This has been a weird ride in more ways than one. Back when we did not know what kind of hell was breaking loose in Wuhan, I went to Paris for a couple of concerts with the idea of coming back in a few week’s time. Instead of that, Covid turned the world upside down. Four postponements later, and a stupid amount of money I am not even going to calculate, I finally set off to Paris, France, once more, to watch the Saint Seiya Symphonic Adventure. The concert that was supposed to happen on the 18th of April, 2020 finally took place on the 14th of May, 2022, and the promoter handled the postponements pretty badly, which led to a lot of people returning their tickets at some point.
Corny and problematic as it may be, Saint Seiya [聖闘士星矢] was my favourite anime as a child – it was exciting and my parents heavily disapproved of it, the perfect mixture for a pre-teen finding their place in the world. In December 2019, I do not even remember how, I came across the information about the event, described as a fully-immersive live-to-picture symphonic concert with the music from pop-culture […] synchronized to cutting edge video screen, lighting and special sound effects. Similarly to the recent Final Fantasy Remake concert, the idea is an orchestra concert with the original singers for some of the musical pieces, along with projections of the original cartoon. Overlook announced an afternoon and an evening concerts. However, by the time I found out that the event had been planned, tickets had been on sale for a while. I managed to get a fairly decent ticket for the afternoon concert, but and a very bad one for the evening concert as part of Christmas sales (which meant I got both tickets for the price of the normal “good” afternoon ticket). At the time, I was ecstatic, as you may guess, though a tiny bit bummed I had not learnt about the whole thing in time to get some VIP tickets.
Enter Covid-19. One postponement led to another, and then another. At some point in late summer 2021 I entered the ticket page for something, and I could not believe my eyes – someone had returned one of the second-tier VIP tickets, and… I got that one. I seriously could not believe it. One of twelve (with the name of one of twelve characters of the show), it came with goodies, access to the rehearsal, and the autograph session after the show. So I now had a good ticket and a fantastic ticket!
Then the event got postponed again, barely three weeks before. I was… miffed. Eventually though, the promoter got in touch with me and I was assigned a character, I bought plane tickets (again), booked a hotel (again – in this case I booked two, one at the airport and one near the theatre), and… held my breath.
When the Japanese singers arrived in Paris, I realised that it was finally happening. And thus, I booked my airport parking ticket and… held my breath again. Iberia’s check in gave me trouble, but I eventually managed to get my boarding pass (I could check in on the webpage, but only get my boarding pass from the app), and fill in the passenger form to get into France.
The plane left late on Friday evening, and it was a long weekend in Madrid, so I left with time – a lot of time. I learnt two things: one, my planning skills are awesome, and two, my car has run out of air-con gas, as I got caught in a bad traffic jam, and yet somehow I arrived within five minutes of my expected entrance time. The flight to Paris was stupidly uneventful and I was surprised at how nicely the security personnel actually behaved.
Upon arriving in Charles de Gaulle I walked out of the plane into the bus and then to the terminal. There was no kind of health check whatsoever, so I could just walk up to my hotel, which was strangely bustling for it being near midnight.
14th May 2022: Paris & Grand Rex
The organisers had sent me an email that I had to be at the Grand Rex theatre at 10 a.m. in order to pick up my goodie bag. It turned out that the email was wrong, and I was not to be there till 11 a.m. The Grand Rex is an art decó building which, like a bunch of things I saw, was under renovation.
Throughout all the waiting for the different sessions I took a few strolls around the area of Grand Boulevards after dropping off my luggage at the hotel. I ambled round and saw two smallish triumph arcs – Porte Saint-Denis and Porte Saint-Martin.
Also around the area are Mairie du 10e arrondissement, a Renaissance Revival public building, Église Saint-Laurent (Church of Saint Lawrence), a gothic chapel which was also under reconstruction, Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Saint-Vincent de Paul Catholic Church). A bit further away stands Gare de l’Est, one of the six large stations in Paris.
At 11 a.m. I finally got into the Grand Rex to watch the rehearsal, which lasted about an hour. I had been lucky to find a staff member who spoke English as I was apparently the only non-French-speaker in the VIP group, and he told me that the artists would come to say hello after the rehearsal. He added that as everything would be French and Japanese I’d be lost. I replied that I had better Japanese than French anyway. After the rehearsal we got to wave hello to the two Japanese special guests – popster Nob and soprano Kazuko Ishikawa.
The staff member was very proud to point out the “Spanish person who had come from Spain” to the Japanese staff. Nob said “gracias” to which I replied in Japanese – the standard “we are looking forward to the act today”, which I guess threw everybody off a little, and got me an also standard “nihongo joozu” (you are good at Japanese” that the Japanese tell you when you’ve thrown the curveball of talking to them in their language. At this point, I became noticed.
I left the theatre for a while and came back for the first concert, which started late. The venue was rather empty, and during the break a bunch of people tried to parachute into better seats. I saw some other VIPs who had gotten a complimentary seat. As the lights went out the only thing that went through my head was “I can’t believe this is finally happening” again and again and again.
But it was happening. The recital was divided in two acts – the first one aligned with the first arc of the anime, and the second with arcs two and three, what is call the “classical anime” as the final act was not animated up until a couple of decades later.
The Galaxian Wars
Hyoga and Crystal Saint
Silver and Gold Saints
Zodiac Temples Part I
Zodiac Temples Part II
Victory of the Heroes
Saint Sinwa ~Soldier Dream
The Seven God Warriors
The Fury of Asgard
The Odin Sapphires
ENCORE: Pegasus Fantasy
Bluntly put, I loved it, but mostly because of nostalgia. The first one was better than the second, but there were issues with the sound, and the microphones, and at times the orchestra complete swallowed the vocals. The conductor was hilariously into it, bouncing in his platform. The harp was fantastic, and the soprano spectacular. NoB, the pop singer… is showing his age, but did a decent job of getting the audience hyped-up.
Another of the guests was the voice actor who played the main character in the original French anime version, and boy did he bring down the walls. People absolutely loved him. To be honest, I was rather surprised at the audience’s attitude towards the whole thing, with clapping and yelling and – among everything – parachuting to better seats. I wonder whether this last thing is usual or just due to the stalls being rather empty (after all there was “free seating” in the first-floor paradise).
I went to the hotel between the first and second concert to retrieve my things and get some rest, but eventually I got back to the theatre. There were more people this time around, and my seat was undoubtedly better. It was there when I got “adopted” by the high-class VIPs, who had been very amused at my having been “lost” and then surprised at the fact that yes, I could speak some Japanese. Thanks to them I found my way to the signing session and got my programme signed by both NoB and Kazuko Kawashima. I did trip over my Japanese there, but I should have known I don’t do well trying to learn new words just before post-concert signing sessions.
15th May 2022: Angels, Unicorns and Organ Music
I checked in early in the morning and I fought the Paris Metro system to a) find an entrance where I could buy tickets and b) make the machine work so I could buy those tickets. My first destination was the largest cemetery in Paris – Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. This early 19th century cemetery holds the remains of personalities such as Oscar Wilde, whose grave is protected by a glass wall as it became a fad to put lipstick on and kiss it, which was damaging it; the grave looks like a Babylonian bull or angel. Another grave I wanted to visit was that for Jean-François Champollion – the man who discovered the Rosetta stone, whose tomb looks like an obelisk. And after some wrong turns I also found Frédéric Chopin (minus his preserved heart, which was taken to Poland); this tomb features Euterpe, the muse of music, crying over a broken lyre.
The cemetery was not as well laid-out as I had hoped so after a while wandering around I decided to move on. On Friday I had read that the museum of Medieval History and the old Therms of Paris had been reopened after a long closure. Thus, I decided to skip looking for more “celebrity graves” and headed towards central Paris. The Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge is built in a 1485 “town house” (more like a palace though, usually called a château) that was erected right on the the old Roman Baths that date the city of Paris back into the Roman period. Today it has been refurbished and holds artefacts and artworks from the Upper and Lower Middle Ages that have been brought from over different churches, including Notre Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle.
The most important piece in the museum is a collection of six tapestries, called “The Lady and the Unicorn”, dated from the late 15th / early 16th century. Five of them represent the sentences, and the sixth is a mystery (theories include “love” and “free will” – I’m a fan of the latter). They all feature the same medieval dame in a red background, accompanied by a golden lion and a white unicorn, and they are marvellous.
A piece of art in its own right is the chapel of the town house. It was built around the same time of the house in the Flamboyant Gothic style. It contrast with the stark outside of the house, with its sever walls.
I still had some time, so I decided to head over to the church Église de la Madeleine, a catholic church that looks like a classical temple (believe it or not to hail the Napoleonic army). It is built in the Neoclassical style, and it is enormous. However, it was also being renovated, so the outside was covered in hideous publicity panels.
Finally, I went back to the hotel to pick up my things and walked back to the station – I did not want to carry my luggage around because I worried it would damage the posters I had got at the concert. I actually arrived and left from different airports, so I had to head to Orly this time. However, RER B joins both airports, so the closest station for arrival, Châtelet–Les Halles, was also the closest to leave. Upon coming out on Saturday I had caught eye of a small gothic church, and as I walked past this time I noticed that there was an open door and people went in and out. It was the church of St. Eustache, Église Saint-Eustache. The structure is Flamboyant Gothic, and the decorations are Renaissance and classical. It has one of the largest organs in France, and I was lucky enough that it was being played when I was there. It felt pretty magical, to be honest.
Afterwards, I hopped onto the train and headed for the airport. I got there earlier than expected, too, as I had planned according to some traffic restrictions that did not happen in the end. I debated some food, but everything was so expensive! The return flight was plagued with turbulence, and I got home exhausted and with a migraine, but it was well worth it! Also, travelling through Covid-19 was… weird. While I kept my facemask on most of the time, including the plane rides, the concerts, and whenever I was inside, most people would not – even the still-compulsory places. I was also happy to skip the “health checks” because I swear, the way I was feeling after landing, I don’t know if I had been running a temperature, and that would have been… awkward.