When Netflix announced that they were working on a Reboot of Masami Kurumada ́s Saint Seiya, a lot of people were excited about it. The streaming service had a good record with series like Castlevania, Violet Evergarden, and Baki. These shows presented us, respectively: Good story, good drama, and exciting fights. Adding to that the original promise (or the thought) that this adaptation will be more akin to the source material than what was the 80´s anime which diverged in many areas. So everything pointed to be a good readaptation of Saint Seiya.
Sadly, the end result has been… less than positive, since what we got was a very washed down version of Saint Seiya that neither follows the original manga nor the anime that made it popular. It also has similar problems that had plagued the newest iterations of Saint Seiya from Toei; but let’s start from the beginning.
For starters, and let’s be honest here, was a reboot necessary? To retell the classic story that influenced a good portion of the world sans the English-speaking world? The answer is yes, since, to be be honest, the 80´s anime has not aged well and it shows that its failing the test of time. While the powerful scenes are still there and as good as ever, a lot of areas are lacking, from the animation to the story and pacing. A new take on this story that gives it more lustere while updating what it needs to be updated could be just what the franchise needs in order to give new life and show to the anglosphere why is this series caught the eye of everyone except them.
Sadly, and as I said above, Netflix’s take on the series is lacking in what made the original series so epic and memorable, or the story presented in the manga. For starters, this reboot does not have the veteran Saint Seiya fan in mind and goes towards the newcomer, specifically a very young audience. There is nothing wrong in doing that, in leaving the (aging) fanbase of the franchise in pursuit of a new one that might get attached to it and when they grow up will keep watching the anime, reading the mangas and buying the toys (which this last one is the biggest source of revenue that the series has) adding more life to the franchise. The problem is that this series has a very low level of attention and care that I have doubts any youngster might get attached to this series compared to others, and the veteran fans will most likely feel insulted for what has been shown.
The first chapter (which serves as a prologue for the rest of the series) is pretty much a textbook example of what not to do in any introduction of any given series. A lot of annoying situations, dialogues that aren’t funny and only make the characters obnoxious, mixed with senseless over-the-top cheesiness, and they throw you a lot of information to digest in a very short time period., It is missing the organic writing and characterization that allows us to get to know and understand the characters by how they live.
The next chapters (2-6), while better in that regard, are extremely rushed throwing us from situation to situation, barely giving the characters a chance to breathe. In one minute we have Seiya starting his training with Marin, the next he is fighting Cassius for the Pegasus cloth, and the next one the Galaxian wars have started and he fought and defeated Bear Geki. Seiya is not the only one with the problem of characterization, since all of the characters have such problems; they become a little more than a character gimmick after gimmick without any real motivation whatsoever which opens plotholes at every point.
Who is that lady that Hyoga (Magnus) leaving roses in that drowned ship in the arctic? Who knows, the series never made it clear.
How is that the Bronze Saints act like they have known each other from years when this is pretty much the first time they meet each other? Who knows, the series never revealed it.
Whydoes Shun (Shaun) knows that Unicorn Jabu (Jab) is crazy for Saori Kido? Who knows, it was never mentioned that they have met before.
Why Ikki (Nero) joined forces with Van Guraad? Who knows, it was never revealed.
This and other incongruencies are presented on the lapse of these first 6 chapters. Besides the extremely cramped pacing(something that has already happened to the franchise, just look at the anime of Saintia Sho), the original content is not much better. Specifically the whole business with the original character of Van Guraad. This person is pretty much your average military bad guy, a person who knows about the cosmos and if he mixes it with technology, he will get a super military or the power to make humanity protect itself from any outside forces or divinity. His motivations are not very clear and the character shows contradictions in his whole arc since he yells he does not believe in prophecies (more on that later), or believe in the existence of the supernatural. Still, he knows about the cosmos, knows that Saori Kido is Athena, believes that Seiya is the new Pegasus Saint… So it as believable as an atheist who knows about God’s existence, or the existence of the soul, yet decides to still not believe in anything (wait… There is an anime that is pretty much that… anyway).
Mind you, not everything is bad about this anime and it shows us some interesting concepts that give an interesting twist in the series. Specifically talking the whole deal about the prophecy, the image of the coup (or Crateris) cloth is interesting since such constellation has only been used on the Next Dimension manga (in the prequel part) and in the spinoff Saintia Sho with the character of Aeson. In any case, this prophecy tells that Athena’s resurrection, instead of giving hope, will be the first sign of great peril since this time she will lose against Poseidon and Hades; therefore, the Sanctuary has decided that this time around they themselves will fight the gods, without any help of any deity, and for that they have to kill Athena. So this whole business about fate and either accepting it or facing it, plus continuing the path that has been started for others are themes that pretty much abound in Saint Seiya and are actually cool.
Now the fights, which are a central part of Saint Seiya are sadly not as intense or as memorable in the past, which is a very curious case since in retrospective the battles in the reboot are better choreographed than the classic anime. Still the impact does not come, mostly because everything that revolves around the fights aren’t there or are too weak, from the characters resolution and motivations to the music and the dialogue do not work to make us engaged with the violence that happens on screen and to anticipate the results and the consequences.
The character development are lacking and we see how in a very forced and “just because” way Seiya and co. become friends, even though they barely know each other and meet that exact day. The whole message about the power of friendship and whatnot feels, very, very forced so in the last fight against Phoenix Ikki (Nero) in chapter 6, the resolution feels very, very weak since these characters didn’t have any time to become friends or anything. They are still a bunch of people who do not actually know each other.
On the graphics and other decisions, it is understandable why the Galaxian wars tournament was an “underground” one: making a bunch of models for the public would have been very, very expensive to make, so using this kind of solution to cover the lack of money is a very sensible decision. What is not good is the lack of proper use for this medium, since doing CGI animation is fundamentally different than making a 2D show, since the camera changes and other movements that normally in any 2D animation would be very expensive, are actually doable in a 3D environment. Sadly Knights of the Zodiac does not make use of these new opportunities, mostly because the director, Yoshiharu Ashino, is more known for 2D works and this is the first time he has an opportunity to direct a 3D one, and it’s obvious he does not know how to make use of the techniques that can make a 3D animation more engaging.
On the dubbing side, I have only seen the Latín American one, and everyone, sans Seiya, does a very good job on it, especially Alfonso Herrera (who you might known as Father Tomas on the Exorcist Tv Series) on his role as Hyoga/Magnus, showing us that even if he is an “star talent” choice, he still has what it takes to do good dubbing.
Finally, did I like the Knights of the Zodiac? Not really. I found it very lacking in a lot of areas, even ignoring all my knowledge about the anime and manga. Still, did I think it’s the worst thing ever? It’s quite bad, but it won’t kill the franchise, and I have read testimonies of young kids that actually liked the series and are eager to know what will happen next, or parents who, while they found it boring or terrible, enjoyed the event of watching it with their children and looking the fun they had watching this new take on Masami Kurumada´s legendary manga. An understandable thing since, as I already said, this series is aimed towards a very young audience.
So now, we have 6 episodes still yet to premiere on Netflix and while I don ́t think this will get better, I still have some hope that the different plot holes will get covered and maybe, in the end, this story will be remembered as a “could have been worse”.
Thanks to MamaLuigi for editing this article!