Monday, May 15, 2023

Knights of the Zodiac (aka Saint Seiya: The Beginning) (2023)

I need to say right at the top that I enjoyed the hell out of KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC, but at the same time it proves a maxim  that is almost always true, which is that the vast majority of manga and anime probably should not be turned into a live action film. It's not that the stories are bad, more that what we accept animated or in a few pen and ink lines really pushes the boundaries of what we are willing to believe in a real world setting.

The film is loosely based on the classic manga Saint Seiya by Masami Kurumada. It ran for 28 manga volumes and 114 TV episodes. It follows Seiya, a young man who is tapped to become a knight to help protect a reincarnated goddess Athena who is going to wage a war against the other gods who want to take over earth. I read some of the early chapters back in my mad manga/anime days but it never clicked with me enough to stick. On the other hand it is considered of of the most successful manga/anime stories there is.

The current feature simplifies things down a great deal. Focusing just on Seiya who is  surprisingly good fighter, who is unaware of his supernatural abilities. When he  kicks the ass of a cage fighter he is put on the radar of a named Guraad (Framke Jensen) who wants his abilities for her own. Seiya is rescued by Alman (Sean Bean) and his right hand man, Mylock (Mark Dacascos) and brought to his secret mansion where his adopted daughter, and reincarnated Athena is kept safe. Guraad and Alman were once married but an accident involving the infant goddess' powers left her convinced that she must die. Some good set action set pieces happen in what is clearly intended to be the first of (now never happening) series.

Once I realized that this was going to be a simplified manga adaption I was pretty much fine with the film. I realized this was going to be an arc or two of the story, and I realized there was going to be a lot of mumbo jumbo that would only make sense if I was fluent in the source or if we had more films to lay more ground work. The action sequences were pretty good. The character arcs were fine, with a wonderful dark gray to both Bean and Jensen's characters (I mean they were married and they did do a lot of bad things as well as good things). Every one sells their role, and it was a joy to see Mark Dacascos being a cool bad ass good guy. On its own terms it's a lot of fun.

Okay yes the condensing of the plot can be wonky, the visual effects are sometimes uneven and it has a really bad training sequence that should have been rewritten or done away with, but if you want a popcorn film to pass the time there are a lot worse than this.

Honestly I expect this film to get a fan following once it hits streaming/cable and people can just pop in and see it.

The real question that I have concerning the film is how did it get made and who thought they had a shot at a series? Leaving changes to the source alone, the real problem is that a large number of fantastical manga live action films don't work. It's not that the films are bad as such, but more that seeing characters as living breathing characters in the real world doesn't usually work. If you need proof look at the design of the Knights' battle armor, it looks silly. Guraad's storm-troopers look better, but even some of their abilities look laughable. As for the image of the reincarnated Athena floating with her staff, it looks less real and more like really good cosplay. In context it's fine, but at the same time we never buy it to consider it real. 

Additionally the plots of so many manga/anime are so complicated that there is no real way to get them into a two hour movie. It always just the plot, but the world creation. All comics and animated series and films work because they are inherently of another world. We are open to whatever we are told about this new world because we have not been there before. With anything real world there is the basic problem of it looks real so we have to apply what we know of this world to that. Going into a live action world created from a piece of art we are less open. In someways watching animated feature film based on anime or manga, or comic property is easier because we are willing to give that film a slight pass. For example  m brother has loved several features based on material my niece loved because he just went with it. He never tried to make sense simply because he knew it was another world.

I never bought much of this as real, even if I enjoyed the ride.

But getting back to  the question of who did Sony decide this was a good idea? I don't know. Did they think the source fans would turn out? If so I'm even more confused since there is zero attempt to connect it to the manga/anime while outside of the US the film is branded as SAINT SEIYA: THE BEGINNING. I had no idea what the film was until I looked it up on-line.

Frankly Sony and their PR people set this up for failure in the US- and that's a huge sin, because frankly, this is better than a lot of the big studio releases. 

If you can go with it and if you can just let the film be what it is, with no expectations, I think you will be entertained. (Not sure I can say so for 20 bucks a seat but for the 12 I paid I had a good time).

No comments:

Post a Comment