Sunday, May 12, 2002

Apologia Pro Vita Sua Voldo

Once, while pounding through a bloodshot session of Soul Calibur, I was struck with an impending pair of questions:

Who are you Voldo? How can I help?

You may be familiar with Voldo. As my friends do, you probably make fun of his peculiar physicality and unorthodox fighting style. His strange, lanky body has a tendency to confuse people. It certainly used to confuse me. At six feet tall, he stands dressed in sparse decoration, with strips of clothing that weave about his entire form and a bandage-like helmet that covers his eyes and mouth. His thin frame sways in constant movement, as if he is privy to some ancient and invisible rhythm. My friends like to poke fun while he slices about, mocking him for his inability to deliver a “normal” gesture. They laugh and carry on whether he is winning or losing, making it seem that his livelihood was designed for their amusement. Dismissive of what they cannot understand, they have been led into a jeering ridicule of what is to them a hopeless and goofy mishap of human form...

But my friends don’t just make fun of Voldo; they also make fun of me. They make fun of me for participating in his oddity, for my attachment to his character and tendency to choose him over the more traditional warriors of the Soul Calibur universe. Their words are ruthless and uncontained - “hey fancy boy, is Voldo gonna give me a kiss?” or “freak boy, stop making your freak clone roll away.” Until recently I have accepted such harassment with only mild retaliation. Helpless to understand him, I have been unable to defend him, and consequently, I’ve been unable to defend myself.

This is all about to change. Voldo has spoken and I am here to tell you what he has to say.

You see, I have been given a vision and granted a new perspective. Like the Zen Buddhists who suddenly “snap” into enlightenment, I was struck with a spontaneous and virtually instant understanding. The questions were pulsing in my mind… “Who are you Voldo? How can I help?” That night, I sat alone clicking the Dreamcast controller, perfecting my moves, searching for new possibilities. As I fell into a zone, Voldo pranced across the screen, bouncing with an Upturned Clawhook. But there I noticed something slightly different in his swagger, something I hadn’t seen before. It looked as if he were sliding towards a Lunatic Flip, but he suddenly halted. “What is this?” My enthrallment grew as I watched him spring from a Double Back Mantis Crawl and into a Glorious Spider Dig. Rising to full posture he swiveled about and in a shocking instant, stared right into my eyes…“This is my story, this is my life.”

It struck me with such an impact that I went flailing from the couch. Hitting the floor, my head was sent crashing into the console. In a flash it was all before me. The twisted childhood, the loss of brethren, the lack of companionship, the loneliness, the future…I clutched the box and began murmuring a reply. “The people will know. I shall come to them as your mouthpiece.”

So began that momentous precursor of what I am here to reveal. It’s possible you’re already familiar with some of the basic history. With a steadfast allegiance to his master, Voldo has lived the majority of his life in solitude. Born in Palermo, Italy, he was one of five brothers and lived for a short time with his family before being enlisted to the care of a forceful overseer. This was Vercci, the rich and greedy merchant who sailed the world in search of treasure and power. After amassing endless piles of wealth, Vercci had constructed an underground home as a stronghold to protect his precious findings. This was to be the place where Voldo served his master’s bidding.

With a callous abuse of Voldo’s young and innocent mind, Vercci quickly manipulated his pupil towards an arena of tireless devotion. During those vital formative years, Voldo was left without room to grow as an individual. His world was that which Vercci dictated. A good-natured and bright-eyed youth, his budding thoughts and ideas were eventually trampled under the imperious control. After his parents and brothers were killed in the Italian wars, he was left without family, and his master became the prime focus of his existence. When Vercci too passed on, Voldo heeded his lord’s last request, pledging never to leave the underground vault where he remained sealed for many years…

The psychological damage incurred by these years is really too much to mention. Try for an instant to imagine yourself trapped in complete darkness, abandoned by the world and left in utter silence. Now consider it with no family or friends above, with no hope for reuniting with loved ones or old companions. Under such conditions, almost anyone would lose the will to persevere. Yet for Voldo, the tragedy runs even deeper, for when Vercci died his power-mad rule did not die with him. He had gained a stranglehold on Voldo’s burgeoning young mind, and his wicked manipulation continued even in death. Left without another soul in the world, Voldo devoted himself to the only thing he knew – his master’s will. Thus it was that he made a grave in the darkened recess of the vault and pledged himself daily to Vercci’s command.

As days and years went by, Voldo’s connection with the outside world grew more and more distant. With no light, his eyesight gradually faded away. Lost in the silence, his neglected vocal chords eventually lost their capacity for sound. Without companionship his mind grew hazy and splintered. By many accounts, this is where he lost his grasp completely and fell into the depths of madness. Yet there was something else happening in those moments of solitude, something that is not so easy to explain.

Voldo was perfecting his art. It was during this time that he found an outlet for recapturing his voice. While the only world he knew was that of Vercci’s dominance, there was something in his soul that begged release. He couldn’t quite explain it, but this something was emerging in his self-taught martial training. Soon his battle moves became a newfound area of expression. Though the picture was not yet complete its outline began to take form. It was there in the Rat Bounce and Power Slave, and became more apparent through the Suspended Pendulum and Demon Elbow. When he glided about in the Asylum Dance it gained further clarity, deriving shape as he pushed into a Mute Low Kick.

With new excitement, Voldo forged a pair of Katar that would aid in his quest for expression. He named them “Shame” and “Blame,” and began using them in a similar manner to that in which a painter uses a brush. They allowed him additional shapes and provided a further outlet of ideas. Pushing his creative energies to the limit, he embarked on a laborious discipline of body and mind, doing so with utter devotion to uncovering a personal solidarity. For many months he struggled to centralize his feelings and ideas, at times agonizing over the pain and frustration, but always meeting the lightless day with renewed hope and desire. During this time he also constructed new clothing and accessories, items that he found to be of further help to his cause. With elaborate tapestries of pink and purple he developed the “Paris is Burning” outfit. Perhaps he could not see the colors, but he could feel them. As the crimson hue traced through the air it sung of peaceful serenity and warm magical places. Overtaken, his passions turned him towards a heady but stonehearted search for love and righteousness. Before long the months turned into years, but Voldo pressed on, sweating out his time and slowly finding a core.

Finally, after years of tireless searching, the epiphany took hold. In an overwhelming culmination, Voldo’s self-awareness was complete, and his art nearly reached perfection. Though tearful with the beauty of awareness, his ambitions quickly shifted to a new desire. Now that his expression was developed, he felt a compelling need to share. After all, what good is a voice if there is no one to hear it? Vercci was too preoccupied in death and Voldo feared dejection, but he desperately needed to find someone…anyone…everyone.

His prayers were answered when the footsteps of an intruder penetrated the darkened corridors of the underground lair. He became intoxicated with the potential communication, but curbed his anxiousness and decided it best to first listen to the intruder’s intentions. He could sense it was a woman, and by her careful movements he determined she was likely a skilled warrior. Delicately creeping through his home, she seemed to be searching for something of great importance. It was then that he heard whispers of a legendary weapon of unspeakable power, the ancient and famed Souledge. This was the weapon of his master’s most towering desire, the Holy Grail of his life quest.

Voldo could hardly contain his excitement. The opportunity unraveled before his figurative eyes; now he could deliver his message to the world while fulfilling his master’s greatest wish. Two birds with one stone. Unable to refrain himself any longer, Voldo bounded from the shadows and rushed to communicate with the stranger. Intent on being hospitable he decided to offer a greeting of absolute friendship. This was one of the last moves he had perfected, a highly complex maneuver that would involve diving through the air while spinning Shame towards the stranger’s chest. Tear-ridden, he soured into the motion with flawless beauty.

The stranger’s unfortunate reaction was one of immediate hostility. With a howl, she knocked Voldo’s arm to the side and followed through with a rocketing bash to his head. Baffled by the response, Voldo tried again, this time with the Dark Shredder, which loosely translated means “may the love of all creatures be upon thee.” Again, his action was met with ill-tempered reply. Panting in confusion Voldo continued his attempts, but was repeatedly answered in violent rejection. Before long, the stranger fled his open arms, screaming her way to the lands above.

He couldn’t understand it. How could the stranger deny him so harshly? Crushed, he immediately fell into a quiet depression. What if the world would not accept him? Was he to suffer the rest of his life in loneliness? His bruised spirit could hardly fathom the notion. Vercci was still there (at least his corpse), but how could he ever gain his master’s approval without first coming to terms with his own voice? No, he realized he could not give up. The importance of his message was much larger than his personal fears. This was a bridge that only he could cross. With a resolved sense of duty, he made a promise that despite any flaws, he must push forward.

So it was that Voldo emerged unto the world. Leaving the underground was difficult, but at this point he could not be stopped. Kneeling by Vercci’s resting place he whispered his allegiance and then began his ascent. The climb was difficult, but with courageous tenacity he soon reached the top. And there, after two decades of solitary darkness, he was reacquainted with the sun. At first he thought he would surely explode. The heat was like a nova through his body, searing into his blood vessels and boiling about pale layers of flesh like a giant blanket of flame. He retreated for a cooler spot and attempted to make peace with the lost sunshine. As his body slowly adjusted he began to rediscover a forgotten sense of tranquility. A wistful summer air played about him, soothing his upset skin with a feathery lullaby. Hovering above, a nest of Barbary partridges sung at his arrival. The hills of Italy were greeting their friend, welcoming him back from a subterranean hiatus. Inspired by the surroundings, Voldo burst across the hillside in a Full Stampede Shredder, offering his wish “I am here sweet planet, please engulf me in your benevolence.” The planet did so, and Voldo rolled about in gleeful elation, welcoming the future and all it would hold.

Of course, his happiness was brief and the future grim. After setting out in search of human contact and his master’s weapon, his stint with joy elapsed to one of tragedy. You can probably imagine what his life has been like since. Certainly, his travels have brought contact with many interesting and unusual characters, but they have all met him with fear, much of which has become violent. Their names are many - Yoshimitsu, Hwang Sung-Kyung, Mitsurugi, Rock, Maxi, Siegfried, Ivy, Sophitia, Taki, Xianghua, Cervantes- but their actions are the same. Whether it is Rock’s savage hammer or Taki’s biting Ninjatau, they have callously prodded, beaten and bashed poor Voldo into a horrid state. The examples are endless…
Recently I witnessed an especially repellent display while stumbling into a chance encounter. My friend had incarnated Hwang, who stood before me holding his long blade in a huff of confidence. Moving towards him in a message of peace, Voldo picked up the Korean warrior and carefully spun him about in a delicate Pizza Toss. As Hwang rotated on the twin Katar, the message became clear – “Hwang, you are a brother to me. Let us hug and find solace in our brotherhood.” Hwang’s response was catastrophic. After landing to the ground he quickly launched at Voldo, drawing the long blade straight across his new brother’s torso. Then, as Voldo fell wheezing to his knees, Hwang continued the motion and brought his sword slicing downwards, thrashing our hero into unconsciousness. Just before Voldo passed out, I noticed him trying to say something in his movements. Rolling on his belly, he seemed to cry out “I have failed yet again, but I will survive to try another day.”

Lacking Voldo’s spiritual fortitude, I slammed down the controller and left the room. How can we treat this man with such indignity? After all he’s suffered and all he’s endured, he is now rewarded with grotesque disavow. Well, it must stop here. I know that you are at a loss to comprehend his healing word, but if you just took a moment to look, you might see the grace in what he has to say. He is blessed with a heavenly understanding of nature, of love and beauty, but he is wrought with a fear of abandonment and needs our help to find peace of mind. Lending your support would not require an act of altruism; we could all greatly benefit from his council. This much is certain; his message can lead us to new levels of cosmic understanding. Consider if you will, the following translations of certain moves:

The Bloody Drill: “Like the morning dew, our lives are a pattern of soft beauty, their only requirement is devotion.”

The Fool’s Inquest: “When man loves, he does so completely. When he hates, he does so haphazardly.”

The Asylum Breakout: “Don’t be afraid to touch, it is our most direct link to understanding.”

The Rat Slaughter Kick: “Please do not pick that beautiful flower. I think that you are beautiful too, but does that warrant a giant hand descending from the heavens and uprooting you?”

The Guillotine Scissors: “Shoes are good enough, but they can only protect our feet. Love protects our entire mind, body and soul.”

It is certain, the written word does little justice to the core of Voldo’s message. I implore you then, pay a closer mind to his art. Next time you find yourself on the stage of history, try leaving your fear and ignorance behind. When you see Voldo approaching, do not attack him, but give your attention. You may be surprised by what you discover. Remember, sometimes a little faith can go a long way. Before you hack, slash and bash your way about, think of all the sacrifices he’s made and the noble root of his desires. When you slap him around and knock him to the ground, make yourself listen closely to his breathy sorrow. Put yourself in his shoes. Voldo has made a pledge to the promise of a brighter tomorrow. His unprecedented durability is matched only by his will for righteousness. I very much doubt that any of us could have survived the life he’s endured, let alone greet each day with a strength to make the world a better place.

Before I set out to write this piece, I suffered through another terrible incident. Taki was gleefully gliding around, shooting through the field and relentlessly stabbing Voldo to the ground. A harsh giggle came from the player to my right “hey, it looks like Voldo is less of a woman than Taki is.” My blood boiled in anger. I wanted to strangle her, bat her cute little head to the floor and then finish her off with a searing strike from Blame’s pointed tip. Hands clenched I tried to regain my composure, but fumes kept billowing from my ears. Looking at the screen, she was at it again, jabbing, slashing, chopping, stomping on poor Voldo until he was staggering in shock. I nearly sent my foot through the TV - and I would have, if it wasn’t for what Voldo did next.

Barely able to stand and badly wounded, he rose up and began a move. Curling back on pointed feet, his arms opened and in a slow motion moment he was sent spinning into the Whirling Windmill. There in an instant I saw him say:

“Quell your anger my friend, for if I lose you, I will have no one. Do not allow yourself the displeasure of hatred, for it is the opposite of that which we have been striving for. Continue your noble efforts, and by Vercci’s will, our hopes will blossom into a magnificent reality. Please, can you hear me? Are you listening?”

That’s when Taki’s blade sent him crashing to the ground. Beside me I could barely catch my friend cheering - “Wham-o! Voldo gets his *****-ass broke again! That’s what you get for playing such a fruity bitchcake.” – but I could care less. I had floated away with Voldo’s longing, lost in a moment of resolution. His words were about me in a deep resonance, compelling and true. Since then, my testament has been forthcoming…

I can hear you Voldo, and more importantly, I am listening. By your example I have come to discover the wonderfulness in us all. You are a constant reminder that life is filled with a grand and meaningful design. And you’ve always been there for me. I remember the time when I was blue and you showed me your Cheesestick Hellbelly Flop. It sent me laughing for days! My troubles were forgotten, but I started to feel guilty for giggling at the display. Do you remember what you did then? With a Bat Taste to Mantis Crawl combo you said:

“Don’t feel bad about laughing at the fallen man. Actually you are not laughing at the man at all, but the banana upon which he has slipped. Our flaws are like bananas, silly and hilarious, but richly important.”

Thank you Voldo. I lack your gift for communication, but I hope that somewhere in the space between my words you can sense the impact you’ve had. With hope, I look forward to the day when the people of this world unify and elevate you to a deserved and glorious state of fulfillment. Until then, I shall continue to spread your message of truth and love, doing so with confidence that eventually your goodness shall prevail.

-- Bryan Younce