Sunday, January 21, 2007

No Surrender, No Retreat !

It’s a strange sensation, when you feel a shiver run up your spine, and when you feel your heartbeats speed up. Strange, and full of childlike wonder when the cause of these symptoms is your watching two episodes of the Meikai hen Kosho, raw (meaning unsubbed).

It’s a bit like electricity coursing your bones, and rewinding almighty Time to younger days, when you could still call yourself a kid and be completely into an anime series like Saint Seiya without having those close to you blink too openly at your weird behavior and taste…although, to be honest, it doesn’t matter much how old you grow, nothing prevents your from still enjoying and loving what you did when you were 18. Nobody can make you change what thrills you, nobody but yourself, and the truth is there is no age limit to enjoy oneself, unless you make it so.

So, back to the topic. Today, I watched both episodes 22 and 23 of the Hades Chapter, also known as OAVs 3 and 4 of the Meikai-hen Kosho or as OAVs 7 and 8 of the Meikai-hen as a whole. And the very good news is that I keep being lifted up on the wings of that series. The very, very good news, is that all the things that define Saint Seiya are present in these two episodes: fantastic characters, gorgeous art, incredible seiyuus, and what remains, in my humble opinion, the best part of the whole Saint Seiya story, except for the Twelve Houses race in the Sanctuary chapter.

Now, for some detailed comments:

In episode 22, the major change is the lengthening of the Valentine/Seiya fight. Not exactly needed, the more so since there were other things to develop further than what Kurumada did, but it was well done. Some good cuts and transitions, and a tad more fluidity in the motions, good! But what really won the day there was the confrontation Shaka/Hades/Athena. For the first time in the anime’s history, I enjoyed the performance of Virgo Shaka’s seiyuu. It was thrilling and moving at once. The reason for that is very simple: for the first time we are offered a Virgo Shaka with feelings and emotions. A human being, a man of flesh and blood, who goes through anguish when the Athena he loves above everything climbs up the stairs to confront Hades, who experiences anger and sorrow when evoking the fate of Shun, whom he believes forever lost. A Virgo Shaka who shudders and must make a visible effort to keep a shout of protestation and outrage from escaping his lips when Athena kneels down before Hades and pleads for humanity. A Virgo Shaka I’m glad to perceive at last as a man of flesh and blood, with a heart that beats inside his chest, a heart that hammers inside his ribcage while he watches Athena stride toward her arch-enemy weaponless.

Yes, Gold Saint though he may be, man closest to the divine though he may be, Virgo Shaka is and remains a human being. And it’s this ability to keep feeling that justifies the Gold Saints' status as protectors of humankind. Only those who can feel as ordinary people feel, those who can have a moment’s weakness or fragility, those who have had to struggle and fight to gain the strength of the soul that allows them to rise even against impossible odds can be entrusted with the safeguard of humanity. Of course, it’s true that I’d have loved to see Shaka react, to have seen him ignore the command of Athena at some point, but it couldn’t be: this sin’t the way Masami Kurumada wrote the character, and to change that would have meant a major change in this key scene of the episode. Given the restrictions put on the Saint Seiya anime adaptations since Mr Kurumada lost the little bit of brains and wits he ever had after the Tenkai-hen affair, there was no way the scenarists could have changed that in a good way while respecting constraints such as “no major changes and a strict respect of the manga”.

This episode also contains a very nice performance by Saori’s seiyuu, and a very good picturing of Hades’ soul.

And of course, I cannot help but regret that there was no development of Shun’s release by Hades, no showing of Shun fighting Hades’ hold once Athena’s blood has reawaken his spirit. We know it is happening, all the other characters explain what’s going on, but we do not see it. It’s a lack already present in the manga, and I must admit that I had hoped it would be filled by the anime adaptation, but once again, knowing how things stand with Mr Kurumada and intelligence and creativity these days…well, I couldn’t expect any miracle of the kind.

Still, all in all, a very good episode. A superb Virgo Shaka and a rather interesting Saori/Athena, so I for one am happy ^^

Episode 23. Here, I must start with another regret: when Seiya enters the Guidecca, he discovers a still unconscious Shun, who wears the Andromeda Cloth although we left him still wearing Hades’ full garb, his Cloth put away somewhere in the Guidecca’s many chambers after Hades’ taking over him. This is incoherent, as incoherent as it was in the manga, but contrary to scenes developing Shun’s struggle against Hades, it could have been easily fixed: take five seconds out of the totally useless and futile scene with Miho and the kids wondering at the unannounced eclipse in Japan, and you could patch that plot hole. But it wasn’t done. Ah well.

Again, Virgo Shaka is breathtaking. Those two episodes really favor him and help in giving more flesh, more stature and strength to this character who had appeared much too arrogant and aloof in all that went on before. I know I've said this just above already, but I really used to have a very hard time liking the voice of his seiyuu and imagining it fit with the character’s, but once you turn him into a real human beings, into a person with guts and a heart, both the character and his voice become absolutely fantastic! The scene of Virgo Shaka’s cosmo unfolding fully for the first time in the whole Saint Seiya story is simply fantastic.

And of course this episode features the reawakening of the three Gold Saints imprisoned in the eternal ice fields of the Cocyte. Aries Mu, Leo Aioria and Scorpio Milo are magnificent (ah, Aries Mu’s smile when he steals a glance toward the now empty spot where Ikki had been imprisoned as well). Their arrival before the unbreachable wall behind which Hades has retreated, taking Athena with him, in time to rejoin Dohko and Shaka (yes, Seiya and Shun are there, in the background, but they do not exactly matter here ^^), and Mu’s returning the rosary to Shaka are much awaited moments, and ones that keep their promises.

There is a lot of dialogue in that episode, and quite a few repetitions among them, but then who cares? The anime isn’t responsible for the manga’s flaws, and since there was no freedom to make real changes during the adaptation process, it’s futile to attribute to the anime what belongs to the manga and to Mr Kurumada. Still, if you try to think about it, the TV series was more than flawed as well, and yet a great many people loved it, and love it still. So my opinion remains that anyone who watches those OVAs in search of more than what they found in the TV series as a whole, bad episodes included, will always be disappointed, but I also believe that they’re looking for something that’s not there, and that’s never going to be there.

The episode ends with the gathering of all the Gold Saints that were still alive, and switches to a very nice view of the Sanctuary’s immediate vicinity in sunlight, where we see Marin dragging a very timid Seika along. Then comes the very nice ED song, and the preview of episode 24...and a very frustrating month-long wait for more.

After the revelation of the harsh, merciless truth of the nature of the wall standing before the Gold Saints, and of the only thing that can breach it, after despair’s bone-gnarled hand worming its way to enclose and crush the hearts and souls of Shaka, Mu, Aioria, Milo, Seiya, Shun and Dohko, we switch over to the sunlight. The only thing that can crack the wall shaped by the gods. And hope...hope is kindled, breathed back to life, blown into a bonfire from the embers and the ashes that the dark, very well done atmosphere of the wall’s vicinity had almost managed to annihilate for good.

No, no despair, no matter what.

No surrender, no retreat!

Onward…to the next, and last episodes of this Meikai-hen Kosho, and the heartrending sacrifice that is about to take place.

PS: As usual with Saint Seiya reviews, you can find this one with rather nice screencaps on my web home here.

PPS: yes, I know, I am way too fond of Babylon 5 episode titles! :P

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Caius Julius Temptation

Today is Nicolas Sarkozy’s big day. Today is DA day, when little Nicolas is crowned holy candidate of the UMP for the coming presidential election in France.

Nothing is too good to celebrate this auspicious day. No effort has been spared. 3,500,000 € have been lavished on Mr Sarkozy's enthronement show. Eight bullet trains have been chartered, and 520 coaches to bring in worshippers from all over France.

Mr Sarkozy is the one and only candidate for his party’s nomination. He is the sole, absolute ruler of an organization he’s been at the head of for years, an organization he very skillfully transformed into a tool for his own personal glory and to help his own devouring ambitions. The machine is now ready. Ready to hail its hero. With a luxury of means that more than borders on debauchery, the machine aims to send a message to France and the world.

What message, you ask?

That a man has managed to turn a collective group into a weapon that serves the interests of one individual. That Nicolas Sarkozy turned the UMP into something akin to what the communist party was in Romania in the times of Ceauscescu. He has turned a political party into an organization dedicated to his person.

A proof? A hint of this being true? Well, that’s easy: check the way things went in the Socialist party, and the bitter struggle between three would-be candidates for the nomination. With the UMP, nothing of the sort happened. Oh, there is dissent, among the “old guard” of the previous incarnation of the UMP, there are different voices, but strangely enough, none has stepped forward and declared they would battle Mr Sarkozy for the UMP nomination. Why do you think? Why, when you know that these personalities all have egos at least as big as Mr Sarkozy’s, and a huge experience of political battles and skirmishes?

Because all these people are no fools, and know they didn’t stand a chance. Because these people didn’t want to play the humiliating game of being Mr Sarkozy’s puppet opponent used to justify his own candidacy, his own triumph. Because the game was hacked from the start, and that everyone knew who the winner would be. The recipe is very simple, once you’re the head of a relatively new political party (the UMP was created on the ashes of the RPR) and you’re given free rein to organize it, structure it, and communicate as you wish with members and would-be members. As long as you have good professionals behind you who will be extremely careful that all messages you send to your members contain what is needed to cultivate the glory of the party’s leader, as long as you decide to put all efforts into the image of the “president”, this nice years-long brainwashing campaign will do the job: the members will vote for Mr Sarkozy, no matter who else is candidate for the UMP nomination.

Still, Mr Sarkozy would have loved to have at least one opponent, so he could show that his nomination was the “true” result of a democratic process where he had had to struggle and convince the party that he was the best candidate. Too bad for him, but none of his enemies within the UMP were stupid enough to oblige.

So instead, Mr Sarkozy compensates with a true Roman festival dedicated to his self-promotion. Mr Sarkozy organizes one hell of a big party where thousands of people are brought in to cheer him on and hail glory to him.

Americanization, mi amor…

Of course, the ideas, the projects, the policies, all that is secondary. All that shifts to the shadows, while Mr Sarkozy steps into the light, receives the expressions of fealty and admiration of the crowds.

For me, I don’t know how you can enjoy having crowds hail you on cue as happens in the worst TV shows. But then,, even though I certainly have a big ego, I must be lightyears away from Mr Sarkozy’s level.

Blinding people with the extravagance of his crowning show, Mr Sarkozy hopes to gain a legitimacy he was hoping to gain through a fake triumph over another candidate. He aims to focus people’s attention on images, on an empty show instead of on documents such as the very serious and frightening study of the Socialist party (in French here).

Mr Sarkozy is all empty self-display, and he uses the communication skills of his advisers so as not to have people dwell on who he is, what he wants, and what his true ideas and projects for France are.

Mr Sarkozy is a frightening figure, an authoritarian man with sharp intelligence and a formidable will and a headstrong attitude to match. Someone who cannot accept he could be wrong or could have to change his mind. A friend of the US neo-cons, an admirer of a culture that has nothing to do with Europe’s and France’s, he would use all his energy and power to transform France into what it is not. A firm believer in the superiority of religions over agnosticism or atheism, he would endanger the secularity of France.

Still, these are political ideas, and they have the right to be there, to exist and be debated, but they are not being debated. They’re being hidden behind a curtain of smoke, behind grand celebrations lavishing praise and applause on Mr Sarkozy himself.

What remains the most disturbing about him is the impossibly huge ego that transpires from everything he says or does. It’s how he has created and encouraged the transformation of a political party into a weapon solely dedicated to furthering his own glory and flattering his own ego.

He’s not the first to have this kind of personality. Many others before him went the way of self-admiration. Many others before him reshaped structures into tools that served only their own interests. In his manic quest to gather power around his person, Nicolas Sarkozy is going down the same path as the Bush Administration, where the White House frantically aims at pushing the executive’s power so far as to overwhelm the judicial and the legislative power. The process is the same.

And where it leads is not a place where we want to go.

Rome, 44 BC, when the Republic fell, and true tyranny started. Check your history books, it’s all explained there. Or, better, check out Rome, the HBO and BBC TV series, and you’ll see how Mr Nicolas Sarkozy and the US neo-cons are just recycled products of much brighter and stronger figures.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Our Last, Best Hope... for Saint Seiya !

One can reasonably surmise that Masami Kurumada, the much acclaimed [insert snicker here] author of Saint Seiya didn’t know what he was doing when he entrusted the young mangaka Teshirogi Shiori with the making of a prequel to the series. The young woman was after all at the beginning of her career, having only a two volumes series to her name.

Miss Teshirogi’s prequel was to run parallel to another prequel, one done by the “master” himself. The two prequels would tell the tale of the previous holy war between Athena and Hades, the one which had taken place in 1743. That prospect alone was rather disappointing, as fans were largely more interested in seeing more of the Heaven Chapter after the fantastic Overture movie directed by Shigeyasu Yamauchi. But then, as Mr Kurumada had had a bit of a temper tantrum concerning the movie, loved by the fans but hated by him, a sequel was not to be. Instead, two prequels got underway.

Mr Kurumada's would be titled “Saint Seiya Next Dimension” and was published first. The result was an affront to the eye and to the mind. Art so ugly it hurt to look at it, dialogues about right for characters aged respectively 7 and 8 years old, and a scenario about as bad as what the worst 7 years old male fanfickers can do concerning Saint Seiya. So, quite logically, many among the fan community, myself included, were disgusted and more or less abandoned all hope concerning this new revival of Saint Seiya.

As it happens we were wrong.

By accident more than by design, Mr Kurumada gave a license to produce Saint Seiya material to a woman who not only loves the series, but what’s more shows a true understanding of what Saint Seiya is about, of what lies at its heart. And so, soon after the Next Dimension horror of Mr Kurumada came out, Miss Teshirogi’s Lost Canvas appeared, and charmed a great many Saint Seiya fans off their feet.

Miss Teshirogi enriches her characters touch by touch. With a single picture, she adds nuance and layers to her characters. Exit all the over-simplifications and the hasty, or inexistent backgrounds to explain a character’s personality. In little drops of jet black ink, Miss Teshirogi paints the characters, gives them a life, a soul, and draws the reader along with her vision of the story. Elegance, class, nobility, resourcefulness, razor-sharp depictions and good humor at unexpected times are the key elements that are sure to turn her vision of the 1743 war into a success.

Overall, the interactions between the characters feel natural, contrary to how forced they do when Mr Kurumada tries to use his lack of talent at dialogues. With Miss Teshirogi, there is no obvious rigidity in sentences and dialogues, no jarring sensation that send your teeth gritting in frustration. The flow of words is just right. The characters are true to themselves, instead of becoming mere parodies fit for a farce. The depth and coherence she brings, along with the charisma and class of the characters are a blessing.

Of course, this is Saint Seiya, and it will remain Saint Seiya. But miss Teshirogi has given it back its touch of class, she has re-infused it with subtlety and elegance, she has brought back coherence and depth. With a feathery brush of shoujo talent, she has revived a very much battered hope for the series. In spite of my initial lack of interest for a prequel of Saint Seiya, I now find myself eagerly waiting for each new chapter to be published. That, in itself, is undeniable evidence of miss Teshirogi’s talent and true understanding of the series. It’s both sad and apparently illogical to say, but she knows more concerning the heart and soul of Saint Seiya, than the one who created it in the first place. Mr Kurumada lost his way a long time ago, among too many packs of beer and wrestling matches.

Thankfully, be it fate or something else, Mr Kurumada’s path crossed miss Teshirogi’s. She is the right person at the right place, and in the right time. It’s a rare and precious enough chance to be noticed. And one wonders, if the gods haven’t decided to smile again.

A more detailed review, with a few pictures to show you I'm not kidding, is available in my Saint Seiya shrine:

Enjoy! ^^

Thursday, January 04, 2007

In Love With Fiasco

At first I wanted to post this immediately after I heard of Saddam Hussein’s execution. Then I kind of went “ah shit, it’s almost New Year’s Eve, gimme a break”.

But then, the media kept talking about it, I kept hearing people rejoicing, and always, always answering “you have to know that this man was a bloody dictator, responsible for immense suffering and hundreds of thousands of deaths” to the question “what do you think of the manner in which Saddam Hussein was executed?”

So I got pissed, and as usual, I yielded on the impulse to post my opinion on this matter, helped in this by today’s editorial of the New York Times.

My opinion on this execution is much the same as Robert Badinter’s: a bad mistake, and one which will have consequences.

Beyond the question of being for or against the death penalty (I am firmly against if you want to know and never read any of the things I write, the more firmly against that I was for it until the age of 18), the fact is that a man was executed even though he hadn’t been judged thoroughly and correctly. Saddam Hussein was executed despite the fact that many things and many crimes that took place during his tyrannical reign were neither analysed, nor exposed to the public, nor investigated, nor proved. Many things will forever remain enshrouded in doubt and shadows, and likely some of those crimes contain elements and information that the powers-that-be, USA first of all, do not wish to be revealed to the public. I guess it would be bad to find out who sold the weapons used to decimate the Kurdish population and to kill so many people in the Iran/Irak war.

So, in my opinion, this whole thing was parody of justice, an illegal and amoral execution, thanks to which the US rushed to yield custody of this fallen dictator to the Iraki authorities, to have him executed just before dawn so that the Shia rites of the Sacrifice celebration would be respected--never mind that the Sunni rituals start before that time and thus that their celebration would be defiled by this execution, after all who cares but those who would prevent an all out civil war in Irak? Oh, the US wants to prevent that? Really? Wow, they sure don’t look the part !

Overall, the all execution process looked like "panic attack ! Let’s kill him! Quick!”

There was no serenity, no thorough analysis of the crimes. No real, correct trial (remind me again: how many defense attorneys were murdered during the trial?)

It doesn’t matter that the guilty verdict was certain. There had to be a true, equitable and impartial verdict, once all the crimes had been judged. This should have been done before the International Penal Tribunal of La Haye, since we were talking about crimes against humanity, among other niceties.

Georges W Bush rejoices at the news of what constitutes, in his eyes, an important step toward a free and democratic Irak, forgetting all the fallacious pretexts used by his administration to have brought a deadly, bloody war there, and forgetting the chaos that his insane crusade has brought to that country. What are this Assyrian Christians of Irak doing, except fleeing their country, inside of which they’ve become preys? What’s becoming of women’s rights, except for a quick unravelling?

W is happy at a step that is, for me, a sign of the fragility of the regime currently in power in Irak. This frantic rush to execute a man makes no sense, there was no need to play that kind of game, to put a definite stop to all possible trials and to forever prevent all the other victims to ever see justice done, and to see the truth revealed. The only feeling I get is that the Iraki authorities are completely drowned and out of their depths, that they cannot master the chaos and violence that fester in their country, and that they wanted to please some, while using the event to strike fear in the minds of others. But this grotesque tragedy, complete with its futile attempts at humiliating a man about to die, who instead appeared calm and dignified will not help. It’s been a long time since the rebellion and the terrorists in Irak have stopped needing a figure like Saddam Hussein. If anything, all this execution will do is bringing yet another pretext to have communities rise against each other, and thus fuel hatred and war even more.

Last but not least: calling « an important step toward democracy » the botched, rushed execution after the end of a trial that looked more like a theatrical farce than a true action of justice leaves me speechless. It gives the measure of the self-proclaimed “greatest democracy in the world”, aka the USA.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Well, yes, it's that time of the year after all, isn't it?

Let me see, if I were Georges W Bush, I would promise not to hamper the work of Congress and Senate in the coming years, and if I were really, really honest, I'd impeach myself and step down from power, beseeching the American public to elect a Democratic president and stand by her/him while s/he spends long years wading through all thre mistakes and stupidities I did to make my country and the world a mess.

If I were Jacques Chirac, I'd announce I'm going to be candidate for the coming presidential election, just for the fun of watching Nicolas Sarkozy go through all the shades of green, grey and white, and then I'd announce it was just a joke. Then my dear old friend Nicolas would go through all the shades of red, and that would also be lots of fun.

If I were Joseph Ratzinger, the man who got a new name for free in the Vatican, I'd promise I'd mind my own business and would never, ever again interfere in the mundane affairs of the world. I'd swear to stop trying to push my religious beliefs into the laws that govern countires made up with people of many faiths, and of no faith at all who have no reason to bow to my own dogma.

If I were the president of Iran, I'd swear I'd go back to school and learn my lesson concerning the holocaust. I'd also go visit Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and then I'd publicly announce that I've been a jerk and a honorless bastard.

If I were one of the mollahs or religious authorities in Iran, Afghannistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or any other Islamic country, I'd swear I'd undergo a sex change and I'd promise to live under my own backward, obsolete and slavist religious laws as a woman, so at least I'd know what I'm saying when I decide to stone women or whip them in public when they have the "gall" to simply want to exist as human beings.

If I were the CEO of Haliburton, I'd discover my destiny is that of a born-again ecologist, and I'd stop all my attempts to pollute the world even more than it is now. I'd also swear to stop doing everything I can for my own immediate profit no matter what the price, and I'd finance all the research to master renewable energy sources. Oh, and I'd also reveal all the projects my company and all the other oil companies of the world have hidden away in their closets for years because they might just dwindle our gigantic profits.

If I were a honest-to-god capitalist, complete with my full set of stocks, I'd burn said stocks in the hearth, and swear I'd pay my taxes so that social rights can be assured and granted with equity for all the workers of the world. I'd stop thirsting after my own immediate profit, and care more about the people enslaved whose suffering and gruesome work conditions are the source of my end-of-year bonus.

If I were Vladimir Poutine, I'd hire all the diplomats available to get me out of all the bloody messes I've let myself get swamped into over the years, be they in Chechnya or elsewhere.

If I were the China authorities...I'd just go drown myself in the ravaged rivers devoured by deadly pollution that I've created by my own irresponsible management. I'd also call back all the settlers I forcefully sent to Tibet, and I'd release Tibet to its people, and I'd beg the forgiveness of those I tortured and hunted, and tried to eradicate when they hadn't ever done me any wrong. I'd also be so ashamed to still have the label "communist" when all I do is help the great Western international companies to enslave my own people and to make huge profit out of the blood and sweat of my people (provided I get a small percentage of the profit generated by each, of course), that I'd bar it from whatever label I'd choose for my political party. I'd also come public with that and promise that I'd never have the gall to call China a "People's Republic" again, but that I'd call it what it is: "Slave and Profit Reserve for the Western Fools Who Thus Precipitate their Own Demise, and Incidentally for the new Rich Class Emerging Here".

If I were the Japanese authorities, I'd promise I'd stop with the stupid visits to Yakiniku shrine. And I'd also promise I'll never step away from Japan's peaceful constitution, and that I'd never, ever forget the atrocities of the bomb or allow Japan to fall into the direction of making such a bomb.

I could go on like this for quite a while, but then I'm sure you can also make your own list.

As for me, I fear I intend to be as bad, if not worse, than I was last year.

I won't watch less anime.

I won't read less manga.

I won't watch less TV series.

I won't read less Fantasy or SF.

I won't stop writing.

I won't stop being a pain in the ass of some people.

I won't stop watching the world with my eyes wide open, and barbered words ready.

I won't stop loving Saint Seiya.

I won't stop keeping an eye out for the dangers of all religions that want to meddle in my life and in things that are outside of their domain, notably the laws that regulate a citizen's everyday life.

I won't stop believing that even the little things you do, however small, matter.

I won't stop believing that what we do, who we are and what we say matters.

I won't stop believing we can make a difference.

I won't stop believing we're not alone in this vast universe.

I won't stop eating extra-dark chocolate.

I won't stop RPGing.

I won't stop being a brat and behaving like a kid, no matter how old I get.

All in all, I won't stop being myself.

Happy New Year! ^^