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.

Random Chat #2

Here is the latest in the mayhem of thoughts that’s my head:

-I had planned to write a lengthy entry on why I liked The Last Jedi, why is a good way to break with the fan pandering and a possible reason of why the detractors hated it -which reminds me of the vitriol spewed online after the prequels. But so much has been written that I would hardly add anything meaningful to the conversation. I will just say that this is not a movie for my generation but a Star Wars for the new one and that the thing that weighs heavily in fans minds is that is a movie that, for us that grew up with Luke Skywalker, confronts is with our mortality and with what legacy we are leaving behind. I suspect that some detractors are having troubles to come to terms with that.

-I got a new rejection, this time for a short story that mixes alternate history and fantasy. I did get a personalised letter explaining what they liked and what not. I resubmitted it to another market.

-I just finished two fantasy stories and I’m working on finishing a science fiction one, this later for an indie publisher planning to release its second anthology. My story has dogs, so you know it will be awesome.

-I’m also working on a horror story aimed to be submitted to a SFWA market before the end of the year.

-There is no current movie me and my wife wanna see this month. We will wait till Black Panther.

-Talking about movies, ‘The Greatest Showman’ is a pretty good musical with a strong cast and good songs. But to enjoy it you have to forget for 105 min what a piece of shit was the real P.T. Barnum and how he mistreated animals (which by the way in the movie are all CGI.

-If I have to recommend a series to binge watch on Netflix is Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. It’s highly addictive and has it all: action, mystery, intrigue, great world building, main characters that fight with their smarts as much as with the fists, secondary and tertiary characters with defined history and a plot where everyone collaborated to save the day. Everyone. And what’s more important and an oddity these days: an ending that feels entirely earned and justified.

-I really need to start writing my novel’s sequel or it will take another decade. G.R.R. Martin I’m not. Sadly something called da job tends to mess with said plan. Bills have to be paid and I’m not a famous author to live from it. J.K. Rowling I’m not.

-My wife got me several action figures I was looking for as Christmas presents. She knows me so well and I love her so much. And this Turtle additional expression is perfect to portray my usual mood with life:

Life is a tower of jenga. It tends to collapse on you. And you have to start anew. You are allowed to yell.

Vancouver

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Gastown by night.

Coming back to the blog, after the holidays, I thought in talking about my most recent travel. A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, my wife and I spent a whole week at Vancouver. It was our second wedding anniversary (we celebrated the first going to Disneyworld, I might talk about it in a later post). When we got married one of our personal vows was trying to travel as much as possible since my wife had never traveled abroad before that, while I have been lucky to visit my decent share of countries. In this case, we chose Vancouver with the hopes of seeing snow but not freeze to death like in Toronto. Originally we planned to go and watch the Northern Lights, but it was way out of our budget (the Mexican peso being what it is, means that we have to save a lot for these trips).

Vancouver didn’t disappoint. It has to be one of the best trips I’ve had (alongside Disneyworld). Even with the cold and rainy days. Good thing that our hometown has similar weather at certain times of the year.

The city is beautiful, peaceful and very friendly. Especially for photography aficionados such as my wife that took pictures of anything and everything. If you want to see better pics of the trip, visit my wife’s Instagram, she will be uploading them in the forthcoming days. The ones you see here are the ones I took (and I’m still learning to use a DSLR camera).

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My wife, photographer extraordinaire.

 

Aside the sushi, we had the opportunity to taste a wide range of food: poutine, Greek pitas, taco bowls -one of them at a great restaurant at Granville Market, ‘La Tortilleria’, founded and supervised by a Mexican lady from Michoacán- massive bowls of ramen near Chinatown, fresh salmon with cheese… But the best one by far was the Korean Barbecue. I don’t think I have eaten that much besides Christmas’ dinner. If you find yourself in Downtown Vancouver be sure to go to Shabusen Yakiniku House, there might be a bit of w wait to sit and enjoy the food, but the wait is worthwhile when there is the ‘All you can eat’ menu.

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Delicious Food!!!

One of the best things about traveling with my wife -opposed to alone as I used to do- is that she has this friendly aura around her that makes not only the trip an enjoyable experience but also allows us to meet interesting people. There were several occasions when, while we were eating in a crowded market or waiting for transport, people approached us to talk: a retired man was waiting for his wife telling us his life history, a fellow Mexican traveling back to Mexico for the first time in years or a fellow photographer who shared tips with my wife -the photographer of the family-. With my wife around there is never a dull moment during a trip.

We visited several -one would say obligated- spots that kept our days -and nights- busy. While we didn’t see much in terms of a nightlife, given that it was Christmas time and night fell around 4:00 pm, Vancouver still offers plenty of places to see:

Granville Market: diverse food, diverse shops and a two-story toy market, where my wife and I bought a couple of board games. Be sure to visit ‘La Tortillería’ for real Mexican flavor.

Vancouver Christmas Market: near Canada Place, this is a traditional European-style market with food, wooden Christmas decoration, and warm vine. They offer the option of a return pass that allows you to come back several times for a single payment.

Museum of Anthropology: deep inside the University of British Columbia, lies one of the most eye-catching collections of totems and First Nations art. The tour guide that gave us the explanation of the place opened my eyes to the rich culture of the First Nations. I will be sure to research more about them in the next days. Just a caution note, be sure to be on time to catch the bus back to Downtown. During holidays the campus is empty and there are no other means of transportation back (the walk back is too long to do it after dusk).

Gastown/Chinatown/Downtown Vancouver: the main place to visit for the historical side of Vancouver, with a wide range of restaurants, souvenir shops -try the maple cookies, they are addictive- all in a relatively small area to walk around.

Golden Age Comics: if you are a comic book/manga/toy collector like me and my wife, this is the place to go. Wide selection of books, board games, t-shirts, Japanese figures and everything the geek needs.

Flyover Canada: it’s a nice 4XD ride, similar to the Soaring at Epcot Center, but focused only on Canada and it’s natural beauties. During Christmas time they add a bit, visiting Santa’s workshop. It is a cool ride, but really short for the size of the queue and kinda expensive the overall cost.

Capilano Suspension Bridge: if you are more nature persuasion but don’t want to travel far from the city, you should go to the north and visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It’s cozy, you can breathe clean air and during Christmas time it is decorated with lights. It is one of the most romantic places we visited.

Vancouver Aquarium: inside Stanley Park and not far from the Totem Poles, the Aquarium is a beautiful collection of fauna from British Columbia. Otters, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins and the occasional wandering raven among others make for a wonderful family time.

If you are of a photographer inclination, I would recommend you to take this Night Photography tour. Suzanne, the instructor was amicable, patient and fun, teaching us a few tricks of night photography. It will be worth your time and money.

The visit to the city -and the MoA in particular- inspired me to revisit some parts of the Tempest Blades world building, particularly the map, a few cities and the inner works of the freefolk people. The First Nations cultures and the meaning of the totems part were really inspiring.

In the last day, Vancouver didn’t disappoint. It bid us farewell with snowfall all the way back to the airport. This was one of the items on the bucket list of my wife, so in that regard we can say: mission accomplished. This is a trip my wife and I found so wonderful that we wish to return to Vancouver.

 

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Happy travellers.