The fascinating myth of ‘Knights of the Zodiac’ that continues to spread throughout the world

Saint Seiya (Knights of the Zodiac) is a manga that chronicles the battles of “holy knights” or “saints” in an epic world based on Greek mythology and was a huge hit in the mid-1980s. What’s the appeal? of this work that continues to fascinate people beyond eras, borders and generations?

The story of young people who serve the goddess Athena and fight against evil

It is said that the “saints”, warriors of hope, appear every time iniquity infests the world, and also that their fists are capable of splitting the sky and their kicks the earth.

In 1985, the magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump of the publisher Shueisha began the serialization of Saint Seiya (Knights of the Zodiac, in the Spanish-speaking world). This work became sleeve valued as the greatest masterpiece of the cartoonist Kurumada Masami, who had already had success with the social phenomenon Ring ni Kakero (Let’s bet it in the ring) in 1977. His impact has been colossal and far-reaching.

The protagonist of this story is Seiya, a passionate boy who always puts the good of his companions before his own. Seiya was separated from his sister at a very young age and sent to grueling training to become one of the knights holding the 88 zodiac constellations as a paladin. After training with his life on the line, he was promoted to a Bronze Knight of the constellation Pegasus. When he returned to Japan, what awaited him was participation in a martial arts tournament known as The Galactic War. But this was only a small step to later enter an epic battle.

Seiya, together with his irreplaceable companions such as: Shiryū of Dragon, Hyōga of Swan, Shun of Andromeda and Ikki of Phoenix, fight in a civil war between the knights that began with the usurpation of the Patriarch. This conflict eventually leads to the Holy War against the Emperor of the Sea Poseidon and the Dark Lord Hades, and the War of the Gods.

The mission of the knights is to protect the goddess Athena who fights for justice. The knights have no weapons, they only wear armor called “Cloth”. These warriors display superhuman martial arts, but the source of their power is their spirit. In other words, the hidden microcosm within the body.

The work was taken to the format of anime by the prestigious Tōei Dōga (now Tōei Animation) as early as 1986, the year after serialization began.

Seiya was voiced by Furuya Tōru, known for his roles as Hoshi Hyūma in Kyojin no Hoshi (The Star of the Giants, 1968) and Amuro Ray in Mobile Suit Gundam (1977). Although Furuya is a veteran voice actor with a lot of experience, he showed up at the audition site dressed as Seiya and expressed his enthusiasm for winning the role.

The character designs for the version anime they were made by legendary animators Araki Shingo and Himeno Michi. The series’ director was Morishita Kōzō, who was known for directing action works at the time.

Morishita participated in the co-production of Transformers: The Movie in the United States just before Saint Seiya, due to which he realized the large budgetary scale of works abroad. According to the company, with Saint Seiya the aim was also to create a new film through meticulous production at a generous cost. For this reason, Morishita investigated the technology of synthesis of Star Wars and took it to the production site.

As a result, the version of anime that aired was also a success. It not only gained popularity in Japan, but was screened in 80 countries abroad, and Saint Seiya expanded his fan base worldwide.

The anime is known to have a fandom particularly passionate in South America and France. Fans traveled from France to Japan to visit Tōei, and even went to Araki Shingo’s production company, which sometimes received phone calls from Mexican fans.

In 2021, Saint Seiya collaborated with Lord’s Mobile, a global simultaneous RPG for smartphones. The series has had a huge impact on the world of video games. © Kurumada Masami – Toei Animation ©IGG

The universal appeal of ‘Saint Seiya’ which has spread beyond Japan

By the way, in Saint Seiya the Golden Knights appear, who are the most powerful warriors who have the twelve constellations as a paladin. The Gold Knights have overwhelming power, they are strong and cool. At the time of serialization of the sleeve and issuance of anime, the children were fascinated by them. However, some golden knights were treated unfavorably in the play, much to the dismay of fans whose own birthday falls in that constellation. It is interesting to note that foreign fans were just as desperate at this “disparity between the constellations.”

For example, the Pisces Gold Knight is called “Aphrodite” and appears as “Seiya’s enemy”. The negative impact may be stronger abroad because people feel that it is a female name. On the internet, I see Brazilian and French fans wailing towards the Pisces Knight, but I’m also a Pisces, so I understand that sentiment.

One of the reasons why it has fans from so many countries and regions is probably due to the worldview appeal of this work.

An epic battle composition based on Greek mythology, the attractive appearance of the knights with their armor and their dramatic special techniques. The most wonderful thing is that the source of that power is not physical ability, but spiritual power called “microcosm” in the Japanese version, or simply “cosmos” in the foreign versions.

This environment made the boys feel that as long as they had an unbreakable and indomitable heart, they could (maybe) become like a knight.

In addition, the values ​​represented in the work were universal. In particular, “friendship”, which is the central theme of this play, captured the hearts of viewers.

In the original version of the sleeve, it is revealed that Seiya and the other Bronze Knights were also brothers in DNA. The version anime does not have that argument, because the DNA was not essential. The important thing is that they were “brothers” who came together through battle. They were able to raise their cosmos only when they fought for others. No matter how badly injured they were, if they fought for their fellow men instead of themselves, they could rise up and fight again. Her beautiful and sultry appearance touched people’s hearts.

Since the series has a long life, many related books have been published. Seitōshi Seiya dai kaibō, (Great Anatomy of Saint Seiya; Ed. San'ei).
Since the series has a long life, many related books have been published. Seitōshi Seiya dai kaibō(Great Anatomy of Saint Seiya; Ed. San’ei).

Impact on creators around the world

French filmmaker Louis Leterrier is a fan of Saint Seiyaand his masterpiece Wrath of the Titans (2010) was made as a tribute to seiya. It could be said that this work has had a huge impact on many creators.

In Saint Seiya, not only the story of the main character is told, but also others such as Hyōga from Swan, who hides his passion for his late mother under a cold expression, and Shun from Andromeda, feminine in appearance and with great abilities. So many characters are generously introduced that they are attractive enough that each of them can play the lead role alone.

The world of this magnificent work is as if The Avengers Marvel would have been created by a single artist, but Kurumada’s approach to “showing the relationships between the characters as an ensemble drama” has been incorporated into the world of the sleeve like an epic model.

Also, that doesn’t happen only in the genre in which superhuman heroes act. The staggered structure of the Gold Knights, the most powerful of the three groups, followed by the Silver and the still inexperienced Bronze Knights, is also reflected in the sleeve school sports team as the oldest students in the third, second and first years of the Japanese high school education system.

Above all, Kurumada’s attitude of “sparing no effort and doing everything possible to create a show in each episode, since the accumulation of these elements is what makes the sleeve be interesting” is the basic spirit of the sleeve even today, when content is being published digitally.

Sequels are still being drawn Saint Seiya and a group of spin offs from other authors. A version for the small screen was also planned. Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac by Netflix, which was released from 2019. In addition, a live-action film version is in the works in Hollywood.

This in itself is already a dynamic expansion, but if you look around the world of sleeve contemporary, you can feel the legacy of Saint Seiya in different works, such as Kimetsu no Yaiba, Tokyo Revengers Y Yowamushi Pedal.

Kurumada Masami also pioneered gender representation, recasting the traditional image of men as a “strong macho.” It is not surprising that this great cartoonist is deeply respected by many creatives.

Header photo: Saint Seiya began serialization in December 1985. The elaborate constellation armor and stories based on Greek mythology became popular, becoming an iconic work of art. Weekly Shōnen Jump. At the end of serialization, in December 1990, the circulation exceeded 5 million copies.

Photography: Editorial Department of nippon.com