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Home > Knights Of The Zodiac (2023): A Review

Knights Of The Zodiac (2023): A Review

2023’s “Knights of the Zodiac” is another failed live-action adaptation with its rushed story, flat characters, and lackluster presentation. Mackenyu stars as Seiya Famke, Janssen as Vander Guraad, and Sean Bean as Alman Kido.

Another Live-Action Anime Adaptation Bites The Dust

From director Tomek Bagiński comes 2023’s Knights of the Zodiac. The film adapts Masami Kurumada’s legendary manga Saint Seiya to the big screen. The film follows street fighter Seiya (Mackenyu), who discovers he has latent superhuman powers. This draws the attention of Alman Kido (Sean Bean), who recruits Seiya to help him stop his ex-wife, the tyrannical Vander Guraad (Famke Janssen). Seiya is brought into a world of danger as he tries to earn the title of Knight of the Zodiac. Toei and Sony Pictures produced the film, released on May 12, 2023. 

Compressing the Warrior Spirit Out of the Story

Immediately, Knights of the Zodiac is at a disadvantage given the scale of what it has to adapt. The original manga ran for a total of 28 tankōbon volumes and had a 114-episode anime adaptation. This has been a common problem with other live-action anime adaptations, such as Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell. Unsurprisingly, the writers fumble in their attempts to capture the magic of the original manga, as they had no more skills in adapting the story than they did time. As a result, audiences are given only a bare-bones retelling of the manga’s opening acts.

The biggest problem overall is how rushed the film is and how rushed it comes off. This is apparent right from Seiya’s opening flashback, where it is immediately apparent that the film was heavily abridging the setup for his character. Because of this, many moments that feel like they should have had an impact, and certainly did in the source, fall flat due to the film’s poor writing. This can also be seen with the excessive amount of exposition throughout the film as it tries to set up a saga befitting the original manga. 

One more problem with the film’s story is its limited scope, as Seiya is the only member of the manga’s iconic team shown, likely as the rest were saved for potential later films. As a final insult, the film ends on a sequel hook, teasing the story’s continuation. Given that the film bombed at the box office, it is unlikely another film will see the rest of Kurumada’s story on the big screen. 

Disappointment in the Characters 

Given the heavy truncating of this saga, the characters suffer just as much. The results lead to a huge portion of the characters’ setup and development feeling rushed as they skip over the time the original manga spent trying to achieve the same thing. 

The compressed nature of the film has also affected the film’s characters. Without the nuances and distinctions of the original series, many of the characters are reduced to stock archetypes such as the hot-blooded chosen one, the stoic bodyguard, the fatherly mentor, the evil overlord, etc. Easily, the character hit hardest by this is our protagonist himself, Seiya, whose character remains trapped by his ever-present motivation to find his sister. Another victim of this in the film is Sienna, who, despite attempts at development, falls into being a living MacGuffin. 

2023’s “Knights of the Zodiac” is another failed live-action adaptation with its rushed story, flat characters, and lackluster presentation. Mackenyu stars as Seiya in "Knights of the Zodiac."
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Mackenyu stars as Seiya in “Knights of the Zodiac.”

In between the film’s bastardizations of its classic characters, there is some genuinely hollow dialogue between them. Most of the cast gives stiff deliveries in between disjointed dialogue riddled with cliches. At worst, several interactions, particularly those between Seiya and Athena, feel like they were taken from the worst lines of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Apart from some stiff child actors during the prologue, the performances are generally passable. The standouts of the cast are easily the veterans Bean and Janssen (the latter of which interestingly plays a female take on a male villain), who add some star power to the film but are not nearly enough to salvage what they were given. 

A Saintly Spectacle 

Whereas the story and characters are decidedly bad, the film’s presentation is more mixed in its quality. One of the most important things to have in a film’s visual language is consistency, ensuring that a viewer always knows which film saga they are watching. Unfortunately, this film is trapped between balancing a grounded world and its high fantasy aesthetic. 

If there is one thing that at least makes the film tolerable, it’s the visual effects. This was especially prominent during the fight scenes, in which the film takes full advantage of the source material’s epic battles. Similarly, many of the backgrounds and settings of the film are genuinely breathtaking in scope. Unfortunately, the film is still held back by its $60 million budget, as there are many points in the film where the effects go from campy to soberingly unconvincing. Furthermore, fights such as Seiya’s against Marin show how poorly anime action translates directly into live-action.

However, when characters aren’t battling using CGI powers or flying on spaceships, the set and costume designs are otherwise average. Whereas some scenes would be set in fantastical, finely-detailed areas befitting an anime adaptation, others felt like they took place in your average, street-level action film. Additionally, costume designs not cloaked in CGI armor were either plain or painfully bland in their appearance. As such, it often feels as if the film’s “magic” is only present half the time, creating an inconsistent tone throughout. Ultimately, the film remains undecided on whether or not to be a grounded martial arts film or a fantastical adaptation of a battle manga. 

Rating the Reel 

Sadly, it feels as though little progress has been made since Dragonball: Evolution. Even worse, this film comes after several successful live-action adaptations such as the Sonic films, The Last of Us, and Netflix’s One Piece. This film serves as a huge step back for live-action adaptations. Despite this, there were still a handful of moments that captured the energy of the original manga, but they weren’t nearly enough to save the film. In the end, though, none of Athena’s wisdom was passed down to the creators of this film. 

Knights of the Zodiac is available for streaming on Netflix.

2023’s “Knights of the Zodiac” is another failed live-action adaptation with its rushed story, flat characters, and lackluster presentation. Famke Janssen stars as Vander Guraad in "Knights of the Zodiac."
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Famke Janssen stars as Vander Guraad in “Knights of the Zodiac.”

Knights of the Zodiac (2023): Official Sony Pictures Entertainment Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.