Whoah, that was a really looooong title.
*Warning: spoilers for a 30-year-old anime show… and my own novel.*
If you were a kid from Mexico in the early 90s’, odds are that you woke up early every Saturday to watch the legendary anime “Los Caballeros del Zodiaco”, the original name “Saint Seiya” (for the purists) and known in the US as “Knights of the Zodiac” after a bastardized adaptation. And odds are that if you are Mexican kid that grew up in the early 90s’, is that Saint Seiya is your favorite anime -or one of them-.
Me? I’m a fan, not a big fan as some of my close friends (one of them even has every single figure released since the heyday of the show), but I would lie if I say I’m not a fan. The concept is pretty simple (the video below gives a remastered, succinct explanation for the visually inclined): every 300 years, ancient gods return in the shape of avatars to take over the world, so Athena (yes, that one), reincarnates in a human body**, calls forth her Saints or Knights, who wearing special armors inspired by the 88 western constellations, will face these gods -Poseidon, Hades- to protect humanity. The Saints are divided into the humble Bronze, the flashy Silver, and the godlike 12 Gold Saints -that follow the Western Zodiac-. However, this time, something went wrong, Athena and a few of her ‘weaker’*** saints are in the run of the most powerful ones and have to face them in a grueling marathon to uncover the truth, the traitor and fix everything before Poseidon, Hades and their armies return.
The show has a favorite character for everyone, especially if your zodiac sign had a cool representative among the Golden Saints, the top of the cream of warriors in the show. Really 10 out of 12 signs had a great character representing it-unless you are a Cancer or a Pisces, then I’m sorry your respective saints suck big time-. My wife has Shaka, Virgo Saint, the closest man to God and basically a buddha* with the power to traverse every single hell and heaven from anywhere. And is more dangerous when he actually opens his eyes.
Mine, is this man:
Dokho, Saint of Libra, custodian of the 12 sacred weapons of Athena, watcher of the Rozan peaks where the specters of Hades are trapped, having lived for 243 years and trained an old incarnation of the Pegasus Saint and the current Dragon Saint, Shiryu (my other favorite character). Dokho, who is the Yoda of the show that -spoiler- when the time comes and things get dire near the end, returns through a special technique to his peak form, that looks like this:
The shortest, hot-tempered, goofball Gold Saint ready to take names and kick ass. In this form he is… well, the Obi-Wan of the show, even to the other Gold Saints. And even if he looks like a hyperactive teenager (which he technically still is).
But I digress… the show is entertaining -if a bit repetitive as older anime usually is-. The music is superb (think a rock group playing with an orchestra waaay before Metallica did it). And you grow fond of the characters -unlike they are Pisces and Cancer, seriously, they need a better PR spokesperson-. And I really enjoy it, to the point that I’m addicted to the new mobile game. But there is an issue here… I get that Seiya, the Pegasus Saint and titular character, and friends are the main heroes. And the show is about their growth into heroes. But the thing that most of my friends and I agree is that as much as the show sells you the idea of the Gold Saints being these beastly, godlike beings capable of facing gods when they show up in the show… they barely actually show up.
Yeah, I have the same expression as you, Dohko.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the battles between the 5 Bronze Saints -Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyoga, Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki- and the Gold Saints are nail bitters, especially those between Ikki and Shaka, Hyoga and his master Aquarius Camus, Shiryu vs Cancer Deathmask**** and Capricorn Shura, and the last stand of Seiya against the evil side of Geminis Saga before Athena dies -look, it’s really complicated to explain-. But the rest are… a mixed bag. Aries Mu is an ally of the heroes. Taurus Aldebaran is convinced by the heroes that they are right, Dohko is busy being a Yoda, till Hades returns in Season 3. Scorpio Milo gives a good fight but he is a good guy and changes his mind and Pisces… he is so damn annoying and his fight with Shun really drags on. Aiolia Leo is being brainwashed by the main bad guy so he has to be freed from his control and Saggitarius Aiolos has been dead for 13 years. And when the Poseidon Chapter comes, nothing happens with them. The Hades chapter was meant to redeem them, but it only worked for Dohko and Kannon, the evil twin of Geminis Saga that now is the good twin -that family has ISSUES-. Then came Soul of Gold that tried to redeem them but the animation did them no favor at all. And Lost Canvas, which is not canon, did use well ALL the Gold Saints, but they were from a previous incarnation, taking place in 1743 and the only known character there is Dokho who is kinda a rookie then (this Obi-Wan in Episode I).
And here is the thing that bothers me: they are not that awe-inspiring when they appear, aside Saga whose power set is broken (which makes him a good villain). I get that the animation techniques back then (the series started in the 80s’ even if it arrived at this side of the world in the 90s’) didn’t allow for much spectacle and thus the powers seem subsided, reduced. But when I was a kid I remember dreading the day the 5 Bros were about to face the Gold Saints because of the show’ propensity to sell you the idea that the later were nigh impossible to defeat. That their powers were earth-shattering -literally in the case of Capricorn-. But when the fights came about, they were not that different from the main 5. Which led to a sense of power escalation in later seasons -as many shonen***** anime do- that never allowed the Gold Saints to show their prowess against feared rivals like Poseidon’s Marines or Hades’ Specters. They were punked.
Which leaves me a sour taste in the mouth, because the Gold Saints should be downright terrifying. The kind of guys that inspire myths because what they can do is off the charts: create tears into the space-time continuum, freeze things to atomic level reaching absolute zero (the show plays fast and loose with physic laws), cut through the Earth itself, move at the speed of light, send your soul to the Underworld, crash a planet on your head… you get the idea. They are the stuff of nightmares, even if they are, for most of the part, the good guys.
Rather, they are not so spectacular.
Yes, it’s kinda sad, kinda amusing, Dohko.
This is a particular issue of concern for me while I work in the sequel of Tempest Blades. Fionn -and really, any of the Gifted- is known as a powerful warrior whose abilities are way beyond the ken of mortal men. But due to the peculiarities of the villain in the first book, he had to fight with a literal hand tied to his back. Same for Gaby and Alex. Now, for the sequel, they have free reign, more training, and more experience under their belts to show off all that they can do. However, I know the risk of power escalation, which can destroy the suspension of disbelief within the setting, making the Marty/Mary Sues, if I just give them more power. That’s a serious problem.
So that left me thinking…
The solution is already set in the first book. In the POV of the only regular character of my cast: Harland. And others like him.
I don’t need to increase their powers. There is no need because they are already that powerful. What I need is to show how the powers they have, without the restrictions, posed by the plot of the first book, look to others from the outside. Namely, for Alex, manipulating energy might seem normal after 10 years. But for Harland, who is a regular human, it might be downright scary. And what about when Fionn truly let go. So far he has barely shown his full potential, for fear of collateral damage. But if the restriction is lifted… Gaby… well, you will see. That’s why in the new book I’m introducing a couple of characters that will give the perspective of how is like to watch a Gifted with a Tempest Blade in hand, going full out. Because while for my main cast, Harland aside, doing what they do is part of their daily lives, for the people watching from the sidelines, what they do, is the stuff of nightmares. Even if they are the good guys.
I just hope Athena can guide me to make it work.
*Well, not basically a buddha, he is actually a reincarnation of Buddha.
**She is like the Christ-like figure of the story. Seriously, Saint Seiya is a hot podge of myths, religions and everything between, but seen through the greek mythology glasses and anime tropes.
***Weaker, sort to speak. While the 5 main characters: Pegasus Seiya, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyoga, Andromeda Shun and Phoenix Ikki are Bronze Saints and thus the lower step of the stair, they -in very shonen fashion- grow to be more than a match for the Gold Saints and assorted deities.
****No, really, that’s his birth name. Kurumada has the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
*****Shonen is anime aimed for male audiences, think Dragon Ball.