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Monday, April 8, 2019

Tales of Vinoli Masterpost

All chapters of my on-going serial, Tales of Vinoli, gathered under one roof, for your convenience. Its my hope that you'll find it an enjoyable read.
Please note that some chapters contain material unsuitable for younger readers. Furthermore, keep in mind that this is a work in progress and that as my writing improves, I will go back and update old chapters.
My most sincere thanks for your interest and your attention.

Introduction

Short-story: The Fox and the Dragon

Excerpts

New: Chapter 34

Chapter 1






















Tuesday, July 24, 2018

My Favorite Animated Shows (2018 Edition)

Way back in 2015, I made a list of what I considered, at the time, to be my favorite animated shows; western cartoons and anime alike. Since then a lot has happened. Not only have I discovered plenty of new shows ("new" as in I hadn't seen them before, some of them are quite old) that are worthy to be included among my favorites, but I've also gone back and re-watched shows that I had not seen for many years. As such, I figured that it was high time that I updated my old list.  Before you jump ahead to check whether or not one of your favorite shows made it, there are a few things I need to inform you about:

First of all, unlike the previous list, this one does not rank the shows in order from best to, well, least best (there's no such thing as a worst entry on a list of favorites). Instead, I've chosen to list them in alphabetical order.
 I realize that this may take some of the fun out of things, since one of the main reasons as to why one would check out a list like this is due to curiosity as to where one's favorite show has placed and if its actually on the list at all. However, I prefer to do it this way. Besides, it will make it easier for me to add or remove shows, should I feel like it.

Furthermore, I've decided to limit myself to shows that have either finished airing or aren't currently airing new episodes.
Finally, if there's a show on here that you haven't seen, I hope that I have, in some way, made you interested in checking it out.
Well, enough of that. Let's get on to what you are all here for. Here we go:



3000 Leauges in Search of Mother 



With 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, or Haha wo Tasunete Sanzenri as its called in the original Japanese, the late Isao Takahata (who passed away earlier this year) took a single chapter, albeit a very long one, of the Italian children's novel Cuore and expanded it into a 52 episode long anime, the result was arguably the best example of so-called adaptation expansion ever seen. During the course of its run-time, 3000 League presents the viewer with very believable depictions of life in Italy and South America during the late 19th Century and makes us care for the characters and their plight. A true classic and a worthy show to start this list of with.


Ashita no Joe



I'm a huge fan of Osamu Dezaki and so, it should come as no surprise that he will be well represented on this list, with Ashita no Joe being the first show of his to appear. The oldest show on the list,  Ashita no Joe (or Tomorrow's Joe, if you prefer) is a legendary anime and for good reasons; following Yabuki Joe's career in the boxing-ring as well as his personal growth as a person is fascinating. Definitely an anime that deserves its iconic status. 

Ashita no Nadja



Out of the shows I re-watched before making this list, Ashita no Nadja is most certainly the one that improved the most in my estimation. Not that I didn't like it before, but this second viewing of the series really elevated it in my eyes. The story of Nadja and her quest to find her mother has the feeling of one of those books that you read at a certain point in your life and which then stays with you forever. Add a great cast of supporting characters (including a really memorable villainess/anti-heroine), most of whom gets fleshed out during the course of the story and you have one of the finest works that the Shoujo genre has produced.

Bojack Horseman



In my earlier post on Bojack Horseman I wrote that the visual design of the show was its weakest aspect and while its true that the show does not provide the eye-candy of some of the other entries on this list, I will say that the show's visuals have grown on me since and now, I honestly don't think I would want it to look any different. 
Aside from that Bojack is also one of those shows that surpassed my expectations and its always nice when that happens. I went into the show highly skeptical, expecting it to be just another adult cartoon (you know the type), but soon found myself watching a genuinely great dramedy, featuring an engaging cast of characters and several emotionally hard-hitting moments. With the fourth season wrapped up, Bojack Horseman has firmly established itself as one of my favorite western cartoons, as well as the best show to star a talking horse (sorry, Twilight). 

Dennou Coil


A great science-fiction series, Dennou Coil is also a rare example of an anime where the one-off episodes are more interesting and memorable than the ones that focus on the main plot. Not that the plot of Dennou Coil is bad, but its not what earns the show a spot on this list. No, what does are the episodes which was dedicated to exploring the setting and the technology invented for the series. Episodes such as the one in which the kids grow sentient beards or befriend a dinosaur-looking illegal were the most memorable ones the show has to offer and the ones that I, having recently re-watched the series for the first time in years, remembered the most vividly.

Future Boy Conan



In many ways, Future Boy Conan feels like a blue-print for Miyazaki's later work. Several character-types and themes appear in this series that will re-occur throughout the famed director's career. Of course, if that was the only thing Future Boy Conan had going for it, it wouldn't be on the list. No, Future Boy Conan is a great series in its own right and, even today stands as one of my favorite things Miyazaki has ever been involved in.

Gankutsuou



The best thing to come out of studio Gonzo. Gankutsuou is an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, that despite taking place in the future and incorporating giant robots and demonic possessions in the plot, still captured the spirit of Dumas' novel better than any other version I've seen. The Count himself is charismatic, manipulative and completely merciless in his quest for revenge, as he should be and while I didn't care much for his character, I do think the decision to make Albert the protagonist instead of Edmond was an interesting one, since it adds an aura of mystery and terror to the story: Just who is this guy who worms his way into the lives of these families? What is his deal? 
In some ways, Gankutsuou actually improves on Dumas' work. For example, I never found Franz d'Epinay all that interesting in the original novel, but here he soon became one of my favorite members of the cast. In short, Gankutsuo is easily one of my favorite adaptations of a literary classic in any medium.

Gargoyles




I grew up in the 90's and Disney-cartoons like Talespin and Darkwing Duck were definitely a huge part of my childhood. Gargoyles, however, was not. The Show never aired in Sweden and so, it wasn't until much later in life that I became aware of its existence. Better late than never though, as the saying goes. With its comparatively darker and serious plots and art-style, Gargoyles had more in common with shows like Batman: TAS at its best, than its peers. Definitely my favorite animated series to come out of Disney and the best thing Greg Weisman ever created.

Giant Gorg


I've watched my share of mecha anime in my days, including several installments of the Gundam franchise. That said, if I had to pick only one representative of the genre to be on the list, it would have to be Giant Gorg. Featuring a memorable cast of characters, some of which aren't what they seem to be, as well as a great sense of adventure and mystery, this is a show that I would recommend even to those who are not into stuff involving giant robots.

Kaiba



The first Masaaki Yuasa anime on this list. The first half of Kaiba calls to mind the classic children's book The Little Prince, with the main character travelling to various planets and encountering their inhabitants. Although, it should be pointed out that Kaiba features a lot more violence and sexually active characters than Saint-Exupéry's opus. Taking place in the distant future, in which memories can be bought and sold, Kaiba is a great science-fiction story and one of the best short anime I've seen.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes



This is the anime equivalent to something like War and Peace; a huge, sprawling epic with a cast that numbers in the hundreds. I don't know if I'll ever re-watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes, due to its massive length, but it is a show that I will always hold in immensely high regard. I'd go so far as to say that every anime-fan should watch it at least once.

The Long Long Holiday



A children's cartoon set during World War 2? That's not something you see every day, but that's exactly what the French cartoon Les Grandes Grandes Vacances, or The Long Long Holiday is. What's more, despite being for a children, the show does not pull its punches. It starts out fairly light, but as the characters become more involved with the local resistance and the Germans' grip on the village tighten, the show gradually takes on a darker, more serious tone. The final few episodes are among the most intense I have seen. Its not often that a cartoon has me concerned about the fate of its main characters, but The Long Long Holiday managed to do just that.

The Maxx


I've read the two volumes of the original Sam Keith comic that The Maxx is based on and why I enjoyed them a lot, this is one of the instances where I actually prefer the adaptation over the source material. Of course, the The Maxx cartoon is one of the most faithful adaptions of a comic-book I've seen, with only a few minor changes made to the story, such as replacing Erik Larsen's character Savage Dragon (a comic I've never read, incidentally) with a generic detective, or adding a new ending to wrap things up. With its treatment of serious themes, complex cast of characters and some of the best voice acting I've ever heard, The Maxx stands out as one of the most interesting western cartoons ever made. Of all the cartoons to come out of MTV in the 90's (though much like Gargoyles, I didn't watch it until much later), this is my favorite.
 
Mononoke & Mushi-Shi



That's right, I'm putting both these shows together. They are pretty much two sides of the same coin, with both of them starring an enigmatic character wandering the Japanese countryside, dealing with things beyond normal humans. Of course, there are several differences between them, such as their respective artstyles and Mushi-Shi having a calmer and more meditative feel to it, while Mononoke is more steeped in horror. Either way, both are great shows and definitely belong among my favorites.

Oniisama-E...



The first Osamu Dezaki adaptation of a Riyoko Ikeda manga on this list and although I have a slight preference for The Rose of Versailles, due to its more compelling main character and the fact that it takes place during a very interesting time in history, Oniisama E... (Dear Brother) certainly rivals the older show in terms of characterization and drama. I would also say that this is the best looking of all the shows Dezaki directed and considering how all his shows tend to look great, that's saying a lot.

Paranoia Agent



The body of work left behind by the late Satoshi Kon may have been small, but its quality can not be disputed. My personal favorite of Kon's work is Paranoia Agent, his only series. 
At its core, Paranoia Agent is basically a morality-tale about taking responsibility for one's actions, but its also a great mystery in the vein of David Lynch, filled with memorably weird imagery and characters. Never have cute little plush-dogs been so creepy.

Ping Pong the Animation



Out of all Yuasa's shows, Ping Pong is easily the one that's most grounded in real-life; there are no time-loops or other fantastic concepts to be found here. That's not to say that Ping Pong is boring though, far from it! The various ping-pong matches are both well-animated and full of intensity as well as great vehicles for exploring the characters and their motivations. All in all, Ping Pong is a show that deserves to stand alongside the likes of Ashita no Joe as one of the great works of its genre.

Princess Tutu



The title of this show and the fact that its main character is a duck who wants to dance ballet may lead you to believe that Princess Tutu is going to be something cute and light-hearted. Well, you'd be mistaken; the show is not devoid of cuteness, but its also filled with some really dark and intense moments, particularly near the end. Oh, and as you'd expect from a show like this, the music is fantastic.

Revolutionary Girl Utena



Revolutionary Girl Utena occupied the top spot on my old list and if this one was in any order...Well, it would definitely still be in the top three. No other show on this list is as heavy with symbolism or enjoyable in as many different ways as Revolutionary Girl Utena. It deals with important themes such as growing up, sexuality, gender roles, etc and does so expertly. It has conspiracy, intrigue, sword-fights, great comedic moments and an awesome soundtrack. Moreover it features one of the best ensemble casts in any show, animated or live-action. Basically, Utena is one of those shows that I think has something for everyone and while I do like Mawaru Penguindrum a lot (and am thinking of giving Yuri Kuma Arashi a second go), to me, Revolutionary Girl Utena will always be Kunihiko Ikuhara's magnum opus.

The Rose of Versailles



Its hard to pick a favorite out of Osamu Dezaki's work, but if I had to choose I'd go with The Rose of Versailles. Its often melodramatic as all get out, but the melodrama actually works, since its very easy to imagine the french aristocrats acting in that way. The show also does a good job at highlighting the differences between the petty schemes of the nobility and the much more important concerns of the french people at the time. Plus, The Rose of Versailles features one of the most charismatic, badass and awe-inspiring protagonists I've seen in Oscar Francois de Jareyes. As Axel von Fersen says to her at one point in the show: "Oscar, you are manlier than a man." 
Truer words were seldom spoken.


Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu



The newest show on the list, from a chronological perspective. Genroku Rakugo is one of the great character studies of the medium, chronicling the life of one man, from his childhood to his old age, while also letting us know the people around him. Its also a show that should be watched by anyone who appreciates the art of telling a good story. An amazing show that is a strong candidate for my favorite animated show of this decade.

Simoun



In my old review of Simoun (Please check it out for a more detailed view on what I thought of the show) I wrote that if I was to ever update my old top animated shows list, the show would definitely be on it somewhere. Well, here it is. With its well-developed cast of characters, interesting world-building and great music, Simoun has more than earned a place among my favorites. 


Takarajima



Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island is the novel about pirates and one of the foremost adventure novels ever written. As such, it is no wonder that it has been adapted many times over the years and though I haven't seen every version of the story, my favorite adaptation has to be this animated series courtesy of none other than Osamu Dezaki. Its not completely faithful to its source material (than again, what adaptation is?), but it captures the spirit of adventure and excitement of Stevenson's story perfectly and the changes that were made are, in my opinion, actually improvements; making an already classic story even better. The characters from the book were never portrayed better  than in this series, especially its two stars: John Silver and Jim Hawkins. Jim is especially great in this one, being a far more entertaining character than he usually is. Furthermore, the characters invented for the series, such as Puppy and Gray, fits so well within the narrative that its hard to picture Treasure Island without them. To this day, Takarajima stands as one of the finest adventure series that it has ever been my pleasure to watch.

The Tatami Galaxy



The final anime on this list to be directed by Masaki Yuaasa. The main character of The Tatami Galaxy lives through several different time-lines and in each one he tries to have the perfect college-experience ("the rose-colored campus life", as he calls it) . Naturally, he never achieves this goal, at first it seems like the blame for this should be laid entirely on Ozu, the protagonist's impish friend, but it gradually becomes clear that things are not quite so simple. The Tatami Galaxy is fantastic; its funny with hilarious rapid-style narration from the main character and it takes full advantage of its alternative time-line gimmick to show different aspects of its cast and of course like everything else Yuaasa has done, it has a really interesting look to it. One that I personally think is great.

The Venture Bros.



Closing out the list we have my favorite Adult Swim cartoon. The Venture Bros started out as a parody of boy-adventurers in general and Johnny Quest in particular, but has since evolved into something much more than that; featuring character-development and story-lines that the things it started out parodying could only dream of, while still being genuinely funny. Make no mistake, The Venture Bros main theme may be failure, but the show itself is definitely not a failure at all.











Thursday, July 12, 2018

Excerpts



Excerpt 1:

My name is Argath, I am currently nineteen years old, which normally would make me an adult, but since I'm a dragon and our species age slower, that means I'm still a child. Although, at the risk of being accused of bragging, I've been told that I am very precocious and several guests of my father's have praised my conversational skills and expressed admiration for my knowledge regarding many topics. I do well in all my subjects, but my favorite is history; both the history of my own country and that of others.

Anyway, since I mentioned my father, I thought I should write a bit about each member of my family.
First of all, I should specify that my family is not just any family, but the family that rules the land of Vinoli and have done so for several hundred years, ever since the people of this land first chose my father to become their King.

I admire my father greatly. There are times when the mere thought of being his daughter fills me with pride. I know that I will not inherit the crown, but if I did, I would strive to follow my father's example as a ruler.

I am my father's youngest child, above me there are three brothers. Kheron is the oldest, he was born without the use of his legs and has a frail constitution. What he lacks in stamina though, he more than makes up for in brains. I think he is the most knowledgeable person in the World and although my tutors are without a doubt well worth their pay, I think I've learned more from him than they could teach me.

My second brother is Thekros and here you must forgive me. I know that one should not speak badly of one's own kin, but Thekros, to be perfectly blunt, is a jerk-face. He and father can't seem to be in a room together without arguing and he's always quick with an insult or a remark, which are always carefully chosen to hurt its target the most.

Finally and most importantly, there's my third brother, Argeron.
Unlike my two other brothers, Argeron and I share the same mother. I've heard that that is a extremely rare among dragons, which perhaps account for the strong bond between us.
Of all the members of my family that I care for, Argeron is the one that I feel the closest to. Despite being the third son, my brother has been chosen to be our father's heir. I know he make a great King and I shall be there by his side, supporting him and helping make our country even greater than it already is.

I realize that I have not mentioned my mother and there's a reason for that: I've never met her. She died giving birth to me. Thekros once said that she died of fright when she laid eyes on me (I told you he was a jerk), which earned him a punch on the arm from Argeron. Thekros did not dare to retaliate, for despite being the younger brother, Argeron surprasses him in physical strength.

 I have, however, seen my mother's portrait, painted by one of our nation's finest artists. When I first laid eyes upon the picture, I was not aware of the identity of the woman in it, but I was struck by her beauty and so, I asked Argeron who he was.

"Our mother" he replied and for a brief moment, my brother looked sadder than I had ever seen him.

Then, he smiled and asked if I wanted to know more about her, this woman who had left this World the same moment that I had entered it.

I said yes and so, Argeron began to tell me about our mother. She seems to have been kind, loving person, well liked by everyone. As I listened to my brother, I couldn't help but think that the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Excerpt 2:

I have not been able to write for awhile and the reason is that I have been busy recovering from an injury.

It happened like this: I was walking in the garden, when suddenly I found myself seized by the urge to climb a tree. Thankfully, there is no shortage of trees in the palace garden, the problem was which one should I choose? I finally settled on a majestic chestnut tree, which I decided would prove a sufficient challenge for my prowess. Perhaps I should point out that I was wearing one of my favorite dresses and, not wanting to risk it being snagged on a branch, I took it off and placed it on a nearby bench.

I decided to aim for the very top of the tree. A daunting task, perhaps, but I am quite a skilled tree-climber and so, I began to move towards my goal, digging my claws into the trunk and branches of the tree.

I estimate that I was about the half-way to the top, when I decided to stop for a quick rest. Spying a branch, which seemed sturdy enough, I crawled out on it. That's when the branch snapped.
I can't recall the actual fall, only that one minute I was in the tree and the next I was not. Two of the gardeners found me unconscious and one of them rushed to fetch the Royal Physician.
The result of my escapade? A few broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder,  a concussion and a sprained tail.

Thanks to the skill of our doctor, my injuries are now fully healed and I am back to how I was before. Well, with one exception; my tail is shorter than it was before and has become slightly crooked. I was quite proud of my tail, which was longer than any of my  siblings and the realization that it would never be the way it used to, caused me to shed the first tears I had cried in years.

After I had recuperated fully, my father had me summoned to his study, where he chided me for being so careless and made me promise not to climb anymore trees. I made the promise with ease, this incident has made me lose all taste for tree-climbing. Besides, I've started to become to old for such childish activities anyway.

As for the chestnut, it was discovered that it had been infected with some sort of parasite. My father ordered it to be cut down.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Chapter 34

A carriage drawn by two horses sped across the plains, it was escorted by six riders, each of them wearing swords. Inside the carriage, Julius looked out at the Frigonian landscape rushing past his eyes.

What a wild and untamed land this is, the Councillor thought. Lakes and forests, only interrupted by the occasional small village or homestead. How could we let such a backwards nation wage war against us twice?

Julius shook his head in disbelief. Well, there would be no more of that. From now on, the Frigonians would have to embrace a different culture, a culture far superior to their own.

Just wait, Julius mused. We are going to civilize this country. Soon, they'll come to understand that being conquered by us was the best thing that could have happened to them.

Turning away from the window, the wolf glanced at the large sealed envelope lying next to him, before leaning back in the seat and closing as eyes. After all, there wasn't much to look at outside...

...The sound of someone knocking on the side of the carriage caused Julius' ears to perk up. He opened his eyes with a yawn and leaned out the window, turning with a questioning look at the closest rider, a hare.

"Beg your pardon, Sir" said  the rider. "We are approaching Friborg, I thought it best to wake you up."

Julius looked at the direction the rider was pointing at. Indeed, in the distance the walls of a city could be seen.
The carriage passed by the field on which the battle for Friborg and by extension Frigonia, had taken place. For a moment, Julius found himself thinking of all the blood that had been spilled that day on the many Vinolians who would never again see their homeland and for a brief moment, a shadow passed over his face.

The carriage entered the Frigonian capital and Julius gazed contemptuously at Friborg's narrow streets and the thatched roofs of its houses, few of which were more than one story high. People passed by; Frigonians with their eyes downcast and Vinolian soldiers with their heads held high. The Conqueror and the conquered. One boy, upon seeing the carriage, picked up some mud and flung it at it. This action earned him a hard shove from a nearby soldier, which caused the young would-be rebel to end up face first in the muck. At a fruit-stand, two other soldiers were busy harassing the vendor.
Julius paid little heed to these events. It was up to Jeraddin to keep his men under control and besides, the sooner the Frigonians learned who was in charge, the better.

The carriage continued on its way, until finally it entered the castle courtyard. Here, it stopped and the riders dismounted while the driver opened the door to the carriage. Almost, immediately two soldiers; a marten and a cat, came up to the carriage. Upon seeing Julius stepping out of it, they saluted.

"I am here on behalf of Her Majesty" the wolf explained, brandishing the envelope. "You: Show me to the General" he commanded, pointing at the marten. "You: Water the horses."

While the cat led the horses away, Julius followed the marten into the castle. As they walked through a long hallway, the Councilor asked if there had been any problems after the capital had surrendered.

"No, Sir" the marten replied, shaking his head. "The General had all the weapons in the city confiscated and anyway, the King and his uncle under house-arrest." A smile broke out on the marten's face and he shook his head in wonder. "I tell you, Sir, those Northerners know how to fight, but we showed them in the end. Once and for all." He let out a low chuckle, then froze on the spot.

"My apologies, Sir. I suppose that comment was unbecoming."
Julius shook his head.

"Not at all, what you said was completely correct."
The marten seemed pleased by this and the two kept walking until, finally, they came to two large wooden doors.

"This is the dining hall," the marten explained. "The General is in there right now, eating dinner. He hasn't' had any since yesterday" he added, somewhat unnecessary in Julius thought. What did he care about Jeraddin's eating habits?

The Marten knocked on one of the doors and it was opened by another soldier, this one being a monkey.

"State your business" the monkey said.

"Tell the General that there's an emissary from the Queen has arrived."

At this point, the monkey noticed Julius standing behind the marten and his eyes widened. With a quick salute, he shut the door and then, moments later, opened it again:

"The General will see you, Sir" he said. "This way."

With that, the monkey stepped aside allowing Julius to pass over the threshold. Before he did, the Councilor dismissed the marten, who returned to the courtyard, while the Monkey moved aside so that Julius could enter.

 He found himself in a room whose only decoration were two tapestries wearing the Frigonian Royal Family's insignia. The Wolf looked at them with distaste. There was also a fireplace and a long table made out of oak. At the high-seat of the table sat Jeraddin, cutting into a fried fish. As soon as he saw Julius approaching, the lynx put down his fork and stood up.

"Councilor" he said, bowing slightly.

"General" said Julius, answering the bow with one of his own. "I am here on behalf of the Queen.

Where is King Frigon and his uncle?"

"In their quarters, Councilor" Jeraddin replied.

"Have them brought here" Julius said. "Please" he added.

Jeraddin motioned for the monkey, who had resumed his position by the door to come over and conveyed the Councilor's wishes to him.
As soon as they were alone, Julius congratulated Jeraddin to his victory. The General accepted the praise with a shrug, saying that he was just doing his job.

Finding himself somewhat surprised by this lack of enthusiasm over such a great victory, the wolf was about to tell the lynx about the victory feast which was being prepared as they spoke. A feast which promised to outshine even the one given by the late King Sharan. However, he didn't get the opportunity to do so, because just then the monkey returned, followed by Frigon and Orloff.

"Very good" Jeraddin said. He was just about to dismiss the soldier, when something occurred to him. "Go and fetch a quill and some ink" he ordered.

The Soldier saluted smartly, clicking his heel together and left the room.  Jeraddin turned to his guests.

"Your Majesty, Prince Orloff, I present to you Julius, who is here on behalf of the Queen."

Julius bowed twice to the two royals. Only Orloff returned the bow, the King only stared gloomily at the Vinolian emissary, with a look of utter defeat stamped on his face.

Julis cleared his throat.

"Your Majesty, I bring you the treaty between our countries for you to sign."

He handed the envelope to the King who, reluctantly, broke the seal.

"I should like to read the treaty along with my nephew" said Orloff, throwing a quick glance at the document which Frigon took out of the envelope.

"By all means".

All four sat down and the two ermines unfolded the treaty. In it, The demands were laid out in clear terms:

Frigonia would pledge allegiance to Vinoli and would henceforth consider itself to be under Vinolian rule. In times of war, Frigonia would provide Vinoli with soldiers and a two-year service in the Vinolian army would be mandatory for every able-bodied male between the ages of seventeen to forty. Frigonia would also pay an annual tribute to Vinoli in the form of food and labor.
In addition, the treaty continued. To ensure co-operation, a member of the Frigonia's Royal Family will remain in Vinoli as a permanent guest.

Finally, the King of Frigonia would confess to having planned an invasion of a peaceful nation, which was only prevented thanks to the cunning of said nation's ruler.

As he read through these demands, each one calculated to put Frigonia, the nation built by his ancestors, under the heel of its longtime rivals, Frigon could feel the anger and humiliation well up in him. Oh, how he wished to tear this treaty in a million pieces and throw it in the Vinolian emissary's smug, lupine face. But, of course, that was never going to happen. Sighing deeply, choking back the tears which had begun to form in his eyes, the young King grabbed the quill lying next to him and wrote his signature next to Argath's.




Friday, June 15, 2018

Le Dernier Chant des Malaterre

My introduction to the works of Francois Bourgeon came during my childhood, when I found my father's old copy of the second volume in the French cartoonists comic Les Passagers du Vent (The Passangers of the Wind). This was the only comic by Bourgeon in my old man owned and so, for many years, it was the only one avaible to me as well. However, that single volume was enough to make me into an admirer of Bourgeon's work. That said, while Les Passagers du Vent is undeniably a great comic, its not the focus of this post. No, this post is all about Bourgeon's other historically themed comic: Les Compagnons de Crepuscule.

Les Compagnons de Crepuscule (The Companions of Dusk, or Twilight, depending on your preference) takes place in France during the 100 Year War and tells the story of an unnamed knight with a scarred face, who is on a quest to atone for his past misdeeds.

During this quest, the Knight is joined by two youths, the only survivors of a massacred village. They are Mariotte; the obligatary strong-willed heroine present in all Bourgeon's work and Anicet, a young man whose handsome countenance does little to conceal his selfish and craven personality.
The adventures of the Knight, Mariotte and Anicet takes place over the course of three volumes and while they are all worth reading, its the final volume that is the best one and deserving of special attention.

In the third volume, titled Le Dernier Chant des Malaterre (The Sirens' Last Song), the trio has arrived at the town of Montroil where they've decided to spend the winter. Overlooking Montroil is a castle ruled by Neyrelle a beautiful and mysterious widow, who is the oldest of three sisters said to have Siren blood flowing in their veins.
Gradually, our three main characters are drawn into Neyrelle's web of intrigue and a lot happens before the book reaches its apocalyptic conclusion.

One aspect in which Les Compagnons de Crepuscule differs from its predecessor is the way it is structured; Les Passagers du Vent was a serialized story with each of the five volumes leading into the next one. That is not the case here. Although, the Knight's quest is the thread that runs through Les Compagnons' narrative and the comic has both a definitive beginning and ending, each volume of Les Compagnons de Crepuscule tells its own complete story.

There's also the presence of the supernatural, something that was absent from Les Passagers du Vent, represented among others by three mysterious powers which created the World and is in constant battle with each other. One would perhaps think that these fantastic elements would clash with the otherwise realistic depiction of medieval Europe that Bourgeon presents, but that's not the case. Rather, I would say that the obvious research that the authenticity of the setting lends credibility to the strange and otherworldly aspects of the plot.

Meticulously researched and featuring an intricate story, covering more than a hundred pages (the length of the two previous volumes combined), Les Dernier Chant des Malaterre is, in my opinion, Bourgeon's finest work and one of my favorite comics.

Gallery:






Monday, June 4, 2018

Chapter 33

In the castle's great hall Orloff paced back and forth. The King's uncle was troubled, he had overseen the city's defenses and found that parts of the outer wall had fallen into a state of disrepair. More over, there wasn't much dried meat and fish left in the storage building. Orloff sighed deeply. Truly, the Vinolian army could not have chosen a worse (or better, depending on who you asked) time to pick their invasion.

These were not the chief things that occupied, the ermine's mind though. No, instead his thoughts kept drifting back to the last conversation he had had with his nephew in the royal armory. Orloff had tried to persuade Frigon to let someone else take his place at the head of the army, but the King had refused.

"Out of the question, uncle" he had said, as he strapped on his sword. "This is my duty as a ruler and I intend to do it."

"You also have a duty to live" Orloff had replied sternly. "What happens if you're killed in the field?"

"You forget uncle, that I have been trained since childhood by some of our nation's finest warriors."

"True" Orloff had reluctantly agreed. "But you have no combat experience and the leader of the Vinolian army is a seasoned warrior."

"In that case, this should provide me ample opportunity to gain some" Frigon had said, flashing a confident smile that made the older man think that for a brief second, it was his brother, come back from the dead, that stood before him. "Besides, imagine a chance to cross swords with the famous Jeraddin."

Let's hope it does not come to that, Orloff had thought. "Your Majesty is sure that my precense is not required by his side?" He had asked out loud.

"No, Uncle, I need you to stay behind and guard the fort. "If worst comes to worst" (here, Frigon's face became grave, as he let the implication of these words sink in), you must take my place as the head of our nation, once more."

"A role that I have no wish to assume again" Orloff had replied, inwardly feeling a surge of relief that he would not be on the battlefield, for though talented in many ways, he had never been much of a soldier.
"Come back safely, nephew."

"I will uncle."

****
"Prince Orloff! Your Highness!"

The sound of someone callling his name sent the ermine back to the present. He turned around to see a servant girl standing in the doorway, looking out of breath.

"What is it?" He asked.

"The army, it has returned."

Orloff rushed past the servant in a flash and was soon out on the courtyard. There he watched as the remnants of the Frigonian army entered through the castle-gates, many had suffered terrible wounds and had to be supported by their comrades or be carried on stretchers. As medics rushed forward to attend to the wounded, the King's uncle searched for his nephew, but could not find him anywhere. Could he have fallen in battle?
His heart racing, Orloff grabbed the shoulder of a nearby soldier, one who was covering the right side of his face with his paw.

"The King" he asked, fearing the worst. "Where is he?"

The wolf glanced at the ermine with  a single tired eye and shook his head.

"Captured" he muttered.

While the soldier hurried away to have his wounds looked at, Orloff remained standing frozen in one spot. Around him the feverish activity continued, but the King's uncle no longer took notice of it. In his head, that one word kept repeating over and over again:

Captured.

Captured.

Captured.

*****

"That was delicious" Lucinda said, as she put the fork and knife down on the now empty plate.

She and Felix were sitting in the dining hall in Cornelius' villa. They had just finished having supper together with their host and his partner of thirty years; a cat named Aemon. The four of them were alone in the house, Cornelius having given his and Aemon's small staff of servants the day off.

"Thank you" Cornelius said, smiling under his mustache. "I prepared everything myself."

"Really?" Felix said in surprise. "I didn't know you were a chef."

"Corne is a dog of many talents" said Aemon, with pride in his voice.

"Well" Cornelius said modestly. "Cooking has always been a hobby of mine. Now that my precence is no longer required at court, I shall have ample time to hone whatever minor talents I possess in that field."

"I'm not sure they need to be honed much further" said Lucinda with sincerity. "This was one of the best meals I have eaten."

"Once again; you flatter me, dear Lady" Cornelius said, bowing his head in gratitude of the praise.

"I must say" Lucinda continued, "when we received the invitation from you I was surprised. After all, Felix and you have not exactly been bosom buddies in the past."

"I was just as surprised when I found out he had invited you" Aemon replied with a smile.

"True, your husband and I have had our differences, but recently..."

"Let's just say that recently we've discovered some common interests." Felix interjected.

"Well, as long as it means more dinners like this in the future, I'm all for it" Lucinda said. She raised her glass, which still had some wine in it. "Cheers!"

"Cheers!" The others replied in unison, as four glasses clinked together.

Once the glasses had been emptied, Cornelius turned to Felix.

"Speaking of common interests" he said. "What's been happening at court lately?"

"Well" Felix said. "We had a meeting earlier today."

"Oh? Did it concern the war?"

"Indeed, the Queen received a message from Jeraddin: The Frigonians are willing to negotiate terms of surrender."

"I suppose Her Majesty was absolutely ecstatic when she brought that piece of news to the Council."

Felix nodded.

"She and everyone else in the room, they are planning a victory feast for the General when he returns."

Cornelius did not comment but made a little snort. Felix leaned forward, motioning for Cornelius to do the same.

"By the way" he said, lowering his voice slightly. "There's another thing I need to talk to you about."

"I know" Cornelius whispered back. He then turned to Lucinda:

"My dear, I'm afraid Felix and I have some business to discuss together. I hope you don't mind?"

"Of course not."

"Aemon, perhaps you could give Lucinda a tour? Maybe show her the garden? The Garden is Aemon's domain" he explained. "His white roses are splendid, if I may say so."

"Oh? In that case I should very much like to see them."

"It would be my pleasure to show them to you" said Aemon, beaming with delight over the prospect of showing a guest his work. "Come with me."

He stood up and gallantly offered Lucinda his arm, she took it and the two of them left the kitchen. Shortly afterwards, their significant others did the same.

*****
Seating himself in a comfortable-looking armchair, Felix let his eyes wander over the decor in Cornelius' study. The Iguana knew that in his youth, Cornelius had traveled a lot and the spacious room was decorated with souvenirs from all over the world. On the wall hung a pair of curved swords from Bizita, in the corner was a statue of Sofir, the three-headed Moragian deity of war and so on.
However, what really caught the visitor's eye was a portrait of King Sharan hanging right over Cornelius' work desk.
Felix glanced up at the late monarch. How strange, it seemed like an eternity since he passed away.

No, he did not pass away Felix corrected himself, bitterly. His life was taken from him.

"Can I offer you something?" He heard Cornelius ask. "Whiskey? A Cigarr?"

"Something to smoke would be nice, thank you."

Cornelius opened a drawer in his desk and came back with two cigars. Felix found himself wondering how he was going to light them, since he didn't seem to carry any matches. He got his answer immediately: Cornelius mumbled a few words and snapped his fingers and both cigars were lit.
Felix accepted the cigar Cornelius handed him with wide-eyed surprise.

"I didn't know you were a magician" he said, awe-struck.

"Only a few minor spells that I picked up during my youth, nothing special."

"Well" said Felix, "A few minor spells is more than I've ever bothered to learn, I can tell you that much."

He put the cigar in his mouth and began to puff on it. Cornelius joined him and soon the two of them sat there, blowing smoke-rings.

"So" Cornelius said, "shall we get down to business? What was it you awanted to tell me?"

"Well" Felix said, leaning forward. "Before he left for the north, I managed to have a talk with Jeraddin."

"Go on."

Thus, Felix told Cornelius about how he had spoken to Jeraddin and tried to convince him to publicly denounce the war and that he had refused. He also cited the General's reason for doing so and his theory regarding the underlying motivation of that reason.

"You do realize" Cornelius said, once Felix had finished. "That what you've just told me, is a very serious accusation?"

"I'm aware of that, but you must admit; it makes a lot of sense. Besides, with the Queen's behavior since she ascended the throne, would you put it past her?"

"No, I would not. Though I wonder what reason Argath would have for seeking her father's death?

"Well, she's revealed herself to be very ambitious. Maybe she just wanted to be Queen?"

Cornelius thought for a moment, then dismissed the idea by shaking his head.

"I doubt it. She was the King's favorite, the throne would have been hers anyway, why kill for it? No, I don't think a craving for power is what we're looking for, even if the Queen is an obvious megalomaniac."

"Than why do something like that?" Felix asked. "Revenge? If so, for what?"

"That" Cornelius said, "is what we'll have to find out. "

Standing up, he went over to a nearby bookshelf and after a few seconds of searching came up with a thick leather-bound volume.

"What's that?" Felix asked.

"An old chronicle of our nation's history, from the early years of King Sharan up until about fifty years ago" Cornelius explained. "Most known copies were destroyed so its quite rare. Somehow, I have a feeling that the answer we seek is to be found within its pages."

Sitting down, he opened the book and leafed through it. Suddenly, he stopped at one page.

"Look at this" he said, holding up the volume so his guest could see.

Felix looked at the opened page, on it was a portrait of two dragons; the older one male and the younger female. Felix immediately recognized one of them:

"That's the Queen" he exclaimed, shaking his head in wonder. "She must have been only a child, by her people's measurements, but who is the guy next to her?"

"A person whose name have not been mentioned since before you were born" Cornelius said gravely. "In fact, I too had not thought about him for ages: He is Argeron, the former heir to the throne and the Queen's brother."










Friday, May 18, 2018

Chapter 32

At afternoon the next day, the members of the troupe were gathered at the local tavern. They had just finished eating when one of the members; a female porcine, wearing a feather boa draped over her shoulders, turned to Eramus.

"Eramus, dahling", she said. "When are you going to tell us the reason for calling this meeting?"

"In a moment, my dear Griselda", the faun replied. "We are just waiting for a few more people."

This announcement caused a murmur of surprise among the troupe. After all, they were all here, so who were they waiting for?

The answer came almost immediately, as the door to the tavern opened and three people; a lynx, a cat and a dragon entered the establishment. One of the actors, a fox, leaned forward and said, sotto voce, to the crocodile sitting next to him:

"Say, weren't those three in the audience last evening?"

The croc only grunted and shrugged her shoulders. After all, who hadn't been in the audience last evening?

Having spotted the trio, Eramus waved at them to approach the table. Raising his glass, he then proceeded to call for silence by tapping his knife against it. Immediately, all the actors went quiet and turned to look at their leader.

"Friends", said Eramus. "I would like to introduce you to three new acquaintances of mine. This is Risha, her brother Leorin and Merees. "

Upon being introduced Risha and Merees both curtsied, while Leorin held up his right paw. His sister, however, deemed this too casual an introduction and nudged his side. Leorin shot her an angry look and bowed to the table.

"They are currently guests of Hieronymus'", Eramus continued. "Incidentally, wasn't there another lad with you?"

"Yes", said Risha. "Luke."

"He decided not to come", said Leorin.

"I see."

"Dahling", Griselda asked, turning to Eramus. "What is this all about? and aren't you going to introduce me you your young friends?"

"Where are my manners? Risha, Merees, Leorin, meet Griselda, my trusted right hand without whose assistance, I'd be helplessly adrift."

As he said these words, Eramus gently grabbed one of Griselda's hands and kissed it, causing her eyelashes to flutter coquettishly.

"I apologize for not introducing the rest of you", Eramus said to the other members of the troupe.

"But hopefully we will all have plenty of time to get to know each other better."
Griselda leaned forward.

"Eramus, are you saying that these three are the reason why we are here."

The faun nodded.

"Quite so, my dove. These three fine youths have asked me if we could take them with us when we leave the island. As far as I'm concerned, these three are of course more than welcome aboard, but since we're all in this together, I think we should put it up to a vote."

At this point, the sound of a chair being pushed back could be heard. It was the fox, who stood up  and now was coming over.

"Excuse me", he said to the trio. "I should like to take a look at your hands."

Not really understanding why, Risha, Leorin and Merees held out their paws and claws respectively.  The fox took hold of each limb, turned them over and looked at them carefully, before letting go.

"You come from money" said the fox and did so in a way that made it clear it was a statement, not a question.

"I guess" said Risha, feeling somewhat embarassed for reasons she was unsure of. "We never really thought about it, though."

"You understand" said the fox. "That we can not have idle hands on our ship. If we let you come aboard, it means you will have to work. Are you sure you are willing to do that?" He asked, fixating the three of them with a stern look.

"Of course" said Merees, drawing herself up to her full height. "We will do whatever is required of us. Isn't that right?"

"Right" said Risha and Leorin in unison, though the latter's voice sounded a lot less enthusiastic.

"Well" said the fox and turned to Eramus. "In that case, my vote is in favor of letting them aboard."

"Mine too" said Griselda. "Especially since they are friends of Hieronymus. "Incidentally, how is he?"

"Fine" Eramus replied. "By the way, before we leave, he has invited us all to a party at his place."

This announcement was met with universal approval and once again, Eramus had to resort to the knife-on-glass tactic in order to be heard.

"Now then, shall we get down to business? Who here is in favor of allowing these fine young people access to our vessel? Raise a hand if you are."

Several hands immediately shot up towards the ceiling. Eramus counted them one by one, finding the votes in favor to be in the majority.
Among the few whose hands had not been in the air, was an ocelot who stood out due to having only one ear. His left ear was intact, but only a scar remained where the right ear had once been. Now, this ocelot emptied his mug of beer, used the back of his paw to wipe the foam from his mouth and banged his fist at the table.

"Have you gone insane?" He said. "You are really going to let these three strangers, people we know nothing about, aboard our ship? Not to mention that one of them is a dragon!"

As he spat out these words, the ocelot walked over to where Eramus and the others sat and positioned himself right in front of Merees.

"A dragon" he continued through clenched teeth. "A fucking dragon."
Merees met the ocelot's gaze and shuddered. Never before had she felt such hatred and oddly enough, the fact that the ocelot had to throw his neck back to look at her was not much of a comfort.

"Leave her alone!"

The command came from Risha, who had positioned herself protectively between the two of them.

"What is this creature to you?" The ocelot snarled.

"I love her more than anything in the World" Risha replied, taking a step forward.

"And you think she loves you back?" The ocelot shook his head. "You poor misguided..."

Alas, the next word out of the ocelot's mouth must forever remain a mystery, because just then Risha's knuckles connected with the lower part of his face with such force that it sent him staggering backwards.

Clutching his nose, the ocelot glared at Risha, blood streaming from his nostrils.

"Fucking dragon lover" he growled, voice muffled. "You'll regret this one day."

Having uttered these ominous words, the ocelot stormed out of the tavern, rejecting the assistance offered to him by a compassionate waitress.

"Well" said the fox. "That was quite a turn of events."

"I can't believe you did that?" Leorin exclaimed, looking at his sister with genuine amazement.

"Neither can I" said Merees. "Are you alright?" She wondered, looking at Risha who was massaging her paw.

"I'm fine, that hurt more than I thought it would though. What was up with that guy?" She asked, shaking her head in disbelief.

Eramus let out a sigh.

"I'm afraid the fault is mine, I knew that Isso had bad experiences with dragons in the past. It was a dragon that took his ear."

"Oh" said Merees, gazing towards the door. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Well" Risha said, crossing her arms huffily. "He shouldn't have said those things about you. About us."

"We didn't know about this" the fox said. "Isso never told us about his past, before he joined the troupe."

"He told me once" Eramus said in a low voice. "Me and Hieronymus."

"Its to bad that your magic cloak is still being repaired" Leorin said. "Otherwise this could have been avoided."

"Perhaps" Merees replied. "Or he would have found out about what I am when we were already at sea and everything would have been worse."

"Maybe we should wait for another ship?" said Risha gloomily.

All of three of them stared down at the table.

"Nonsense!" Said Eramus. "The people have spoken and the majority wanted you to come with us. Don't worry, Isso won't cause any trouble for you while you're aboard. We'll see to that."

Both the fox and Griselda added their agreement.

"By the way" the faun continued, putting his hand on the fox's shoulder. "This is Rufus, another close companion and invaluable member of our family. Rufus, can you look after these three during our voyage?"

"Of course, Eramus."

Eramus clapped his hands together.

"Excellent. Now, I do believe I would like another drink. Anyone care to join me?"

Everyone did, including Leorin who was told by Risha that he too young to consume alcohol. This he thought terribly unfair and made his opinion clear in no uncertain manner. Until his sister with an exasparated look on her face handed him her glass.

"Fine" she said. "I'll let you taste , but I can tell you right now that you are not going to like it."

Leorin glanced down at the dark-red liquid, sniffed it and took a careful sip. Almost immediately his face scrunched up in disgust. Eramus signaled to a nearby serving girl.

"Can we have something for the boy, please? A glass of milk perhaps?"

The requested dairy product arrived promptly. As soon as it was set down on the table, Leorin grabbed the glass and did not put it down until it was empty.

Now, we must bid a temporary farewell to the peaceful haven that is doctor Hieronymus' island and travel north: To Frigonia, where more serious events have occurred. Orgoff have just learned that his nephew, the King, have been taken captive by the enemy.