#334: The Back Tattoo

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I’m pretty sure I’ve already written a blog post called “The Tattoo,” and in order to avoid repeating myself over and over again, I came up with a new title for this one, called “The Back Tattoo.” And I actually have pictures this time to match the description I’m giving it! So I’m excited about that.

Over this past weekend, Alex got a new tattoo, this time of our shared favorite character from the Persona 5 video game, Makoto Niijima. Makoto is the student council president of the game’s high school setting, and she joins the Phantom Thieves as their adviser and planner. She’s strong, smart, and deeply loyal and caring towards the people she loves. She’s also totally badass and comes up with brilliant plans that ultimately save people’s lives. As a character, I’m a huge fan of hers and so is Alex. When we were playing Persona 5 over the summer together, it was fun to talk about the characters and share elements of the story with each other. I used to text Alex pictures of their text conversations and general story happenings to keep her in the loop on things, and Makoto was one character that Alex seemed to take more of an interest in.

Having a smart character balance their maturity with their desire to fit in with others makes for a super relatable story. As you can see in the tattoo though, she’s definitely not the kind of character to pull punches. She enters the fray with nuclear magic, aikido training, and her overall intelligence to strategize and assess the situation. Now that she’s in tattoo form on Alex’s body, it’ll always be a reminder of the strength that’s required to survive and how powerful she really is. I’m super excited to see it finished in November when all is said and done.

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#325: The Fan Week

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Having an entire week dedicated to fan content has been an incredible experience. I didn’t realize how expansive and fun and interactive everything would be. I wrote and published two whole stories, amounting almost 10k words in total, and I feel deeply thankful for all the friends I’ve made on Twitter and beyond with their help. They have left wonderful feedback on my stories, too, which allows me to work and improve. It gives me the motivation to keep writing, which is wonderful. I don’t normally have this experience of being able to instantly receive feedback from my peers in an easy way, and I haven’t written much creatively in the past few months or even really years since college. It’s wonderful to get to write again with renewed inspiration to write.

Fandoms are interesting because, no matter which one you’re a part of, there are always bad eggs. Some people are toxic regardless of whatever you do to try to prevent it. You have to ignore those people and just move on, without paying them too much attention or else you risk letting them define the fandom completely. Ignoring and acting as yourself is the best way to move forward, without rustling any feathers along the way. You have to just be you in these spaces.

While I have had mostly positive experiences with my friends in fandom, I know for a fact that others have had negative experiences and they’ve been ruined and burnt out on everything. I don’t blame them for feeling the way that they do, especially after being part of something larger than yourself for so long. It becomes beyond your control and difficult to manage, even though you try your best to. Sometimes things just don’t work the way they’re supposed to. But that’s life in a nutshell.

#298: The Minivan

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I wrote a tweet the other day about how funny it is that the main characters of Persona 5 drive a minivan. They’re meant to be these radical, paradigm-shifting vigilantes, and though I have nothing against the minivan as a vehicle, I think the stark contrast between the characters’ attitudes and the general public perception of minivans adds some humor to the game.

The game is normally very funny, and this isn’t the first instance of irony showing up. Each character has a distinct irony that defines their personality; Ryuji is a low-brow, immature teen who bleaches his hair and isn’t afraid of anything, but he also shows remarkable maturity when it comes to understanding how hypocritical and immature adults can be. He has wisdom even through his tactless attitudes. Makoto is an over-achieving honors student and student council president, but she’s insecure about her looks and social status. I enjoy how diverse the characters’ personalities are.

But this blog post is about minivans. Let’s talk about those some more. When I was growing up, my mom owned a minivan, and it was fantastic. It had a DVD player in it and we would watch Disney movies (or Barbie movies, if Miranda was around in the car) and whatever else was around. I’ve seen the first Cars probably a hundred times, along with Finding Nemo. Bella loved Finding Nemo, and who can blame her? It’s a fantastic movie, but on repeat viewings like that, it becomes a bit annoying to watch.

A lot of my childhood memories took place in that minivan, and I remember it pretty well despite not remembering a lot of things from that period of my life. It’s good to be able to look back not in anger but in a sense of quiet nostalgia. It’s very good.

#288: The Ship

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Shipping is the act of putting or imagining two fictional characters in a romantic relationship with each other. It’s primarily an act of creative ingenuity, with those who contribute to a particular community having broad imaginations and the unique ability to articulate those thoughts into art, writing, or whatever other medium they choose.

Fanfiction is writing that takes place in the same world as an existing story, but written by another author, usually a fan of the original story who wants to expand on it further and bring more detail to a particular scene or moment. Fanfiction homes in on something in particular: a character the author really enjoys, a moment they want to make last forever, a relationship they wish had more backstory to it. It’s a remarkable practice, and something that I fully support as an English teacher. It takes a lot of creativity to write within another person’s mind, to have your writing gel with the essence of the original story while still expanding on it in unfamiliar territory. I remember offering the opportunity to write fanfiction as a project option for our Catcher in the Rye unit, and I wish more people chose that option, as it would’ve provided me with some interesting reads while giving the writers the chance to stretch their creative juices even more.

The reason I’m discussing these two concepts is because recently I started writing more on Twitter, as some of you probably know if you’ve been reading this blog often, and I’ve met some remarkably talented individuals through it. The chance to meet and befriend these people has been one of the highlights of my summer vacation, and I can only hope it doesn’t disappear as I head into another school year of work. I would hate to see that happen.

#284: The Pins, Part 2

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So, each of our backpacks are filled with pins of various sizes and shapes. Some of them came from conventions we went to, like Anime NYC last year and its incredible artist alley. Some of the pins came from other cons, like Connecticon which we went to this year. The pins are like a walking history of the cons we’ve gone to, and I think it’s cool to look back on them in that way. It gives them a sort of meaning beyond just the image on the pin itself. When I look at the Final Pam pin on Alex’s backpack, for instance, I can remember sifting through the book of Monster Factory-related art at this lady’s table, and telling her how excited we were that we found fellow McElroy fans at the con. It’s like spotting someone you feel like you know outside of a place you usually see them.

I have two Monster Factory pins on my backpack, one featuring Toucan Dan and the other featuring Chiquita Dave. They’re perfect pieces of art, and I only wish I could get more of them in the future. Hopefully the artist is around next year, and has them on sale again. I can imagine picking some extras up for my friend who only recently got into the McElroy brand of content.

There’s also a pin that Alex got at the March for Our Lives in 2018, which says that “Gun Violence is a Women’s Issue.” I remember seeing that and thinking, first of all, I support your message, but second of all, that would make a great pin. And it did. I can only imagine the stares that Alex gets from strangers while walking around New York with that on, but I hope that the majority of them are positive and full of agreement.

#283: The Pins, Part 1

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Getting Alex a birthday present is always fun. The way we like to do it, the person giving the gifts picks an arbitrary number of gifts they’re going to give the other person, and then in a length of time leading up to that person’s birthday, the gifts are given. This year I chose to get Alex seven things, and so that meant we would start sometime in late July with her getting a gift every three or so days. It’s a little tradition that we’ve kept up for awhile now, and I like to think that it’ll continue as we get older together, too.

This year, the gift field has been dominated by Persona 5-related ideas. It’s not just a fad we went through; it’s a game that thoroughly changed my life and helped me see video games as complex narratives to be experienced, rather than just lifeless fun. But that’s besides the point, and I’ve talked about my love for that game a lot already on this blog. The point is, I got Alex a few gifts related to Persona 5, one of which was a series of pins featuring some of our favorite characters. I chose Ryuji, Joker/Ren, and Makoto as pin picks and the Etsy shop owner was gracious enough to include an extra Haru pin on top of that. I super appreciate what they did and will definitely shop from them again if the chance comes up. When I was shopping for the pins, I knew they would be perfect for her partially because of the original art featured on them, but also because of our history involving backpacks and pins. There’s a story to each one, and it’s nice to look back on them. I could tell a stranger all about Alex’s backpack, for example.

#277: The Takeover

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When a game takes over your life, it’s a feeling like no other. Usually this happens when I play games with long playtimes, such as Xenoblade Chronicles, Paper Mario 2, the new Fire Emblem, games of that nature. Long, epic adventures with grand stories to tell. They’re addicting in that I want to reach the end, but I also want to enjoy what I have while I can. I talked about this feeling in my blog post titled “The Delay,” in which I mentioned that I don’t want to beat Persona 5 yet because it would mean the end of my friendships with the characters and fictional story. When a game takes over your life, you have to let it pass over you, and you have to enjoy every minute of it. Thankfully, that’s so easy to do. RPGs make it easy, as there are so many systems you have to understand in order to grasp the game. Mementos, diner dates, social links, activity points, confidant availability, faculty training, fishing and sharing a meal, materia, whatever else there is.

The new Fire Emblem is starting to take over my life in the same way that Persona did, although I’m taking precautions to make sure when school rolls around soon, I’m not too invested that I can’t keep up with work. It’s important to have a healthy balance of fun and work, after all. But that’s one of the reasons why the summer is so difficult to rebound from; you get used to living life one way, and then boom, it’s back to 10 months of intense work.

The title of this blog post was inspired by the song “Take Over,” the new ambush battle theme for Persona 5: Royal. It’s been stuck in my head and I don’t know what to do about it except continue listening!

#267: The Strategy, Part 2

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During my last post about Fire Emblem, I mentioned the battle system and how it’s more prevalent in this game than in Persona. You can more easily enter a battle, without having to worry about going through six hours of narrative beforehand (cough, Palaces 4-5, cough).

With all this being said, Fire Emblem: Three Houses (on the Nintendo Switch) is more akin to chess than Persona. You have to think many, many turns ahead in order to save your units while also working within the game’s timer and battle conditions. You have to think ahead when instructing your students, and you need to have a plan in mind for each unit, a path or goal they’re striving for. For example, at some point in the future I want to train Edelgard to wear heavy armor, which I think would be an awesome upgrade for her. In order to get her to that place, though, I need to be careful about how I instruct her during class, what lessons I teach her, and what equipment I give her to train with. You have to think ahead, essentially, in order to do everything in this game, and it never lets up on you. If you don’t have a clear plan in mind, the game will start to challenge you more than it did previously, and you will feel a bit overwhelmed by the battles. Your units will become listless and unmotivated without proper guidance.

But despite these obvious pitfalls if you’re not paying attention, the game does a great job of teaching you how to avoid them. It almost makes it impossible to not advance your units, and no matter how poorly you teach, you’ll still come away with some reward, or experience, or lesson learned from it. The game is pretty forgiving, in spite of everything that makes it seem otherwise. I’d highly recommend it.

#266: The Strategy, Part 1

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Fire Emblem is a game series known for its intense strategy. When one of your units dies, it dies for good, and to get them back, you have to return to an earlier save file. The recent games in the series have offered optional difficulty settings that do away with this age old tradition, but the challenge remains for players who want a taste of the original games. The feeling stays the same in those situations, and I’m glad they included them.

Not counting the mobile game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the first entry in the series that I’ve played, and so far, it’s been enjoyable. I like the thoughtfulness that goes into the combat, and all the small details alongside it, such as the way the music speeds up in intensity when units are fighting each other. I like the characters, although they haven’t pulled me in as much as they did in Persona 5. I hear that they get more complicated as the story goes on, but a certain element of Persona’s characters is tied closely to the setting. As in, the fact that the game takes place in the 21st century makes the characters more interesting to me. You can feel their struggles more closely, considering you’ve experienced them too, and not too long ago.

However, the games are different in many regards, and shouldn’t necessarily be compared and judged just based on how relatable their characters are. That wouldn’t be fair to either game. Fire Emblem is more gameplay-focused, I think, and less time is spent on dialogue and narrative, even though the two are heavily focused on still. Fire Emblem has more consistent gameplay moments, such as the mock battles and the battles at the end of every month. They’re weaved into the story experience moreso than in Persona 5.

#264: The Soundtrack

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Today, I’ll be discussing the Persona 5 soundtrack in detail. Reason being, I’m currently listening to it and I don’t have many other ideas for what to write about!

Let’s jump in. I’m currently listening to “Blooming Villain,” the boss battle theme that plays during the first 7 or so fights. It’s a hard rock track with booming guitar riffs and a killer solo that plays during the so-called chorus. When I’m at the gym, sometimes I’ll put it on and just walk (or steadily run, depending on the feeling) to its crazy sounds. Everyone gets pumped up to different stuff, so I may as well, too. I remember when it first came on, while I was playing the game and fighting against Kamoshida’s shadow in his castle. It was a killer moment and it definitely made me want to do whatever it takes to destroy him. When music gives you that kind of a feeling, you know it’s worth something.

There’s also “The Arena,” which is technically a Persona 4 song but it’s implemented into Persona 5 via DLC. I’ve started listening to it a little bit at the gym also. It’s another track with killer guitar riffs that penetrate the eardrums, if your volume is high enough.

Speaking of which, there’s also “Life Will Change (Instrumental)”, the song that plays when you’ve secured a route to the treasure and need to then steal it. I don’t know if it’s as good as the version with lyrics, but if I’m at the gym, I’ll usually be listening to the instrumental version instead of the lyrical one. Again, it’s got killer guitar riffs (I keep using that phrase, but it applies well!) and you can sort of hear the voice in the background if you know the words (or have listening to the lyrical version enough times already).