In the realm of anime adaptations—especially those of epic sagas like Masami Kurumada’s Saint Seiya—expectations run high. Fans eagerly await such translations to the big screen, hoping to see their loved anime recreated in a new and exciting format. The Knights of the Zodiac rises to the challenge as the first live-action adaptation of the famous manga and anime series. But as the movie’s opening moments unfold, it soon becomes clear that this Hollywood production fails to capture the magic that made the original series so iconic.
The story follows Seiya (Mackenyu), a young and brash cage fighter whose life takes a dramatic turn when he meets the mysterious Alman Kido (Sean Bean). Seiya is drawn into a battle of celestial forces when he is destined to protect Athena, the goddess of war (Madison Iseman’s Sienna), from Kido’s ex-wife Guraad (Famke Janssen) and her army of faceless soldiers. As Seiya trains as a knight under the tutelage of Marin (Caitlin Hutson), he must face the tremendous responsibility of protecting Athena and fulfilling his heavenly destiny.
While the live-action Knights of the Zodiac attempts to compress the series into a PG-13-friendly movie, the essence of the original story is lost in translation. It’s crazy to think that an ’80s anime could be more mature and complex than a big-budget Hollywood movie, but here we are.
“It’s crazy to think that an ’80s anime could be more mature and complex than a big-budget Hollywood movie, but here we are.”
With a simplified plot that glosses over much of the world-building, rich mythology, and character development that made the anime so fascinating, what remains is a hollow shell that barely captures the spirit of Saint Seiya. This watering down of the story feels like a choice to introduce a new audience unfamiliar with the anime, but it makes for a shallow story that fails to capture the magic of the original series.
In some ways, Knights of the Zodiac feels a lot like the comic book movies of the late 90s. Each character is introduced quickly, relying on nostalgia to fill in the blanks so they can skip character development and dive head-first into the CGI-based action moments. Unfortunately, this also means that the character development leaves much to be desired. I commend the casting of Japanese-American actor Mackenyu as Seiya. The actor brings a sense of purpose to the role and works to embody the classic character; unfortunately, the script and story development would hurt even the best portrayal, leaving what could have been a strong version of the character feeling flat and lacking in depth.
Seiya’s transformation from a troubled youth to a hero pursuing a higher purpose is reduced to a stereotypical, overused narrative arc that lacks the substantial depth to support this significant change. Combined with a training montage that I feel is only supposed to take place over the course of a day or two, you get an incredibly rushed and superficial look at our titular main character. Meanwhile, Madison Iseman’s portrayal of Sienna/Athena feels like a formulaic TV show character that fails to truly embody the goddess she’s supposed to represent.
“If I did not know that this was Knights of the Zodiac—and they did not keep saying it—it would be hard to associate the TV series with this CGI monstrosity of a new concept.”
Similarly, the performances of veteran actors Sean Bean and Famke Janssen—who are expected to ground the movie with their skills—are sadly lacklustre, preventing the full realization of their characters’ potential. They fail to bring the gravitas needed for such critical roles, leaving the overall film feeling inadequate and unconvincing. Their character development, much like that of the rest of the cast, feels truncated, with important beats simply glossed over to make room for yet another CGI action “set piece” that only serves to confirm how much better the anime was at building tension and authentic character.
Diving into the technical aspects, Knights of the Zodiac lacks the unique visual flair of the anime series. The costume design by Tóth András Dániel and Godena-Juhász Attila departs from the distinctive colours associated with Seiya’s iconic armour, replacing the red and white with metallic gray and gold accents. This unnecessary change deviates from the established aesthetic and is a misguided attempt to modernize the character’s look.
This anime series is loved by countless people worldwide, and part of that appeal is the look. If you completely change the style of something arbitrarily, you lose some of the magic and attachment people have to the material. If I did not know that this was Knights of the Zodiac—and they did not keep saying it—it would be hard to associate the TV series with this CGI monstrosity of a new concept.
The special effects would have looked fantastic ten years ago, but compared to many of today’s big-budget comic book movies, they simply lack any meaningful impact. There are moments of potential that ultimately fail to make a lasting impression. The fight choreography by Andy Cheng, the genius behind the elaborate sequences in Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, struggles to reach the same level of success in this movie.
While the action scenes have a sense of realism, they lack the visceral and kinetic energy needed to bring these epic battles to life. Many of the key moments feel rushed or simply hampered by visual noise to connect with the viewer, and even the moments that work feel too few and far between to really impact the movie as a whole.
A particularly glaring disappointment in the adaptation is the absence of the electrifying musical atmosphere fans have long associated with the original series. Yoshihiro Ike’s score, while technically solid, tends toward a generic backdrop that makes it difficult to leave a lasting impression. This stark contrast to the iconic, anthemic rock themes ingrained in the hearts of devoted fans feels like a missed opportunity to capture the essence of the iconic series.
The lack of a charged musical score takes away from the overall tone and emotion, unable to propel the narrative forward, unify key moments, or evoke the same level of excitement that the iconic series tunes once provided. As a result, the adaptation struggles to achieve the exhilarating and immersive experience that the original series’s heart-wrenching and memorable musical themes so impeccably delivered. Part of loving classic anime is the music that underscores those moments; the original series did this, but somehow it has been completely overlooked here, making for a much worse experience as a result.
Knights of the Zodiac falls far short of its lofty ambitions as a franchise starter. Its watered-down plot, weak character development, and lack of visual and musical flair will make it difficult for fans of the original series to embrace this adaptation. There are a few saving graces, such as the casting of Mackenyu and some aspects of the fight scenes, but they are not enough to save the film as a whole. As a live-action adaptation, Knights of the Zodiac fizzles instead of igniting the fire of a familiar classic, let alone being the start of a new movie franchise.