family ordered him to kill. He has an unwritten code of ethics, even though he seems willing to deviate from it.
The most notable difference between Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima is a lack of composure. Majima is quick to anger, ready to kill for the smallest slight. He can go from a casual and cordial conversation to one in which he will mercilessly beat someone, but then immediately return to a jovial state. There’s no poker face with Majima. You know exactly what he is feeling when he feels it. This is quite a contrast from Kiryu, who often seems as though he has only two expressions, angry and everything else. There is an impulsiveness here, one which pairs well with Kiryu’s more deliberate nature. While we can see planning from Goro, we are just as likely to see him fly by the seat of his pants, something Kiryu does not do. You could even rightfully call him unhinged in many of the games.
Despite the craziness, Goro Majima has many admirable qualities. One trait that he and Kazuma Kiryu both possess is a sense of devotion. Majima is just a bit more overt in his affections. Both men will risk their lives for people they deem worthy. They will fight to the end for people they consider friends. Majima is just more physical about it. Take Makoto, who we mentioned earlier. He strokes her head after saving her. With Kiryu, he calls him “Kiryu-chan” and stalks him in the hopes of fighting against someone he considers his equal. Like Kiryu, he’s only had one love throughout the series, Mirei Park. He cherished her and only hit her once, when she aborted their child, and even divorced her since her marriage to a yakuza would only hold back her career as an idol.
Goro Majima is far goofier than Kazuma Kiryu is or ever will be. Both men engage in silly activities in their games. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Majima is much more flamboyant. That means rescuing Kiryu with a bright pink truck in Yakuza 3, dressing as a hostess in Yakuza Kiwami to get Kiryu’s attention, mistaking allergies for the zombie virus in Yakuza: Dead Souls and speaks in a fake Kansai accent throughout the series. He’s ridiculous for the sake of it and seems to relish any opportunity he has to be as over the top as possible.
There’s another way to look at Goro Majima. He is the man Kazuma Kiryu could have become. I’m referring to his role and position. The two men are in roughly the same position in Yakuza 0 and the beginning of the first Yakuza game. It is only after Kiryu is willing to take the fall for his best friend and the woman he loves that their paths diverge. Majima is a respected Patriarch of a family. In Yakuza 2, we even see him attempt to put his entire family on the straight and narrow as a construction company, though he’s back with the Tojo by Yakuza 3. Though there are moments where he calls Kiryu soft for his decisions, his actions show he isn’t opposed to seeking a more respectable life from time to time. He’s just more mercurial about it.
But then, this hints at his often overlooked intelligence. He was smart enough to see running a construction company would be more profitable. Just as he managed to raise 100 million yen in Yakuza 0 in a single year to make amends. He sees what needs to be done to become Lord of the Nightlife, outdoing people who had been there for years. Just like Kiryu, he’s a highly intelligent man who knows how to make good use of the people around him. In fact, we learn at the end of the prequel that “Mad Dog” is all an act. He’s calculated enough to know that it is easier to deal with the crazy and dangerous people out there if he pretends to be even worse than them.
The juxtaposition allows us to better appreciate Goro Majima, Kazuma Kiryu and their respective positions. By giving us two characters in similar positions and a few of the same character traits, but different personalities, we get to see how different members of the yakuza might react in similar positions. Majima gives us a benchmark for Kiryu. He gives us someone that takes a character we know and forces him outside of his comfort zone. Most important, it allows us to see what might have been. If Kiryu hadn’t experienced the things he did in the original Yakuza, might his life be more similar to Majima’s?