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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In honor of our glorious return we’ll be taking a look at media about, or worth, a second chance.
This week, we’re doing something different. Each of our contributors will be writing about something one of the others usually writes about.
Brandon will be writing about comics.
Jeddy will be writing about TV.
Katy will be writing about music.
This should be fun!
This week I decided to go with my favorite weather-themed TV episodes. Some are shows I’ve recommended before and some aren’t, but check these out if you’re in the mood for some tempest-themed TV!
“Daria! The Musical” – Daria
Not only is this episode of Daria about a hurricane, it’s also a musical episode, so it’s naturally one of my favorites of this series. Daria, Jane, Brittany, and Kevin get stuck on the roof of Lawndale High right when a hurricane is headed toward the town.
Daria is usually fairly grounded in realism, so there’s some question about whether this episode is supposed to be a stand-alone “special episode,” or if it fits into the canon of the show. It was originally supposed to air somewhere in the middle of season three, but then got bumped up to be the season premiere. I’m not sure what prompted the change, but it does make sense as far as the timeline goes. I’ve never wanted to consider it a holiday from the show’s canon, especially because everyone pretty much accepted the Guy Fawkes Day episode, which is also one of my favorite but probably even more fantastical.
So if you want to get your grungy, angsty, 90’s nostalgia on, check out this gem from Daria. It’s available on Amazon Prime and DVD.
“Two Cathedrals” – The West Wing
Spoiler Warning: this recommendation includes major spoilers for the second season of The West Wing.
There’s a lot to love about The West Wing, but one of my favorite things about it is its incredibly rich characters and their complicated relationships with each other. It allows for fully fleshed out characters through and through, and I can’t think of one character on this show, no matter how secondary, that didn’t feel real to me.
Mrs. Landingham is an amazing character, and since she’s featured in “Two Cathedrals,” it’s one of my favorites. This one takes place right after her death, when there’s a lot of pressure on President Bartlet to announce whether or not he’s going to run after the MS coverup is exposed. The staffers are worried he’s too upset about Mrs. Landingham’s funeral to focus on the re-election and, you know, other presidential stuff.
The best part of this episode is that it flashes back to when President Bartlet is in school and meets Mrs. Landingham, who works for his father. She’s smart, sassy, and pushes the President to do the right thing and stand up to his father. Her influence bleeds over into the present, when President Bartlet has a vision of her in the Oval Office during a tropical storm. She encourages him to run for re-election. It’s emotional. I cry every time.
So, okay, this episode is about Mrs. Landingham’s memory and her funeral more than it’s about the weather. Sue me. It’s a great episode, and if you’re in the mood for a West Wing Greatest Hits marathon, add this one to your list. It’s available on Netflix and DVD.
“Take a Break from Your Values” – Orange is the New Black
This recommendation includes major spoilers for season two of Orange is the New Black.
I’ve told you all before how much I love Orange is the New Black. I think it’s new and innovative storytelling about women and that the diversity of the cast and the honesty and relatable plot lines make for exciting television. So I had to include the hurricane episode in season two.
Piper is dealing with the newsletter, but she takes a backseat in this episode to Soso’s issues with a hunger strike and a lot of drama in the prison about an impending hurricane headed for Litchfield. Vee is losing control over her followers as she continues to freeze out Poussey, making Taystee question her motives. Piper finds out she might be moving to Virginia, we see Sister Ingalls’ past in flashback form, and Red and Big Boo have a falling out. The Golden Girls try to stab Vee but they get the wrong inmate, and that’s what you missed on Glee!
I think I love this episode so much because there’s so much going on that no one character has too much screen time. Plus, Larry gets slapped in the face and Big Boo outlines the gay agenda for Pennsatucky, and it is fabulous. The episode falls near the end of season two, and action is really ramping up for the season finale, which everyone who watches the show will surely remember as being insanely awesome and dramatic. If you haven’t watched this show yet, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. It’s well worth the Netflix subscription.
Orange is the New Black is available exclusively on Netflix.
In thinking about music that relates to weather, the work that came to mind primarily fell into three camps: summer, storms/rain, and winter weather. Summer because it seems easy to write a pop song about the fun, lazy days of summer, winter because we have such a connection to holiday music, but storms because they are often used as a metaphor for something else.
Case in point: Stormy Weather by Lena Horne. This song is a standard for a reason. It is beautiful and it lilts right into that reminiscent part your heart. The lyrical imagery and music evoke a quiet, somber rainy day, but this song’s heart is in the question of what one does when their love leaves them. The pining that comes with the absence of your partner is felt through every line of this song. When this loss happens to you, it does indeed feel like a pall is cast over your life. When the clouds are grey and rain blankets your day, things feel heavier and more sorrowful. We all know the sensation. This is the kind of song that is vague enough in lyrical description that you can’t help but insert yourself and your own feelings into the story. Come for the sorrowful song, stay for the reminiscence.
Skipping ahead a few decades, Joshua James’ Winter Storm is tonally similar to Stormy Weather. Instead of referring specifically to the loss of a relationship, however, storms represent pain in general. Pain is part of life. The difference here is that James accepts this pain and actually chooses to embrace it. In this case, the imagery is purposefully limited so that you can apply it to whatever life experience you choose. This song is significant for me because it reminds me of a time when things were very difficult in my personal life and I just wanted to run away from it all, but when I began to embrace what was making me feel this pain, I was able to deal with it.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t write about I Can’t Stand The Rain by Ann Peebles in a conversation about storm-related music. So here you go. If you haven’t heard this song, jump on it. Look, I could write about how it, too, uses a storm as a metaphor for a past relationship, but man… this tune is just so good all I can do is say you should listen to it yourself.
I could write more (for one, I didn’t even touch on Charles Bradley’s storm song or Purple Rain for that matter), but I think you get the idea here. Weather is an evocative metaphor in songs. When played effectively, storms can recall to us love, loss, pain and sorrow. What are your favorite stormy songs?
So there’s some big blizzards a’brewin’ right now. This got us thinking… weather is in culture. A Lot. So let’s writ about it!