Bringing Saint Seiya & Knights of the Zodiac to America fails
Saint Seiya is a franchise that was big in Japan but when it aired in Europe, Asia and Latin America it became a huge hit bigger than it ever was back in the land of the rising sun. Mexico, France, Spain among others all had a huge fad where it was renamed Knights of the Zodiac, of course in their respective languages. How big was it? Well it was easily as big if not bigger than Dragon Ball Z, there had never been anything like it on television before and it dominated for many years until the show was over. The United States wanted to Americanize the concept to get a piece of the pie in the 90s with a live action adaptation like the first Sailor Moon pilot but it wasn’t until the early 2003 after Pokemon and DBZ became huge hits and anime was popular in the America that they tried to bring this 80s shonen anime. It was an effort to Americanize Saint Seiya and finally get this franchise to an American audience and make money on it counting the long lasting history that Saint Seiya had.
To do this we got two very different adaptations since they wanted to cover their bases and make it a hit and they had a double strategy approach. A toned down adaptation 4Kids style just like most other anime had been doing at the time with edits and localizing different aspects of the show to make it more friendly for America and this was handled by DIC Entertainment and they used the international name that most countries used only in English which was Knights Of The Zodiac. At the same time ADV Films would bring in their own version of the dub which would be faithful and go by the name of Saint Seiya since they knew that some did not accept those edited dubs and KotZ might not be exactly what fans that could make the franchise a hit with hardcore fans in case the kid audience didn’t work out. Both versions are poor for their own reasons but at least one of them has something that sets it apart so let’s take a look at both of them.
As mentioned ADV tried to do a faithful dub of the anime simultaneously as Knights of the Zodiac aired and since a lot was going to be edited out since the show is full of drama, blood, violence, adult themes, slow moving scenes for effect, old looking. But could the hardcore fanbase keep exclusive uncensored DVD releases afloat? The DVDs actually included more episodes than the KOTZ counterparts that only had 3, but they also got the raw end of the deal in marketing as the logo they made for it is plain and boring and this is without mentioning that the DVD covers were as plain as you could get. The Knights of the Zodiac DVDs only had 3 episodes but had an interesting logo a better name and a vibrant cover. The dub still lasted 60 episodes which is 20 more episodes KOTZ dub got with only 40.
This dub retained the original music and was unedited but the different voice acting and script was also one of their main selling points since it would be more in line with the franchise and at least if it had been a hit there were new episodes of the Hades OVAs at that same time with new animation, but that was being hopeful. The problem is while the script is more faithful it clashes with the voice acting which is far more professional but it’s still a little off when reading the script which is a shame. A few voices are great, others are 90s anime dub sounding and some are just bad since they don’t fit the characters at all. It’s poor and unmemorable when you can listen to the other dubs other countries got or just the Japanese one. There’s an English narrated Saint Seiya promotional clip on a VHS that was made in the early 90s so they tried to Americanize Saint Seiya since the early days not counting the live-action adaptation. Maybe this would’ve been a better dub back then since at least the context of the time would’ve made it more acceptable.
Knights of the Zodiac
The DIC dub everyone laughs and is as bad as Dragon Ball Z’s Ocean dub but you have to take into account not only the context of the time but also that those clips on youtube are selected specifically to make it look the worst it can be. Here you have a small promotional segment with the theme song using a cover of Flock of Seagulls by Bowling For Soup. The opening is surprisingly interesting, taking this old footage and hiding its age with a bunch of quick edits, quick paced music and other effects not too different than say Rock the Dragon did. The logo as mentioned is far more interesting and modern but sadly even though they tried to market the toys as something totally awesome and the toys were pretty damn decent; it didn’t take long before they were on clearance at KB Toys.
The dialog is cheesy and over the top but this is how other anime kids dubs were done at the time so you can’t blame them too much for it, especially since there was a more accurate dub at the same time and this was for the Cartoon Network and kids crowd. The scripts add a bunch of dialog and downplay the stakes of what is happening, a scene with silence and tension becomes a scene where they call each other dumb names and it shows how powerful speech can be since changing just a few key words changes the mood of what’s happening. These are bad things right? Well in this case it sort of works, the added music everything makes it feel far “newer” than the original version and counting it was now the 2000’s it helped it a bit even if it was noticeable that it was an old show. Besides this they added new effects like bad CG or more effects when there are attacks to make it more appealing and while it’d ruin the originals how this new version sort of works with it.
The legendary music from the original is changed to a more rock/electronic soundtrack which makes the scenes a little faster paced which again sort of works with this adaptation. I’m not saying it’s better, it really isn’t but it’s giving it a different life of its own similar to the Bruce Faulconer soundtracks on DBZ which are also inferior but decent enough. The voice acting is somehow better, yes it’s cheaper, cheesy and over the top but at least the dialog now matches most of the voice actors. Angry Ikki and Surfer Hyoga work with the new added dialog and it doesn’t sound bland like the Saint Seiya English dub even if it sounds like an annoying 00’s anime dub from KidsWB.
The show was super violent but they were able to cut away most of it fairly impressively in the 40 episodes shown, since they knew editing blood was going to be a huge problem they came up with a weird way to censor it. They called it spirit energy that drained from the fighters and colored it green and as ridiculous as that may sound it actually works with the lore of the anime, other times it was colored, in some other episodes it was sort of ignored and colored other weird colors to pass it off as water/sweat/etc. The show does get progressively more violent so it would’ve been interesting to see just how crazy they went into editing things down the road but they were handling it in a hilarious way with references as the bad guys going to jail, knocked out after a fight or resting when characters were outright dying. I have to sya that they did try hard to make it an appealing show for audiences but it was just over a decade late to be able to sell such old footage as new, even VR Troopers used newer footage.
I know I’m defending KOTZ a lot but it’s far more fascinating to look at how they did it and it could’ve wor
ked had it been released in the 90s while the faithful dub by ADV is just mediocre. Netflix did eventually dub the entire original show with the cast of the CG Knights of the Zodiac reboot, it is not the best either, the voices feel very SATAM and don’t evoke the same feeling of the original.