Going Back On Hiatus

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, as they say. We are having to reevaluate how to move forward with The Rec Room, and until we do we will be taking another hiatus. We do apologize, and hope to return soon.

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Persona 4

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Villains make stories. A bad villain can really bring down a story, while a good one can raise it up to the next level. Now not all criminals in media are villains, but most villains are criminals. And smooth criminals can make for some really fun villains. For a villain to be good though they don’t have make a constant appearance, really as long as their presence is felt through the story having the criminal mastermind show up in the last 20 minutes can still be very rewarding. Persona 4, by virtue of being a murder mystery, keeps it’s villain out of lime light for much of the game. Well it does if you follow the right clues.

Persona 4 is Japanese RPG and Social Simulator. You play a blank slate mostly silent protagonist as he adjusts to life in the quaint rural town of Inaba. Inaba just happens to be going through a small serial murder problem starting the day after you arrive. Because this is a Japanese RPG it’s up to you and your high school pals to solve the case and save the world before you go back home next spring. All while working out your friends, and a load of other characters, inner demons along the way. Shouldn’t be too hard right?

His cannon name is Yu. Real subtle.

His cannon name is Yu. Real subtle.

Persona 4 is, surprisingly, the 5th game in the persona series. Persona 2 is actually two games with one connected story. Each game changes a little, but 3 and 4 are fairly similar as are 1 and 2. The main thing they all have in common is the summoning of beings known as personas. In the games a persona is a facet of your psyche given mystical form, most often in the form of a god or demon from various mythologies around the globe. In Persona 4 specifically, they are only gained after a character faces and accepts their shadow self, the dark parts of the characters that they suppress or hide from society at large. If these terms, persona and shadow self, sound familiar that’s because they are both derived from Jungian Psychology. Combined with the mythological beings and adding in the use of the major arcana of a tarot deck as psychological archetypes you have a thematic hat-trick.

Why your other self needs a cod piece is a personal matter I'm sure.

Why your other self needs a cod piece is a personal matter I’m sure.

So what about the criminal that this week is about? Well how smooth the criminal is depends entirely on your ability to figure out the case. You see there are several endings depending on how well you figure out the case, from bad to true. The expanded form of the game, Persona 4 Golden, even adds a couple more, including one known as the accomplice ending. That’s right the criminal can be so smooth they get you to help them get away with multiple murders. Also the player character spends over half the game under suspicion from his uncle who he is staying with, and of course happens to be the head detective on the case. So depending on how you get around that you can be a bit of a smooth criminal yourself.

I mentioned earlier that the game is also a bit of a social simulator. One of the main mechanics of the game is known as Social Links. During the game you are given blocks of time to do what you want with, mostly dungeon delving to develop the plot and social links for various benefits. Social Links are basically little vignettes with main or side characters where you are given choices to help the characters deal with their problems, and if done right or often enough you can rank up and get certain small benefits. It’s a fun way to kill time and get some help for the dungeon crawls, and some of them can be really endearing.

8-bit video game dungeon is the best dungeon.

8-bit video game dungeon is the best dungeon.

I could go forever about the game. Its combat system is fairly simple, but complex enough to be fun. There are plenty of challenges in the various bosses. The characters are mostly amazing, but I’ll let you discover them for yourself. The music is some of the best around, assuming you like J-Pop. The upbeat pop music, yellow color theme, and comedic bits can create some beautiful theme dissonance with what is really a murder mystery story; but it gives the game a very unique style. Persona 4 is probably my favorite game, at least until Persona 5 comes out later this year. Then you can play as the smooth criminals.

The smoothest criminal.

The smoothest criminal.

Seconds

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              I’m not starting our own second chance by braving uncharted territory. I haven’t really given things a second chance recently. At least not things I would want to recommend on my first time out in over a month. So instead I’ll focus on something that is all about second chances. From its plot, to the fact that it’s Bryan Lee O’Malley’s first work since the Scott Pilgrim series. Seconds, it even as an appropriate name for this week’s theme, is a graphic novel I fully intend to go back and read again.

Just because this is by the same person who made Scott Pilgrim, don’t expect it to be too similar. There are certainly small similarities, but it’s a very different story. It tells the story of Katie, a restaurant owner who gains the ability to rewrite her past. Hijinks ensue, because of course it’s never that easy. I’m very glad that O’Malley chose to diverge from Scott Pilgrim, it shows how talented he really is as a writer and creator. He’s created two wonderful stories, with different tones and themes.

This is Katie. She obviously has her life together.

This is Katie. She obviously has her life together.

The book has a lot of various themes. It deals with the idea that a perfect life isn’t necessarily what you think it is, that what you want and what is best for you aren’t always the same thing. Moreover it deals with the idea of what you have to give up to get that “perfect” life. Probably the most important part of all of it is, that there really is no perfect life. There’s always something that could be better, and trying to fix it could mean losing some of the good things you already have.

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The art style, unsurprisingly, is the same as Scott Pilgrim. It’ fun and energetic, and surprisingly detailed. Backgrounds of a full restaurant are packed with people, of various appearances. Little details in panels foreshadow events to come. The colors add a nice homey feeling to Seconds, the restaurant and the book named after it. The colors are magnificently subtle in how they make you feel about places, you don’t even realize it until the end of the story when the point is laid bare.

It’s hard to talk about how great this story is without spoiling a lot about the story. Seconds is worth a check out if you’re looking for a fun supernatural thriller story. If you like strong female characters it’s also a good read. Whether or not you check it out, I’ll soon be going back for Seconds. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that pun.

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Guess who’s back

Back again. The Rec Room’s back. Tell a friend.

That’s right, after a long unannounced absence we’re coming back. Well most of us. Brandon unfortunately has a ton of cool projects he’s working on and had to step away. As for me and Kate, well life got complicated in different ways.

With just the two of us, for now, we’ll be continuing on. We are both broadening our scope, covering whatever media we want for a given week.

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In honor of our glorious return we’ll be taking a look at media about, or worth, a second chance.

Phoenix Vol. 2: Future

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I have only a few heroes in this world, and one of them is OSAMU TEZUKA. Who is Mr. Tezuka? Well I’m glad you asked. He is often called the “Walt Disney of Japan” and “the father of manga,” and both are good descriptors. He’s most well known for creating Astro Boy, but he was SUPER prolific. He produced over 700 volumes of manga, which equals to more than 150,000 pages of material, and that isn’t counting his multitude of films, television anime and experimental films. His writing is striking, his art style unique (with a level of detail not seen much even decades after he was actively producing work), and he balances writing adult work with writing children’s work in a way rarely seen. For example, one storyline in Astro Boy involved the boy robot coming face-to-face with the atrocity of genocide. One of the reasons Tezuka is a hero of mine is his intense work ethic. As I mentioned, he produced an INSANE amount of work during his life, but that hasn’t taken into account the fact that he actually went through medical school to become a doctor, but never practiced medicine because he wanted to make comics. I find that remarkable and personally inspiring. Not to mention the fact that it gave him an intimate knowledge of human anatomy that he put to use in his medical works such as his Black Jack series.

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There are a number of his works available in English, but I’m going to specifically recommend one volume of one series, Volume 2 of his unfinished magnum opus Phoenix, entitled “Future.” Phoenix was to be life work but he died before he could finish it. The idea behind the series is that each volume would be more or less self contained, following a different cast of characters in a different time period dealing with issues of mortality and the meaning of life. In each volume, someone comes in contact with or is searching for the titular Phoenix, whose blood will grant you eternal life. What would you do for a chance to live forever? In many volumes, the greed and hubris of man is displayed front and center, as this question can bring out the worst in people.


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Phoenix’s second volume takes place in the far future of 3404AD where humanity has gotten about as far as it can go, so where do you go from the peak of society? Well, you start to decline. The protagonist, Masato, and his girlfriend Tamami, a shapeshifting alien, get wrapped up into a larger conspiracy and eventually nuclear war breaks out and humanity destroys itself. Now, this may sound like a spoiler, but this is actually when things start to get really interesting. Masato is, if memory serves, the only character in the Phoenix saga that actually manages to drink the mythical bird’s blood, so he lives forever and sees what happens after humanity wipes itself out.


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The story becomes this larger, meta statement about the nature of life and its tendency toward self-destruction. Tezuka often incorporates Buddhist concepts (especially the cyclical nature of life) into his work, even famously adapting the life of Buddha into a multi-volume epic story. Future is a story that will make you question your place in the universe. I am willing to say make the bold statement that this book is, hands down, the best comic I have ever read. It has certainly affected my life more than any other.

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If you do read this and are inspired, Tezuka has had a number of his adult-oriented books published in English. His Buddha series is something you can’t go wrong with, and his Message To Adolf, about a pair of boys named Adolf, one Jewish and one German, living in World War II Germany, are very much worth seeking out.

 

You can get Phoenix Vol. 2: Future as a Kindle book for about $10 here, or as a used paperback for a little more around the internet.