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‘Knights of the Zodiac’ review: A live-action anime MCU, but bad

By May 16, 2023No Comments4 min read
Mackenyu in Stage 6 and Toei Animation KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC

Knights of the Zodiac is an adaptation of the classic anime that wants to kick off a franchise but completely fails to take off.

In Knights of the Zodiac, a film somehow released in 2023, a character portrayed by Sean Bean says that the exposition he’s spouting is a bit much, and everyone should take the day off. No person will ever convince me that wasn’t exactly how the actual actor felt at the time of filming. Because Knights of the Zodiac is a pretty naked attempt to fit an icon of shonen manga into a western superhero mold, with the end result being a vapid and mangled mess.

To be fair, Masami Kurumada’s Saint Seiya (better known internationally as Knights of the Zodiac) is not the absolute worst choice of anime to get the live-action franchise treatment.The original series has a quantifiable power system, bold character design, and a heathy amount of lore. Unfortunately, little of any of that made its way into the co-production between Sony Pictures and Toei Animation, much less any of the classic anime’s charm. Instead, every piece of the source material has been hammered into a loose understanding of the structure of an introductory Marvel Cinematic Universe film without any understanding of why those films work.

The film follows street orphan Seiya (Mackenyu), who awakens a power known as “Cosmo” while fighting in an underground fighting ring and is pulled into a battle over a reincarnated Greek goddess. Naturally, as much as anything is natural in this film, all of this also has to do with Seiya’s older sister, who was kidnapped after he first used Cosmo as a child. The MCU parallels should already be obvious to anyone who has seen an action movie aimed toward both kids and adults in the past decade. Less obvious is that no, a lot of this film is not adapting the original manga or the anime. Go figure.

Mackenyu in Stage 6 and Toei Animation KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC

Mackenyu is trying his best, but the cast is wasted.

No, it turns out the film Knights of the Zodiac is primarily adapting Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya, a 3DCG reinterpretation of the original similar to Trigun Stampede from earlier this year. New adaptations aren’t inherently bad — case in point: Trigun Stampede — but the film stretches this adaptation even further away from the intent of any other series so far. The script isn’t interested in using the uniqueness of the IP, it’s much more concerned with giving Seiya sarcastic street smart lines that are just not a good fit for Mackenyu.

That isn’t to say Mackenyu isn’t trying his best. In fact, he’s got a lot of effortless charisma that makes me far more interested in his upcoming portrayal of Zoro in Netflix’s live-action One Piece adaptation. In Knights of the Zodiac, meanwhile, he’s left to play way too many character types with no focus.

No one else gets out of this mess unscathed either. The aforementioned Sean Bean has little commitment as benefactor Alman Kido. Famke Janssen is saddled with a knockoff Thanos villan, Vander Guraad, Kido’s ex-wife. And yes, they’re going for the stale MCU attempt at grey morality in the second act. Done dirtiest is both Madison Iseman and Diego Tinoco, who are given main character roles and then shunted off to the sidelines until the final action scene, in which Iseman is asked to scream her lungs out exclusively.

Sean Bean in Stage 6 and Toei Animation KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC

TikTok editing has the strongest attack.

The only person seemingly happy to be here is Mark Dacascos, likely due to being the only actor given an action scene that isn’t completely upended by strange editing choices. Fight choreography seems fine, but the constant jump cuts and extreme camera angles take so much away. There’s no reason to spend a movie night watching something like Knights of the Zodiac when Shin Ultraman just recently released. Actually, one could literally just watch episodes of Ultraman legally on YouTube right now, to say nothing of the multiple versions of Knights of the Zodiac anime that is currently accessible.

Non-action scenes aren’t safe from the hectic editing, either. Conversational sequences end abruptly, then switch back to a different scene previously cut short by who knows who. The editing as a whole comes off as if the production staff knew the same as Sean Bean. Best to just take the day off.

Knights of the Zodiac is a shallow adaptation that shoots for the MCU but ends up closer to 1997’s Spawn, or even Dragonball Evolution. Toei probably isn’t getting its planned sequels unless Sony is even more desperate than I thought, though everyone involved has both done and will probably do better work after this debacle. The entire production is a phoned-in attempt to bank on an IP, yet can’t even deliver a half-decent depiction of the Pegasus Knight. Attempting to adapt battle anime into an action franchise certainly isn’t impossible. But doing so with this franchise is going to require some Cosmo.

Knights of the Zodiac is in theaters now. Watch the trailer here.

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Travis Hymas

Travis Hymas is a freelance writer and self appointed Pokémon historian out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Known to be regularly obessive over pop culture topics and gaming discourse, he is a published Rotten Tomatoes critic and has been featured on sites such as Uppercut and The Young Folks

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