Making live-action adaptations of beloved manga and anime series has been always a tough sell in Hollywood since none have been successful. Knights of the Zodiac is the latest of these projects that are trying to bring a popular Japanese property into a movie franchise. Based on Saint Seiya, this has the potential to withstand into a long-running series if done correctly based on all this source material at one’s disposal. This is the first production that is being handled by both Hollywood and Japan at their studios to bring Knights of the Zodiac to a global audience. Does it fulfill all the checkmarks of a proper adaptation? Not entirely.

In Knights of the Zodiac, the film follows the journey of Seiya (Mackenyu), a young man plagued by his past who tries to make ends meet as a cage fighter. He is on the search for his missing sister, who was taken from him when he was a child. He realizes he is manifested with powers beyond his understanding and tries to figure out the connection between these abilities and the disappearance of his sister. Seiya discovers that he is destined to become a protector of Athena, the Greek goddess of war, who is reincarnated into the body of a mortal woman (Madison Iseman). Our young hero is recruited by Athena’s adopted father Alman Kido (Sean Bean) to become a knight of the zodiac against an army of soldiers led by Guraad (Famke Janssen) who believes that Athena will bring destruction to mankind.

What Knights of the Zodiac has done right is casting the lead with Mackenyu as Seiya. He brings in the charisma and wit that the character carries in the manga and anime. The only thing is he does sort of lack the personality of inhabiting the role, coming off as more of a cosplay model rather than a sincere take on Sieya. The story doesn’t match up quite well with the arc that Seiya goes through in the film and it often does feel rushed as we grow with his character. It also doesn’t help with Madison’s casting as Athena, who acts more like someone from a teen drama series. Having big stars like Sean Bean and Famke Janssen also doesn’t make much of a difference to get everyone invested in the story because of its wooden dialogue.

Another thing that audiences may immediately be turned off by is the visual effects. The film’s CGI looks very cheap compared to big-budget superhero movies despite its hefty budget. The cosmic energy and the transformations of Seiya and other warriors feel like something off of a fan film that’s been done on a green screen that hasn’t been refined very well. Some of the background scenes are also a bit off, especially the sequences with the helicopters and the island using mostly CGI.  It is pretty horrendous, so it can distract those trying to follow the story. It can be somewhat laughable, but the final fight scene does look pretty good to see on the big screen.

Most of the action in Knights of the Zodiac can be fun to watch at times. There are a lot of fights that are visually a mess on the screen, but the big final battle sequence that happens between Seiya and Nero (Diego Tinoco) is probably the best one out of the lot. It is clear as day that most of the budget went straight into this scene alone and it looks great. The fight choreography is also one of the best parts of the film. Done by the team of famed stuntman Andy Cheng, It is great to see the actors being utilized to partake in a lot of these fight scenes. Mark Dacascos fires up the screen with his martial arts skills here along with Mackenyu, who comes from the legacy of his late father Sonny Chiba. Nick Stahl also puts in the work with his street fight scenes against Mackenyu on screen.

Knights of the Zodiac doesn’t live up to the potential of its source material due to a lack of visual effects, but it does offer some promise of what it can be in the future. If a franchise is being set up here, then the filmmakers have a long way to go to draw a huge audience. Fans of Saint Seiya will appreciate all the hard work done to keep the story as authentic as possible with a few changes, but it may take a whole lot more than that to bring more people to see the film. The visuals need a bigger budget to get a film like this to match the standards of other big-budget features. However, the action and stunt work does do the job for most of it. The movie does leave things open-ended for more stories, but it is all up to the audience if the demand is there. It isn’t a horrible adaptation, but it needs a lot of work to be where it needs to be.

Knights of the Zodiac releases in theaters on May 12th, 2023.