What is ancient mythology but the foundation which modern stories build their pillars upon? We’ve already talked about how Dragon Ball riffes on Chinese myths, but now it’s time to focus on series where the connection is even more literal. Not to say it’s necessarily more faithful, of course. This Winter, Gods of Egypt plays fast and loose with the House of Ra for a brawny adventure very much in the style of Clash of the Titans, and these titles enjoy the same style of brazen artistic license.
Purists, turn away! All others, behold how fascinating Japanese artists’ wild reinterpretations of the ancient foreign traditions can be. Read on, and consider adding these to your viewing queue’s ever-unfurling scroll.
To bring up Clash of the Titans again, Masami Kurumada started crafting this manga about five years after the original movie’s release, and the influence plays as strongly as the Road Warrior does on Fist of the North Star. Fittingly, the homage eventually looped back on itself a few times when director Louis Leterrier styled the gods’ shiny armors in his Clash remake off these Saints’ vestments, and then hired Kurumada to illustrate its Japanese posters.
Anyway, the constellations (and all the Greco-Roman deities and mythical creatures they’re named for) are the major theme in this most baroque adventure serial. The Olympians generally play the baddies here, as a squad of five “saints” assembles to protect Earth and a reincarnated Athena from their power-hungry schemes. Each saint’s armor and powers are styled after a different constellation and–in a case where translators maybe should’ve exerted more control–they all draw their strength from a Force-like source called “Cosmo.”
This was one of the most popular shonen anime in the 80s, and it’s been followed by a slew of sequels and spin-offs. Depending on your appetite for 80s cheese, you could either start with the original, or check out the most contemporary iteration, Saint Saiya Omega.
Shotaro Ishinomori was a prolific manga artist on league with legends like Osamu Tezuka, creating iconic characters like Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider who’ve left lasting impressions on both animated and live-action TV. And Gilgamesh is one of the more striking entries in his oeuvre (not least of which because an anime adaptation came more than a quarter century after its publication). The series’ plot has all the delicious complexity that makes for an engaging episode-to-episode experience. To be honest, it’s rather difficult to sum up in a quick rec.
Focusing on the mythology connections: the show makes good on its title by having the legendary Sumerian hero empower a generation of youths. When this demigod’s tomb is cracked opened, a mysterious psychic energy called “Dynamis” is unleashed (think “Cosmo” from Saint Seiya), and factions naturally form in those empowered by it. Our lead is a teenage clone who’s sort-of his own son, as he was born to the wife of the man he was cloned from. And he clashes with a group of terrorists actually called “Gilgamesh,” who are half-god, and made of anti-matter, and…
Look, it’s an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink fantasy. It being based on the Epic of Gilgamesh might only be the fifth most delightfully obscure thing about it.
Another mind-bender from that prolific writer, Gen Urobuchi, this show’s premise sounds like several outrageous mis-translations piled atop each other. Imagine an Avengers-like super team cherry-picking disparate eras and mythologies; somehow throwing together Gilgamesh (him again!), Heracles, Joan of Arc, and a female Arthur Pendragon during a new crusade for the Holy Grail. It sounds like that faux movie in the Simpsons where Zorro rescues King Arthur from the Three Musketeers–but the Byzantine narrative works surprisingly well!
Urobuchi’s outsider perspective gives these familiar elements some nicely outside-the-box twists. Yes, it’s a little funny how this grail grants wishes (and might as well be indistinguishable from one of the Dragon Balls). However, much like he did in Madoka Magica, Urobuchi applies refreshing logic to a concept basically taken at face value in classic tales. Here, the exact parameters of wish-granting are explored at crucial moments, when the heroes discover that their wishes are actually quite constrained by their own imaginations. Watch this, and enjoy a heady potpourri of international legend.
Do any other shows inspired by mythology deserve our veneration? Which pantheons would look perfect after an anime make-over? Name names in the talkback!
Featured Image Credit: Aniplex of America