Under the Influence: Saint Seiya


     Back in the primitive days before the World Wide Web, before E-mail was standard and cellphones common, there was also the time in which anime and manga (Japanese animation and their equivalent of comics/comic books) were as fringe an interest as science fiction itself was many years before. It was an American fandom consisting of small groups of true fans, fanatics in many ways, with connections as secretive and torturous as those of drug smugglers to get second or third generation VHS tapes of these peculiar and exotic animated shows – ones in which main characters died, where adult issues were addressed, where any type of genre might be given an entire series.


     My then-girlfriend, now wife, Kathleen, was in this group very early, from her mid-teens, acquiring pirate VHS copies of everything from Space Cruiser Yamato to Red Bullet Zillion, Locke the Superman, Mobile Suit Gundam, and AKIRA. My first (knowing) exposure to anime was, in fact, an RPG she ran before we were even dating, a game which was derived from the background of Mobile Suit Gundam. But I didn't watch Gundam, really, and didn't in fact watch any anime until we started dating. Wanting me to share in her hobby, Kathy selected a few anime to show me. AKIRA was pretty cool, but muddled; Demon City Shinjuku was interesting, but limited.


     And then she showed me Saint Seiya.


     Looking at it now, from my perspective of over 20 years in the hobby, Saint Seiya is a very flawed show. The original mangaka, Kurumada, wasn’t much of an artist (though he was an excellent DESIGNER) and the animation was stuck with some of his style (though they improved on his artwork). More significant is that Kurumada seemed unable to get past certain basic plot elements, ones he reused not just in Saint Seiya itself but in essentially every other story he told.


     But for someone who had never seen any show like Saint Seiya before, it was a revelation and a shock. This was an animated show with beings like superheroes, "saints" whose power came from both within and without, named each for one of the constellations which was a patron and a symbol, and with a unified rationale behind their existence and their actions. The group wasn't united at first, and had to FIND their direction – sometimes against strong motivations to not work together. This was a take on Greek mythology that was almost offensively wrong… yet seemed to have all the energy of a NEW mythology, a universe of gods and god-warriors whose battles could determine the course of history.


     Saint Seiya was a universe with a huge implied depth; unfortunately for the animated and published universe, its creator (or, possibly, his studio executives) never decided to plumb those depths, see what directions that universe could go in. But that potential depth drew me and Kathleen in – and inspired us to create. RPG sessions and fanfiction by the truckload were the result.


     It was in working out those fanfictions that I truly learned something about writing characters, because Kathleen was, and is, character-focused, while I am plot-focused. But in co-writing a story you have to learn to accommodate the writing preferences and style of your co-authors, so I had to at least make an effort to understand why Kathleen would insist on spending so much time and effort in interactions of the characters before getting them to the actual parts that I considered plot – and in doing so, I came to understand how the characters themselves WERE a part of the plot – could be used to emphasize the direction, the urgency, and the complexity of the events that were happening and were yet to come.


     In some ways I think I still know those characters – scruffy-haired Pegasus Seiya, rough around the edges yet indomitable, blonde would-be knight Cygnus Hyoga, gentle Andromeda Shun with the power of the stars, grim guardian Phoenix Ikki, and wise, certain Dragon Shiryu better than any other characters I've written with. Partly this is because the association with Saint Seiya is very personal; watching the show, then talking about it (and other related shows), running games in that world, writing fiction set there – was a very strong part of my initial relationship with Kathy.


For that reason, Saint Seiya is one of the few shows I really can't be entirely objective about; I know it's considerably inferior even to a number of other later entries in its own field (of the God-Warrior shows, I consider Yoroiden Samurai Troopers far superior), yet I have a fondness for it all out of proportion to its quality, because that show is OURS, so to speak, and it didn't just give me a way to come to know my future wife, but also to learn how to do the writing which I had always wanted to do.


If ANY of the characters in my novels touch anyone – if people care what happens to Ariane Austin, worry when Joe Buckley or Helen Sutter find themselves in danger, cheer for Jason Wood when he finally figures out how to deal with the latest supernatural peril, that's because I learned how to make people care when I sat down with Kathleen and came to care, myself, about what happened to the Saints of Athena and the others in their circle, when the two of us wrote Wild Card and Snow Queen and a dozen other fics together.


Off and on we've done other writing together, and we've just started something recently which isn't fanfiction. But if I can write at all, much of that credit goes to Kathleen… and to Saint Seiya.


  1. As inspirations go, all I can say is…


Your comments or questions welcomed!