REVIEW: Knights of the Zodiac (2023)

A Film by Tomek Bagiński, AKA Saint Seiya: The Beginning

Today is the day that I have chosen to cause chaos. Today is the day in which I make some statements that are likely to piss off a lot of anime fans! While sharing my thoughts on the new live action Knights of the Zodiac movie, I realize my opinion on this will go against the grain. This review is likely going to be akin to somebody saying they liked Jar jar Binks, or somebody that thinks Warner Brothers makes good DC movies, so buckle up everyone. Knights of the Zodiac is a 2023 Tomek Bagiński film, based on the well-known anime and manga franchise of the same name (or Saint Seiya in Japan). As someone less familiar with the original content, I wasn’t too bothered by the movie. In fact, I believe it can stand on its own as a decent action film, reminiscent of other popular works in the young adult genre, such as The Hunger Games or Divergent. It follows the familiar trope of a chosen teen warrior training and eventually fighting against extraordinary adversity, which is why I make that sort of comparison at all. While I acknowledge that online reviews might be overwhelmingly critical, my son and I left the theater considering it a pretty enjoyable experience despite its flaws. I only bought the tickets because I had some AMC credits and nothing better to do, so I think the gamble paid off.

“When a goddess of war reincarnates in the body of a young girl, street orphan Seiya discovers that he is destined to protect her and save the world. But only if he can face his own past and become a Knight of the Zodiac.”

One aspect that truly impressed me in Knights of the Zodiac was the overall cinematography and especially the fight scenes throughout the film. Despite its apparent limited budget (supposedly like $50 million), the film showcased visually stunning fight scenes and a well-designed mix of CGI and beautiful location shooting in Hungary. Instead of relying solely on CGI and green screens (For Example, the film Casshern or any Zack Snyder film), the director and production team opted for genuine locations accentuated with CGI adding to the overall look, resulting in some genuinely gorgeous stuff. Small touches like a room full of candles in a torture area, while silly if you think about it, looked awesome on screen. Considering that the director seems to only really do videogame cinematics and other work inside of Poland, I am amazed he hasn’t had more opportunities to shine.

Each fight sequence was expertly choreographed and captured, paying homage to the intense action scenes found in Japanese anime. I honestly wish more movies would do something like this, especially ones going for an anime aesthetic. The film utilized techniques like slow-motion shots to emphasize pivotal moments and close-ups to heighten the impact of intense facial expressions. There were plenty of quick cuts when blows landed and insanely fast explosions of force that blew characters across the screen upon impact. If you’ve ever seen a shonen anime fight scene (think Dragonball Z), this may be the best realization of those sorts of stylistic fights ever produced in live action.

While it may not accurately represent its classic source material, the film does borrow ideas from the original Saint Seiya a lot. Off the top of my head (despite not seeing this for ages), I recall some initial episodes featuring an analogue to the film’s opening cage fighting sequence and Eagle Marin training Seiya how to punch rocks to dust. I’m sure there are more that I do not recall. Thematically, this 2023 film is most similar to the CGI Netflix anime that came out a few years ago in terms of overall story, so this appears to be how Toei Animation wants to present the franchise in our modern era. While that show is very childish in the way it is presented (and not very well-recieved), it gives more motivation to the characters (two sides fighting over the possibility of Athena creating an apocalypse) than the original, and honestly I prefer the newer story points.

While I respect the original for what it is, the original show just sort of meanders around with things randomly happening at times (especially at the beginning, I’m sure it improves), and I truthfully could never get into it when it briefly aired on US television. Considering how much I love old anime, it is one that I would consider not aging as well as its contemporaries. Granted, I know the version that aired on Toonami was edited down, so my opinion might be based on false pretenses. By taking bits and bobs from both the old and new parts of the franchise, the film seeks to placate an audience that will likely not enjoy this in any way, which is a real shame. You can kind of tell that the studio just sort of dropped this into theaters expecting it to underperform, because this has basically no buzz at all. The only time I saw a trailer for it at the theater was in front of Suzume, a limited-release anime title.

Not everything is this movie is sunshine and rainbows, so it’s now time to look at the bad things involved with this production. The most iffy thing about the movie has got to be that the acting in this film is pretty uneven at times. Veteran actors like Sean Bean and Famke Janssen do pretty well with what they are given, but some of the younger actors and actresses are not the best. Mackenyu Arata, the son of famed Japanese actor Sonny Chiba, does okay in his portrayal of this film’s version of Seiya, however he often delivers lines in a monotone and stoic way to an absolute fault. That is, until he swings into weird fits of emotion at the drop of a hat. The character itself has a dark backstory, so I can assume they were trying to give him the brooding edgelord vibe that permeate almost every movie geared to teenagers, but he seems all over the place here. I’m sure most of this is the faultr of the script, but sadly it rests on the actors shoulders.

Madison Iseman’s portrayal of Sienna/Athena somewhat one-dimensional as well, never really grabbing me like it should have. When the film hints at a romantic link between the two principle characters, it feels forced and as if there is basically no chemistry between them by the time the film ends. Perhaps if this ever got a sequel, they could have worked on that, but I feel that prospect is largely unlikely. My favorite role in the film goes to Mylock as played by Mark Dacascos, who is easily the coolest character and the one that steals most of the scenes throughout. They needed some kind of vaguely martial-arts guy that could deliver one-liners, and they definitely picked a great actor for that.

Considering the fact that I usually loathe live action anime interpretations, I was surprised that I liked this as much as I did. It’s a pretty uneven film, with great special effects and cinematography off-set by somewhat mediocre acting. I would never own this, but it’s the sort of thing that would have been a perfect rental movie back when video stores were a thing. Like i’ve stated, I’m sure everyone that are fans of the manga or anime vehemently despise this, but with me having no baggage going in, it was a fun way to spend a weekend.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s