Examining Old School Anime: Be as Wise as Serpents

Watching the spellbinding fight between Shiryu and Seiya in Saint Seiya, aka Knights of the Zodiac, brought to mind both our Lord’s admonition to “be as wise as serpents” (Matt. 10:16) and a particular interpretation of this counsel.  One thing that one comes to realize as one reads the Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers through the time of the Counter-Reformation is how much closer these people were to the culture of our Lord’s days on earth.  Of course, the Church Fathers were close because of their proximity to the Apostolic Age, but ecclesiastical writers of the ages following were more dependent on the Church Fathers’ writings and shared more of the proverbial knowledge of that time.  The concept of being as clever as a serpent gave one Doctor of the Church, St. Francis de Sales, some trouble, since he much preferred the simplicity of the dove.  In the end, he used an old myth in order to decipher what our Lord meant by being as clever as a serpent: a snake will risk the loss of its entire body in order to preserve its head; in the same way, a Christian ought to suffer the loss of all earthly goods rather than lose his faith.

In this tattoo, the dragon's claws hover above the location of Shiryu's heart.
In this tattoo, the dragon’s claws hover above the location of Shiryu’s heart.

This saying and interpretation came to my mind in a most tangential way.  Shiryu represents the Dragon, and Seiya the white-winged Pegasus of the Zodiac, which make a similar pairing to a serpent and a dove.  Both combatants held something dearer than mere victory in a competition.  Likewise, Christians, even though bogged down with mundane concerns and difficulties, always cling to a higher goal than offered by the world.  Lastly, Shiryu, in his attempt to win the bout, left unguarded the most important and vulnerable target: his heart.

Seiya in armor

In a very important sense, we must constantly guard our hearts: “With all watchfulness keep thy heart, because life issueth out from it” (Prov. 4:23).  Faith and good works form the very life of the soul, which is imagined as having its seat in the heart.  (According to a private revelation, the soul also has another center in the brain, which makes a good deal of sense.)  Any time someone loses their faith, the cause lies in not having guarded one’s heart from one’s three enemies: the devil, the flesh, and the world.  The most insidious enemy of all is the world, which appears to offer all we could wish for; yet, “what profiteth a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”


In the most influential circles in America (the media, movies, novels, colleges, law courts, and politics), it is not popular to be a Christian.  The forces of secularism and its ilk array themselves against the Faith by parading a host of pleasures before the faithful: drugs, sex, popularity, fame, good reputation, revelry, comfort, food, drink, video games, and various sorts of entertainment.  (Naturally, some of the things above are licit, but must be kept within bounds.)  If the world cannot draw one in by its pleasures, then it has a steady stream of abuse for Christians, calling us idiots, bigots, backwards, and against freedom.  The end goal being to steal the joy we have in Christ so that, even if we cease not from the faith, we are less joyful and effective disciples of Christ.

Papa Smurf

It is tempting to fully withdraw from the world in order to guard against these negative messages–God bless those whom He calls to do so!  But, most of us in the world can take prudent steps like minimizing the world’s influence by choosing to consume wholesome media and being watchful against worldliness.  In my own case, I’ve become rather negative lately because I watch the news too much, so I’m giving myself a break from it for one month in order to concentrate on better things.  What are ways in which our dear readers guard their hearts from the world?

Post Scriptum: Remember how I commented in my last article that the saints would have to be as strong as God if Saint Seiya‘s philosophy were true?  I just had it confirmed:

Only in anime!

2 thoughts on “Examining Old School Anime: Be as Wise as Serpents”

  1. Well, if Athena truly drew her power from wisdom, craft, and martial skill, she would have the power of all divine wisdom, the martial skill of every saint and all their opponents as well as every warrior in the universe, and every craftworker ever in the universe. And all that ought to be enough to conquer the power of the planet Mars and a bunch of constellations.

    Yeah, Saint Seiya is one of those animes where Things Just Don’t Make Sense to me. I would love it more if I could ignore that, since the movies were pretty popular back when I was in college.


    1. The series’ theology and things like restarting a heart through punching it from the reverse direction of the punch which stopped it all don’t make much sense. Fortunately, it has some great fights and is not the most nonsensical anime I’ve ever seen. I wonder whether any anime has a coherent theology to it?


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