This #ThrowbackThursday I am trying to consider if Saint Seiya is a magical shounen (boys) series because of traits it share with the magical girl (mahou shoujo) genre. Well, is it?
Saint Seiya is Masami Kurumada’s most famous work and an enduring series since its inception. Kurumada began the manga in January 1986. Hey, Happy 30th Anniversary! (See why I picked the franchise?) Soon after, the manga was adapted into an anime TV series. It has also been adapted into novels, games, spin-offs, and movies over the past decades.
It is internationally known as either Knights of the Zodiac or its original name.
What Is Saint Seiya?
The show plot is an underdog story about the titular Seiya and his friends fighting against evil and protecting the reincarnated goddess, Athena. Central elements in the story include: Cosmo (a spiritual energy which I will explain below), Cloths (powerful armors based on constellations and mythos), Saints (chosen warriors that rightfully serve Athena), and Gods (canonically based on the Greek mythology).
In addition to being a long-lasting franchise and having a lot of merchandise, Saint Seiya also became the basis for what I call the Transforming Armor With Supernatural Energy trope. Quite a few other shounen anime and manga are inspired by Kurumada’s work. Legend of Heavenly Sphere Shurato, Ronin Warriors, Kill la Kill, and even Digimon Frontier fall under the trope.
Is Cosmo Similar to Magic?
While magical girls tend to use magic as their source of power, their shounen counterparts may use other forms of supernatural energy. In Saint Seiya’s universe, that energy is called Cosmo (stylized in Japanese as 小宇宙, literally “small universe/cosmos” or コスモ).
Saints, and presumably other baddies, learn to use this inner spiritual energy in their early training stage. Cosmo is the energy that binds and separates matter both in the physical and metaphysical sense. Kind of like magic.
Cosmo is both constructive and destructive, and as such, it can be used both offensively and defensively. In many fantasy works, there are all sorts of magic, including the two kinds mentioned.
Magical Transformation Boys
Let’s compare some similar themes between magical girls and Saint Seiya.
The Saints don their respective Cloths to augment their powers. The Cloths boost their Cosmo and offer protection. At the basic level, Bronze Saints Cloths offer slight amplification, while Gold Zodiac Cloths offer the most. Some magical girl series use their transformations as power ups.
The anime treats us with the transformation sequences of the Saints. This can be justified by the fact that Cloths are actually living beings because they are filled with Cosmo. Some have even been shown to have their own wills. However, they all only react to the persons they are bonded with or those who have been deemed worthy. It is the same with magical girls, where they often have individual magical tokens.
More importantly, similar to many magical girl transformation sequences, the Saints often strike poses. In their case, these are inspired by their constellations.
Another fact to note is all of the five main Saints are young boys. Phoenix Ikki, the oldest, is fifteen at the start of the series while Pegasus Seiya is only thirteen. This is a very similar age group to Sailor Moon and her band of merry girls.
Why Is It Not Officially Called A Magical Shounen?
From here on, these are all my hypotheses. The biggest reason the genre is not named as such is probably because of what is expected of the “traditional” shounen genre. Remember that back then, the genre typically portrayed: manliness, strength, actions, physical and emotional struggle, and overcoming one’s weakness. It still does this, but there are more variations that the demographic can be interested in.
Second, whatever power the protagonists use are not labeled as magic even if they could be. Spirit power, mantra, ki, and very advanced science are some of the terms used.
Third, Seiya and co. are publicly known as Saints because they have exhibited their martial arts prowess to the world in a grand tournament. As such, their identities are no longer secrets. This breaks the one main trope of a magical girl genre where the protagonists will often have to deal with having two distinct identities. I mean, Usagi Tsukino and Sailor Moon are two different people, right?
Lastly, the genre originated in the general shoujo genre. Since it proved to be popular with the demographic, it mainly stays in that circle.
So, as much as I like to say, “yes, Saint Seiya is a magical shounen series” the answer leans towards a no. I am sad that I can never call it Magical Zodiac Knights Saint Seiya. Perhaps Ultraman may fit the trope better.
What do you think? Can Saint Seiya be considered one of the first unofficial magical transformation boy series?
If you are interested in watching the series, Crunchyroll is the place to go.
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