Friday, August 15, 2008

Sleep in Light, Saints of Athena

Today is August 15th, 2008. If you care enough to remember about the schedules of the Elysion-Hen release, then you know that the last two OVAs have been aired on Skyperfect TV in Japan. The end of Saint Seiya has been reached. Now that it's all over, I find myself haunted by a question that refuses to let me be.

How do you say good bye?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been able to answer that question in a manner that satisfied me. It’s hard to say good bye. It hurts, even more so when you say good bye to people you love, and no matter that they may be fictional characters. Endings are things full of a bitter-sweet sensation, a feeling that engulfs you and overwhelms you in a heartbeat.

So it has been for me on numerous occasions, and so it was once again, when I watched the sixth and last episode of Saint Seiya, Elysion-hen. The last episode of The Hades Chapter. The last page of Saint Seiya. True, the story is over, has been over for over fifteen years, when the manga ended. Still, while the anime wasn’t complete, didn’t cover the whole manga story, there remained pieces of the Saint Seiya universe to explore. There remained stories to tell, characters to depict, characters to watch while they struggled through the harsh lives destiny, or rather the whims and inspiration of an author put them through.

In the middle of the usual, virulent criticism branding these OVAs to the worst hell, claiming them to be garbage, an utter waste of time and attention, I have to once again stand apart from those who probably consider themselves better able to judge, more connoisseurs than I. I know, my opinion isn't the fashionable one, it's a really unseemly view of those OVAs, but then I was never one for conformism. While I will readily acknowledge that the OVAs stick to the manga as close as it’s possible to do so, with very little in the way of creation, of inspiration to add threads where they were lacking—the manga is extremely frustrating in the way it deals with Hypnos and Thanatos, and in the way it completely forgets about the whole relationship between Hades and Shun once the Andromeda Saint wins free of the god of death’s soul—it doesn’t turn these OVAs into a complete and utter waste.

Those who claim it’s so prove their own words wrong, as they’re always the first to jump on the first dirty quality release to hit the web, usually through yucky videos on youtube. Again, they prove themselves wrong when they explain that they’ll forget about the OVAs and go back to the manga, which they’ll reread with pleasure. That’s bullshit. The manga holds all the flaws they hate in the OVAs. The OVAs are so faithful to it that everything these people loathe is there, comes from there in the first place.

And anyway, there are beautiful moments in these OVAs. Scenes that are precious, shining jewels, however short. Like the one depicting Ikki’s Houyoku Tenshou, or the one showing his despair at being unable to deploy all his strength, bereft of a Cloth as he is, next to the urn imprisoning the dying Athena.

Seiya’s death? Why, yes, it’s short. It’s brutal. It doesn’t linger, it doesn’t leave time for anguished and despaired farewells. It strikes when you don’t expect it. It strikes when you’re not watching. You focus on Hades sprawled against the tower of his tomb, and when you realize something’s terribly wrong and refocus on the Pegasus Saint, it’s too late. His heart pierced through by Hades’ sword, every heartbeat bleeds his life away, and it’s already almost completely gone. Seiya’s death isn’t Shion’s. It doesn’t linger. It can’t linger. It’s brutal, harsh and unfair, as death in combat is. It’s over and done before you can really feel it and dwell on it. And it’s irrevocable. And the depiction made of it is a good one, it’s realistic, and correct. That’s one thing nobody who knows the tiniest bit about writing can’t deny.

As to Hades himself, well there’s no question about it. The god of Death is magnificent. The eerie look in his eyes, the alienness, detachment and sadness lighting his gaze are haunting. You watch this strange, cruel and yet sorrowful god, this merciless figure, and you wonder: what made him so? What pushed him to the course of action he has chosen? What happened in the past, in the times when the gods and goddesses freely walked the Earth, shook mountains and sent oceans raging with each step? (*)

And then there’s the confrontation between Hades and Athena. At last, the two divinities face each other in battle. Yes, it lacks animation. Yes, it’s too short. But the art, the auras rising from the two are splendid. There may not be enough brutality and violence, the slipping of Athena’s helmet may be a bit stupid (as stupid as in the manga, mind you), but there is something undeniably noble and unearthly coming from the two divinities. That isn’t a failure. The art of Athena’s Cloth, the way it’s worn by Saori Kido are unmistakable winners in my eyes. There’s only one occasion when she has been drawn and made so regal: in the Tenkai-Hen movie.

Contrary to the claims of the OVAs being completely unable to show anything other than what’s been drawn in the manga, we also see nice shots of Earth, and a reminder of those who have a personal interest in the war’s issue. The Sanctuary and Marin, Shaina and Seika, Miho in Japan and Shunrei in China. Those are in the manga, but what’s not and is being offered is the short scene with Julian Solo/Poseidon and Sorento. Waiting at the edge of the cliffs of Cape Sounio, the God of the Oceans and the human being he shares a soul with watch, wait, guarded by his closest friend and servant. In the falling darkness, despair grips the heart of Sorento. Uncertainty…

As to the rest of the critics, they follow the usual complains of lack of animation and fluidity. As stated before, nobody in their right mind would have expected that to change. The lack of a true staffing for the later chapters of the Hades were known. The lack of budget as well. There was no reason for a miracle to happen in the last two episodes. But besides that, what those who have retained the magic of Saint Seiya in their hearts were given the beautiful art of Michi Himeno and Kyoko Chino, and the inspired music of Seiji Yokoyama. We were given a long awaited closure. We were given the occasion to say goodbye to characters, to a universe which has been with us for more than twenty years.

A universe and characters I have no intention of ever letting go.

And so, contrary to many people who now watch Saint Seiya with detachment, with a critical and analytic eye, and find in the series flaws that revolt them, contrary to people who have grown up and grown out of the magic, I am happy to report that I am still as firmly hooked today as I was on the first day when I switched channels and stumbled on the combat between Shun and Jabu in the Galaxian Wars. My heart has been captured by that series ever since that day, and it’s never going to change. It lives on, its characters live on.

It may be that Saint Seiya is some strange kind of a youth fountain, because I’m still the adolescent I was when I first discovered it. The child in my soul is still here, and it’s a good thing. What’s another good thing, is that this child inside me, this part of me is still as stubborn and mean-tempered as it was. So I’m finding that my answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this page is very simple:

You don’t.

You don’t say goodbye.

You keep on cherishing the characters and the universe.

In spite of all the true flaws, you say thank you to all those who made the Hades possible. You say thank you to Shigeyasu Yamauchi for making the Sanctuary chapter the jewel that it is. You say thank you to all the staff that remained after Masami Kurumada drank too much beer and decided to crack down on creativity and inspiration to add new things and complete the holes the mangaka had left in his storyline.

You say thank you to Shingo Araki, Michi Himeno and Kyoko Chino for sticking with Saint Seiya to the end, in spite of weariness, exhaustion, lack of staffing, of means, of time, and of acknowledgment. You say thank you to Seiji Yokoyama for hauntingly beautiful and inspiring music that are at one with the universe they were created for.

You watch the realm of Hades crumble into dust.

You watch the Saints of Athena, battered and hurt, grieving, stumble down the stairs leading away from Hades’ temple, lost in an ocean of desolation. And while you wonder whether they’re also going to die here, to forever lie in the dust, in a realm of darkness, forgotten and alone, you watch the goddess Athena come behind them, and you watch the light radiate from her to enfold them all.

In the sky, the sun shines again over the world.

Over the Sanctuary.

Over Cape Sounio.

And the gods aren’t gone.

The magic isn’t done. It’s not dried up.

It’s there.

It’s here.

With us, inside our hearts, if only we’ll acknowledge it and believe in it.

I do.

Saint Seiya, I love you.

As usual, you can find this review with beautiful images from the episodes on my web home, here.

(*) After thinking long and hard about that, and trying to find coherence, I did come up with an answer. Read Thieves of Light, and tell me what you think, if you manage to read it to its end.

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