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Friday, August 1, 2014

Saint Seiya Hades Elysion: Never Give Up, Never Surrender!

It would take 19 years after the last episode of the original Saint Seiya TV series aired for the actual ending of the original manga to finally be seen in anime form. The path to this point started off with the beloved Hades Sanctuary from 2003, followed by the mixed reception of Hades Inferno that took from 2005-2007 to finish up. In comparison, Saint Seiya Hades Elysion (Japan goes off of the Greek pronunciation of what is spelled "Elysium" in English) was not just half as long, totaling only six episodes, but also given nowhere near as much hatred by the hardcore fans; maybe they just simply gave up on complaining at that point. Anyway, how does the original manga wrap-up & is this anime adaptation a good take on this finale?

Time is running out for the Bronze Saints. After clashing at Judecca, Hades has retreated to Elysium, a "Utopia" that only the gods can access. He also took Athena with him, trapping her inside a giant amphora that's slowly draining her blood. Aside from the few Specters still alive, the only thing standing in the way of Seiya & the others from reaching Elysium is the Wailing Wall, which required the strength of all 12 Gold Saints just to damage. Even if they can reach Elysium, though, Hades still has the protection of the "Twin Gods": Thanatos, God of Death, & Hypnos, God of Sleep. Truly, the Bronze Saints will have to rely on a miracle if they want to defeat the God of the Underworld & stop the Greatest Eclipse, which will forever block the Sun from the Earth & create a frozen world of death that Hades can rule over.

[NOTE: Obviously, I'll be talking about the last parts of the original Saint Seiya at this point. Abandon All Hope of No Spoilers, Ye Who Enter Here.]

Two big reasons why Saint Seiya appeals to so many people is because of the heavy use of Greek Mythology & the idea of humans fighting against the gods themsevles. Hades Elysion probably shows this the most merely in concept: The battle to protect Earth from the power of Hades has now gotten to the point where the heroes have to enter the legendary realm of Elysium & take on the literal personifications of death & sleep. From a sheer visceral level that is outstandingly epic & the story does a great job of not just showcasing what the power of a Greek god truly is like but also how dangerous it is to even enter their realm. Between the Wailing Wall & Elysium is a literal hyperdimension that spans light years & can only be traversed by the gods or by those they allow. Seiya & his friends can only survive such an environment due to the fact that their Cloths were repaired using Athena's blood; all others literally become eradicated into nothing by the sheer force. There's a real sense of presence that's simply beyond human comprehension at times, which is great.

Unfortunately, this final part of the Hades Chapter also showcases a real sense of rushing from a storytelling perspective. It's obvious that, at this point in the manga, Masami Kurumada was given the order from Shueisha to wrap things up; unfortunately, he still had a lot of ideas & plot points to cover for this arc. His solution, in the end, was to simply get all of it out there as well as he can. In these last six episodes, which cover the last 2.25 volumes of the manga, you see the hyperdimension, Shiryu fighting off the three last named Specters on his own, the final fight with Griffon Minos, the introduction of Hypnos & Thanatos, the debut of the legendary God Cloths (which can match the strength of the gods), the climactic battle with Hades himself... And Kurumada even managed to squeeze in the finish to the sub-plot of Seiya's missing sister Seika, which hadn't been seen since the beginning of the entire story! Normally, this much content should take a good few volumes to get through, even with Kurumada's penchant for fast pacing, so these episodes sometimes feel like a massive assault on the senses with so much story to get through. Luckily, the story still has a sense of flow & even with a couple instances of deus ex machina it doesn't suffer badly... Actually, can it even be considered deus ex machina if it happens to or involves an actual god?

Luckily, one thing Kurumada's original story still maintained was the sense of power & grit that these characters showcase. Early on, Shiryu's fight against three Specters definitely has a sense of do-or-die to it & Minos' last moments still portray him as a truly dangerous foe; maybe not the smartest tool in the shed in his final seconds, but dangerous nonetheless. What really sells this idea of massive power, though, are the gods in Elysium. Thanatos is the perfect type of overly proud being, knowing that he could kill lesser beings without even being anywhere near them. Still, if there's an "insect" in front of him he'll prefer to eradicate it with massive power. Unfortunately, his pride also results in him being easily agitated, such as when Seiya scratches his fingers, resulting in Thanatos deciding to kill Seika while Seiya watches helplessly. In a nice touch, though, this attempt at Seika's life gives the minor Bronzes (Unicorn Jabu, Hydra Ichi, Wolf Nachi, etc.) & supporting characters Ophiuchus Shaina, Eagle Marin, Mu's student Kiki a great moment to shine. Hypnos is the opposite of his twin, being calm, collected, & preferring to put his victims into an eternal sleep instead of killing. Hades, though, is an excellent final opponent, showcasing epic power & relentlessness while feeling nothing but pity to his enemies, because they are past being called foolish. It's a finale filled with strong, classical-styled characters, true to not just Kurumada's general odus operandi but also the myths of legend.

The staff for Hades Elysion is the same as that of Hades Inferno, so Tomoharu Katsumata directed & storyboarded, Yousuke Kuroda did the script & series composition, Seiji Yokoyama's music returned, & the Shingo Araki/Michi Himeno duo adapted the last "new" characters that had to be introduced. Overall, the animation is essentially just as lower budget as what came directly before it, though there are some stylistic moments utilized here that were not shown in the previous OVA series. To be exact, the episodes where Thanatos is the focus have some neat shots that you just don't see in Saint Seiya. An example would be a trio of manga-style panels that advance to the right, with each panel showing Seiya closer & closer. While some might call that out as being cheap on the animation, others can see it as a good way to showcase the moment, especially when it's used to heighten tension like this series does. Interestingly enough, those exact episodes, 3-5, were directed specifically by Nobutaka Nishizawa (director of Slam Dunk & Galaxy Express 999 TV), so these stylistic choices were likely his. "Megami no Senshi ~Pegasus Forever~" by Marina del ray is the opening theme once again, though with some new shots for the footage, while the ending theme for these last six episodes is "Kami no En ~Del Regno~" by Yuuko Ishibashi. This ending theme is notable for a few reasons, the biggest of which is that this is the only time Masami Kurumada has ever helped compose a song. Teaming with Marina del ray's Kacky, who composed all of the songs he co-wrote for the past ten years, Kurumada obviously wanted to be a larger part of this final theme and it really does show. It's a glorious, almost classical, anthem for Elysium itself, with lyrics in both Japanese & Italian, and Yuuko Ishibashi's nigh-angelic singing matches the music perfectly. It's honestly the best ending theme the original Saint Seiya series has ever had and well worth listening on its own.

The main cast from Hades Inferno also return, all of which delivering the same kind of performance, if not better. Most notably would be Yuta Kazuya, who lessens the femininity in Shun's voice & makes the character more his own than simply trying to copy Ryo Horikawa. Also returning, and getting a little more screen time, are the minor Bronzes "lead" by Hideo Ishikawa (Ryoma Nagare in the last few Getter Robo anime productions, Kazuki Shinatora in Ring ni Kakero 1) & Masaya Onosaka (Vash the Stampede in Trigun, Mantaro Kinniku in Kinnikuman II-Sei/Ultimate Muscle), both of which carry the characters so well that you almost wish that they were more important in the story. They are the only two minor Bronzes who get major love from the fans & were even included in the recent Brave Soldiers fighting game, after all. Shaina & Marin are voiced by Yuka Komatsu (Setsuna/Cure Passion in Fresh Pretty Cure, Miss Chanel in Ring ni Kakero 1: Nichibei Kessen-hen) & Fumiko Inoue (Lien Neville in The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact, Futaba Shinatora in Ring ni Kakero 1), respectively, and both do channel their predecessors (Mami Koyama & Yuriko Yamamoto) to an extent. As before, even with the lesser-quality animation rearing its head, the voice cast is top notch.

Speaking of top notch, the ones who just about steal the show are the voices of the Elysian gods themselves. Thanatos is performed by Toshio Furukawa (Piccolo in Dragon Ball, Ataru Morobishi in Urusei Yatsura), who delivers the God of Death's pride, cockiness, & massive strength with seemingly no trouble, and it feels like Furukawa had fun playing the character. Hypnos is done by Issei Futamata (Yusaku Godai in Maison Ikkoku, Gold Lightan in Ougon Senshi Gold Lightan, Scylla Io in Saint Seiya TV), who similarly delivers a very well done performance. In fact, his performance here is a bit more subdued than his later portrayal in Brave Soldiers, which showcases Futamata's recognizable voice more obviously. Even Keiichi Nanba & Yoku Shioya (Cosmo Yuki in Space Runaway Ideon, Will A. Zepelli in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure TV) return to voice Poseidon & Siren Sorrento for a few scenes, and both do just fine. The most fitting performance, though, is easily that of Hades himself, who is voiced by Akio Ohtsuka (Osamu Tezuka's iconic Black Jack, Kyoraku in Bleach). While Ohtsuka's voice did appear in the second half of Hades Inferno, it was only as Hades' soul & was purposefully distorted, and it's the same here. In fact, you only hear Ohtsuka's voice unaltered in the very last episode, and he delivers such a sense of majesty that I seriously could not think of any other seiyuu to voice the God of the Underworld; once I heard Ohtsuka's performance that was all I needed to decide that. Overall, superb performances from the gods.

Saint Seiya Hades Elysion does have its flaws, that can't be denied. The story is packed with so many plot points that it's obvious that Masami Kurumada was forced to end the manga early, but still wanted to show a lot of stuff. Also, the animation is still very limited & really showcased how small the budget Toei gave it must have been; I'd say that it's better than what Hades Inferno had, though. Still, the end game of the original Saint Seiya is really enjoyable to see in action, mainly due to the epic struggle the Bronzes have against the Elysian gods, and this OVA series does its job at putting it to animation. If anything, though, that could be considered a flaw in and of itself to some: Hades Elysion merely "does its job". There's no doubt that, out of these three Hades Chapter OVA productions, Hades Sanctuary was the best of them all, but I do think that the latter two were maybe given a little too much hate by the hardcore fans. Really, though, that ties into the franchise as a whole.

Trust me, this final image spoils nothing... It's that generic.

Truly, Saint Seiya both flourished & suffered from the concept of nostalgia these past 11 years. Hades Sanctuary was beloved because of how much it clung to fans' nostalgia, and the Tenkai-hen movie only carried it forward. After that, though, reality hit the fans hard when they were reminded that Masami Kurumada had absolute say behind it & felt that the times had changed. Combined with some reminders that Seiya wasn't the only giant hit that Kurumada had, which came in the form of the first two seasons of the Ring ni Kakero 1 anime, and the hardcore fans felt betrayed. Still, years later, these changes have become the new status quo, with 2012-2014's Saint Seiya Omega being the sole exception; to be fair, though, that series changed everything around. The fans have mostly learned to move on & time does heal most wounds, but these Hades Chapter OVAs do showcase very powerfully what nostalgia can do, both good & bad. Now if only CrunchyRoll can get these OVAs streaming worldwide, instead of just being exclusive to Spain & Latin and South America... If they could just go ahead & make sure they do that soon, that would be great.


  1. When Elysion-hen was originally announced, it was slated to air on pay-per-view from October to December in 2007, much like the two halves of Meikai-hen did in the previous two years. Then, as we got closer to the supposed premiere date and there were still no teasers or trailers to be found, it was clear that there were production delays.

    Then they announced that episodes 1 and 2 would actually premiere in March 2008, while 3 and 4 would premiere in May and the last two in August. Fans started hoping that the extra time Toei and Araki Pro would have to produce each episode would be reflected in the animation quality, but that unfortunately didn't happen. It was still as badly animated as the worst Meikai-hen episodes, with lots of shortcuts and minimal movement, which made scenes that could have been epic (such as Seiya finding out about his sister and using it as the motivation to awaken his God Cloth) fall completely flat.

    As for the pace, I like how much stuff Kurumada packed in the manga's last two volumes, but the anime made it seem more rushed due to the decision to end Meikai-hen OVA with the Gold Saints' sacrifice, which led to a lot of padding in its last two episodes. If it weren't for that, they could have ended the previous OVA series with Shiryu and Ikki killing the last Specters, and Elysion-hen would have had one more episode to spend on the actual Elysium portion of the Hades arc.

  2. I liked Inferno and Elysion despite their flaws. I forgot if you review Movie 5 (I think you have). I am also curious as to what you thought of Omega. Awesome posts as always.