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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Smithson! 
27th-Sep-2006 11:18 pm
Check it out:


Also... yes! It's another installment of Overlooked Manga Festival! First, though, I want to respond to comments I've gotten about the difficulty of affording all of the 1,000-plus manga series now available in English translation. This is all too true. Allow me to suggest that you turn to your local library as a resource. Libraries these days are generally eager to stock graphic novels in general and manga in particular, because it Gets the Kids Reading. And, frankly, no library should be without all 28 volumes of this week's Overlooked Manga, which is a classic of old-fashioned kickassitude.

To be honest, I launched the entire Overlooked Manga Festival series so I could talk about this manga. At the same time, I've been a little apprehensive about it, because not everyone appreciates its special genius. Many Viz editors found it an acquired taste, no matter how much I browbeat them about it, although sooner or later all the naysayers came around and acknowledged its greatness. It's pure. It's the most manga manga I have ever read. A rocking metal guitar riff plays in my head every time I read it. I had to invent a new word to describe the feeling each page stirs in me, and that word is RAD-TASTIC.

Knights of the Zodiac is known in Japan as Saint Seiya, and it's one of the key series that made manga into the giant pile of awesome it is today. My good friend Jason Thompson once called it "the Rosetta Stone of manga." One of the flagship titles of Shonen Jump magazine in the 1980s, it renovated the magazine's tradition of intense, earnest sports-training stories with wholly original crazy sci-fi/fantasy trappings, creating the template of the modern shonen manga: outrageously brutal fighting-tournament action in a weirdass setting with a complicated backstory. Virtually every manga in Shonen Jump today is pretty much like Knights of the Zodiac.

That is, they're like Knights of the Zodiac, only wussier.

Every other page of Knights of the Zodiac looks like this.

But that's not all! Singlehandedly reshaping all shonen manga was not enough for creator Masami Kurumada! Through Knights of the Zodiac and the Big-Bang-level power created by combusting his cosmo to its limit, he also made a crater-sized impact on shojo manga! In its day, Knights of the Zodiac attracted a sizeable female fan following, possibly because of pages like this:

...or possibly pages like this:

Don't you want to run out and draw reams of fancomics about these passionate young men and their intense, only nominally heterosexual bonds of loyalty and brotherly love? Lots of Japanese girls in the 1980s did. Among them was future manga superteam CLAMP, which got its start drawing fancomics based on Knights of the Zodiac and the soccer manga Captain Tsubasa. I'm told that the group's first published works, especially X/1999, are heavily influenced by Kurumada's opus. I can't vouch for that because I've never gotten through X/1999, but I'm more than willing to believe it.

(Incidentally, that degenitaled nude has not been retouched by Viz; that's the way it looks in the Japanese original. Knights of the Zodiac has never been censored. Most of the potentially controversial material involves gruesome violence rather than nudity, which makes it okay in America. Also, if you tried to censor Knights of the Zodiac, it would punch you in the face and then explode.)

I've been the editor of the Viz edition of Knights of the Zodiac since Volume 3, and I love it like my own flesh and blood. Each volume is more outlandishly over the top than the one before. This series simply does not stop getting better. Every time you think you've seen the insanest thing you're going to see, something two million times insaner pulls up to the curb. A masked woman in armor getting dunked into the sea while tied upside-down to a cross is barely worth pausing to comment on.

Before I try to describe the plot, I should mention my dear friend Joey Manley, who keeps saying that he can't get into manga because he doesn't understand the characters' motivations. Joey? STAY AWAY FROM THIS MANGA. Nothing that happens in Knights of the Zodiac makes a lick of sense. Or rather, it has its own logic, a logic not directly connected to our reality. It's a kid logic, and in fact the series reads very much like it was scooped directly from the brain of a ten-year-old boy and schlopped down onto the page. From time to time I hold pages of Knights of the Zodiac up to one of my supervising editors, pages that look like this:

...and say, "This is exactly what the inside of a preteen boy's head looks like."

"I'm glad I was never a preteen boy," she says.

Okay. The plot. Seiya and his friends are the Bronze Knights, one of a number of super-strong armored warriors trained to defend the human incarnation of the goddess Athena. They wear armor, or Cloths, based on constellations. The core gang consists of:

-- Seiya, your standard trash-talking, bushy-eyebrowed shonen hero. He wears the Pegasus Cloth.
-- Shiryu, a Chinese guy with a bitchin' dragon tattoo on his back. His main job is to get mutilated the most, which is saying a lot. I'm up to Volume 20, and so far he's gone blind twice (once by putting out his own eyes) and died two or three times. He wears the Dragon Cloth.
-- Hyoga, a standoffish Russian fellow who became a Knight so he could become strong enough to dive to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean every day and place a flower on his drowned mother's corpse. Why are you looking at me like that? He wears the Swan Cloth.
-- Shun, a maidenly young man who hates fighting but rules at it anyway. He really, really looks like a girl. He wears the Andromeda Cloth.
-- Ikki, Shun's big brother and the surly rebel of the group. He pops in from time to time to haul the Bronze Knights' fat out of the fire, especially if Shun is getting slapped around. He wears the Phoenix Cloth. Like his patron bird, he can return from the dead, and in fact does it so often that eventually not even the characters in the manga care when he gets killed.

To win the right to wear their Cloths, the Bronze Knights undergo years of intense training. It looks kind of like this:

...although there's also time for intellectual discussion and mullets:

The first 13 volumes immerse the reader in the manga's violent, illogical universe and eventually send Seiya and his friends on a quest to defeat the twelve Gold Knights, who guard twelve palaces and wear Cloths based on the constellations of the Zodiac. Admittedly, some are more intimidating than others.

Look, somebody has to be the wimpy-sounding constellations, okay?

Volumes 14-18 comprise the Poseidon Saga, in which other gods start challenging Athena for dominion of the Earth. The Bronze Knights travel to Poseidon's headquarters at the bottom of the Mediterranean and wipe the floor with his minions, as a prelude to taking on the god himself.

The last ten volumes haven't come out in English yet, but they comprise the incredible Hades Saga, which pulls out all the stops, pitting all the surviving Knights of Athena against the army of Hades, which includes undead resurrected versions of everyone who's gotten killed in the manga so far. RAD-TASTIC!

I love the full-bore, red-blooded sincerity of Knights of the Zodiac. I know I'm likely to get pilloried for this, but it reminds me of the work of Jack Kirby, after he snapped his editorial restriants and went completely batshit drawing stuff for DC. Kurumada's art isn't as good as Kirby's, but the point of Kirby was never the art, anyway; it was the feverish invocation of a sprawling, larger-than-life reality that could only ever exist in comic books. Kurumada's got that going on. And he's equally insane. When Kirby lets fly with the giant screeching man-bats, Kurumada tosses up a serene flautist casually beheading a guy with one hand.

When Kirby doles out Goody Rickles, Kurumada opens up a can of martial-arts punishments based on the Buddhist cycles of reincarnation.

And so on.

And that's Knights of the Zodiac. RAD-TASTIC.

28th-Sep-2006 10:07 am (UTC)
"Hyoga, a standoffish Russian fellow who became a Knight so he could become strong enough to dive to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean every day and place a flower on his drowned mother's corpse."

BAW HAW HAW. SOLD. Now I HAVE to read this.
29th-Sep-2006 06:22 pm (UTC)
Absolutely sold. Royal Demon roses? I think I'm buying every damn volume.
28th-Sep-2006 11:47 am (UTC)
It's encouraging to know that godlike beauty means having an asymetrical face where one eye is higher than the other.
29th-Sep-2006 06:41 pm (UTC)

I had to include that page because Urian's had it tacked over his desk for the last three years, and it's BURNED INTO MY BRAIN.
28th-Sep-2006 02:03 pm (UTC)
Have I ever told you how much I love reading these reviews?
(Deleted comment)
29th-Sep-2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
I am also shocked by how much of this series is out. From time to time I look up at the manga shelf over my desk and go, "HOLY CRAP! EIGHTEEN VOLUMES!" It's going to take longer from here on out, because Viz recently slowed the production schedule from bimonthly to quarterly, but still. Damn.

And you know, I don't want to hear any bitching from fans about how Viz cancels series before their time. That used to be the case, but nowadays it's virtually impossible to get Viz to stop publishing a manga. I've got 20 volumes of Basara, 18 volumes of Knights of the Zodiac, and 15 volumes of Ultimate Muscle backing me up on this.
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(Deleted comment)
28th-Sep-2006 02:49 pm (UTC)
"but the point of Kirby was never the art, anyway; it was the feverish invocation of a sprawling, larger-than-life reality that could only ever exist in comic books."

Hitting the nail on the head, right there, with finesse. Well done all around.
28th-Sep-2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
Now I will buy this at the inevitable "Shaenoncon"
28th-Sep-2006 09:28 pm (UTC)
28th-Sep-2006 09:29 pm (UTC)
(Also: I want a job like yours. With my luck, though, I'd end up editing knockoffs of the Harlequin manga series or something instead.)
29th-Sep-2006 03:17 am (UTC)
. . . question: Instead of diving down to the bottom of the ocean every day to leave a flower that would probably drift away within seconds anyway, why didn't he ever attempt to bring down a body bag to haul her up and give his mother a proper burial?
16th-Oct-2007 08:11 am (UTC)
After he can dive this far. He realize that if he picked her body up to have proper burial, he would never see her beauty again. Then he leave her body that way to protect her beauty forever.
29th-Sep-2006 08:36 pm (UTC) - Been there, done that. LONG time ago
Saint Seiya? Oh man, bringing back memories. The Anime was great back in the day (80's). Glad I still have my Poseiden and Cancer Gold Cloth original action figures. They're worth a ton.

But come on, as adults do we REALLY want to be reading "kid logic, and in fact the series reads very much like it was scooped directly from the brain of a ten-year-old boy and schlopped down onto the page." I don't think so, I'd rather tackle James Joyce or Marcel Proust.
29th-Sep-2006 08:46 pm (UTC) - Re: Been there, done that. LONG time ago

I'm working under the assumption that anyone in the mood for something like Joyce or Proust will not be looking for it in manga.
1st-Oct-2006 12:49 am (UTC)
I can't believe you got through that entire thing without using the phrase "Have you ever felt your cosmo?"

Total agreement about the Jack Kirbyism of Saint Seiya. Any comic where people hit each other and planets shatter has got some Jack goin' on. Also: hair metal.
2nd-Feb-2007 04:59 am (UTC) - Help to be insured

Is desire to make insurance life the wife
advise office
22nd-Mar-2007 03:49 am (UTC)
This has made my day.

I'm a fan for everything that is Saint Seiya and I must say, confirming with knowledge by interviews done to Masami Kurumada, that his story of Athena's Saints were written to be pure entertainment in the form of sheer violence, one of his marks, he has done other jobs such as: "Ring ni Kakeru" and "Bt'X" and you would notice immediatly that always the protagonic role has the same design, only with different names.

He grew up reading shonen comics, specially one of box, in turn, he made his own box comic in "Ring ni Kakeru" and while he traveled to Greece he was so impressed by he Helenistic culture he thought of a story in which he could incorporate all these.

The manga and anime differ very much as it is well written, you can say that anime is to the manga just as some translations of comic book series to cartoons to original comics, and now that someone mentioned Jack Kirby, just in the nature of the old 60's Fantastic Four cartoons, which was very much like the classic World's Greatest Family in comics but lacking some elements.

Everything is pure diversion and people should not forget that when this comic (or manga) was being published back in the middle of the 80's in Japan other stories that were gathering momentum were: "Dragon Ball" and "Fist of the North Star".

The manga was finished by orders of Shonen Jump who demanded Kurumada to stop the story by the moment I think it was getting the better and was planning to write the "Heaven Saga", throwing Zeus, Apollo or Artemis into the equation.

Nonetheless, Saint Seiya, after twenty years have passed after the last issue of the original story, new works of Athena's Saints are now being published:

- Saint Seiya Episode G, in which "G" stands for "Golden" and tells the tale of a Holy War with the Titans as main villains and is a sort of prequel. Some hardcore fans abhor this version of Athena's Saints because the graphic style is closer to the "Clamp" style. So far, I can tell what I've read has very interesting moments, and some others do not but... Hey! That makes this characters stay alive! The plot is by Masami Kurumada himself, the art is by Megumu Okada.

- Saint Seiya Lost Canvas. A free work based on the last Holy War with Hades done entirely by Teshirogi Shiori. This story is in the beginning, but lots of fans have received it with more enthusiasm than what they thought in the beginning of Episode G.

- Saint Seiya: Next Dimension. This one done entirely by Masami Kurumada who has returned to his greatest hit so far and tells the same tale as Lost Canvas but only in parallel moments. To tell the truth, I (as many fans) don't know what to do with this story since at bizarre plotlines do not match with Lost Canvas who, supposedly, is telling the same tale but in other fronts of the war.

And some years back was a mini-manga which was "The Prologue to the Prologue" of the Heaven Saga, which has been done (the first part) only in animation.

Manga and anime are not the same, but compliment each other.

There are lots of other graphic material to tell about, but I don't want to bore you with my fandom, lol.

And sorry for my rusty English, haven't write in this language in a long while... I'm Mexican.

29th-Apr-2007 07:33 pm (UTC) - whats up
Hi! How r u?
nice site!
15th-Jun-2007 12:41 pm (UTC)
It's that joke? I don't understand all, but so what. Saint Seiya / Knights of the Zodiac is really great ^__^
26th-Jun-2007 06:30 pm (UTC)
knights of the zodiac is the greatest whoot whoot
26th-Jun-2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
whoot whoot i love knights of the zodiac :)
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