If you ask many people what is the best thing that comes out of Japan, they will probably confidently say anime! Or if they are a little more nerdy, then they might say manga! Manga (Japanese comics) and anime (their animated adaptations) have taken the world by storm for many years. Generations all around the world have grown up reading and watching them in whatever language they speak. So, when the world of live-action decided to get their piece of the cake, too, fans were equally excited and apprehensive. Why? Because movies like Knights of the Zodiac can happen.
In 2023, a much-awaited adaptation of the manga/anime sensation Saint Seiya was released in cinemas worldwide. Knights of the Zodiac was released in Japan in April 2023 and later in the US and around the world in May 2023. Despite the on-and-off relationship manga and anime fans have with live-action adaptations, this movie was highly anticipated. Unfortunately, it did not satisfy the hunger of the original fans, nor did it bring forth new ones.
However, it is not fair to just dismiss the film and all the hard work that went behind it in a couple of words. So stay with us as we explore everything about Knights of the Zodiac, from the original source material to the cast and crew to the special effects.
The Manga That Started it All
Knights of the Zodiac is based on Saint Seiya, an original manga created by Masami Kurumada in 1985. Saint Seiya is a shonen manga that follows the epic tales of mystical knights called the “Saints”, whose sacred armour is inspired by the constellations. These armours give them incredible powers that they use to protect the incarnation of the Olympian Greek goddess Athena as she fights other gods who want to take over the world.
The manga was so popular among Japanese children that it was later translated into English in the United States and from there to the rest of the world. Masami Kurumada wrote the original manga from 1985 to 1990. After stopping for more than fifteen years, Kurumada finally started writing a sequel called Saint Seiya: Next Dimension in 2006. New issues of the sequel are still being published to this day. Throughout the years, several spin-off mangas have been published by other authors as well. But as true fans will tell you, these mangas are not considered canon —aka part of the original plot.
The Saint Seiya manga has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful manga ever to be created!
The Anime Phenomenon
Like all successful manga, Saint Seiya was adapted into an even more successful anime. In 1986, the anime adaptation of Saint Seiya premiered on TV Asahi. The anime expanded on the epic tales of the manga and gave audiences 114 episodes over the next three years. Just like the manga, the anime followed the adventures of the Saints, now called the Bronze Knights in the anime, and their quest to protect Athena’s reincarnations as they fight evil and protect Earth.
Despite the end of the original anime in 1989, adaptations of the Saint Seiya stories did not end. Four animated movies were released in theatres in Japan between the years 1987 and 1989. Fans of manga and anime were still demanding more, so from 2002 to 2008, three original films made for home video were also released in Japan. If that does not show you how beloved these stories are, we don’t know what will!
The anime’s memorable opening theme, “Pegasus Fantasy“, became an anthem for fans worldwide and is still celebrated today.
Knights of the Zodiac: A Reimagining of the Classic
Despite having numerous animated adaptations that are very well-received by fans, the world of cinema needed to create a live-action adaptation of the Saint Seiya stories titled Knights of the Zodiac. The film was produced by Toei Animation, with the screenplay written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken. Despite being announced for adaptation in 2016, Knights of the Zodiac went through numerous changes in production and crew, which halted the production of the film for some years. Eventually, the cast was announced in September 2021, and the movie was released in 2023.
The Differences Between the Manga and the Film
In an attempt to create a fresh story while still keeping the essence of the original beloved tale of Saint Seiya, the writer of Knights of the Zodiac decided to make many creative choices and change a lot of things about the source material. If you ask any anime/manga fan or any fan of any source material up for adaptation, they will tell you how bad this idea is! Fans of manga, anime and books never want their beloved stories to be altered because it rarely ends well.
The creators of Knights of the Zodiac, however, were adamant about making some changes in a well-intentioned attempt to give the fans a new story based on the one they loved so dearly. Here are some of the main alterations that were made to the original plot line.
Introduction of a New Generation
One of the most noticeable differences is the introduction of a new generation of Knights in the film. While the manga primarily focuses on the adventures of the original Bronze Knights, the film shifts its focus to a younger cast of Knights, who are successors to the original heroes. This decision was supposed to create a distinct narrative angle and add fresh dynamics to the story.
Modified Story Arcs
Despite introducing new characters to the story, the film creator tried to keep many of the iconic scenes and battle sequences in the film. But in order to make them make sense and make sure they fit the plot of the movie, they changed the order of events and omitted some integral scenes. These changes had mixed reactions from fans, as some of them were excited just to have them in the movie in any form, while others did not enjoy the changes at all!
Just like most film adaptations of manga, books, or comics, character development was lacking in the movie. In the manga, there is a lot of time and space to introduce a character, their history, their motivations, and what drives them as a person. However, because of the limited screen time, the movie barely touches on the history of any character. Battle scenes and action sequences take most of the film’s time and attention, which can be fun to watch but does not solve the plot.
The Cast and Crew Behind Knights of the Zodiac
Knights of the Zodiac has a very stellar and talented cast and crew behind it. Despite its shortcomings, the movie has introduced the audience to a number of talented actors that we are sure to see in many future projects. Let’s meet the faces behind the epic battle scenes and dramatic plot.
Tomek Bagiński (Director)
Tomek Bagiński grew up as a fan of the original anime and manga. He was committed to capturing the essence of the source material while infusing modern cinematic techniques. His love for the stories by Masami Kurumada shows in the way he talked about the film and how much work he put into it.
Bagiński has previously worked on many projects, including his first film, Rain, which won several awards. In 2002, he directed the Academy Award-nominated short film The Cathedral. As a fantasy lover, Bagiński created many cinematic scenes for The Witcher video games as well as working as a co-producer in the Netflix adaptation of The Witcher.
Mackenyu (Pegasus Seiya)
The Valiant Pegasus Seiya is played by Japanese actor Mackenyu, who gained recognition for his charismatic presence in recent years. Mackenyu made his mark in the film industry with notable roles in several critically acclaimed dramas and action-packed blockbusters. His handsome face and his incredible fighting abilities made him a well-sought-after actor in any anime adaptation.
The award-winning actor has worked on a number of live-action adaptations of beloved anime, such as 2017’s Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable Chapter I and 2019’s Tokyo Ghoul S. If you’re wondering where you have seen his handsome face and impeccable sword fighting abilities though then that would be Netflix’s One Piece where he plays the one and only Roronoa Zoro.
Famke Janssen (Vander Guraad)
Famke Janssen plays the villainess of the story, Vander Guraad. The seasoned actress is very well-known, and she portrays the characters of Guraad with such talent that she will make your spine shudder. The complicated character is not an easy one to portray, but Janssen did her justice.
Famke Janssen is best known for her iconic role as Jean Grey in the X-Men film franchise from 2000 to 2014. Her role as Jean Grey has gained her international stardom that carried her entire career. She has also worked on the highly successful ABC crime drama How to Get Away with Murder alongside Viola Davis.
Madison Iseman (Sienna/Athena)
Madison Iseman is an American young actress who plays the role of Sienna, the reincarnation of the Olympian goddess Athena. Madison portrays the new character of Sienna with such grace and control. Despite the lack of character development for Sienna, Iseman has done her best to bring the goddess to the screen.
Madison Iseman is best known for her role as Bethany Walker in Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle and its sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level. She also worked in the latest adaptation of I Know What You Did Last Summer, as well as the horror movie Annabell Comes Home.
Each member of the main cast of “Knights of the Zodiac” brings a wealth of experience and talent to their respective roles, making them well-equipped to tackle the complex characters and demands of the film. Their previous works not only showcase their acting abilities but also highlight their versatility and dedication to their craft, contributing significantly to the film’s overall strength.
The Spectacular Visual Effects
Knights of the Zodiac wowed audiences with its breathtaking visual effects. From the dazzling battles between the Knights and their formidable foes to the intricately designed armour and weapons, the film’s visual spectacle pays tribute to the iconic visuals of the original anime and manga. The use of cutting-edge CGI and practical effects creates a seamless and immersive world that pays homage to the source material.
Many critics have praised the visual effects of Knights of the Zodiac despite being in agreement that the CGI alone cannot atone for the unfortunate writing of the movie. But if you’re looking for a visual spectacle, then Knights of the Zodiac will definitely give you one!
The Strengths and Weakness of the Film Adaptation
Knights of the Zodiac is undeniably a cinematic achievement with several noteworthy strengths. Firstly, the film does its best to pay homage to the classic manga and anime series while infusing it with modern cinematic techniques. The director’s vision, coupled with the stellar cast, breathes new life into iconic characters, allowing them to evolve while staying true to their core attributes.
The use of visual effects, both practical and CGI, is another commendable aspect, as it creates a visually stunning and immersive world. Additionally, the film’s exploration of friendship and sacrifice resonates deeply, and the action sequences are expertly choreographed, offering thrilling entertainment.
However, the film does have its weaknesses. Some fans of the original series might find certain deviations from the source material polarising, as the reimagining introduces a new generation of Knights, altering the dynamics of the narrative.
Additionally, while the visual effects are impressive, there are moments where the CGI can feel overwhelming, potentially detracting from the emotional weight of the story. Despite the film’s efforts to deepen character development, some characters receive more attention than others, leaving room for improvement in terms of balanced storytelling.
All in all, Knights of the Zodiac can be a really fun movie to watch if you have no previous expectations. The action sequences and the inspiration from Greek mythology paired with interesting characters make the film enjoyable for young audiences whether or not they’re fans of the manga. So, if action and adventure are what you’re looking for, make sure to give Knights of the Zodiac a chance!