Saint Seiya. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Saint Seiya? If you don’t know what it is, what is the first thing that you think about it? Is it the retro shonen anime series that Scott spends too much time talking about? In the United States, people are mostly not going to know what Saint Seiya is unless you are one of the rare fans who took the time to watch it or Remember the flopped version: Knights of the Zodiac. Everywhere else, people will know exactly what Saint Seiya is because everywhere else actually likes this show but not here. I wish I could understand why that is, but this is not a post about that.
The reason why I ask this question is because from an outside point of view, Saint Seiya is going to be filled with all sorts of Greek culture. Looking at a quick synopsis will give you the appearance of its focus on the ancient Greek religion. There are reincarnations of Greek Gods in human forms, specific powers come from constellations like how our main character, Seiya, has power come from the Pegasus Constellation. He’s not even in the main ones that people use in astrology which make up the peak level of the series, the Gold saints.
But here is the truth of this. While Greek culture is a part of Saint Seiya, it’s very piecemile. Saint Seiya doesn’t just dive into the Greek gods and other things. The show chooses what it wants and then twists what it wants to do in its own way. Saint Seiya also does this with other religions all at once. Not to mention the series just takes what astrological things it wants to take and spins it in the way it wants to do all of this. That is why I call all of the religious aspects of Saint Seiya an amalgamation. It’s not just a collection; it’s a collection crafted in specific ways to tell the story the mangaka, Masami Kurumada, needed to tell his story.
So let’s talk about some of these religious aspects in this series called Saint Seiya.
Interpretations of Greek Mythology
So, I’ve already talked about the saints based on constellations and the reincarnated gods in the intro section. But the way this show chooses to involve all of those things is very interesting. For instance, there aren’t a lot of reincarnated gods or important figures from Greek text in the show itself. There are only four reincarnated gods or figures in the show itself. Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, is the leader of the saints and is reincarnated in the body of Saori Kido. There are similarities to how she acts compared to how she acts in the Odyssey, but there is action shounen stuff placed in it too with young men fighting to save the future.
With the other gods and figures. Julian Solo is Poseidon and is a major villain for one of Saint Seiya’s Arcs where he threatens to drown the world and is eventually stopped. Pandora is in this series as the antithesis to Athena by working for Hades. I feel like she should have been Persephone. Then there is Hades himself who is the main villain of the final arc of the manga, Lord of Death. He is the ultimate shonen villain that one cut from his weapon on a person makes the person go unconscious without any way for them to wake up as far as we know. I’ve watched some Saint Seiya and I haven’t seen it yet.
Then there are locations. The Hades or lets just go with hell because it’s less confusing, is somewhat accurate to what is in greek myth. Ok, it reminds me more of what it’s like in Hercules except there is more space. The river Styx is there and there is a ferryman that carries people across it. Then there is a check in counter where the dead are judged based on their lives. Then there is Icryus and eventually, Elysium. Plus a lot of interesting environments that shonen characters are challenged on during their movement through hades because it’s a shounen action series.
Lastly, there is the Sanctuary itself. An area littered with twelve greek temples like there are 12 parthenons in one area. Wonderful bits of architecture and each of the 12 Golden Saints has one of these dedicated to them on a hill. Then there is the last building where Athena and the Pope are placed on the top of the hill. They are full of all sorts of mystery and personality behind all of them based on each Saint’s abilities. A great place to look at, but also a good challenge for our main protagonists to climb from one danger to another and create some wonderful storytelling in a simple but exceptional way.
Interpretations of Christianity
The most fascinating part of this entire Greek mythology becoming real and the temples of the saints being there is that the leader of all of this is called the pope. This put the aspect of the Greek and Christianity placement that made me realize how the two are intertwined in this series in a fascinating way. The warriors are called saints and eventually a golden saint will become the top of the entire system when they are called the Pope. A very powerful individual who works in a partnership with Athena when she is reincarnated to decide what all the saints do and when.
One of Athena’s Saints, Hyoga himself. is a Christian. No one is bothered by this fact or brings it up in any positive or negative ways as he fights in Hades or any other Greek god incarnations and their minions at all. He simply wears a cross necklace given to him by his dead mother. The guy is so attached to his mother who was a Christian and he carries his beliefs with him on his journey and that does and doesn’t change how thinks and acts about certain things throughout Saint Seiya as a result on a moralistic level, but as I’ve said before no one really cares about this fact because Hyoga is never shown in any sort of unusual or evil ways. He’s a good kid and I’m happy he’s chosen for himself.
Then I can push this a bit more with what I picked up from the Hades Saga of Saint Seiya and Lost Canvas. Hades. The person who will reincarnate into Hades needs to be a pure soul that wouldn’t hurt a butterfly. These are the people who start from a good standing in what would be a pure christian like person and then take in the ultimate evil of the Saint Seiya world like a person would be possessed by biblical satan. It is so interesting because you wouldn’t expect that in this shonen battle show. It happens to one of Athena’s saints in the show during Hades to create some good drama and also Alone in Lost Canvas who would sacrifice everything to save a puppy that is getting bullied. Isn’t this fascinating? It’s very biblical in some ways.
Which is pushed a bit further in Lost Canvas. Alone is the soft character that lived at what feels like a Christian orphanage in 1700’s Italy. He is a pure boy that loves to paint, dresses in black like a priest, and is tempted by the cathedral in the woods because of a painting that he can’t replicate. Once again, hades’ spirit is like Satan taking over someone by tempting people with something they wouldn’t have otherwise like in the New testament. I still love this fact. The villains also dress up in what look like black priests and stay in a cathedral looking building until they show their true form with their ridiculous Saint Seiya armor. We could also talk about the trinity of Hades, Athena, and Pegasus Saint. A love triangle to be sure, but they are the holy trinity guiding the story. That is pushing things a bit too far, but that’s the entire post.
Some interesting developments come around when you watch the movies of Saint Seiya. Things that I would consider non canon, but can fit in between arcs easily enough. The Legend of the Crimson Youth, for example, brings up the concept that there is a god out there. Athena and her brother in the movie, Able, bring up god. Not Zeus or any others that can be reincarnated in human form, just god. It’s just so strange to hear this coming from reincarnation of Greek gods, but it is also a fascinating thing to think about especially since while we are never pointed in another direction or there are no christian symbolism in these movies besides from Hyoga, there is some sort of implication at play here.
An Addition of Buddhism
This one is rather strange because when it comes to this, we mainly focus on one particular character, Virgo Shaka. A Gold Saint that is said to be the latest reincarnation of Buddha. Buddha works under Athena and the Pope at the sanctuary. There is a Gold Saint that is also a reincarnation of Buddha who is also a Virgo in the Lost Canvas called Asmita who has almost the same abilities. Both are Saints that use the 8th sense and have the power to change the fabric of reality around them and literally get rid of all the senses of their opponent to the point where their opponents become nothing but a shell of who they used to be. The Buddha we know of comes up a lot in the imagery of their attacks and the Virgo temple is decorated in a Buddhist/Hindu manner.
An Addition of Norse Mythology
The Asgard arc is a filler arc in the original Saint Seiya anime, but it still gives us the idea that other gods from other cultures are out there in some form. The arc takes place in Asgard portrayed as a frozen wasteland. A priestess by the name of Polaris Hilda is like the pope at the Sanctuary, but is the priestess of Odin. The God Warriors are people with famous Nordic names with one or two of them named for gods that give our protagonist saints a lot of trouble to provide us that sort of escalation of threats and scale that all shonen battle series have. There is some good focus on who these characters are, but not their sanctity unless it’s important. Really, they are just some unique enemies that stand out to the other arcs in Saint Seiya.
Saint Seiya is really interesting in everything that it does. Saint Seiya is a really good and emotionally raw series that captures all sorts of emotions. It has a unique environment, power system, and comes from a generation of anime media where people getting their faces kicked in or just killed just happen. It just works in ways that a lot of modern series can’t right now. But this religious part is very interesting. Saint Seiya is an interesting blend of a couple different western religions and mythologies put together in the way that Masami Kuramada wanted to when he put this together and it stands the test of time in that way because of that. My Saint Seiya Lost Canvas will come out….some time this year I promise.
I don’t talk about this a lot here because it is something that is attached to me, not who I am, but I am a Lutheran. I don’t say it or preach anything about it on here or try to force it on people because it is a case to me that it’s what I believe in and I don’t think that people need to be religious at all to be good people. So that is why I don’t have a lot of those sort of good analytical posts besides the one I wrote on Vinland Saga a long time ago and I don’t know when I will write another one of these in the future. Possibly never. We shall see if the topic interests me once again. I try my best to study other religious texts when I can, but the time has really become shorter as of late. Time sucks man.
Hmm, this does sound pretty interesting! I never watched Saint Seiya because I though it was like a extra shiny Power Rangers anime. I had no idea there was so much mythology blended in. I think I need to try this out, I’m super curious now!
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I don’t have much to really say here other then how tokusatsu’s is all over the place in anime shows.
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You know, Saint Seiya really is a shining example of how Japan tends to pick and chose other religions elements and repurpose them a bit for a story. I’m sure you know this (in fact I think I learned this from one of your posts) but the creator of Evangelion said the reason there’s so much religious iconography in Evangelion is because he thought it looked cool. Same with Saint Young Men as an anime/manga series. Like there’s a certain amount of respect creators put into having those figures, spiritualities, religious, etc included, but there’s also just the element of ‘this is really cool and I think adding it with this other thing would also be cool’ to it.
Tangentially related is that Japan is rather lax about religious beliefs in general. I know so many Japanese couples who get married in chapels with priests overseeing their ceremonies, but aren’t Catholic or Christian at all. Explaining to them that those are also two separate religions also blows their mind.
Really interesting post you wrote here!
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