WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Season 1 of Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac, streaming now on Netflix.
Netflix's Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac updates the popular '80s manga, Saint Seiya, for a new generation of fans by making sure gender equality is at the forefront of the debut season. This comes by way of a significant gender-swap, turning Andromeda Shun from a male warrior with green, long-flowing locks to Andromeda Shaun, a young female knight with short, green hair.
Some fans did complain about this, however, as Season 1 unravels in just six episodes, it becomes perfectly clear this gender swap is actually one of the best things the franchise could have ever done as far as the representation of women is concerned.
The show's writer, Eugene Son, drew heavy flak on Twitter, even deleting his account after admitting he made the change because he felt Seiya's knights shouldn't be all-male as per the source material. Fans didn't like the swap because in the lore, Shun was effeminate and seen as a gay icon, even though it really wasn't explicitly stated. Still, loyalists felt Shun was a subtle shout-out for diversity and this character shouldn't have been tweaked.
However, while no one's advocating straight-washing or swapping out pseudo-gay characters, gender equality is still just as progressive a stance, and Shaun does add a much-needed degree of gender balance to the knights. There was a female presence in the form of teachers like Seiya's mentor, Marin, in the manga and old cartoons/movies, but here, Shaun takes representation and female power to a whole new level within Seiya's legion as they aim to protect a reincarnated Athena from the swath of villains hunting her.
Shaun's just as badass a soldier, helping Seiya in the field of battle and providing someone for him to confide in and lean on. What makes Shaun's integration even more powerful in this reboot is there's a lot more nuance to her brotherly arc with Phoenix Nero.
In the books, their relationship was so abrasive but here, it's a great story of redemption as Shaun tries to get Nero to turn towards the light again after they got separated and he became a killer. A brother-sister arc just has a lot more warmth and compassion compared to what you normally get between two brothers.
It works even better as their sibling arc ties into Seiya's own journey in which he's trying to find his kidnapped sister, Patricia, after six years of training. In that sense, while Shaun's looking to retrieve her sibling mentally, Seiya is doing so for his physically, giving rise to the duo sharing common grief.
This enriches their bond and even cultivates the potential for something more than friendship. The show doesn't step into full-blown romantic territory just yet, but this common ground does mold them as best friends who can relate to each other. Seiya sees himself in Shaun and vice versa, and we get some cute moments with them bonding. This romantic nook is something the manga lacked and did feel colder for, and honestly, it gives Seiya an outlet from an otherwise harsh story about him searching throughout several wars for Patricia.
Honestly, Seiya deserves a bit more than enduring a rough mission to be reunited with Patricia, and Shaun being the girl-next-door he always dreamt of does remind him of the best humanity has to offer. He was becoming cold towards mankind and had Shaun remained a male, it's unlikely the series would have risked a romantic relationship between the two as it would have been tough to alter the orientation of such a flagship character.
But with Shun being converted to Shaun, it's a give-and-take that works, and through this compromise, there's just as much heart and soul in the connection Seiya forges with Shaun. They're clearly in love and prepared to sacrifice for each other, which smoothens the road ahead for them as they struggle to rebuild their family, all thanks to a change that truly brings them closer like never before.
Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac stars Bryson Baugus, Emily Neves, Blake Shepard, Patrick Poole, Luci Christian, Adam Gibbs, Masakazu Morita, Fumiko Orikasa, Takahiro Sakurai, Hiroaki Miura, Satomi Sato and Katsuyuki Konishi.