Today marks the 30th anniversary of the airing of Saint Seiya – Sanctuary from TOEI animation on Japanese TV Network based on the original manga by Masami Kurumada. It was aired in France sometimes in 1987 as “Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque” (translated as Knights of the Zodiac) and from there will spawn a huge success across Spain, Portugal and by ricocheting through Latin America.
What makes this anime so awesome? Maybe a mix of different things that I will discuss more about in debt.
First the synopsis of the series. The series take place sometimes in the present era, on the eve of the Galactic tournament gathering the best martial arts fighters from the whole world. Interestingly, most of these fighters came from the same orphanage under the patronage of Mitsumasa Kido. According to the legend, every 200 years the evil force try to conquer Earth only to be stopped by Athena and an army of valiant knights, these knights being numbered as 108, the number of constellations in the sky. In the present era, Saori Kido (the granddaughter of Mitsumasa Kido) is believed being the incarnation of Athena. The birth of Athena is not known but it appears the Grand Pope in Greece plot to assassinate her, only saved by Sagittarius Aiolos, a Gold Saint. Aiolos dies on the feet of Mitsumasa by giving her Saori and his Sagittarius cloth. Back in Japan, Kido adopt Saori as his granddaughter and set her to reign on the Graude Foundation, that is in charge of the orphanage. Interestingly enough, Saori has a relationship with many of these knights as she used to wander in the orphanage and bully some of these orphans.
As these kids raise the age of 5, Mitsumasa decide to send each of these kids around the world to train to become Bronze Saints and earn the bronze cloth. The Galactic Tournament brings back all these kids now young men to fight this tournament in order to earn the Sagittarius golden cloth. However, things are not going the way it should and will trigger a frenetic chain reaction that kept the audience blast for over 50 episodes.
What makes this series so great is perhaps the absence of a single hero by its own. Yes, there is the main protagonist, Seiya (that gave the name to the Japanese title) that under the training of Eagle Marine learn to unleash his cosmo energy, such cosmo being both an energetic and psychic force capable to inflict remote damage to its opponent. We got introduced to Seiya by the first episode as he is fighting for the Pegasus bronze cloth a giant named Cassios. As Seiya is crushed in by Cassios hands, Seiya finally unleash his cosmo and earn the Pegasus bronze armor. At the beginning, Seiya compete against his former friends until the heist of the Sagittarius armor by the Black Bronze Saints (the antithesis of the Bronze Saints) headed by Phenix Ikki (brother of Andromeda Shaun) will force them to join their force and becoming a strong team. This idea of brotherhood and friendship is the key element of Saint Seiya as they all face the challenges together in all different parts of the manga.
Maybe the differences in temper between the different characters. From the cold and distant Cygnus Hyoga (still under the trauma of his mother death, trapped by the frigid waters of Finland) to the antipathic brother Ikki contrasting with the fragile and sensible mood of Shaun. Because of these different moods and strengths of each of them, at least each child could refer to one of them.
Maybe it is the endurance and perseverance of the protagonists, ready to sacrifice their life for justice, facing each week opponents each time stronger than ever. First they defeat the Black Bronze knights, to only defeat some of the best Bronze Knights (in particular, the epic fight of Dragon Shiryu and Algol Perseus in which Shiryu blind himself to avoid petrification by Medusa shield. This was also an episode that created some controversy as Perseus did not hesitate to use his shield to transform children trying to escape into stones. Not only the team defeated all the Bronze Saints that gave their allegiance to the Grand Pope and declared Saori as heretic, they also face Silver Saints that have a more powerful armor and speed to finally face on Gold Saints represented by the twelve signs of the Zodiac.
Maybe it is also the particular atmosphere and discussion raised by some characters sexual orientation. There is a discrete but consistent homoerotism in the series that may have surely intrigued young men growing into their puberty. For instance, Shaun is harboring Andromeda Bronze cloth, an armor color dominated by pink. Shaun also has this effeminate traits giving this androgyne look (this was also resurgent with Lizard Misty Silver Saint and APieces Aphrodites Gold Saint). There is also this particular scene that surely has shaken many boys watching it. In one episode, Hyoga is trapped into a block of ice by Aquarius Camus Gold Saint (his mentor in the manga, the mentor Crystal Saint, mentor of Hyoga in the TV version) to avoid his confrontation and ultimate death. As Hyoga is untapped from his ice coffin, Shaun decide to bring Hyoga back from hypothermia by laying naked on top of him to exchange heat. That was some bold scene for a young male to watch.
Maybe it is the music of Seiji Yokohama that brilliantly mixed classical soundtrack instrumentations with metal tones giving this winning formula. The opening sequence is simply majestic, giving the tone of the whole series. Using the main themes of Yokohama and giving to Make-Up (a J-Pop band that was strongly influenced by the rock, punk and metal scene), it literally blow your inner cosmo. Just by listening to the opening, you realize how terrible anime opening and ending credits have become in 30 years. Just by watching it, you feel like to watch the whole series. This was not exclusive to Saint Seiya as a lot of anime of that period aimed to Shonen (young boys) were having this rock and rebel feel
The ending sequence is as well refined, as well by Make-Up and named “Forever Blue”
After the end of Sanctuary, TOEI decided to branch out and followed a non-canon direction with the second part by creating “Asgard” taking the Bronze Saints into the Scandinavian frozen lands and exploring the Nordic mythology, whereas the third chapter came back to the canon with “Poseidon”, this time a confrontation of Poseidon (impersonated by Julian Solo) and his Marine Generals.
I followed up to Saint Seiya Hades and Elysion in which the Bronze Knights fights off the army of Hades and reaches the Elysion to fight over deities. I kind of lost interest when the latest chapter “The Lost Canvas” explore the previous Holy War that took place 200 years before the original.
The anime has probably aged badly but definitively worth to be watched if you ever have chance. I am pretty sure you can grab some Mexican copies under the name of “Caballero Del Zodiaco” and I strongly recommended the original Japanese with english subtitles (Spanish worked very well for me, as I could translate some words into French and get the sense).