Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sleeping in Light

It is now several weeks after the last two episodes of the Meikai-Hen Kosho were aired in Japan. Several weeks since I’ve watched those episodes, first raw, and then subtitled. That is quite a while, considering that for the first four episodes, I practically jumped on my keyboard and started writing a review on what I had just seen. This time—well, this time is a bit different.

If you read reviews out there, you may find a majority of furious fans raging about how these last two episodes were handled. You may also find people who enjoyed the episodes, and people who enjoyed them, with reservations. I belong to that last category.

Most of the people who simply enjoyed the episodes aren’t rabid Saint Seiya fans, who know all there is to know about their favorite universe, and have known that for fifteen years and more. Those are the ones who will never forgive the change of cast, the eviction of Yamauchi Shigeyasu, and the bone-headed attitude of Masami Kurumada. They are also those who will always measure everything they watch against the Juunikyuu Hen, and thus find mostly everything unworthy. In my opinion, that is just too bad for them, and I would advise them to stop watching any further episodes of The Hades Chapter when they materialize on SkyperfectTV in a year or two. They will never again find something they will enjoy, and they will only bring themselves more bitterness, frustration, and anger. Incidentally they’ll also be bringing those who have the gall to enjoy what’s been done so far and will hopefully be done next serious cases of headaches, and their constant complains and temper tantrums will severely try the rest of the fan universe’s patience. And the gods and the goddesses, named and unnamed, imaginary or real, know how little patience I have for this sort of thing. I am easily irritated, and it gets worse with old age.

But enough with me. Those who unconditionally enjoyed those last two episodes were casual fans of Saint Seiya. People who haven’t read the manga, didn’t know verbatim every line and image of what was supposed to happen, and also who don’t expect Saint Seiya episodes to be outstanding works of art.

And then, there are those who enjoyed them, with reservation, like your humble servant. What reservations? Well, easy enough: episode five features a “what’s been going on last” moment that lasts a full five minutes thirty-six seconds (roughly), OP excluded. This means that a good seven minutes out of the twenty-four minutes thirty seconds of the episode, OP and ED included, are gobbled up by a simple copy-paste of images and dialogues already known and aired. That is one hell of a lot: almost one third of the episode’s time completely wasted. Of course, this “what’s been going on before” moment is a common occurrence in TV episodes of long series. Take Bleach, for instance: these days, every episodes starts with around two minutes of summary. Two. Not five and a half, and those are TV episodes, not OVA episodes. One can only surmise what happened: lack of time, of means, of motivation, overall exhaustion…who can tell? But that’s not all. Episode five also features a truly horrible moment: the Gold Cloths’ call to each other. Whoever came up with the sound effect was under some bad weed’s influence. Either that, or s/he had way too much alcohol poisoning his or her bloodstream. To this day, I shudder whenever I hear that completely stupid, horrible and pathetic excuse for what should have been a beautiful, dramatic moment.

So that’s about it for the bad stuff. The musical selection was correct, but lacked the touch of class I had grown used to. Many repetitions in the chosen themes, but Saint Seiya music remains wonderful, whatever you do with it. Unlike many of the die-hard Saint Seiya fans, a category I thought I definitely belonged to, I really did enjoy the end of the confrontation between Kanon and Rhadamanthys. Yes, Kanon is powerless. Yes, Kanon is beaten and flung to the ground as easily as if he were an infant. Well, that is all rather natural: the Gemini Cloth just left him, and he is still confronted to the most powerful Judge of Hell. So, hey, what’s the problem with that? Hm, I think I know: the Greatest Caution isn’t as beautiful as it was in the Juunikyuu. Well, yeah, that’s true, but then again, it hasn’t been that way in the Zensho either. So why would it be now? Does it matter? It’s just an effect, just an attack. It really doesn’t matter so much how it’s portrayed. What goes on between the two opponents is much more important, if you ask me. The way those two interact is way more important. And I find it all rather well done. I was happy with how that ended. Kanon supporter that I am, I found myself satisfied, and gifted with a gorgeous image of Kanon leaving this life to go to whatever awaits beyond, serene and smiling. Beyond that, I was also happy with the small scenes from the Sanctuary, as well as the with the short flashback on the Poseidon chapter. So, yes, all in all I was satisfied with the episode, and happy with how the Kanon vs. Rhadamanthys matter was settled.

And then, there was episode six, and the sacrifice of the Gold Saints. Many people found it botched, found the moment didn’t manage to draw out the right emotions of heartrending loss. I disagree. There is no heartrending loss to be felt here. That took place before, in the Juunikyuu where Aries Mu, Leo Aioria, Taurus Aldebaran and Scorpio Milo are concerned. What takes place before the accursed Wall is nothing more than a repetition, a second ending and, what’s more, one which brings the possibility of hope, whereas the loss experienced in the Juunikyuu was full of impotent rage at watching such fantastic characters be slaughtered by an incredibly powerful opponent who was playing on his own turf, and not playing fair (remember, I go with the kekkai theory, and I will stick to it to the end). But still, even if we, as spectators, do not truly lose the Gold Saints there, the Bronze boys do. And the moment during which we see Seiya, Shiryu, Hyoga and Shun run in slow motion, past their elders who smile gently upon them, those they call friends and brothers, well that moment is well done, and does draw out the right emotions.

Of course, I admit to not have put as much stake in the Gold Saints sacrifice as many other people have likely done. In my opinion, the moment is anti-climatic. It is even, if you think about it, ridiculous scenario-wise. We know that the Gold Saints are powerful enough to trigger a mini Big Bang with the Athena Exclamation. And a mini Big Bang, no matter how mini, certainly DOES equate to the intensity of the sun’s rays. To pretend otherwise is, well, stupid. But plot holes are part of the original Saint Seiya manga story, and this one is no exception. I was mad at Masami Kurumada when I first read the manga, back in the early 1990s, I have gotten way madder at him recently, but I will not blame the anime adaptation for flaws that belong to the original. I may regret there was neither latitude, nor means to correct the flaws and shape a fantastic story (ask me to rewrite that Hades Chapter sometime, no crossover, I just may do it one day), but that’s all.

To tell you the whole truth, being definitely a true Andromeda Shun afficionada, well I didn’t focus so much on the Gold Saints’ individual farewells to the Bronze Boys they were particularly close to. Shun having always been kept away from such friendship and closeness, and thus being excluded from such farewells, I never did care so much about them. Still, it was a nice touch to have Pisces Aphrodite tell Shun he had to pull another miracle, the way the Andromeda Saint had when defeating him. It was also a nice touch to have Seiya go to Aldebaran while the two, long separated brothers could at last be reunited. And Shiryu’s tears after the deed is done are also rather moving. However, a special hilarious moment is dedicated to all the fans gifted with the ability to smile when stuff in their favorite work is badly botched: a longish race during which the Bronze Boys really, really look like awkward ducks trying to flap their wings to lift off from the ground. That, as the sound effect of the Gold Cloths calling out to each other, was outstandingly badly done.

And then there is the end of the episode, with the rather satisfying appearance of Minos, and most of all the non confrontation between Ikki and Pandora, who watches the Phoenix Saint from the shadows as he strides toward the now breached Wall. And, as she watches, memories rise and grip her soul. Tears well in her eyes, and start to run down her cheeks. As Ikki continues his walk, Pandora starts moving from behind the shadows. All along the Kosho episodes, she has been watching, pondering, wondering. And wavering. Little by little, she has gone from referring to Hades as “Hades-sama” to simply “Hades”. And the horror of events past is like a rising tide she cannot and may even not feel like fighting down. The last image we have of her and Ikki show her almost about to rush after him, or call out to him. It’s not the longest moment of the episode, but it’s definitely a very, very good one.

Eventually the episode ends with the Bronze Boys jumping into the hole in the Wall. They do not know what awaits. They do not know that Athena has been trapped. And we…we have to wait for long months before watching the conclusion to the Hades chapter. Fortunately in the meantime, we’ll still be getting our weekly shot of Saint Seiya thanks to Shiori Teshirogi and her Saint Seiya, the Lost Canvas, which to this day continues to be an excellent read.

I will not finish this series of reviews concerning the Meikai-Hen Kosho on an unhappy note. I am not unhappy, on the contrary. I am happy. These six OVAs provided me with four excellent episodes, moments of magic to be treasured. These six OVAs gave us two fantastic three-fold faceoffs: Shun, Ikki and Hades, and then Hades, Shaka and Athena. What is, in my humble opinion, one of the key moments of Saint Seiya kept all its promises. What’s more, as a bonus, we got to see a very, very good Shaka in episodes three and four. Now the Meikai-Hen Kosho is over, and we have bidden a final farewell to fantastic characters, to godlike figures, both gifted and cursed with humanity—with a heart and a soul. The Gold Saints are gone, a smile on their faces, gone to wait for the next turn of the wheel, sleeping in light. So, to hell with disappointment in the last two episodes, even though it may be warranted. Who cares? I am still happy they made them. And I want more. Let those who hate those episodes be coherent and stop even trying to watch further episodes. I want more. I will wait for more.

And so will a great many other people.

The EndGame is about to begin, and I will be there when it starts.

PS: as usual, you can find this review, illustrated with a selection of screencaps from episodes 5 & 6 here, in my web home.
PPS: yes, B5 titles. I know. :P

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Erised Lure

Look me in the eye, and I’ll tell you what you want to hear…or I’ll try to, anyway.

This sentence is a good description for quite a few things happening in the world these days.

In the French presidential election race, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Bayrou seem to be intent on a race to know which one will beat the other on that ground.

Mr Bayrou flings chimaeras at people everywhere such as promising a new form of government, a new grand alliance between all the “good” and “efficient” forces of the country, with this superb swindling of his: “if you elect me, I will unite left and right, and I will govern the country with everyone”. Of course, he casually forgets to mention that French law and constitution do not allow for this to happen. And, of course, he forgets to mention that both he and his party have always sided with the right, and that they are completely dependant on the UMP’s good will to win local elections as well as legislative elections to get into the National Assembly. With an apparently guileless smile, a gentle voice and a look of serenity about him, Mr Bayrou goes from interview to interview, spreading hints and promises that he will satisfy all sides of the French society. Right and left will work together for the good of all. Listen, and believe. Amen.

Mr Sarkozy promises that people will earn more, that they’ll have more freedom and more security if only they are allowed to work more, while in the same time vowing that more work time will be done only on a voluntary basis. Mr Sarkozy casually forgets to tell people that, once such a change is enacted, the norm will shift from a full time work with decent wage of 35 hours a week to whatever a majority of people will “choose” (when the renting rice of your appartment is as high as half of your income and you have kids at school, you will always “choose” to do more work to have more money, simply because you're screwed if you don't--Mr Sarkozy calls that “freedom”, I beg to differ). Maybe 40, or 45 hours. From then on, those who keep working a legal 35 hours a week full time will see their income decrease in a significant fashion. Not to mention what’ll happen to all the workers who are forced to accept part-time jobs. With a spring in his steps, Mr Sarkozy hails the holy value of “work”, worse, of “hard work”, reducing the lives of people and the inherent worth of people to their work, and how harsh their work life is. Blithely, he proposes to have people vote for someone who denies the existence and worth of a personal life, of a family life, of expression and self-development outside of the workplace. With sweet songs and lullabies and promises of more money, more responsibility, more flexibility, more security, Mr Sarkozy is busy dangling promises of sparkling tomorrows, using the over-abused and obsolete trick of the “American Dream”, a fraud only fools still believe in. But telling people they’ll earn more money, telling people they’ll be responsible for their own lives, lie though it may be, has a strong appeal if you’re not trained to think and analyze further. Just as Mr Sarkozy’s use of the deep fear of immigration in the French society, his promise of setting up a ministry of National Immigration and Identity appeals to people, no matter how reminiscing it is of the darkest hours of France’s Vichy past. Vote for him, and you’ll be rich, you’ll work more, more, more, and you’ll be happy, you’ll never see your kids and your spouse, you’ll no longer have time for holidays and your private life, but hey, does it matter when you know that you’ll have the means to have a guardian for your kid and someone to clean up your home for you? Nah. Listen, and believe. Amen.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Georges W Bush is embarked on a journey to try and regain the hearts and mind of the South American people lest they succumb to the horrors of the left. After having had a good taste of the gentle hand of unfettered liberalism, people there started electing left-wing Socialist governments in power. So, you can imagine the danger for poor W: it’s as if the cold war could start all over again, as if the commies were coming back! I swear, what were all those South American thinking, not liking being reduced to utter poverty and even famine while big worldwide American corporations were getting fat gobbling up their resources? Were they not “free”, hence “happy”? Fortunately, W is now back in business there (well, after being spanked in Iraq, he had to get busy with doing something…), bringing with him grand speeches (hey, he can even spew out two sentences in Spanish to talk to all his compadres, his comrades, all these modest, honest people like himself—I doubt all those people have dozens of millions of US dollars in the bank, but), a little bit of money to shower on the misery of the continent, and a boat with full medical equipment so that poor people can get medical attention and surgery for free! Isn’t that a fantastic proof of the US’s care for those people (now if only the US could start with its own population and its own total lack of a social security system, it might be interesting, first take care of your own misery, and then take care of others)? A boat! Can you imagine the enormity of that? Listen, and believe. Amen.

And then, there is the champion of all, but that champion isn’t a person. It’s a game. “Second Life” as it’s called, and “Sucking Out Your True Life” as it should be called. Fundamentally different from classical MMORPGs like Everquest, Second Life doesn’t give you a fantasy universe to play in, it doesn’t give you a science-fiction universe to play in. No, Second Life gives you a fake real-life universe. A virtual everyday, where you can be what you didn’t manage to be, do what you would never dare do. Where you can flee, where you can hide, and forget that there is a solid, tangible world in which you should be, act and react. Like many people, I know that temptation, and at times I have found it extremely hard to resist. Why not go and have fun there, realize my potential there, if I am dissatisfied with what I have or managed to have here? The answer is simple: because what happens there doesn’t matter, will never, ever have an impact on your life here. Because by luring people in such a universe, you give them an outlet, a way to vent out frustration, to spend their energy that redirects it away from real life. Away from getting involved in their real lives, from gathering the strength to push for changes, and to make this world a better place, however small individual inputs can be. The ocean is made of a myriad of drops. Every single one matters. But people forget that where reality is concerned. Once redirected toward a virtual universe, suddenly they start believing everything’s possible again. There are no dangerous stakes, no consequences, and so this oh so nice game channels energy and gobbles it up. A very neat black hole, it ensures that people’s attention will remain focused on an imaginary place, where ghosts of bits and bytes meet up, play at interacting, play at living out their lives while the real world watches and laughs.

Harry Potter almost drowned into the Mirror of Erised's lure twice, but at the last moment, he managed to step back. Can real people do as much?