I like long-running fighting anime. Dragon Ball Z is a much-loved favorite, I look forward to every new One Piece release, and shows like Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho and Bleach take up a lot of room on my anime shelves. Year ago I reviewed ADV's first releases of Knights of the Zodiac, an edited version of the popular Japanese show Saint Seiya. I didn't care for it, and even when I started covering the non-edited ADV releases I disliked the show. ADV went belly up before they could release the entire series (they only put out the first 60 episodes) but now, a decade later, Cinedigm has stepped up and released the entire first story arc (episodes 1-73) in an eleven-disc set entitled Saint Seiya - Knights of the Zodiac: Sanctuary. I thought it was time to give the show another try. After all, I started out with the edited version which surely tainted by opinion and after all these years I only have vague recollections of what the series was like. Unfortunately, my first impressions were correct. It's not a great show, and this dub-only release is plagued with sloppy subtitles which make it even harder to get into the show.
The plot for this fighting show revolves around a young man named Seiya, who has just won the 'Bronze Cloth of Pegasus' after training on a Greek island for six years. He had been plucked out of an orphanage by a rich tycoon and sent to the island as a child, so he rushes home to Japan to find his sister. Unfortunately, she was kidnapped that day after he left, and his benefactor has been dead for five years (no one bothered to tell him). His only hope of finding his sister is to enter a tournament which is being broadcast on TV and hope that she sees him.
While fighting for a gold cloth against other Saints, the Phoenix Bronze Saint, Ikki, steals part of the Gold Cloth that is the prize for winning the tournament. Seiya and the rest of the Saints that haven't been eliminated track Ikki down and battle, only to be attacked by the Silver Saints from Sanctuary.
And that's what happens in the first two dozen episodes, about nine hours of screen time.
I know there are a lot of fans of this series, but I'm not one of them. Try as I might, I just can't like this series.
First of all, I didn't like the animation. This series originally aired in the late 80's, and the animation is definitely of the old school style. There are a lot of pans over static figures, and zooming into still pictures. They seemed to cut corner wherever they could, and it shows. But it wasn't only the cheap animation that hurt the show; it was the poor drawing too. Figures change size in relationship to other objects from scene to scene. The proportions of people's bodies are way off in one shot, and they are correct in the next. I'm not talking about subtle mistakes either, but gross exaggerations. In one scene a villain's hand is about two feet wide.
The low quality animation hurt this show, though even top-notch animation wouldn't have saved it.
The scripts are not that good either. Most of the shows are taken up with fighting, but when the characters are talking, they act like they've been hit in the head one too many times. At one point, two people who have strong ties to the Sanctuary attack the Saints. Ikki, in a flashback, even warns them that the danger they are now facing comes from Sanctuary. Yet they spend a lot of time (for this show) wondering who is behind all these assaults.
There are a lot of plot holes and things that don't make sense in this series too. For example in one part Shiryu and Kiki figure out where the rest of the Gold Armor is. It's a good deal away, so do they take a plane? A car? A bicycle even? No, they decide to run there! For unknown reasons they don't take a helicopter like the time before, and arrive just in tome to see the bad guys depart with it. Things like that happen constantly throughout the series. It boggles the mind.
There is a lot of fighting in this show, and it is animated rather poorly. The animation is very limited, with as many shots as possible being reused again and again. But worse than that, much of the show isn't animated at all. There are a lot of zooms into a static image, and slow pans across unmoving figures. The fights are often shown in slow motion, and when that is not the case, they put large white blasts over the figures, so you can't see what's happening. On top of that the motion is jerky. Not impressive at all.
It boils down to the fact that I really don't care for any of the characters, and therefore I'm not interested in what they are fighting for.
This set contains the first 73 episodes on 11 DVDs housed in two single-width multi-disc cases. The two keepcases are housed in a slipcase.
Though it is currently listed as having an English dub at several major e-tailors, this set only has the original Japanese soundtrack in stereo. There is on English dub. There are optional English subtitles (more on those later.) There wasn't a lot of separation between the two channels, and the audio wasn't crisp but the dialog and soundtrack were serviceable. There was some distortion in a few places when a loud shout or explosion is heard too. It's not horrible, but it's not great either.
The English subtitles are a different story. They are really sloppy. First, it's obvious that they're taking liberties with the translation. This show first aired in the late 1980's, but they use current slang (well... current as of a decade ago) in the show. After one mistake a character exclaims "my bad!" and in another someone says "he got served," terms that weren't in use at the time. That's a minor quibble, I'll admit, but I'm just getting started. The subs aren't synched very well, with the words appearing well after someone has started talking and they don't translate everything that's being said either. In the first episode when Seiya first dons his cloth he shouts (according to the subtitles) "With the cloth handed down since the beginning of time, my punches can rip the" and that's it. Rip the what? Rip the skin off a tomato? Rip the Band-aid off a scab? Rip the Jacker? (Maybe he's a rap fan...)
The worst flaw, and one I haven't encountered before, is that some of the subtitles are only up a very short amount of time... in some instances only for a couple of frames. Literally a flash that you can't read. This isn't all of the time, but it's often enough that it makes it very hard to watch the show. I had to backup the disc many, many times to catch what was being said. I'm used to watching subtitled anime and movies, I prefer the original language in most cases, but I would have switched to the dub if there was one.
While the 1.33:1 image isn't as bad as the subtitles, it isn't anything great either. The colors are a bit faded and muted, and there are a couple of specks here and there, but nothing distracting. The picture looks about average for a show from the 1980's.
There are a lot of Saint Seiya fans out there, and they must be seeing something that I'm not. I really wanted to like this show, but I just couldn't get interested in any of the characters and the slow moving plot just made it even more difficult enjoy. I'm really glad fans of the show will finally be able to see how the first story arc ends, but the subtitles that too often fly by before viewers can read them make this a title that I just can't recommend. Skip it.