All of the original Saint Seiya TV show is now on Netflix with a full dub so I decided it was time to finally see what this show was like, since I can put it on while doing something else thanks to the dub. It’s always been a bit of a blind spot for me. I have known very little about it despite it being a phenomon in many part of the world. I think the US “Knights of the Zodiac” was shortly after I moved on from Cartoon Network’s anime blocks, or maybe I passed on it thinking it was an “Americanized” adaptation or some sort.
Having watched around 20 episodes, I don’t know that there’s really a lot here that I haven’t seen elsewhere by now. Either it being so influential or it sticking so closely to what was an already established formula, Saint Seiya hasn’t really diverged from the cliched shonen fighting story tropes you are familiar with nowadays, and it doesn’t feel like it has a particularly noteworthy identity outside of those. It was interesting how the show began in media res as Seiya is fighting in the final match of a tournament (which earns him a spot to fight in a different tournament, but then that tournament is interrupted by another tournament) and you are piecing together who Seiya is and what the world is as it goes alone. It was a bit odd at first but after it was interesting in how the series asked you to actively think and piece its world together, at least for the first 10 or so episodes. But the characters themselves, their backstories- the first handful of episodes already has everything from “trying to find a long lost sibling” to “must kill yourself to use your ultimate technique”. They’ve pulled the bit of characters sacrificing themselves to let their allies keep going towards the goal at least two or three times so far.
But I do find it fairly watchable. It could be as a nostalgic comfort food type quality but it’s generally fast paced and keeps a forward momentum through the tournament structure of the narrative even though there are a couple of episodes in the first half dozen of the series where it feels like the story is already being dragged out to fill time. I’m mainly curious about learning the greater mythology of the Saints- what they are, where they come from, and what their place is in the world- because that’s something that the show isn’t immediately telling you despite it being a power all the main characters have attained after difficult and personal trials. I never knew the big bad guy of at least this part of the show was The Pope! There’s also a lady named Geist who leads The Three Ravens of the Caribbean Ghost Saints: Sea Serpent, Dolphin, and Jellyfish. Now that’s a team.
Anyone here seen it or watching it? How is it regarded nowadays? It feels like it’s gotten a small resurgence since the 2010s based on the uptick in expanded media, and obviously Netflix sees some value in it considering their dubbing of the entire series and also their CG remake from a couple of years ago (Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac).
Apparently most of these dumb looking characters are actually because I was reaching some filler arcs. That explains so much about the plummet in writing, where fights ends in single attacks or are overcome by a hero just charging their cosmo real hard. Saint Seiya’s battles aren’t generally won in smart or interesting ways, but the flow is usually better than what’s presented in the filler episodes. But the Steel Saints definitely reeked of merchandise fodder from minute one.
Animation quality has a fairly solid increase starting at episode 26 though- maybe it improved after a popular first season. The above clip is from episode 26, featuring a much more involved transformation sequence than typical, granted transformations sequences aren’t that common in the first place. That episode also had a lot of dynamic camera work I hadn’t seen before. It hasn’t been matched since but the action directions does more frequently feature more interesting animation and composition.
I also like how much crying is in this show. That’s not a One Piece exclusive quality!
Saint Seiya is so regarded in Brazil Pegasus Fantasy might as well be our national anthem.
Though Soldier Dream is also another fantastic opening song
As a show on a revisit I also found it pretty standard-fare shonen. Hell, almost cynical, even, how the entire show is just tournaments and boss battles one after the other, constantly trying to make us believe that the stakes are higher than ever, all the time.
What I’d say that it stood apart were three things: 1. each character had a different armor design, 2. the Gold Saints saga allowed the viewers to kind of participate and identify themselves with each Gold Saint since each represents a different astrological sign (plus often they’d represent different countries too), and 3. the sheer amount of homo-romanticism in it
Like, it’s not literal, but it feels almost baiting when, IIRC, one of the main Saints is on the brink of death and another one has to closely embrace him and hug their bare chests together to warm the near-dead Saint back to life.
I think I’ve read somewhere that CLAMP started as a doujin group and they did a lot of Saint Seiya and JoJo yaoi and it makes sense that these two mangas would elicit such a strong and similar fujoshi response. I also think it’s part of the appeal to many straight dude fans of the series, even though they might paint it as “bromance”.
Also Shun is just very good and I think every yet-to-realize trans girl gravitated towards his femininity and propensity to cry
Yeah, that’s all fairly accurate in my experience. The interesting thing is that, even with old shows that are steeped in now-standard anime tropes, usually you can grasp onto some aspects as core to the show’s identity, something to define it. But Saint Seiya, as far as storytelling goes, is a stereotypical shonen fighting story. To the T. There is almost no storytelling or worldbuilding here that makes you go “oh, that was neat” or “that’s an interesting idea”. Coming at it as a modern watcher, every single thing about this show has become a well-worn concept I’ve seen in everything since I was little.
If you like tournament arcs then you’ll love this show because it is nothing but tournament arcs. The show starts in the middle of a tournament. That tournament qualifies Seiya to enter another tournament (The Galaxian Wars). That tournament gets interrupted and the competitors have to fight in what’s originally claimed to be another pseudo-tournament (the Black Saints + Ikki). After that you’ve got like a span of 10 episodes of filler where there’s no fighting structure involved before you hit the Sanctuary/Gold Saint arc, where the heroes have 12 hours to run up some stairs and fight 12 Gold Saints to save Athena’s life. Then immediately right after it starts the next arc, this Asgard arc I’m in the middle of, where the heroes have 12 hours to run up some stairs and fight 7 God Warriors to save Athena’s life.
Almost every fight is won by the hero finally charging up strong enough such that their attack finally hurts the enemy instead of bouncing off them. Very rarely is there any ingenuity involved or playing around an opponent’s ability. After a back and forth, the hero will finally have the resolve that they have to save Athena, and that gives them the strength to finally burn their Cosmo stronger then ever (ever!!!) and beat the enemy. Furthermore, people can’t stop dying and coming back. I swear some of those characters died three times in the Gold Saint arc only to come back later, which, again, consisted entirely of four heroes running up a flight of stairs and fighting 12 people along the way.
A few long lost siblings, dead parents, mind-controlled bad guys. Everyone’s got your stereotypical character motivations with little more to them. There are very few episodes where you get to see the characters outside of battle (these are mainly in the first 20 episodes out of a total 114). So I’m curious how novel the characters, the concept, or the storytelling was for the time.
I should probably say some of the good things about the show too, because I am still watching it after all, watching 90 episodes in three weeks. I think it had a good momentum in the beginning. It doesn’t actually tell you anything about who the characters are, what Saints are, or what the world is like. It just drops you into the middle of a tournament and you slowly piece it together. I thought that was kind of neat. It also has fairly solid pacing up through the first 20 something episodes, with Something always happening and a new goal marker established every few episodes for the heroes to fight towards. Once you start nearing Sanctuary that pacing falls apart though, first with some filler arcs that aren’t particularly inventive, and followed by the Gold Saints arc which should be awesome but gets bogged down in a lot flash backing which I presume was stalling for the manga to progress or something. The constant flash backs and re-iteration of past events just really messed up the pacing of the Gold Saints stuff.
And the Gold Saints are actually a lot cooler than I expected. When I saw screenshots of Saint Seiya characters I always saw this mass of characters who all had the same colored armor and they visually looked too similar at the time, but not having watched them and seen them up close their character designs actually do a good job of giving them distinct personalities despite them being 12 characters with the same color scheme.
When you’re watching a shonen fighting anime you naturally assume the protagonists are going to upgrade their powers to whatever the next tier is. So when Saint Seiya introduces the heroes as the Bronze Saints, and then they fight Silver Sainters followed by Gold Saints with these legendary Gold Cloths (“cloth” is the term for the special Saint armor), I assumed the good guys would get Gold Cloths eventually while fighting those Gold Saints, so as to match their powers. But the show never does! There are a few moments here Seiya borrows the power of a gold cloth, wearing one only once, but the show is actually very good at distinguishing the main characters as people wearing These Particular Bronze Cloths and somehow beating everyone above them. They grow their cosmo (power level), they unlock their seventh senses, but visually they don’t actually change identities. They just persevere. I thought that was nice.
They do get an outfit refresh after the Gold Saint arc, said to be their same armor but refined to be a bit stronger, but I actually did not like the new designs. They feel more in line with tokusatsu and mecha sensibilities, looking like designs that were probably easier to animate and easier to make toys of. But despite me finding Seiya’s design a bit silly in the beginning, I prefer his old design. It does a better job of reflecting his young, brash status as a Saint and the asymmetry on his chest was a nice flair.
The swan on Cygnus Hyoga’s head will never not be funny.
The Big Bad Guys have all had cool designs. The shows is great at making some imposing shot compositions, and I liked the plot conceit of Pope Aries actually being the Gemini Saint who had two personalities vying for control. Polaris Hilda looks sharp almost all the time but it’s too bad she seems like- how to the kids say it? A total jobber.
As Brooks mentioned the sountrack is actually solid and I like whenever it has an insert song. Speaking of which, that one part where Andromeda Shun is using his Nebula Chain and then a song starts blaring where a guy is singing “Nebula Chain!” was awesome. That was actually a cool scene in general, where Shun is sent to another dimension by a puppet being controlled by someone elsewhere on the mountain and his Andromeda Chain, which automatically seeks out anyone attacking him, pierces out of the dimension and breaks time and space and appears at Pope Aries’ throne room to attack the True Enemy. One of the best moments of the series so far.
The funny thing about this scene is that at the end of the episode Hyoga is dying frozen and Shun is like “I’ve heard the way to save someone like this is with body warmth” and Shun just lies on top of him, pretty much cuddling, and I couldn’t believe this show featured even that trope. But then in the next episode when they’re re-capping the events Shun instead pulls Hyoga up into a sitting position and they cuddle in that position instead. I guess they decided to walk it back somewhat?
I do like Shun’s character. It was interesting to see him being this character that’s used to push back against the idea that men are supposed to act in a particular way.
That doesn’t stop Seiya from being this dude who is like “I can never attack a woman” though. The writing for the women characters usually feels typical for the era. Female Saints needing to cover their face with masks is a weird thing to see when there is no pushback against it anywhere, and it even goes so far to has to have the thing where if a dude sees a female Saint’s face she has to either kill him or marry him, which of course ends up being the situation between the one female bad guy and Seiya. Just some more tropes the checkmark on the list, but I wish the female characters were more involved and better written all around.
Once Saori comes into her powers as Athena she gets this real sense of calm authority with a regal power, and she invisibly helps the heroes by sharing her cosmo/power from afar when the plot needs it but as a character she just isn’t involved very much in the going-ons of the plot once after the first 30 episodes.
What else? The second ending has some really nice shots in the first half and the song has a nice mood for an ending theme. Reminds me a bit of Akino Arai’s endings for Outlaw Star.
Some of the cut-ins and cliffhanger shots are cool.
Oh, actually, legit question for you morkitten. Do you know if the Brazilian and South American fans had, and still do, call the characters “knights” and not “saints”? The English dub has always switched up between “cloths” and “armor” randomly for one reason or another, but starting from the second batch of episodes Netflix put up (Season 4 and onward) the dub switches from calling everyone “Saints” to “Knights”. It was a sudden abrupt change. I’ve thought about the possibility of it being changed after someone got squeamish about the religious connotations, but the Asgard arc is still calling the bad guys the God Warriors who wear God Robes. So I’m also wondering if maybe the English dub is possibly aligning itself with the terminology used in other countries where Saint Seiya was more popular, such as South America and Southern Europe. Do you know if "knight’ is the colloquial term localizations there have used consistently?
It’s definitely Knights and Armors still, they haven’t changed it at all in any of the new media and re-releases as far as I know. I honestly feel that it makes way more sense than “Saints” and “Cloths”. The title of the franchise is still Knights of the Zodiac (“Os Caveleiros do Zodíaco” in Portuguese, “Los Caballeros del Zodíaco” in Spanish), but if you say “Saint Seiya” fans will know, and the brazillian version of Pegasus Fantasy (performed in the early 2000s when the anime was re-airing by a really good brazillian metal band named Angra) isn’t shy about yelling “Saint Seiya!”
I see. I’ll assume that’s why the terminology changed for the US version then. Someone eventually decided to just unify it between all of the localizations.
I actually liked the term “cloth”, outside of seeing what kind of lexicon an anime develops for its mythology. It’s an interesting contrast to the tough, armored construction of the saints’ suits, implying this feeling of soft comfort instead. Like that suit comes to be a natural garment for any saint rather than something only donned for combat. It also implies this feeling of malleability, like the armor’s personality can be folded and shaped by the saint who wears it, something crafted by the wearer rather than it being the thing that defines who they are.
I thought the term Saint lended the characters this feeling like their world and matters are somewhat distinct and above the regular world, but broad world building is not exactly one of this show’s strong points. It was quite funny to see that these Saints, defenders of the Goddess of Athena and protectors of Earth and mankind, are duking it out in a boxing ring on international television and making front page news.
It’s odd how the lack of filler impacts the tone of the last arc. The 12 Gold Saints arc, which was episodes 42-70something, was 30 something episodes. There’s a lot of filler that pads those battles out, and it’s not necessarily the battles themselves that are padded out but rather the show keeping cutting to other stuff happening during any particular fight or showing flashbacks over and over. It often broke the flow of the combat and got extremely tiresome at times. The Asgard arc (technically a filler arc) is then from episodes 70something- 98 or 99, so around another 30 episodes.
The final arc, the Poseidon stuff, concludes the series. It runs from episode 99 or 100 to 114. So around 15-ish episodes. It’s paced much more quickly, no noticeable filler. Fights end in a couple of episodes. And, since it’s following those two other arcs, somehow this makes the fights seem way too easy. The enemies are overcome so quickly that they end up feeling like pushovers. It could also just be a general storytelling thing, but it was interesting how what should have been an arc devoid of the show’s pacing issues somehow ended up with a negative effect due to the already established narrative pace, as annoying as it could be.
It is very good I watched Saint Seiya while playing game, because even though I noticed a lot of padding of the show’s runtime I completely missed some of the more ridiculous instances. I was trying to find a scene to show my brothers and we sat through this as we waited to see if it was what I was looking for.