Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Saint Seiya: Saintia Shō
Five years ago, Shoko's sister Kyoko left to attend a mysterious elite school, and she hasn't heard from her since. Shoko is beginning to suspect that there may be something more ominous going on than mere schooling, and she determines to find her sister no matter what the cost. She tries to confront the granddaughter of the school's foundation, but to no avail – and then is suddenly attacked by a dryad looking to make her the host for the goddess Eris' revival! At that moment Kyoko reappears – as a Saintia, a warrior of Athena trained to combat Eris and other evil gods. Why did she choose to become one? The answer may lie in Shoko's destiny.
Despite the dual facts that the original Saint Seiya manga ended in 1990 and that a direct sequel series (Saint Seiya: Next Dimension) has been running since 2006, Saint Seiya: Saintia Shō can also be termed a direct sequel to the original manga, given that it opens immediately after the events of the 1986-1990 series. Despite that, there's really no barrier to entry for new fans looking for a female-led, fanservice-light action fantasy. Chimaki Kuori, under original creator Masami Kurumada's guidance, does a good job explaining the franchise's premise, making it so that you can jump right in and begin enjoying Shoko's adventure with little to no prior knowledge.
As you may be aware, particularly if you live outside the US, where Saint Seiya has enjoyed much more popularity, the story is steeped in Greek mythology. The “saints” of the title are warriors sworn to the goddess Athena, who in the modern world takes the form of middle school girl Saori Kido. While most of the Saints are male (and indeed, it used to be a requirement), Saori now has her own inner guard of female saints known as the “Saintia.” Five years prior to the story starting, young Kyoko and Shoko were attacked by a dryad who tried to kidnap Shoko, saying that she was born under an evil star and was destined to become the physical vessel for Eris, the Goddess of Strife. The girls were saved by the Scorpio Saint Milo, who basically tells Kyoko that Shoko is doomed. Kyoko then seeks out the path of a Saintia in order to protect Shoko from Eris and her minions…but to do so, she has to just leave without telling her sister anything.
Flash forward five years, and Kyoko is now the Equuleus Saintia, working closely with Athena. When Eris begins trying to get her hands on Shoko again, Kyoko reappears, alongside Saori/Athena and another Saintia named Mii. Needless to say, things happen and Shoko soon finds herself having to don Kyoko's gold cloth (high level armor) as Equuleus, something Mii is emphatically not happy about – because Eris' line about Shoko being born under a bad star is unfortunately true. This is what makes the fact that she has the Equuleus cloth so important: the original protagonist of Saint Seiya is the Pegasus Saint. Astronomically speaking, Equuleus is a constellation meaning “little horse;” in Greek mythology he is the child (or brother, depending) of Pegasus. This directly lines Shoko up with Seiya, not just in terms of making it clear who the protagonists of the stories are, but also that she has the potential to be like Seiya in terms of heroism and power.
She doesn't really begin to come into that power until the end of volume two, making most of these books set-up. That's not really a problem for new readers, because it allows us to get a good grasp of the story and its mythology. Even for seasoned fans it largely works out; Kurumada and Kuori seed known characters and plot hints throughout, and the use of Greek mythology is interesting in and of itself – Eris' golden apple in particular. As you may know, Eris is behind the Apple of Discord incident that eventually led to the Trojan War – she threw down a golden apple inscribed with “to the fairest,” leading to Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera feuding. Among other things, this can be read as being symbolic of discord among women, and therefore using Eris and Athena as the dueling goddesses in this female-led incarnation of the Saint Seiya story makes a lot of sense, as well as leaving room for disruptions and jealousies among the Saintia as things progress. Already Mii and Shoko are being set up as vague antagonists to each other – Mii's snobbery and mild disdain of Shoko's rougher, more physical ways clearly make Shoko uncomfortable, and Mii flat-out tells Shoko that she doesn't think that Shoko can become a Saintia, implying that she's inferior to her older sister. While Saori doesn't share Mii's opinion, Mii is the closest Saintia to Saori, which could foretell problems down the line.
Saintia Sho reads like a combination of a sentai story and a magical girl narrative. Largely this is in its characters – Shoko especially is not willing to take no for an answer and is determined to save Kyoko at all costs. Given that this was Kyoko's motive for becoming a Saintia in the first place, it makes Mii's doubt of Shoko even more ominous, essentially casting her in the role of the personification of self-doubt that most heroes have to fight in order to become their best, strongest selves. Shoko, thankfully, is never really on the verge of giving in, and that's what gives this its magical girl edge. While it's too early to truly know how Shoko's resolve will evolve, the amount of sheer will that she has is impressive all on its own. Presumably this is why both Eris and Athena want her on their respective sides; it may also be why other Saints are so leery of Shoko in the first place in a nod to the jealousy sparked by the Apple of Discord.
Seven Seas' translation makes a couple of interesting choices in not fully translating some words. Eris' followers are trying to revive “okaasan,” rather than “mother,” for example, and while most seasoned fans will have no trouble with this choice linguistically, it could pose a problem for others. It also doesn't appear to really add anything to the story, unlike the decision to keep names in Japanese order (family name first), which can give the story more of a sense of place. Fortunately the rest of the books read well, having a natural sound that aids narrative flow. Kuori's art captures the feel of Kurumada's original designs while cleaning it up for a more contemporary sensibility, using fewer lines and larger panels than older shounen manga typically has.
With an anime adaptation slated for 2019, this is a good time to get back on the Saint Seiya train, or to hop aboard for the first time. Saintia Sho is gearing up to be an exciting story steeped in Greek mythology, equal parts action and character development. These two books may mostly be set-up, but they get you excited for the story to come.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Nice use of mythologies, no prior Saint Seiya knowledge necessary, good combination of action and character development
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