Monday, May 12, 2008

Saint Seiya - Elysion Hen: Falling Toward Apotheosis

Today is May 12th, 2008. At the sluggish rate of two episodes every two months, the OVAs of Saint Seiya – The Hades, Elysion Hen are coming out in Japan. In fact, the first two episodes were released around the beginning of March, two months ago.

If you can count on your fingers, you already have guessed that this post is being written more or less at the time when episode 3 and 4 are released. Why the wait? Why not jump on episode 1 and 2 and post some overenthusiastic, fangirl-ish review the way I almost always do? Well, I don’t know, really. But I can venture educated guesses, if you’re curious: the first two OVAs adapt parts of the manga I’m not exactly keenly interested in. Oh, and the Toei didn’t find it in its greedy oversized banking account even if a tiny, tiny little bit of money to reinforce the staff, give a bit more budget so that there can be actual animation in these episodes. Dynamism, flow, action. Rhythm.

Ah well, so much for miracles. The old, white-bearded guy above mustn’t be listening. Either that, or he’s on strike again, unless of course he never existed outside of the collective imagination of the believers.

So, if this is such a disappointment and all, why this message? Well, because it’s not “such a disappointment and all”. Despite numerous awful reviews, raving, frothing at the mouth bashing, Saint Seiya is still there. When I got the news that the HQ Raws were out and that my partner had the translation ready for re-reading and adaptation, I sighed, and told myself, “all right, I’ve been doing this since the Meikai-hen’s first episode, I’ll see it through to its end.” Then I sat down and watched episodes 3 and 4.

And I loved them.

The animation is as poor as before. The direction lacks any kind of creativity, the anime is full of cheap effects, glaringly obvious tricks used to try and mask the fact that there is no animation at all. And the good news is: it doesn’t matter. It’s Saint Seiya. Shingo Araki and Michi Himeno are there. The fantastic music pieces of Seiji Yokohama are there, and the selection made by the staff is masterful. The fixed plans are gorgeous beyond words. A simple static scene of Seika sitting in the little store of Rodorio, all sepia-colored, is enough to set the atmosphere.

The colors of the Earth, the grey of stones and temples, the steel blue of the sea above Cape Sounio as Julian Solo touches souls with Poseidon once more, the look in Sorento’s eyes when he gives one last look back before following his friend and liege lord back to the mundane world… The slowly darkening day as the eclipse nears completion. The fields of flowers strewing Elysion’s plains, the fragile blades of grass crushed under the sprawled bodies of the fallen Bronze Saints. The glint in Thanatos’ eyes, and the little twist in his ever-present sneer. And an echo, from beyond the ends of the world.

A note of music, a call. The yearning cry of the Gold Cloths, trapped on the other side of the abyss setting Elysion apart from all the worlds. The touch of a soul, the willing surrender of self of Julian Solo, a few precious heartbeats which are enough to send a last, desperate gift to those who are lost at the far end of the Lethe river.

Don’t expect a magnificent animation when the gold Cloths come, you won’t get it. But what you’ll get, is a few precious moments, absent from the manga: just the time for the Bronze boys to unleash an attack, supported by the Gold Cloths they wear. And that, oh, that, is animated. And it’s a Shun fangirl’s dream come true!

The story follows the manga as closely as it has since the Meikai-hen’s first episode. There is no further surprise, but still, somehow the magic operates. The spell envelops those who watch, and who have held on to what they felt, all those years ago, when they discovered what remains to them the most fantastic series ever made. I do not claim any kind of objectivity. I do not claim any kind of knowledge or expertise allowing me to pass judgment, or deliver a verdict on what I saw. On the opposite. I am a fangirl, I’ve been for the past 20 years. And don’t worry, I manage.

For a moment, I wondered whether I shouldn’t rather be ranting and spitting on the episodes I saw. Then, the moment passed. I’ve never watched Saint Seiya for the quality of the animation, for the direction, or for the prowess of the writing. When those assets were there, as they were in the Hades – Sanctuary chapter, or in the Tenkai-hen movie, I embraced them as a bonus that added even more joy to the viewing experience, no more. No less.

This is Saint Seiya.

I love this title, without condition, without reservation. I enjoy every bit of it. My heart beats in synch with the music. I shiver. I feel moisture in my eyes. Echoes of the melodies haunt my mind. A bittersweet feeling rises within me, and sweeps everything else aside. A strange, eerie time machine that does the trick every time, and brings me back 20 years. Saint Seiya, I love you, indeed. In spite of flaws, of poor animation, of poor direction, of lack of creativity. In spite of everything.

I watch those episodes, and fling my rational self to the side. Fling the critics my brain comes up with aside. I don’t give a damn about all that. I keep on loving this series, against gales and harsh tides, against all the learned opinions that tell me I should avert my eyes. I really, really don’t give a damn. And you know what?

I find my continued enthusiasm, my stubborn love for this series to be a very reassuring thing.

Two episodes left, and then it will all be done. But one thing is for sure: ending or not, I will not say goodbye to all those fantastic characters or to that universe. They’re in my heart, in my soul. In my dreams. And they’re not leaving.


You can find this review, with some very nice pics taken from episodes 3 and 4 in my web home's Saint Seiya section : here.