All of us have had those unforgettable “firsts” in our lives. My “first favorite anime,” Saint Seiya, was also one of the first in its genre, contemporary with or predating both Yuu Yuu Hakusho and most of the Dragonball series. I would like to focus on some key moments in the 25 years of Saint Seiya history, moments which first taught me that the God of the real world could use the imaginary world of anime to get messages across to someone like me. So please be warned that this essay contains spoilers – but then again, the series is so long that it’s impossible for me to spoil very much.
For me, one of the first key moments in this series is the formation of the main group of “battle saints” who fight enemies by “burning their cosmos” through the agency of their colorful armor suits. The group forms when the first real enemy shows up. Phoenix Ikki, himself a battle saint like the title character (as well as the older brother of Shun, the Andromeda saint), interrupts the gladiator-like competition between Seiya and the other bronze saints, and steals the gold Sagittarius armor for which they are competing. Just like so many shounen heroes who would come after him, Seiya is reckless, even emotional, in his decision to follow after Ikki. In an instant, perhaps just as emotionally and recklessly, three others gather around Seiya. It seems that Dragon Shiryu, Andromeda Shun, and Cygnus Hyoga all see something worth following beneath Seiya’s unremarkable outward appearance. To call Seiya a natural born leader would, I think, be fair enough.
But nothing could have prepared me for the Fab Four becoming the Fab Five some episodes later, when just before dying at the hands of Seiya and his comrades, Phoenix Ikki repents in response to their example. As snow begins to fall on Ikki’s dying body, he tearfully reflects, “How I wish I could become pure and white again, just like this snow!” And when he shows up long after his burial to save his kid brother Shun from an enemy, whole and in good health and a sworn ally, we learn that Ikki is not called the Phoenix saint for nothing. The ripple effect of Seiya’s natural born leadership skills is starting to spread. The most charming part of all of this is that Seiya doesn’t even notice it. He is too busy not thinking about himself to notice.
Later in the original 1986 TV series, when Seiya and his four comrades are fighting the powerful gold saints on their own turf in an attempt to rescue the goddess Athena incarnate from a usurper and murderer, we can see the effect on Cygnus Hyoga of having gone with this band of brothers for a while. Shun had just spent the vast majority of his life force in resuscitating Hyoga after he had been left for dead. With Seiya and Shiryu hard pressed so much as to bruise Scorpio Milo by their combined efforts, Hyoga enters the scene, carrying Shun’s limp body. In an impassioned rallying speech for his two battered comrades, Hyoga is suddenly nothing short of magnificent. “What kind of saints are you? No – what kind of men are you, that you’d let a few scratches keep you down? Now get up, you two! Get up and fight for Shun! Fight for Athena! Let’s all make it to the chamber of the Pope of Sanctuary – together!”
But the ripples spread further. In the Hades Sanctuary OVA, made some 20 years after the original TV series, we see the same Scorpio Milo about to deal the death blow to an unresisting Gemini Kanon, who accepts death willingly as punishment for his unfaithfulness to the gold saints, his own comrades at arms. As Kanon realizes that Milo’s last strike hit a “vital pressure point” and saved his life rather than taking it, Milo heads for the exit, leaving the incarnate Athena alone with Kanon. “Wait, Milo!” Kanon calls out. “Aren’t you concerned about leaving Athena alone with an enemy?” Only half turning around, as though the answer is so obvious that he shouldn’t have to give it, Milo replies, “I see no enemies here. Only one who is a brother to us, and his name is none other than Gemini Kanon.” Perhaps even the mighty Scorpio saint learned something from Seiya and his band of brothers? Something about how precious comrades are, and how the unlikeliest of people can still repent?
And the ripples keep spreading. To see it, you will need to watch all 150+ episodes of Saint Seiya currently in existence. For me, it was the first anime with hidden messages, in this case about a young man whose qualities changed everyone he met, enemies and allies alike, in spite of his many faults. And I began to dream: if a cartoon character could have that kind of effect on others, through gifts granted him by the unacknowledged God within anime, then why could it not be so for real people through gifts granted them by the real God of the real world? Why not even for me?
I have had other “favorite anime series” since then, but Saint Seiya was my first. What was yours?
This guest post was written by frequent contributor, R86. Check out his other posts:
- Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Big Dreams and the Unknown God in “Major”
- Pitch to Contact! Teammates and Character Transformation in Ookiku Furikabutte
- Swing with All your Might! Courage, Loss, and Renewal in Ookiku Furikabutte
- “Shikigami! Descend, O Great One!” Spiritual Gifts Personified in Onmyou Taisenki
- Aniblogger Testimonies: Confessions of a Middle-Aged Otaku: Discovering Christian Messages in Anime