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Written By:

Ed Fortune

Cult franchise KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC has a massive global outside the UK and USA. The new live-action version of this classic anime and manga phenomenon – coming soon to Digital – features Sean Bean, Famke Janssen, and a whole host of special effects. STARBURST brings you up to speed…

Knights of the Zodiac is better known to most of the world as Saint Seiya or, if you’re Japanese, Seinto Seiya. It’s a long-running manga that appeared in Japan’s Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine in 1986. It was created by the legendary Masami Kurumada. Originally intended as a sports drama inspired by The Karate Kid, the story quickly mutated into a tale of magically powered martial artists. Those powers come from cloths and magical armours that are powered by the constellations, and together, they protect the Goddess Athena, who in turn defends the Earth from all the other Greek gods. These 88 warriors (divided into bronze, silver, and golden ranks) use Cosmos Energy, which focuses the awesome power of the stars, allowing them to achieve amazing feats of strength and power. The animated show was developed simultaneously and ran for an astonishing 114 episodes before getting cancelled. Only the first two main story arcs from the comics (the Sanctuary Act and The Poseidon Act) originally made it to the screen.

Saint Seiya was rebranded as Knights of the Zodiac in the ’80s and ’90s for European audiences. Known as I Cavalieri dello zodiaco in Italy, Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque in France and Los Caballeros del Zodiaco in the Spanish-speaking world, the show picked up a huge international cult following. This is partly due to the ‘very violent for the time’ storylines that involved super-powered teens beating the snot out of each other and also because it has a very catchy and memorable theme song. Many of the adventures had a tournament format, with heroes and villains facing off for ridiculously over-the-top fights in almost every episode, with an added element of soap opera drama for spice.

In the 2000s, there was an attempt to launch Knights of the Zodiac in the US and UK off the back of shows like Sailor Moon and Power Rangers. Alas, much of the violence was edited out to widen the show’s appeal, and the heavy metal theme song was replaced with bland American rock. Up against shows like Samurai Jack, the rapidly ageing show fared poorly. Re-edited and reissued versions of the original anime and manga did gather something of a cult following in the US and were devoured by fans in the rest of the world, alongside a whole range of cool action figures from Bandai.

Fans would have to wait until 2002 before an animated version of the final Hades act made it to the screen. However, the show had a huge following in Japan, and the final act sparked a revival of interest in the franchise with new animated shows, comic books, toys and, of course, the inevitable Funko Pops.

Knights of Zodiac has been an incredible influence on the superhero martial arts genre, but as it’s almost unknown in the US, many American fans think that it’s corny as they’ve seen shows inspired by the franchise before seeing the original. This hasn’t stopped the rest of the world from enjoying it, though.

The live-action movie came out this year and is a special effects extravaganza that barely touches the lore of this epic franchise, focusing on the origins of Athena’s arrival on the mortal realm and the rise of her beloved protector, the knight Seiya. The movie is notable because it’s written as the first chapter in an ongoing series, touching lightly on the complicated lore behind the franchise’s success. With the exception of Seiya and Athena, many of the cast play characters considered minor by the fandom. We caught up briefly with some of the cast, mostly to talk about the movie’s spectacular combat scenes and effects.

Famke Janssen should be well known to STARBURST readers for her work in movies such as GoldenEye and the X-Men franchise. In Knight of the Zodiac, she plays the main villain, Guraad, who seeks to destroy Seiya. Famke was unfamiliar with the source material before beginning the project but told us she’s now a huge fan. She had much fun with the various effects shots during the production, especially with the virtual sets. “A lot of people use this new technology. It gives this very discombobulated feel because the background is attached to the camera movement. And so when you’re on set, it looks like your backdrop moves around. So everything sort of lunged when I stood up. I was like, what’s going on? But it’s a lot like doing green screen, which I’ve done it so many times.

Diego Tinoco plays Guraad’s main henchman, Nero. We asked him more about working with the various special effects. “It was my first time working with wires. I had no idea, and I had this first thought right when punching the camera. I was trying to perform an action, and suddenly, I got yanked backwards super fast! I go flying across the room, and I hit these padded mats. I had no idea that was going to happen. I mean, they prep people, but you can’t really prep for that feeling of flying into the air. So it was pretty crazy for me.

Nick Stahl is perhaps best known as John Connor in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. In Knights of the Zodiac, he plays the thuggish Cassios. He features in the movie’s many action-intensive scenes. “I was very glad I was able to train with the stunt team early on; I think I was there a month early. By the time we filmed, it was like we eased into it.

Madison Iseman plays the character of Athena. She told us, “There’s a scene where Athena has to float in the sky and be a goddess. There was a question of whether it would be wires or whatever. They made a rig where I was sitting on a bicycle seat, and they would lever me up into the sky. And it made so much sense because I was able to float without being hauled necessarily. They did such a great job on the heavy lifting!

KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC is available to buy on Digital from September 25th


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