The one where I talk about Saint Seiya, the problem with the Gold Saints and my own novel setting issue.

Whoah, that was a really looooong title.

*Warning: spoilers for a 30-year-old anime show… and my own novel.*

If you were a kid from Mexico in the early 90s’, odds are that you woke up early every Saturday to watch the legendary anime “Los Caballeros del Zodiaco”, the original name “Saint Seiya” (for the purists) and known in the US as “Knights of the Zodiac” after a bastardized adaptation. And odds are that if you are Mexican kid that grew up in the early 90s’, is that Saint Seiya is your favorite anime -or one of them-.

Me? I’m a fan, not a big fan as some of my close friends (one of them even has every single figure released since the heyday of the show), but I would lie if I say I’m not a fan. The concept is pretty simple (the video below gives a remastered, succinct explanation for the visually inclined): every 300 years, ancient gods return in the shape of avatars to take over the world, so Athena (yes, that one), reincarnates in a human body**, calls forth her Saints or Knights, who wearing special armors inspired by the 88 western constellations, will face these gods -Poseidon, Hades- to protect humanity. The Saints are divided into the humble Bronze, the flashy Silver, and the godlike 12 Gold Saints -that follow the Western Zodiac-. However, this time, something went wrong, Athena and a few of her ‘weaker’*** saints are in the run of the most powerful ones and have to face them in a grueling marathon to uncover the truth, the traitor and fix everything before Poseidon, Hades and their armies return.

The show has a favorite character for everyone, especially if your zodiac sign had a cool representative among the Golden Saints, the top of the cream of warriors in the show. Really 10 out of 12 signs had a great character representing it-unless you are a Cancer or a Pisces, then I’m sorry your respective saints suck big time-. My wife has Shaka, Virgo Saint, the closest man to God and basically a buddha* with the power to traverse every single hell and heaven from anywhere. And is more dangerous when he actually opens his eyes.

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Mine, is this man:

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Dokho, Saint of Libra, custodian of the 12 sacred weapons of Athena, watcher of the Rozan peaks where the specters of Hades are trapped, having lived for 243 years and trained an old incarnation of the Pegasus Saint and the current Dragon Saint, Shiryu (my other favorite character). Dokho, who is the Yoda of the show that -spoiler- when the time comes and things get dire near the end, returns through a special technique to his peak form, that looks like this:

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The shortest, hot-tempered, goofball Gold Saint ready to take names and kick ass. In this form he is… well, the Obi-Wan of the show, even to the other Gold Saints. And even if he looks like a hyperactive teenager (which he technically still is).

But I digress… the show is entertaining -if a bit repetitive as older anime usually is-. The music is superb (think a rock group playing with an orchestra waaay before Metallica did it). And you grow fond of the characters -unlike they are Pisces and Cancer, seriously, they need a better PR spokesperson-. And I really enjoy it, to the point that I’m addicted to the new mobile game. But there is an issue here… I get that Seiya, the Pegasus Saint and titular character, and friends are the main heroes. And the show is about their growth into heroes. But the thing that most of my friends and I agree is that as much as the show sells you the idea of the Gold Saints being these beastly, godlike beings capable of facing gods when they show up in the show… they barely actually show up.

Yeah, I have the same expression as you, Dohko.

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Don’t get me wrong, some of the battles between the 5 Bronze Saints -Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyoga, Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki- and the Gold Saints are nail bitters, especially those between Ikki and Shaka, Hyoga and his master Aquarius Camus, Shiryu vs Cancer Deathmask**** and Capricorn Shura, and the last stand of Seiya against the evil side of Geminis Saga before Athena dies -look, it’s really complicated to explain-. But the rest are… a mixed bag. Aries Mu is an ally of the heroes. Taurus Aldebaran is convinced by the heroes that they are right, Dohko is busy being a Yoda, till Hades returns in Season 3. Scorpio Milo gives a good fight but he is a good guy and changes his mind and Pisces… he is so damn annoying and his fight with Shun really drags on. Aiolia Leo is being brainwashed by the main bad guy so he has to be freed from his control and Saggitarius Aiolos has been dead for 13 years. And when the Poseidon Chapter comes, nothing happens with them. The Hades chapter was meant to redeem them, but it only worked for Dohko and Kannon, the evil twin of Geminis Saga that now is the good twin -that family has ISSUES-. Then came Soul of Gold that tried to redeem them but the animation did them no favor at all. And Lost Canvas, which is not canon, did use well ALL the Gold Saints, but they were from a previous incarnation, taking place in 1743 and the only known character there is Dokho who is kinda a rookie then (this Obi-Wan in Episode I).

And here is the thing that bothers me: they are not that awe-inspiring when they appear, aside Saga whose power set is broken (which makes him a good villain).  I get that the animation techniques back then (the series started in the 80s’ even if it arrived at this side of the world in the 90s’) didn’t allow for much spectacle and thus the powers seem subsided, reduced. But when I was a kid I remember dreading the day the 5 Bros were about to face the Gold Saints because of the show’ propensity to sell you the idea that the later were nigh impossible to defeat. That their powers were earth-shattering -literally in the case of Capricorn-. But when the fights came about, they were not that different from the main 5. Which led to a sense of power escalation in later seasons -as many shonen***** anime do- that never allowed the Gold Saints to show their prowess against feared rivals like Poseidon’s Marines or Hades’ Specters. They were punked.

Which leaves me a sour taste in the mouth, because the Gold Saints should be downright terrifying. The kind of guys that inspire myths because what they can do is off the charts: create tears into the space-time continuum, freeze things to atomic level reaching absolute zero (the show plays fast and loose with physic laws), cut through the Earth itself, move at the speed of light, send your soul to the Underworld, crash a planet on your head… you get the idea.  They are the stuff of nightmares, even if they are, for most of the part, the good guys.

Rather, they are not so spectacular.

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Yes, it’s kinda sad, kinda amusing, Dohko.

This is a particular issue of concern for me while I work in the sequel of Tempest Blades. Fionn -and really, any of the Gifted- is known as a powerful warrior whose abilities are way beyond the ken of mortal men. But due to the peculiarities of the villain in the first book, he had to fight with a literal hand tied to his back. Same for Gaby and Alex. Now, for the sequel, they have free reign, more training, and more experience under their belts to show off all that they can do. However, I know the risk of power escalation, which can destroy the suspension of disbelief within the setting, making the Marty/Mary Sues, if I just give them more power. That’s a serious problem.

So that left me thinking…

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The solution is already set in the first book. In the POV of the only regular character of my cast: Harland. And others like him.

I don’t need to increase their powers. There is no need because they are already that powerful. What I need is to show how the powers they have, without the restrictions, posed by the plot of the first book, look to others from the outside. Namely, for Alex, manipulating energy might seem normal after 10 years. But for Harland, who is a regular human, it might be downright scary. And what about when Fionn truly let go. So far he has barely shown his full potential, for fear of collateral damage. But if the restriction is lifted… Gaby… well, you will see. That’s why in the new book I’m introducing a couple of characters that will give the perspective of how is like to watch a Gifted with a Tempest Blade in hand, going full out. Because while for my main cast, Harland aside, doing what they do is part of their daily lives, for the people watching from the sidelines, what they do, is the stuff of nightmares. Even if they are the good guys.

I just hope Athena can guide me to make it work.

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*Well, not basically a buddha, he is actually a reincarnation of Buddha.
**She is like the Christ-like figure of the story. Seriously, Saint Seiya is a hot podge of myths, religions and everything between, but seen through the greek mythology glasses and anime tropes.
***Weaker, sort to speak. While the 5 main characters: Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyoga, Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki are Bronze Saints and thus the lower step of the stair, they -in very shonen fashion- grow to be more than a match for the Gold Saints and assorted deities.
****No, really, that’s his birth name. Kurumada has the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
*****Shonen is anime aimed for male audiences, think Dragon Ball.

A review: Your Name

Reviewing this movie, without spoiling it is hard, because of the mix of elements it has. So there is no way around.  Read only if you don’t mind SPOILERS.

Your name. The title doesn’t evocate much, but beneath it, there is one of the best time travel stories I’ve seen in many years. It is also an alternate history story, but one that works on the departure point rather than the future consequences of that. All thanks to the powers of a comet and a Shinto deity. It is also a story about changing fate for love (to your special one, to your friends, to your estranged family) and what connects people. But you learn all of that halfway through the movie in such heart-wrenching way that makes you cry.

The first half of the movie is an anime take on body swapping. A provincial girl, Mitsuha, who is a Shinto maiden, yearns to get away from her small village and her politician father. she finds out that every other day she trades bodies with a boy from Tokyo, Taki, who works as a waiter, is in love with the restaurant hostess -a nice person by the way- and dreams of becoming an architect. Only the Mitsuha’s grandma and sister realize what’s happening. Most movies would dwell in the hijinks of the trade, but not this one. Here, both characters soon realize what is happening and create plans so a to don’t disrupt their lives, leaving notes and journal entries in each other’s phones and basically trying to help each other through their weird experience and also improve each other’s lives. Soon they start to grow fond of each other, to the point they become in love and just when they realize it, an overbearing sense of sadness overcomes them and soon the exchanges stop happening. Taki, helped by best friend and his former romantic interest, the hostess, goes on a quest to find the town and the girl that has conquered his heart and they find it…

… obliterated by a comet’s fragment that crashed in the town three years before, killing everybody. This is where the story goes straight into alternate history and fantasy. Even if it feels a bit Deux ex Machina (there is a subtle but logical divine intervention for the rest of the plot to work), the story is cohesive. Soon everybody starts forgetting about the girl, but Taki fights back and with the help of the Shinto god of the temple where Mitsuha’s worked, a god of time and connection, travels back to her body in an attempt to convince the town to evacuate before they are killed by the natural phenomenon. Even if that leads Mitsuha’s friends to commit criminal acts and her father to dismiss her as crazy. During the golden hour, both souls exchange bodies again and see each other, finally meeting in person. But before they can exchange names (hence the title of the movie) she disappears. The town is still destroyed and Taki forgets about her. It is devastating. But you are treated with a ‘what happened after’ and you find if Taki’s efforts saved the town. You get a happy ending, but you have to work for it.

There is no way my brief description does justice to the movie. It is something you have to experience fo yourself. The message is clear, you can fight destiny, moreover if time is not as linear as we think it is, but you need a good reason to do so. Love and the desire to save others are powerful motivations. The closest referent I have for those that are not anime fans, in terms of similar feelings is “Somewhere in Time”, but with a happier ending. Hearts will find each other in time, against any obstacle, being an erased memory or a cataclysmic event.

Music wise, the main theme is beautiful, one of the best I’ve heard in years, and the animation is flawless, combining 3D rendered landscapes with traditional animation in a way I have not seen before. And the sequence following the broken comet’s fall is breathtaking.

The movie, I dare to say, is perfect. I can’t recommend it enough. You have to see it to believe it.

Watch it if: you enjoy good slice of life stories, character driven stories, romantic plots and Japanese mythology.

Don’t watch it if: if you don’t like anime or time travel stories where there is no science behind.

Grade: 6 out of 5.

Desirability: I will put it this way, since we watched it, my wife and I have been looking for the blu-ray. I loved it, my wife doesn’t have words for how much she enjoyed it.

A review: A Silent Voice

My wife and I just recently watched a beautiful anime movie about human connection and compassion. Here is what I thought.

 

Now that ’13 reasons why’ has put the issues of bullying and suicide on the debate table (whether it does it correctly or a total mess of it, that’s matter for another blog post), I think it is fair to talk about this movie that might be dismissed at first hand but actually does a superb job talking about bullying, redemption, special needs and depression.

The basic story is this: Shoya is a bullied, solitary teenager getting ready to kill himself, paying debts and closing circles. Once he is ready to jump off a bridge, he stops and returns home, where his mother coaxes him into being alive. And thus starts his redemption story. You see, Shoya was a bully himself, and a mean one to that. The object of his bullying was a deaf girl when they were kids. He bullied her for being different so much that he got his school into troubles and in turn becomes the scapegoat and bullied by others for the following five years, losing all his friends and interest in human contact.

Since then he has lived with the regret of his actions, to the point he thinks that he is nothing but trash. However a chance meeting with Shoko, the deaf girl he bullied changed everything. He decides to live his life with the aim of making her happy (she has a sad family life too) as payment for his transgressions. They start to connect, trying to understand each other and forgive each other and in the process they heal their emotional wounds and meet new friends, in some cases even rekindling old friendships.

Most of the depression/ suicide tendencies that the main characters show come from the fact that they hate themselves more than others do and see themselves as a waste of space and the bullying they suffered as something they earned. It’s sounds fucked up, right? But the harsh truth is that many people undergoing depression feel exactly that. In this movie (especially those singled out for a dissability), it is through friendship as a support network, better communication and actually caring for other that the characters are able to overcome their demons and false sense of guilt and move on into a better life. 

The movie focuses more on the aftermath of the bullying and depression side of things, more on how the characters try to move on, but the story is constructed in a melancholic yet hopeful way. The story concludes with an open ending that has an upbeat tone to it. In no moment the film acts as exploitative or creates drama for the sake of drama (contrary to other anime) but it is a logical progression of acts-consequences and learning not only to own that but move from there. Even the characters you might dislike start to earn their redemption because they are fallible humans who also have needs and problems.

The music and the art are beautifully done, but the most striking scenes are those where we get inside Shoko’s head and her struggles to communicate. This is a film I will buy for my lectures on universal design and how disabilities should be understood.

The most important thing is that, while the movie summarizes 7 tomes of manga (which according to my wife does faithfully even if it downplays a bit the uglier parts of bullying), you can see the maturing process of the main cast and how that process helps others to heal their own emotional wounds.

It’s a story about understanding and empathy. It’s a story about learning to forgive yourself and forgive others. About learning to conduct meaningful human interactions in a world where feeling alone in the middle of a crowd is commonplace. But most important, it is a love story, but more than romantic love is a story about loving each other and loving yourself so you can live a life worth living. And that is a really powerful message

Watch it if: you are a fan of ‘slice of life’ anime and are interested in a well-done story about empathy/friendship and bullying/depression in a non-exploitative way.

Don’t watch it if: I can’t think of a reason to don’t watch it.

Grade: 5 out of 5.

Desirability: I will be buying the blu-ray when it comes out. One for my home and one for work.