Five interesting and bizarre things about Persona 3 Portable

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Note: I just realized that none of this post makes any sense unless you’ve played Persona 3 already. So maybe don’t bother reading this unless you have. And you should, because Persona 3 is a good game (albeit incredibly long. I hope you have free time.)

Persona 3 Portable is a title I’ve been interested in for a while. In 2006/7, I ran through Persona 3, and about a year later I played the expanded “director’s cut” Persona 3 FES, and then I was sick of anything Persona-related (until Persona 4 came out, of course.) It’s 2015 now, though, Persona 5 is finally on its way, and there was recently a sale on P3P in the Playstation store, so what better time to look back at the series’ past? Also, it was on sale for five dollars.

If you’ve played either console version of P3, P3P does offer some new material. The most striking aspect of P3P is the choice it offers between the original male protagonist and a new female protagonist, opening up most of the main male cast to P3’s dating game. It also throws in a few completely new characters for the lady protagonist to interact with. A few things about P3P strike me as interesting, in fact. Here they are.

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1) The female protagonist’s hairclip

The female player character’s hairclip (hairbands? whatever) isn’t something most people would look at twice. I certainly didn’t think about it at first. But there is something significant about it: it’s a mark of her identity. It takes the form of two X’s and two straight lines. Unless I’m crazy, I would say it looks just like the Roman numeral XXII.

The reason this jumped out at me was the tarot. Anyone who knows even two sentences of information about the Persona series knows that the tarot is one of its key themes, even going back as far as the old Persona games on the Playstation. And as Igor tells you near the beginning of P3, you, the player character, are 0, “The Fool”, the card that represents infinite possibilities (or something.) If you take a closer look at the tarot, however, you’ll find that The Fool is categorized both as Arcana 0 and Arcana XXII. Thus, the female protagonist’s XXII hairclip/band thing. There’s no way in hell it’s a coincidence, and it’s just one of the subtle details the artist/character designer quietly slipped into the game. I think this is pretty cool.

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2) Interlocking social link routes

If you played P3 vanilla or P3 FES, you should absolutely play as the girl first. Not just to fulfill your inner dream of pretending to be a schoolgirl (as was the case for me, obviously) but because the female protagonist’s social links are in part different from the male protagonist’s. Most of the links seem to be with the same characters, but much of the contents of the links are different because of the player character’s opposite sex. Yukari’s link is a good example of this: while she’s initially a little removed from the hero, she’s much more open towards the heroine from the very beginning.

P3P does feature a few brand new links, though, and they dovetail nicely with the existing ones. Rio, for example, is the captain of the tennis/volleyball team (the only female sports teams at the school, apparently) with a longing for one of the male protagonist’s social link friends. Even characters who were talked about but never had lines in the old P3 make an appearance in the course of these new social links. And, of course, you can now date the dudes. (Unfortunately, you can’t really date the girls as a girl – no same-sex relations in the world of Persona.) These new social links, and the additions to the old ones, help make P3P feel like a fresh experience. They also make me remember how unlikeable some of those characters were, like creepy fuck Kenji shown above, or like main cast character Yukari, who honestly is annoying (but entirely realistic!) in parts.

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3) Your teachers are still incompetent

One of the common threads running through P3 and P4 (and P5?) are the goofy teachers. Who can forget the extremely crabby Japanese-with-a-New-York-accent Mr. Morooka, or the slutty mature lady teacher Ms. Kashiwagi, who came pretty close to showing her cooch to the entire class on her very first day? Even the less central teachers get weird personalities, though, and P3P continues that trend. The greatest standouts here have to be the math teacher who can’t seem to do math problems without getting three wildly different answers, and the Japanese history teacher who can’t shut up about the Sengoku era and breezes over whole centuries-long time periods in a couple of minutes because he only wants to talk about samurai and bushido and all that stuff. I’ve worked as a history teacher, and I can tell you that if I had skipped over 3000 years of world history just to spend three weeks on the Mongol conquests, I’d have been kicked out of my teaching position on my ass. It’s a wonder that P3’s Gekkoukan High and P4’s Yasoinaba High keep hiring these dipshit teachers – only a few stand out as competent. Oh well, they’re good comic relief.

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4) There’s a Ken Amada social link now, and it gets weird

If you played either P3 on the PS2, you probably remember Ken Amada. He’s the little kid of the P3 team. There are spoilerish reasons for why an elementary school student is on your high school shadow monster battle squad, so I won’t go into them. The important point here is that Ken is a little kid. Mature for his age, sure, but he’s still 10 according to Atlus.

So it’s kind of weird that you, as the female protagonist, can date Ken in your social link with him. You could argue that’s not quite what you’re doing, but you totally are. Nothing illegal is suggested, but the real litmus test in my opinion is whether the same scenario presented in this social link would have worked if the characters’ sexes had been reversed. My guess is that Atlus would have removed that social link the fuck out of the game as quickly as possible.

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5) Fanservice and more fanservice

The Persona games seem to be unique among the Shin Megami Tensei family for featuring a small degree of fanservice. These bits of fanservice usually sit out of the way of the normal course of the game (i.e. you need to do a sidequest or fulfill a certain condition to get the fanservice in question) and they aren’t featured in the plain vanilla versions of P3 and P4. In P3P, though, the fanservice is compounded by the fact that you can now play as a girl and run around Tartarus in a bikini, the same one you wear on the summer vacation part of the game. FES let you do this with Yukari and Mitsuru, and their beach outfits remain in this version of the game. You can also dress up all three in fantasy-style bikini armor, which is prominently featured in Tartarus early on in glowing yellow chests. Of course, I had to use this armor, because it was the best around at the time. That extra 12 DEF is vital, you know.

Okay, so maybe the fanservice isn’t all that surprising, but I wonder about the point of it. If you want the beachwear, you have to pay out the ass for it, like 300K each. It is fun to listen to Yukari complain about being forced to wear a bikini in battle when you talk to her, I guess, but that’s about it. To P3P’s credit, it also offers bathing suits for the male characters to wear in battle, so you can’t accuse Atlus of being misogynist. Though I’m sure the multitudes of Tumblr users somehow found a way to do so.

Anyway, P3P is worth playing, even if you’ve played P3 already. You’ll have to find some way to spend the time until Persona 5 comes out, after all.

Online book translation review: Ura Hello Work by Shinya Kusaka

In the course of my internet searches, a few years ago I found the blog Tokyo Damage Report. Written by a guy who I’m pretty sure is an American, who is (was?) living in Japan. Tokyo Damage Report is a fascinating read for anyone interested in some of the more extreme and more serious sides of Japanese life – for example, the author writes about the clashes between the left and right wings in Japan, the infamous right-wing uyoku groups and their flag and patriotic motto-covered black vans that spew out propaganda through loudspeakers, stuff about the more underground Japanese music scene, and a lot about language.

Another service the author provides (free of charge!) is the translation of controversial books from Japanese to English. Some of the more “dangerous”, more or less banned material, is political in nature. Today we’ll be looking at something a little less risky, though – just a series of interviews with various Japanese grey/black market guys talking about the rackets they run. This is Ura Hello Work by Shinya Kusaka, an author I couldn’t find much info on. In fact, I’m betting “Shinya Kusaka” is a pen name, the reason for which will probably be clear as we take a look at his book.

Kusaka’s book contains interviews with 20 people, all of whom work in some kind of shady profession. Some are entirely legal, but have a hint of mob connections (the tuna boat fisher, who admits that a few guys on each long fishing voyage are there to pay off huge debts to the yakuza.) Some are legal but inherently dangerous (the medical test subject, who left behind testing for a “real” job after a friend who received an experimental shot went permanently numb in his right arm.) Some are just depressing (the cult member, who recounts working fifteen-hour days on the street selling fakey “natural” medicine for absolutely no commission.) Many are borderline or outright illegal. Kusaka speaks with a nuclear waste dumper, a drug smuggler, a forger, a loan shark, and even a black market organ dealer.

A few of the interviews take place in Kabukicho, Tokyo's famous red light district.  (Source: Japanexperterna.se, CC BY-SA 3.0.)

A few of the interviews take place in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s famous red light district. (Source: Japanexperterna.se, CC BY-SA 3.0.)

Each interview goes pretty in-depth into the details of the interviewee’s operation. The interview subjects vary in how willing they are to really get explicit about their professions, often depending upon just how illegal said professions are, but Kusaka manages to ask pertinent questions and gets mostly straight answers out of them. He sometimes gets the subject to tell a deeply personal story. See, for example, the “midnight mover” (a guy who moves clients to new cities and gets them new identities to escape crazy spouses, debt collectors, etc.) talks about a yakuza guy in trouble with his particular group for stealing from the coffers, and who wants to “disappear” with the mover’s help – and how he’s physically wrenched out of the mover’s van by his pissed off colleagues. One can maybe imagine what happened to that guy. Kusaka’s book has several harrowing stories like this.

As the translator points out, a lot of these rackets probably exist in your country too, but in Japan some of them are done totally differently because of the different laws and loopholes involved in the process. One such job is that of the sokaiya, a sort of sophisticated gangster who attends shareholders’ meetings and either conduct protection work for the corporation, shouting down opposition and dangerous questions from the shareholders (if the corporation has paid the protection money); or attack the board of directors and corporate officers themselves with allegations of scandal and poor future performance (if the corporation hasn’t paid.) This isn’t a racket I’ve heard of anywhere else.

Another racket the book covers is loan sharking, as depicted here in Kaiji.

Another racket the book covers is loan sharking, as depicted here in Kaiji.

These kinds of true crime works are apparently pretty popular in Japan. The translator, in his preface, suggests that this is because these books are the only places Japanese get the real dirt on how things work – because the national institutions in place are designed to protect the rich and powerful! Doesn’t that sound familiar? I’m willing to bet this is something that isn’t unique to Japan.

Anyway, if you like books and series about the criminal underworld (like, for example, Fukumoto’s comics) or if you have an interest in the seedier sides of society, you should check out Ura Hello Work at the link above.