Film Review: ‘Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary’

Despite all the aesthetic improvements to the legendary anime franchise, no one has bothered to boost the scripts in this flashy anime upgrade.

Saint Seiya Legend of Sanctuary
photo courtesy of Masami Kurumada/Saint Seiya

Saint who, you ask? Don’t worry: Anime devotees know the name, and now, the 1980s Japanese series that first stoked the world’s appetite for googly-eyed, androgynous-looking cartoon characters gets a massive CG upgrade from toon powerhouse Toei. Going into “Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary,” it helps to know the astrological battle franchise’s characters inside out, since the sensory-overload feature amounts to a lightning-paced rehash of head-to-head greatest hits, all but incomprehensible to first-timers. As such, this exhausting fan-focused offering should enjoy an enthusiastic welcome in territories like France (the first to embrace it back in the day) and ultra-specialized reception beyond.

In a world where gender lines are blurred and the men often appear more beautiful than the girls, menacing forces conspire to kidnap and/or kill the periwinkle-haired Saori as she is being chauffeured across a Golden Gate-style bridge. Into the fray drop half a dozen or so “bronze saints,” a lowly caste of intergalactic defenders sworn to protecting her. A fight immediately breaks out on the bridge, giving the various characters a chance to strut their armor and show off their fancy, supernatural fighting moves.

This gratuitous display will provoke effusive cheers from fans who’ve grown up worshiping these characters, in much the same manner that a Broadway star’s slow, showboating entrance onstage might afford the audience a chance to applaud her arrival. To those in the know, these shape-shifting characters — who harness the powers of a dragon, swan, phoenix and so on — are legends in their own right, and this is the moment of their glorious resurrection. The central hero here is a Pegasus saint called Seiya, who will have the chance to fight his way up the ranks to golden status.

What follows is a confusing political intrigue involving an impostor pope and his megalomaniacal power grab, the prevention of which inspires a revolving cast of vaguely defined good and bad guys to do battle in various zodiac-inspired arenas. Though the lavish settings and fancy moves change with each fight, a formula quickly emerges wherein both sides seem committed to mortal combat, only to realize at the last moment (or not) that through some unfortunate misunderstanding, they’re actually allies. Awkward embraces and apologies ensue, after which the victor advances to the next stage to fight someone new.

With high-energy action underscored by a bombastic, ever-present score, it’s enough to make one’s eyes cross — through no fault of the stereoscopic 3D, which complements the animation nicely. “To be honest, I still do not understand what this power called cosmos is,” one of the survivors opines at the end, and rest assured that most viewers will be in no better position to explain any of what they’ve just witnessed. Still, die-hards should be sated (though they make take the deaths of certain heroes rather hard). Surely, this won’t be the last they’ll hear of Seiya and his fellow saints, who should have no trouble leveraging this glossy feature to relaunch their own (semi)-global domination.

Film Review: ‘Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary’

Reviewed at Annecy Animation Film Festival, June 11, 2014. Running time: 93 MIN. (Original title: “Seinto Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary”)

  • Production: (Animated — Japan) A Toei Animation Co. production. (International sales: Toei Co., Tokyo.) Executive producer, Masami Kurumada.
  • Crew: Directed by Keiichi Sato. Screenplay, Tomohiro Suzuki, based on the manga by Masami Kurumada. (Color, widescreen, 3D); music, Yorihiro Ike; sound, Yoshihiro Ike; CG supervisor, Ei Sato.
  • With: Voices: Kaito Ishikawa, Kenji Akabane, Kensho Ono, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Kenji Nojima, Go Inoue, Rikiya Koyama, Shinji Kawada, Mitsuaki Madono, Daisuke Namikawa, Hiroaki Hirata, Mitsuru Miyamoto, Masumi Asano, Takuya Kirimoto, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Koichi Yamadera.