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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saint Seiya: Tenkai-hen Jousou ~overture~: Prologue to Nothing

Well, we've come to the end of the Saint Seiya movies, and for a blog that focuses on obscure and forgotten anime & manga, this movie hits pretty close to being too well-known for me to actually want to talk about. But since I reviewed the quadrilogy (or "tetralogy", if you want to be grammatically correct) of Saint Seiya movies from the late-80s, I might as well review this movie as well, especially since it has become downright ignored ever since Masami Kurumada started doing real work on Saint Seiya: Next Dimension, the official sequel/prequel to Saint Seiya.

When Saint Seiya debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump it became a giant hit, and an anime TV series quickly came afterwards; some could argue a little too soon, though, due to the large amount of filler in the first 30-40 episodes. Anyway, both the manga and anime enjoyed great popularity, but for some reason (possibly viewership getting smaller) the anime ended in April of 1989, resulting in the Poseidon Chapter adaptation being truncated slightly. The manga was also canceled in late 1990, resulting in Kurumada being unable to truly finish his story. The funny thing is that Shueisha supposedly told Kurumada that Saint Seiya was being canceled so that he could create a new manga that would be similar to Seiya and therefore be another big hit; the result, Silent Knight Sho, ended after 2 volumes.

In 2002 Toei, the animation studio behind the Saint Seiya TV series and movies, decided to dust off the pre-production work they started for the anime adaptation of the Hades Chapter of Saint Seiya. The result was the 13-episode OVA Saint Seiya Hades Sanctuary, which debuted in November and told the first portion of the story arc. The OVA was a big hit and Toei decided to do more with Saint Seiya by bringing Kurumada himself in to help out. The plan was to actually continue the story where the manga left off at in 1990, and the best way to start it was by bringing Seiya back to the theaters with a movie that would act as a prologue to a brand-new TV series, Saint Seiya: Tenkai-hen/Heaven Chapter.

*NOTE: If you haven't read or seen the end of Saint Seiya then I must warn you that there are spoilers regarding the ending in this review.  Continuing from here on out is at your own risk*

The full title of the movie is Saint Seiya: Tenkai-hen Jousou ~overture~, with "Jousou" translating roughly as "introduction", so you could easily ignore the Japanese term and simply use the "overture" portion when referring to it. It debuted in theaters in February of 2004, the year Kurumada was celebrating his 30th anniversary as a professional manga creator (the other production to celebrate the anniversary was the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime's first season, which I've already covered at length). At over 80 minutes it's the longest of the Seiya movies, and much like the last two movies it wastes no time in getting started. In the final battle Hades threw his sword at Seiya, hitting him right in the heart and the manga ended off with the indication that Seiya died in battle. Instead, the attack has left Seiya wheelchair-bound and in a vegetative state, with Saori Kido/Athena caring for him. One day a trio of warriors appear and immediately attack the helpless Seiya, but Athena's power resulted in Seiya simply being scratched. The trio reveal that they have been ordered to kill Seiya since he went against the Gods and even killed one of them. When Athena asks who sent them her older sister Artemis, Goddess of the Moon, appears and tells Athena that they are her "Angels". Athena, wanting no harm to come to Seiya, gives up her staff and pleads with Artemis to leave Seiya alone. Artemis agrees and takes control over Sanctuary, turning it into her own creation.

Seiya, though, comes to afterwards and realizes that he's all alone and that something is different. The rest of the movie is Seiya meeting with his fellow Saints (Aquila Marin, Ophiucus Shaina, Unicorn Jabu, and Hydra Ichi), seeing that all but Marin have now joined Artemis' side. Also, the three Angels are around, fighting Shun, Ikki, Hyoga, and Shiryu. After finding out what's going on Seiya makes it his mission to find Athena and protect her once again, even if it results in him denouncing the rest of the Greek pantheon.

As a continuation of the original Saint Seiya story Tenkai-hen does an interesting job. The basic idea of the story is cool and there is a lot to like about the movie. Seeing Seiya in probably his weakest state yet and having to slowly recover is a neat way of telling the story, and while watching it's obvious that Seiya is the major focus here, with Angel Icarus being the co-star due to the backstory that's slowly revealed about him. It's also cool seeing lesser-used characters like the minor-character saints being given some sort of focus. There's also an odd serenity mixed in with the action scenes, but it works excellently here. Toei brought back Shigeyasu Yamauchi as the director, who also directed the Hades Sanctuary OVA, so his style is in effect. Interestingly enough, though, there isn't an abuse of his love of warping faces in this movie. There are times when it happens, sure, but overall it's actually used at truly appropriate times and not simply whenever it can be used. Finally, the last scene of the movie, where Apollo, God of the Sun and older brother to Athena and Artemis, appears is done excellently and really gets you excited. I first saw this movie after I finished reading the original manga back in 2006 and I enjoyed it back then. Now, 5 years later (and 7 years after it debuted), it still holds up very well.

That said, there are some problems with this movie. The most obvious problem is the overall ambiguity the movie has, with part of the result being some extremely out-of-character moments in this movie. For example, Unicorn Jabu is shown to be possibly the most blindly loyal saint Athena has, yet in this movie he looks to be completely fine with betraying her and joining Artemis' side. Also, at this point in the story Shaina's love towards Seiya is completely out there and known (she even was willing to fight Poseidon on her own simply to protect Seiya), so seeing her not hesitate one bit in kicking his ass is kind of odd, though she does visibly hold back to a very little extent in the end. Also, the other main Bronzes simply come out of nowhere in this movie, as there is absolutely no indication where the others were when this movie started. Hell, Hyoga and Shiryu's introduction is literally them getting beaten down by Angel Odysseus. Now it's understandable that there would be ambiguity in this movie since it was meant to be a prologue to a larger overall story, but since this story was never continued these ambiguities are now annoying to take at times. The ending also leaves you truly wondering what could happen next, which is cool but at the same time it's now annoying.

Another problem is that the focus on Seiya and Icarus in this movie result in it being horribly unbalanced. For example, the only reason you know of Angel Odysseus' name is because he says it himself in his final moments. Angel Theseus' name, though, is never mentioned in the movie and the only way you can find out who he is by reading the cast list during the credit scroll at the end. In retrospect, when Shun asked who he was maybe he should have said "Angel Theseus" instead of simply "Angel". Also, as mentioned, the other main Bronzes are in the movie simply to fight and get nothing else in terms of story. Even the Gold Saints get some story relevance by having a scene in the movie dedicated to them being told by the Gods that they were to be turned into a giant rock statue due to their interference in the Underworld. Artemis and Athena do get fair amount of story relevance, and Marin also gets a nice amount of focus by the end, but there is just too much that simply happens almost at random in this movie. Yeah, I know, it's a prologue but it would have been nice to see where the other bronzes were when the movie started, at least.

Seiji Yokoyama's music works great in this movie and there is seemingly no re-used music from the TV series.  There is no opening theme, but there is an ending theme that plays during the credit scroll, "Never - Seitoushi Seiya no Theme-" by Make-Up. Though I don't know if it was a new song Make-Up made just for the movie or if it existed back in the 80s, but it's a great song that looks to have been mostly forgotten now. It's also important to note that this movie is the last time the original cast from the TV series reunited. The second Hades OVA, Hades Inferno, had a brand-new cast. There has never been an official reason given for the cast change, but supposedly Kurumada was feeling that the old cast, outside of Tohru Furuya, was starting to sound too old for the characters and wanted them re-cast. Furuya then supposedly said that he wouldn't be Seiya if the rest were re-cast, so Seiya was re-cast as well. Of course, this is only one version of the story, and in the end a re-cast would have happened sooner or later, as Hirotaka Suzuoki (Dragon Shiryu) sadly passed away in August of 2006. Just to get this out of the way, I personally find the new cast to be about as enjoyable as the old cast.

It's really interesting to watch Saint Seiya: Tenkai-hen ~overture~ now, mainly because Masami Kurumada himself has done much more with Saint Seiya: Next Dimension when compared to its debut back in 2006. Watching this movie you can see some elements that Kurumada obviously created and wanted used, like Angel Icarus, Artemis, and a wheelchair-bound Seiya. At the same time, though, you can also see some of the things that changed Kurumada's original vision so much that he took Yamauchi off of all future Saint Seiya productions, for example Seiya recovering very early on as well as Hades' curse not being as much of a deal that it probably should have been (in Next Dimension it's revealed that Seiya will die within a few days if the curse is not removed, and it's not easily removable). Now when the news of Yamauchi being taken off of future Seiya projects was first found out, it looked as if the fanbase took it hard. Yes, Yamauchi's work is very well done, but if the Tenkai-hen movie truly changed as much of Kurumada's vision as it supposedly did, then I think Yamauchi might have overstepped his boundaries and more than likely deserved what he got to an extent.

In the end Saint Seiya: Tenkai-hen~overture~ is only really enjoyable by those who have either watched all of the TV series and Hades OVAs or simply read the original manga, as it requires previous knowledge of how it all ended in order to properly enjoy. While it is no longer canon in terms of storyline, it's still a neat title that shows fans what could have been back in 2004. Next Dimension is already better in terms of story, but Tenkai-hen still is a great movie, even with all of the ambiguity. In terms of how I would rank the movies myself, though, it still can't beat Movie 3. It is up there with Movie 4, though, so think of it as either the second or third-best Saint Seiya movie. Who knows how that upcoming CG movie Toei is doing, apparently with Kurumada himself being heavily involved in it, will end up... Though after seeing that promotional video for the new Saint Seiya Pachinko machine, I do wish that instead of CG Toei would instead make a movie adaptation of the fight with the Gold Saints and just go off of that amazingly beautiful animation.

Really, all of that amazingly-done animation for a pachinko machine and not a movie? I don't care if it uses the anime-only cloth designs, I want that movie!


  1. Hey man. Good to know someone writing about Saint Seiya. It doesn´t get talked about much in the anglophone blogosphere. I´m from Br, and we thoroughly enjoyed Saint Seiya here back in the day - early 90's, and to this day, I still have fond memories of it. The songs used are truly beautiful.

    One thing nobody got from this movie though was the ending. Could you explain that? What did you get from it?

    Anyway... nice review. Will read more of your blog now. Cheers

    1. Yeah, the ending was a weird one & was obviously meant to tie into how the Tenkai-hen TV series would have started. As for what it meant, I think it was pretty obvious that Apollo effectively had Seiya & Athena act like their individual journeys were just beginning once again. Of course, we have no idea if this was going to effect everyone or just Seiya & Athena, but I thought it had some cool potential to it, honestly.

    2. You say that the ending is weird and after you said it was pretty obvious. I asked because it WAS definately a weird ending. I tend to think that Saint Seiya is metaphorical and poetic more than it is literal - but what we´ve all seen in that OVA was out of the ordinary to SS - it was a hell of a cliffhanger, and with not much explanation about it. People commented and are comenting to this day, in youtube videos and such, various things - they asked, "well was that the end of the world?", "are they in heaven, or somewhere between heaven or earth?", and that bit of Seiya and Saori in the end also left people wondering, got me wondering, if they had died, if they had gone to heaven, or to another existence, or if anything was just an illusion - or they had their memories wiped, or a mix of all of these. It was definately different ground for a SS movie - NONE of the others had any philosophical implications of that special type before, save for some very specific bits here and there.

      But as you said, it is non-canonical anymore, so, not worth worrying about it anyways.

      And I agree, it had potential indeed.

      (But the internet is a funny thing huh? You wrote that in may last year, and I was searching for something about SS, and got here through google. You never know if something you write will end up being read now, or years from now. Just a funny thought.)

  2. Nice to see you write about this awesome series.Its funny how your wish for the CGI movie against the gold saints has been granted since that is what the new movie is on (coming out in 2014). I've been enjoying Next Dimension, I just hope the translations start moving a bit faster and that Kurumada also speeds up a little. I have no problem with him taking his time though.