When Seiya was just a boy, his sister was abducted. Strange people grabbed Patricia and dragged her away while he hid nearby in a closet.
Of course, that’s exactly what Patricia wanted him to do. She would protect him with her life. But Seiya has always felt guilty about his fear and his inability to help her.
In the 10 years since, finding Patricia has been the only thing that’s propelled Seiya forward. It’s driven him to keep moving, keep searching. And it’s driven him to fight for cash, because fighting is the only thing he has ever been good at.
What Seiya doesn’t realize, however, is that Patricia wasn’t taken just because she was a pretty, young woman. He won’t find her in a back alley or being held as a slave. No, Patricia was taken because of a cosmic energy that dwells within special people. And Seiya is actually a far greater vessel for the stuff than his sister ever was.
That fact comes to the fore during a cage match when a battered Seiya unwittingly taps into this hidden mystical power and kicks his opponent across the ring with superhuman strength. All Seiya can do at that point is run from the gape-mouthed stares around him.
But running won’t make a difference at this point. Two separate groups have instantly become aware of Seiya and his ability. One group wants to grab him and drain him of that glowing blue force. But the other wants to train him to use his power properly. For there is a reincarnated goddess—the goddess of war and wisdom, Athena—whom he must protect.
In a blink, everything has changed for young Seiya. He’s been thrust into a swirling world of war and ancient magic. He can’t just seek out his sister any longer and hope for her wellbeing. Now he’s going to have to fight for his own survival. And to do that, he’ll have to sacrifice everything and take his place among the Knights of the Zodiac!
Early on, a very young Seiya is told by his sister, “We fight to protect ourselves, but we also fight to protect each other.” And that is, in essence, this movie’s theme. Seiya is always fighting to protect himself (and he’s not so great at that). But when he finally accepts his responsibility of fighting to protect others, he gains his full strength. And his struggle to selflessly help a young woman named Sienna (more about her in a minute) helps her learn to control her power and help others. She even reaches out to aid a mortal enemy.
Protecting Sienna is also the main motivating passion of the young woman’s adoptive father. (His choices aren’t always the best, but he consistently voices his love and desire to protect her.)
First thing first: Despite the presence of the word “Zodiac” in this film’s title, nothing in the movie actually references astrology.
The film tells us that there was once a war between gods that swirled around the world of mankind. And at one point the gods retreated and became nothing to man but myths. But 18 years ago, “Athena was reborn as a human.”
We see a golden, armor-clad knight giving up his life to protect the infant Athena from “godly” blasts of power. And we’re told that two people discovered her: a husband and wife named Alman and Guraad. Alman decided to raise the girl, whom they name Sienna, and to help her master her powers. But Guraad determined that the child must be destroyed before she destroys mankind.
The cosmic energy in the mix, called Cosmo, is never fully explained. (It’s very much like the Force from Star Wars, but it emits a blue glow when used.) Seiya is told that all humans have some form of the energy within them, but knights can manipulate it and make it explode.
Sienna has visions of destroying the world if she loses control of her godlike power, the energy sweeping out and leaving everything in flames. We see her glowing and painfully wrestling with the energy in her body on several occasions. Eventually she levitates into the air and transforms into her full goddess form.
Seiya and others have this energy force on tap, too, but to a much lesser extent. And if they master their abilities, a magical pendant they wear around their neck transforms into a full suit of glowing armor.
Cosmo can also be used to create cyborg-like, armored warriors who are part human, part machine. And we see the fully empowered Seiya give magical battle to these cyborgs and other knights.
For all of the things that seem to be driving Sienna and Seiya to a certain “destiny” that they’ve both seen in visions, Sienna makes it clear that she believes “nobody’s destiny is written in stone.” And indeed, that becomes a turning point in the movie’s conclusion. Sienna uses newly acquired powers to heal someone. Someone quips, “Speaking of the devil” when a person walks into the room.
We’re told at the end of the film that “Athena’s awakening is a sign that the gods will soon gather and start a war.”
Seiya and Sienna are at odds at first but eventually develop a strong affection for each other. But someone tells Seiya that “goddesses don’t have boyfriends.” And we don’t see the pair become more intimate.
Sienna wears some low-cut tops. And during one heated battle Seiya is stripped of his armor and his shirt, his skin beginning to singe, and he stands upright to display his well-muscled torso. We also see female spectators at a cage match who wear some low-cut dresses.
At one point a guy asks Seiya to step outside and Seiya retorts, “You’re cute, but you’re not my type.”
There is a lot of martial arts-like battling in the mix along with clashes that involve blasts of power. People are bashed and tossed around like dolls.
For much of the movie, Seiya is on the receiving end of that physical pummeling. He’s kicked, punched and battered brutally in a fight ring. He’s chased by people in a spaceship-like craft that shoots explosive shells at him. He’s hit with magical blasts and rocks and falls thumping onto large boulders repeatedly. And he’s forced to punch a large stone over and over, causing a great deal of obvious pain.
Then in a Mr. Miyagi-style montage we see Seiya finally begin to master his Cosmo powers and eventually he’s able to give as good as he gets. He smashes a huge boulder with the force of his enhanced punch.
We also see numerous battles between Guraad’s armored cyborg warriors and others. These nearly indestructible beings are shot in the head and body with bullets and bashed around, but they get back up to deliver massive punches and kicks. Some humans are smashed into walls and floors and (bloodlessly) killed in those battles. One human foe, Mylock, fights a group of these cyborg warriors and comes out of that melee scraped, bloodied and bruised.
Seiya suffers a similar outcome in a battle with a powerful foe who pins him to the ground and repeatedly pounds on his face, leaving him massively bruised and bloodied.
Guraad’s manipulation of Cosmo amounts to torture in some cases. She uses a machine to painfully drain the Cosmo out of people and absorb that energy. We see one person dead after that process. And she eventually drains Sienna’s energy in an attempt to kill her. Sienna writhes and screams in pain.
Someone sets off a massive explosion that destroys a mountainside compound and kills score of people. A flying craft shoots huge blasts that destroy surrounding buildings and scenery. Sienna, as Athena, unleashes a powerful blast that levels a building and leaves surrounding areas burning. We see a town on fire.
This pic’s dialogue contains a handful of exclamations of “h—” and a couple uses each of “a–” and “a–hole.”
When Seiya objects to being led away to “safety” by someone, he’s drugged and then carried off.
The popularity of anime movies and TV series continues to surge in the United States. So, the idea of translating a well-established Japanese anime franchise into a live-action feature film obviously has quite a bit of appeal for moviemakers. Not only do they have a ready-made storyline, but they can hope that fans flock in as well.
That’s certainly the case with Polish director Tomasz Baginski’s artistic vision for Knights of the Zodiac, which is based on the long-running Saint Seiya anime series. He packs the pic with whiz-bang CGI and includes recognizable Hollywood names such as Famke Janssen and Sean Bean in the cast.
The problem is that the sparkle, color and pizazz of an animated project is very hard to reproduce in a live-action movie—even with a lot of CGI. Baginski does a pretty stilted and clunky job of it here. And dialogue that sounds heroic in a cartoon frequently falls spectacularly flat.
Add in Knights of the Zodiac’s smattering of crude language, convoluted Greek spirituality and pounding action—including some bruising, visceral hand-to-hand combat—and you end up with a middling film that parents of younger fans will likely feel hesitant about.
After all, there are actual cartoons they could go see instead.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.