Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya has often flown under the radar as a shonen classic outside of Latin America. This week, Nick and Micchy find out if Netflix's CGI remake is a good way to experience the story for newcomers or prior fans.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. [Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.]
Micchy Nick, we've endured a fair number of Netflix "originals" over the years, many forgettable or even quite bad. Truly, Netflix has a mediocre track record with producing anime projects, so when I heard the words "Netflix original CGI Saint Seiya", this was my initial reaction.
Now to be completely fair, Saint Seiya is pretty big in Latin America, so I just lived in the wrong part of the world to have any nostalgia for it. But I was hoping the new show would be accessible to someone with no prior exposure to the franchise like me. For these six episodes at least, the answer is a big Nope.
Nick I'm also not super familiar with the franchise. I thought I half-remembered watching some episode of the English dub on Cartoon Network as a kid, but it turns out I was actually thinking of Ronin Warriors. But Saint Seiya is one of those iconic properties that's always been present in the anime landscape in some form, so I was hoping this new CG series could be an interesting entry point.
Unfortunately, trying to turn a classic action-fantasy series into a cheap toy commercial yielded predictable results.
I can't believe the show with plasticky character models whose hair never moves is supposed to sell toys.
Listen, I'm not opposed to toy commercials. I got into Gundam entirely because of Build Fighters. But between the Americanized names of the cast, the chunky and bloodless CG action, and Netflix not even including a Japanese voice track, Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya feels like the 4Kids version of itself.
It's the Glitter Force version of Saint Seiya, only with less Japanese Pizza and more confusing time skips. Though it is worth noting that the English track is the original; it was scripted in English and dubbed into Japanese after.
It's still just weird. The JP track exists, and Netflix included every other dub in its international release, why not that one?
Knowing how Netflix makes decisions, their ~metrics~ probably said it wasn't worth the cost. I agree though, it's a strange decision.
And it's far from the only strange decision on this show. Though I do at least appreciate getting The Struts to cover the gloriously '80s opening.
For a show whose pre-release hype made a big deal about Shun Shaun being a girl, the OP lyrics sure do make some bold claims.
But whatever, as silly as the decision to change Shun's gender was, it barely matters since none of the characters have much substance anyway. So much was excised in the adaptation that the show turned into an endless parade of basic plot beats with nothing to contextualize them emotionally; the characters that people know and love are just kinda there in the middle of all this junk.
It's almost impressive how the show manages to cover nearly every major plot beat of the original manga's first arc, while simultaneously removing any sense of character or gravitas from it. At best, the characters have broad kids' show personalities with little to define them outside of what armor they're wearing.
I swear, I almost got whiplash from how fast Netflix Seiya speeds through story beats. At the end of the first episode, Seiya decides to go to the island of Chamos to undergo training. The second episode spends about two minutes on his arrival (how did he get there? We just don't know) and then suddenly!
When did any of this happen?! Then his teacher Marin makes her first appearance in that episode, and not ten minutes later:
Meanwhile, I'm sitting here wondering what the hell she even taught him. All we got to see was a brief flashback where she explained basic physics.
To be fair, this is where the original manga opened too, but that was because it's meant to establish the world and Seiya's powers immediately, rather than this show which opens on Seiya's backstory of nearly getting shot in the face.
You can tell this show is American because the biggest threat to Seiya's life is getting sniped by paramilitary forces and/or getting squished by an attack helicopter.
You'd think that would mean this is a grim, super serious take on the material, but the actual tone and intensity of this series is way closer to something you'd see at 9:30am on Kids WB. Right down to cartoon kabong sound effects when Seiya blows up a helicopter.
Like, starting in media res makes total sense as a hook. Suddenly skipping ahead six years (after which Seiya looks exactly the same) is just bizarre. The structural change was unnecessary, tonally jarring, and frankly bad.
And that's not getting into the weirdness of Seiya's expanded backstory, where he becomes an accidental YouTube star.
And yet we know next to nothing about what actually motivates him besides the vaguest suggestion of sister-fridging. The show paints Seiya as this snarky guy who's totally hip with the kids but forgets to give us an actual reason to care about him or his relationship with his sister. Relatability apparently means less emotional vulnerability and more skateboarding, I guess.
And he's the most well-established character! Everyone else is one repeated personality trait whenever they aren't fighting, which isn't often because boy does this show like to jump from fight to fight. My favorite is Seiya's 60 second battle against Shaina, which is just these two images separated by a pep talk.
I also like the fight against Long where he dies for a minute and 20 seconds (I counted!) while bystanders repeatedly claim that saving him will cost Seiya his life. Meanwhile, Seiya looks completely fine because this is a children's cartoon where only one guy at most is allowed to bleed.
Spoilers: they're all fine five in-show minutes later. Also this whole thing comes in the same episode as Seiya's most dangerous foe is introduced: a manhole cover.
I'm fairly sure the manhole cover gets more lines than most of the cast, and it's not even all that funny.
Also: Long has no nipples. What gives. Y'all finally figured out how to make CG anime look at least as good as Jimmy Neutron, but you couldn't be bothered to give the boys nipples?
They were too busy rendering all these roses for Hyoga Magnus' backstory that's never explained in this whole first season. Don't get me wrong, a bed of inexplicably preserved roses surrounding a corpse at the bottom of a frozen ocean is some glorious anime nonsense, but it does not a compelling character motivation make.
Six episodes isn't enough time to generate any emotional weight, but it's plenty of space to cram in more quips.
Even VLD lets its character writing breathe a little. Take Long's early antagonism with Seiya, for example; even the most rote rivals-to-friends arc would start them off with more friction than one vaguely dismissive line. To make their rivalry satisfying, you gotta pit the characters' fighting philosophies against each other and force them to see the other's strengths. But Nu-Seiya doesn't even bother to establish any conflict between the two characters, which makes Seiya's decision to save Long a matter of course rather than a significant step in repairing their friendship.
The characters and plotting are the double-helix of this show's failings that twist around each other in a death spiral from start to finish. Any personality from the original gets sanded down to make a sanitized toy vehicle, which is the most likely reason for the decision that managed to anger every fan of Saint Seiya I know:
Wow, reminding the token girl that she's the token girl who exists for misguided woke points, how empowering.
I don't even think Shaun's character was motivated by trying to score brownie points at all. I think the people in charge just decided they needed one girl character for the action figure line so hey, why not choose the purple one with the girly-sounding constellation power?
Whatever the reasoning, it was a silly decision that made nobody happy, least of all the people who liked Shun for what he represented as an empathetic boy who wasn't traditionally masculine. That said, Shaun is hella cute and voiced by Luci Christian, which makes me feel conflicted as someone who agrees with the criticisms in principle but is also weak to girls with short hair.
Now if only she had some kind of character. There's a ton you could do with a trained warrior dedicated to a war against literal Gods who refuses to fight traditionally! But we never analyze that aspect of her, so Shaun just fights using stock special attack animations the same as everyone else, and I guess everyone learns the power of teamwork along the way.
Now now, Shaun also gets to be a satellite in her brother's emotional journey, that's very important. Speaking of Nero, he's the best part of the show because not only is he the only one with a fleshed-out backstory, but just like us, he's sick of the knights using the same damn attacks every ten seconds.
Nero is also where the show's dumbing down of its own material really becomes apparent.
It's not a good motivation, but at least we get some idea of how he became a villain.
And we get our one (1) instance of actual blood! To fridge his sort-of girlfriend. Womp womp.
And then he gets way into Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, and the rest is history.
Seriously though. Those sideburns.
Nero, you had one job.
My favorite moment was when Seiya tells Nero that all of them have suffered without turning to villainy, and then you realize that you have no idea what he means by that, because the show never bothered to show any of it.
They've had to overcome great obstacles like uh...fighting a bunch of helicopters that one time.
And then he starts yelling about the power of friendship, which carries no weight because as far as I can tell, the knights all met earlier that day.
Not gonna lie, that fight is where I lost all patience with this show and just flipped the bird to my computer screen. In theory, I should love a moment of a hero coming together with his friends to overcome a more powerful adversary who's been consumed by hatred! In practice, these characters have been "friends" for all of 20 minutes in-universe and haven't shared a single conversation that wasn't a speech about the importance of teamwork.
So this is the power of bad screenwriting.
It's paint-by-numbers writing that even lesser seasons of Power Rangers would scoff at, and it just hammers home how every bit of charm from the show's namesake has been sanded off. Unless you're under the age of 10 and have yet to develop your own taste in media, I just can't imagine somebody getting anything out of this.
Yeah, I feel like most kids' shows have a better handle on themes as basic as the power of teamwork. Netflix Saint Seiya, in trying to compress existing material into a handful of episodes rather than growing these characters from the ground up, just glosses over all the important emotional climaxes in favor of a rough skeleton of the original story. It rushes so badly that if you're not familiar with Saint Seiya already, you have no idea what's going on, and if you are already a fan, you're constantly reminded of what it's lacking.
The only lasting impact it left on me is accepting that when they make the inevitable toy line, I hope to get one of those armor medallions out of a blind box some day.
I find it amusing that the only time the show seems to acknowledge the franchise's prominent Latin American following is in a 30-second scene where Seiya dons a dopey sombrero. I just wonder who this show is even for at this point. Instead of going full Lupin in Italy/France, the show's sum tribute to its biggest fans is a silly hat.
It really does feel like it was made by a committee who didn't know or care about the property they were working with. It's a checklist of stuff you need to include to get kids to buy action figures and not much else.
It's undoubtedly disappointing to those who grew up with Saint Seiya and were hoping for a reasonably faithful adaptation that captures the spirit of the original. Cynical toy marketing doesn't make for compelling art. However well this Saint Seiya series does, I really hope it doesn't encourage too many more half-hearted remakes of beloved properties.
Honestly, I'd be happy if someone just started streaming the original. If nothing else, this remake got me curious enough to want to experience the original story. Otherwise, I stick by my first impression of this thing:
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