Why Saint Seiya is the OG Psychadelic Shonen Action Show
by Michelle Liu & Steve Jones,
We've stepped into a time machine and gone way back to 1987 where male action heroes were pink, flashy, and kicked ass. The original Saint Seiya is now legally streaming on Netflix and Micchy and Steve are ready to go on a psychadelic shonen trip back to 1987.
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.
Steve Hey Micchy, welcome to This Week In 1986! It's time to get #aesthetic about things!
Micchy It was mighty kind of Netflix to drop a whole 'lotta anime on us before we head into 1987, but I gotta say, broadcasting cartoons via this "Internet" doodad is really nifty. Feels like we're living in the future!
I for one welcome our new Netted Flicks overlords.
Surely they won't be an indomitable media empire three decades from now, whenever they get around to existing! In the meantime we can enjoy our Saint Seiyas and our He-Mans in tight leotards.
That's right, the reason for this 33-year-old season is that Netflix has decided to drop the first 41 (out of 114) episodes of the original Saint Seiya anime. Is that a weird number to stop at? Yes! Did we watch all of those episodes? No! But we did work through what's considered the first "arc" of the show, and we're here to report how kind the incessant drumbeat of time has been to this story about manly punch saints.
Manly punch saints with luscious '80s hair and VERY flattering costumes, beating the crap out of each other in bloody fashion like any self-respecting cartoon characters should. Steve, you didn't have to watch the sanitized plastic reboot of this show a few months ago, but trust me when I say that despite its occasional crustiness, the '86 anime is the Good One.
Yeah, this was most likely released to be a companion to the Netflix-original Knights of the Zodiac, which I know you had to suffer through. For me, though, this experience was my very first exposure to anything Saint Seiya. I really only knew it as a shonen series of some repute, and yeah, in general, I kinda really dug this a lot. I'm also glad you mentioned "bloody", because that's the thing that immediately jumped out at me. Saint Seiya does not shy away AT ALL from showing that bright crimson life nectar. Hell, the 1st episode kicks things off with an entire ear getting karate-chopped off.
When you won't lose to a punk like Seiya:
It just feels gleefully bloody in a way I don't see quite as much in modern anime. Not saying I want to see more blood every time Deku breaks his arms, mind you, but it does make for a striking aesthetic choice here And yes, I'm probably going to be using the word "aesthetic" quite a bit in this column, because look at this.
"Striking" is definitely the word for it. There's a charm to the garish costume designs and obnoxious color palette that you just don't see a whole lot these days.
It's so good! Let me drown myself in all of those hot pinks.
Honestly, if your eyeballs aren't bleeding every episode, can you really say you're watching the cartoons you deserve?
Also on the topic of obnoxious '80s goodness, I dare you to watch the opening animation and not get hyped.
I absolutely love that OP. Cheesy sound effects, shouting the protagonist's name a dozen times a minute, you know what's the only other thing that does that these days? JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, that other deliciously campy shonen manga from the '80s.
It's basically the perfect OP. It tells me who the protagonist is, and it sounds like somebody compressed an entire decade of musical trends into 90 seconds of loud drum kicks and wailing guitars. Can't beat that!
I also find it very helpful when every character announces their name and corresponding constellation every time they enter the ring. It's straightforward, informative, and sometimes involves mad unicorns, it's so good.
PLUS they each get a cool transformation sequence! It's very "magical boy" in a way I wasn't expecting.
Never let it be said that only girls get the magical dresses and boys get the robots. Sometimes the boys' transformation include flashy costume changes and that's okay! In fact, the early parts of Saint Seiya are about fighting to the death over the cute outfit at the department store.
In the name of Pegasus, Seiya will punch you apart!
They can call it armor all they want, but we all know the truth. The Galaxian War is an excuse for these ten boys to fight for the right to wear the snappiest top/skirt combo. The villain is the one who's forgotten the true meaning of fashion in his quest for revenge, it all makes sense.
I found it a very strange and interesting way to kick the story off. Like, the opening narration builds up the Saints as these divinely-ordained warriors who appear in order to fight evil. But then we begin by throwing them all into a tournament where they have to beat each other's asses to death for the public's amusement.
The powers that be, when Seiya's accepts his Bronze Cloth:
Seiya, not 10 minutes later: yeah sure I'll fight in this globally broadcast tournament, what could go wrong?
Some of it does feel like intentional cognitive dissonance, but it also def feels like the story didn't quite know what it wanted to be in these early stages. But I can forgive structural weirdness when there are lines of dialogue that are this good.
Early Seiya seems pretty rough around the edges, diving into a tournament arc right off the bat and only establishing its core cast as it goes, but it's hard to be too down on structural fumbles when it also has an excuse to have a guy wrestle a bear.
We might only have the barest outline of motivations for most of the cast, but who cares if their characterization's a little thin when there are bears to wrangle.
I can personally attest this is exactly what living in Colorado was like.
Also, while some boys were out there choke-slamming bears, others were becoming one with a Horrible Goose.
oh dang you're right
Hyoga has the rather unique motivation of having an underwater mother for reasons that we are not at all privy to in this first arc, but honestly I like it that way. Saint Seiya is most fun when it's most absurd.
Personally I'm just wondering why the hell the Saints were sent to the places they were? Like sure, they picked their training locations out of a hat, but what I want to know is how those locations were chosen in the first place.
Did the Graude Foundation happen to know about Hyoga's iceberg mom? And why on earth would they think it's a good idea to send a kid to a place called DEATH QUEEN ISLAND?
Gonna go out on a limb and say the Graude Foundation doesn't have had the best interests of these kids in mind. Tho I do love that the training locales range from a nice Greek vacation to the aforementioned DEATH QUEEN ISLAND. That's one heck of a short straw.
Them: yeah we've never once had someone come back from DEATH QUEEN ISLAND alive and well. No, we're not going to stop sending people there, stop asking.
I'm just saying, HR seems to be making some pretty lousy calls here!
Well, considering this guy seems to be in charge of HR.
I do want to talk about my favorite punch saint boy a bit, and why he's obviously Shun.
For starters, Shun's got the boldest, pinkest costume of them all, and he doesn't even take it off when everybody else does.
You just cannot beat the fluffy green hair and bright pink armor combination. I also very much appreciate that his Andromeda Cloth gives him tiddy.
I suppose that's partly why he gets reinterpreted as a girl in some adaptations or international versions of Saint Seiya (ahem), but I posit that Boy Tiddy is also very important. Shun is great though because in a cast of fabulous pretty boys, he's the prettiest and most fabulous on top of being an absolute ray of sunshine.
Yeah, I love that his tournament bout is frequently interrupted by his adoring and screaming fans.
The girls love a sensitive one, as they should! And let's be real, given the choice between Shun and M'lady Oedipus up there, I know who I'd date.
And I actually really like that in a show all about super-powered boys laying down some hurt, the most effeminate member of the bunch has the most OP (and most useful outside of combat) ability we've seen so far. He's shown to be a crybaby when he was little, but he's grown up to be as respected a warrior as the rest of them!
Also have I mentioned I love the dialogue in this show?
The dialogue's so silly, the kind that's nearly impossible to say with a straight face, but that's what makes it fun.
It's so cheesy and dumb and I love it. Bless this gem of a cartoon and all its weird camp.
Camp is absolutely the right word for it. And on the subject of Seiya and Shiryu's battle, in my estimation, the anime's first moment of indisputable, crystallized brilliance happens here.
That's right, after stopping his heart with one punch, Seiya has to save Shiryu by punching his heart AGAIN, from the opposite side. That's science.
Even after seeing that bit play out in multiple different versions, I still cannot get over how gloriously galaxy brained that plot point is. It's like saying "maybe I can fix delicate machinery by whacking it a few times" except the machinery is a human body.
At the end of the day, it's still a delicate procedure that requires the utmost precision.
Meanwhile, Seiya's on the verge of passing out on his feet the entire time because HE'S also almost dead, and it's only with the encouragement of all the other Saints that he's able to muster the strength to punch good. For as rough as Saint Seiya often is with its plotting and pacing, in these moments, you can really see the DNA of future shonen series being formed.
It's really no wonder that Saint Seiya caught on so hard and why it continues to be a big deal in Latin America. It's an OG shonen template, where the feelings and the punching come together to create a real satisfying high. Even if modern shonen battlers have generally discarded the tradition of belting the series' title in the opening theme in favor of poppier tunes, the skeleton remains much the same.
I'd say Saint Seiya worth checking out for its historical context. I think it's always cool to see how media and genre progress over the decades. And, like me, you just might find yourself legitimately enjoying it after all.
If nothing else, do it for the faces, which transcend decades to stand next to the best of today's goofy anime expressions.
Also, just do it so we can maybe get more older anime widely available. I need these color palettes to come fully back into fashion.
Maybe if we cross our fingers and arms and legs enough, it'll happen!
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