Starstorm: The U.S. Live-Action Saint Seiya Pilot
With Netflix’s upcoming CG-animated reboot of Saint Seiya due to launch this July, now is perhaps the best time to look into something that took the community’s attention last summer. In August, footage from a previously unseen U.S. live-action adaptation made it onto YouTube. Named Starstorm, the short snippet caused a stir among Saint Seiya fans.
Saint Seiya manga creator Masami Kurumada had mentioned something similar before. In a 2003 interview with French magazine AnimeLand, he stated:
A few years ago, a live-action project had reached my desk. A fifteen-minute pilot was even produced in Hollywood. But the essence of the series was not respected. The designs and the realization made us think about the Ninja Turtles and the names were changed … The project was abandoned because they couldn’t obtain a satisfactory result.Masami Kurumada in AnimeLand No. 97
In a followup with the mag in 2005, he even brought footage of the pilot to show the interviewer. The AnimeLand writer remarks that the actors were all muscular and that Andromeda had been turned into a woman. Kurumada laughs, “it’s good that this project has never been released.”[Note: Due to these quotes being translations of translations, subtlety in word choice may have been lost.]
What’s said in those interviews matches the clip from Starstorm. But where did it come from? A Kotaku deep dive into the infamous American animated/live-action Sailor Moon pilot is responsible. While they weren’t able to uncover that production, Kotaku did dig up something: a second, unheard of Sailor Moon adaptation called Team Angel.
Produced by Frank Ward’s Renaissance-Atlantic, the aim was to emulate the success of Power Rangers for a girl demographic. The company had created the mega-hit western Super Sentai adaptation with Saban Entertainment and Bandai. They were looking for more. Ward had previously served as Bandai America’s president and mined through its biggest Japanese hits, seeking out ones that could make the jump to America.
Sailor Moon was one of them.
So was Saint Seiya.
Renaissance-Atlantic was against simply importing the original shows because of resistance from broadcasters. According to Ward, “Japanese anime was viewed as a joke here in America. There wasn’t a network that would go near them.” American adaptations were made. The infamous 1993 hybrid Sailor Moon project met its end when rights holder Toei Animation awarded DiC Entertainment the license to release the original series in English. With the tepid success that initially saw though U.S. TV syndication, Ward went back to the drawing board and produced the Team Angel pilot in 1998.
The interest in the Sailor Moon discovery encouraged one former Renaissance Atlantic employee to dig out her tapes. The footage of Starstorm that leaked out last summer? It came from Marlene Sharp, who produced a promotional reel of the company’s work during her stint there between 2000 and 2002.
In the comment section, Sharp notes that the footage in the video is all she has of the pilot. It was made prior to her joining Renaissance. Even if there was more, legal issues would likely prevent her from releasing it. Sharp is still a part of the entertainment industry, currently working for Level-5 Abby.
It’s unclear when Starstorm was produced, but there are some clues thanks to the United States trademark office. Renaissance-Atlantic Film first filed for the name on July 25, 1994. Over the next four years, the company would amass a host of trademarks associated with Saint Seiya, but it was ultimately all for not. Starstorm was never released.
It’s unlikely we’ll see Starstorm in its entirety anytime soon. Ward is a difficult man to reach and as it was a direct adaptation, it’s hard to believe he has the legal clearance … assuming he still has a copy. Given its cold reception from Kurumada, it’s doubtful the Japanese side would like the entire 15-minute pilot floating around.
Renaissance-Atlantic wasn’t alone in trying to bring Saint Seiya to the English world. Fellow Power Rangers producer Saban Entertainment created multiple dubbed pilots of the original Saint Seiya anime. This too wouldn’t make it to air.
The franchise went unseen in the United States until 2003, when who else but DiC Entertainment re-versioned 40 episodes into Knights of the Zodiac. Bandai was on-tap for toys and Cartoon Network agreed to run it. At the time, DiC was quite bullish, with its CEO being quoted as saying, “there has never been a Japanese series that has been a mega-hit in Asia, Europe and South America that has failed to become a mega-hit in the U.S. We have every expectation that [Knights of the Zodiac’s] seductive and hypnotic story line will generate the same amazing results here.”
By then, Seiya’s 1980s look was dated, coupled with a clumsy localization and coming after the success of Dragon Ball Z, it felt derivative. Knights of the Zodiac was pulled from U.S. TV after 32 episodes aired. An uncut version by ADV Films lasted a little longer on home video, but similarly met a grim fate.
While Starstorm is a relic of a day long ago, there is something still tying it to Saint Seiya’s present. A present that once again tries to see it brought to English audiences. As mentioned earlier, the producers behind the pilot apparently felt the Bronze Saints needed a female member in their ranks. This was the era that birthed Venus de Milo, after all. Rather than give an existing character like Marin a bigger role, the crew instead decided to cast a woman as the Andromeda saint. In the original manga and its anime adaptations, the wearer of that cloth is a man named Shun.
Whether an intentional nod or not, Netflix’s adaptation has done the exact same thing. Andromeda Shun is now Andromeda Shaun.
In a series of now deleted Tweets, producer Eugene Son took credit for the change, admitting that while it was something even Toei was skeptical of, if it wasn’t done “audience[s] could interpret an all-male team as us trying to make a STATEMENT about something.” According to Son, people nowadays expect hero teams with both male and female cast members. But giving an existing character a more prominent role wasn’t on the table, nor was creating a new one. So Shaun it is.
This hasn’t sat well with longtime fans, who feel it betrays the source material to take the series’ sole soft-spoken, emotional lead and turn him into a woman. It came across as condescending, as Shun’s personality and looks already made him one of the most popular characters with female fans. This is to say nothing about the complications that change will cause when it comes to the universe of Saints and the relationships Shun has. But that’s a story for another day.
2019 is an important year for Saint Seiya. The Saintia Sho female-led spin-off series completed its run earlier this year and Netflix’s reboot is due out in months. 2019 is also supposed to mark the franchise’s return to live-action. In 2016, Toei teased a new feature film and a year later it was announced that it would be a China-Japan English-language live-action film. Pegged for a $32 million budget, The Witcher cinematics director Tomek Baginski is set to helm the film. Will Geiger, Blazej Dzikowski and Eugene Son reportedly wrote the screenplay. The film was set to begin shooting this summer, though the lack of recent news may suggest that’s been pushed back.
While doing research for this article, I noticed a peculiar trademark Renaissance-Atlantic Films filed in 1994. It was for another one of Toei and Bandai’s biggest hits: “DRAGONBALL” …