Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Stella Invicta (*)

At the end of the last Winter, once the 6th OVA of the Meikai-hen Zensho was aired, disappointment was the main voice to be heard all over the internet and among the fan communities. Bitterness and anger prevailed, not without reason, and a question, echoed in many places:

Was there ever any hope at all?

Should there be any hope still, for what will follow?

On the doorstep of Winter this year, on the eve of Sol Invictus, the answer was given to those who still harbored a little flame in their hearts:


Yes, a small, fool's hope, but it was there, and on December 20th, 2006, that fool's hope was kindled. And so the journey continues. The road goes on. Ever on, and on.

There are several ways to watch an anime.

You can watch it with your mind focused, your analysis abilities sharpened and ready to sieve through every single aspect of what you’re going to watch. If you decided to watch Saint Seiya, Meikai-hen Kosho that way, you could say the following: in spite of a superb character design and the undeniable quality of the art, one can feel in each scene the suffering of animators struggling to clamber up the slopes of the mountain they call “animation”, their nails torn off and their fingers bloody. Despite a magnificent soundtrack, and the very shrewd choice of where to use each piece, one cannot ignore the strangely thin quality of the sound effects, such as the sounds used for the repeated falls of warriors collapsing or being slammed into the ground. Even though the seiyuus’ performance was fantastic, they remain different people from the original cast. No matter their talent, no matter all the efforts they go through to be their characters, they cannot replace those who gave them life for so many years. You could also say that the direction keeps following every single image of the manga, a faithful shadow deprived of the very first ounce of creativity, that each of its desperate attempts to compensate for the lack of animation through the use of stills, of pancels and a repeated travelling shows as starkly as a full moon in the dead of night. Yes, you could say all that.

You can also watch an anime the way you’ve always watched it, with shining eyes and a heart that beats rapidly inside your chest. With this lump in your throat that hurts, and this strange sensation of a pressure over your rib cage, with this feeling of a burn in your eyes that troubles your vision all of a sudden. You can plunge into the images and cloak yourself in the voices and the music as you would cloak yourself with the starlit sky. You can feel wonder rise within as you discover moments that echo the magical instants you experienced some twenty years ago. You can breathe and taste the scenes you’ve been waiting for almost fifteen years. You can find your eyes misty when watching the masterful flashback of Ikki and Shun as kids, and of their terrible reunion during the Galaxian Wars. Your heart wrenched, you can watch the beautiful image of Ikki’s tears, as he’s about to kill the younger brother he loves more than anything in this world. When the ending fades into black, you can just feel like saying “thank you.” Just thank you, for having given life to one of the most beautiful chapters of Saint Seiya. Thank you, for having achieved so much with ridiculous financing, for having overworked yourselves like madmen with too few people, for having burnt your strength and your energy so we could watch this. Thank you for compensating the lack of means and the absurd firing of essential members of the staff. Thank you for having given us all that you could.

Thank you.

Of course, you might also be watching an anime you really don’t care about anymore, or even that you truly believe is obsolete and stupid, worthless even. An anime you’ll enjoy bashing once you’re done watching, the more so since the lack of means offer you so many flaws to underline that it won’t even be fun to do so. But then, I’m not really interested in that, and I don’t give a damn. If you push me, I might even tell you that this kind of people are lucky to have so much time and bandwidth to waste, while wondering if they really have nothing better to do during their spare time.

As for me, well, it looks like you can remain an eighteen years-old kid all your life, because I watched these episodes just as I watched those who made me cry, almost twenty years ago. I watched those two episodes with a lump in my throat and mist obscuring my vision. I wrapped the mantle of the music around me, and gingerly hugged myself with it. I don’t know how the next episodes will be. They might be disappointing. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

Beware, this is a declaration, an old declaration that stubbornly refuses to fade into oblivion. A declaration that keeps being true, and that keeps burning warmly inside the somewhat naïve and passionate kid’s heart that beats inside my chest:

Saint Seiya, I love you.

(*) or: Star Unvainquished, of course a direct reference to the celebration of Sol Invictus which takes place during the night of the Winter solstice, later stolen by thieving religions such as christianity which usurped it under the name of "christmas".

You can find this review on my web home, along with rather beautiful images here.
And while I'm on the subject of Saint Seiya, you can also find my latest Saint Seiya fanfic on my fanfiction page, or here: Leaf Horizon

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Here, Take this Lantern With You

Of course, this is a time for musings. For thoughts and reflections, and whys and wherefores. But this time, this day, fate and chance have added a very sad twist to the mix.

It’s been a year of contrasts. A year of empty challenges and empty demonstrations of strength. A year during which evil reared its ugly head in the form of the Talibans in Afghanistan, this country the US claimed to have cleansed of the obscurantist threat. A year of admission, when the US government finally recognized the total failure of its absurd decisions and policies in the Middle East and in Irak in particular.

It was a year of posturing that brought nothing to the world. The UN condemned Iran, which responded in announcing the building of tools to help enrich uranium, an essential step in producing an atomic bomb.

It was a year of sham, a year of fake threats which kept fear in the hearts of the populations when so-called threats caused panic over flights in the UK and elsewhere, and caused stupid enforced regulations for flights in Europe and elsewhere. A year of manipulation, where the powers-that-be used fear, that oldest and most efficient of tools, to keep a good control of people’s reactions.

It was a year of expected betrayal, when companies which make huge benefits decided to close down sites and fire thousands of workers, just so that the shareholders could get more money. A year when the confirmation that people are just variables, worthless and soulless in the equations of economy and finances shone darkly in the corrupted heavens of stock exchanges places all over the world.

It was a year of revelations, when Al Gore’s movie was seen by many people, who half-believed it while not intending to do a thing about global warming, even as scientists for the first time announced that the North Pole’s ice cap would have completely melted by 2040, thus making Al Gore’s movie a work not of fiction, but of stark reality. A year during which Georges W Bush, among all his other mistakes, continued claiming global warming was a lie, and that nothing could be allow to stand in the way of the US’ economy. Well, like it or not, global warming will shatter Georges W Bush’s bubble and his holy economy, but unfortunately, it’ll wipe us from the board in the same time.

It was a year of waiting, for elections to come in France and in Belgium, for Belgium to get ready to take a seat in the UN’s security council, chosen by more than 180 countries. Chosen because of our daily handling of multiple cultures within our own country.

It was a year where worst case scenarios were envisioned and slapped in the face of the people, causing a very much needed awakening of consciences.

It was a year of shame for the Catholic church, which had the gall to deny a man's last wish to have a religuous burial, all because this man had dared defy obsolete dogma and dared manage hisown life and his own death as he had seen fit. A year of demonstration of how past and old, and in denial of the world the Catholic church lives in.

It was, in truth, a year of obscurantism, which shed a stark light on the danger of religions and fanaticism, on the authoritarian attitudes of all religions, even those who try to play it low key. A year when it became again clear, that all religions aim at nothing more than to direct everyone's lives, whether or not we believe in them. It was a year when people of free mind were reminded of the danger of all religions, and of the necessity to keep fighting for their freedom of existence, of conscience of life, and of death.

It was the year the second half of the Meikai-hen had its debut, and where Saint Seiya regained its soul and its heart. When the willful, passionate and naïve little girl’s heart that beats inside my chest found old embers blown back to life, and an old, old and silly declaration was uttered once again. Saint Seiya, I love you. And indeed, I do, as I have done for almost twenty years. It is a warm feeling, full of light.

And then, today, fate, fatality and luck, the blind goddesses of fate, added a heartrending twist to the painting of this year. Fotis died. He died on the eve of Christmas, this coarse peasant man from Southern Peloponissos in Greece, he died while trying to help people who had just had a car accident. He died, crushed by a motorbike that happened to hit him on that empty road next to the sea shore, where there’s no traffic in winter. This bear of a man died trying to help others, and he leaves his wife, his mother and his kids, cut down by fatality’s blind hand. If there is a heaven, I hope he’s there now. But then I don’t know if it makes any sense to believe in this kind of thing. Still, I know he was a believer, as most people in the Koroni region are. So for his sake, I hope it’s true. And I hope someone will be there to help those who remain. To be with them in this time of Christmas, when loneliness grows even more unbearable than usual.

Fotis Argyropoulos was one of the most remarkable figures of Koroni and Levadakia. A true Pagnol character, he was always walking the hills and caring for his Olive trees. His strong voice used to rebound from hill to hill, and he was a presence everybody knew. Of course, like all Pagnol characters, you could sometimes see a shrewd light inflame his gaze, but then, that's also a part of the magic. He had the most unorthodox method for making wine, but his wine was good. All this will now become memories carried by the wind, and whispered by the trees of slivery-green.

2006 is coming to an end. It was a year of questions.

A year of “What do you want?”

A year of “Who are you?”

A year of “Do you have anything worth living for?”

And the answers to those three questions are not always easy ones.

Fotis, man, the one thing I have is this log of wood, cut down when the blazing Summer sun was shining. Here, let me put it in the hearth. With its fire, I light this lantern. Take it with you, and may it light your journey to the other side, whatever this other side may be.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Barking Dogs and Hypocrisy

You may not know about this. Likely you don’t, unless your attention was caught by a paper in the Washington Post or in the New York Times earlier this week, but French-speaking Belgian TV played a masterful coup on Wednesday night. In a fantastic remake of Orson Well’s 1938 hoax of little green men invading Earth, the TV network announced the end of our country. The end of Belgium.

And the fictional documentary was so well done, that many people were fooled. Politicians and ambassadors included.

To explain how this could be believable, you’d have to know that our country is an extremely divided one; that’s it’s comprised of two major parts which are culturally very different: French and Dutch speaking. Latin and German. Wallonia and Flanders. For decades, there’s been a deep political movement in Flanders to get autonomy, greater and greater autonomy, to the point of emptying “Belgium” of all substance, and turning the state into an empty shell.

Politicians in the Dutch speaking part of the country overplay this, helped by media which only present one side of the coin, the side in favor of a country-split, while politicians of the French-speaking part of the country downplay it in the extreme. Those French-speaking politicians usually like to pretend they’ll be united when it come to discussing these themes with the Flemish part of the country. They like to pretend they’ll be holding fast, and nothing will happen.

All this has contributed to lull the population into a state of boredom and “couldn’t care less about this bunch of stupidities they spew out”. The problem being, of course, that this is not a bunch of stupid things. This is reality, and a very, very serious threat. The Flemish politicians and media are in deadly earnest about this. They’ve been pursuing that goal for decades, and they will hold on to it, until they reach it.

So, the RTBF, the state French speaking TV network, organized a very elaborate fictional documentary, helped by real politicians who did false interviews, to put people in the situation of “it’s done, Flanders has unilaterally declared independence” in introduction to a thorough debate on these questions.

People were fooled. That’s okay, I guess, people aren’t used to checking their sources and tend to believe unconditionally what figures of authority tell them, even though what they're being told is, if you analyze it, completely incoherent and outrageous (it’s a bad failing, but understandable). Politicians and ambassadors on the other hand, are unforgivable in the sense that they bought it, without even trying to double-check, and to turn to news agencies like the Associated Press, Belga or Reuters to confirm the news. Heck, I got a phone call from France that evening, and I, little I with no international connections, managed to reassure the caller that, no, Belgium wasn’t splitting into two parts. So if powerful people with powerful connections got fooled, they have only blame themselves to blame for it.

At first, people were angry at having been fooled and having been frightened so. Then they started to think, and soon, people were very happy this happened. People were happy for the shake in the daily routine, for the shock which reminded us of the essential issues to come in the soon-to-be federal elections.

Within a day, several thousands of people signed a petition of support for the RTBF. Yes, a petition for support, because, now, politicians want heads to roll. They want the RTBF to pay for shaking them out of their comfy little nests. And, amusingly enough, among those hypocritical dogs who had known about the project for months but had never cared enough to do anything about it (several politicians appeared in the show and they knew they were being interviewed for the show)), the ones who bark the loudest are those who had expressed interest in discussing more disemboweling of the Belgian state in the future negotiations that will follow the federal elections next June.

Oh yes, Mr Didier Reynders, head of the oh-so nice MR party, the very same Didier Reynders who said that discussing splitting of job policy between the regions might be interesting, even though all the French-speaking parties, the MR included, had earlier declared there would be no other discussion on the subject of splitting up federal domains of competence. In doing so, Mr Reynders weakened Wallonia’s position, but then who cares? Not him.

And now, now that the RTBF has reawakened the population and resuscitated the debate, now that the RTBF has managed to re-unite the Wallonia population behind this goal of preserving the federal State, now Mr Reynders is angry.

Now Mr Reynders barks.

Now Mr Reynders demands that heads roll on a silver plate.

Well, Mr Reynders, please, start with your own head, and shut up.