Saiyuki Vol. #01 (also w/box) (of 12) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, March 15, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, April 29, 2003
What They Say
Once, demons and man lived together in harmony. But when a band of rogue demonic forces sought to resurrect a diabolical monster, dark spiritual energy began to cover the land-and the demons decided mankind was no longer friend, but food. Now, it's up to a renegade priest, a monkey king, a lecherous water sprite, and a sympathetic demon to stop the resurrection and return harmony to the dangerous land.
Enter the world of Saiyuki! A unique universe of beauty and betrayal, where sacred scrolls battle enchanted weaponry and where dragons can transform into jeeps. A land of magic and menace, where four reluctant heroes are just as concerned about having a good time, a stiff drink, and a beautiful woman as they are about saving the world...
One of the more popular folk tales from Chinese history gets yet another retelling in anime form.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. With this being such a recent show, the dialogue was well done with lots of nicely placed pieces of directionality for both that and some of the action effects. Dialogue was crisp and clear throughout and we noted no dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing starting in early 2000, the transfer here for Saiyuki is good, but has a few areas where it suffers a bit. Colors are vibrant, but there?s some cross coloration in a few of the more tightly animated areas. There?s also a fair bit of aliasing in the same areas, mostly noticeable during the sequence with the Merciful Goddess. Barring that, things look very good overall, but there are just some things inherent in the print that may catch the eye of some folks.
This has to be one of the most eye-catching covers I?ve seen in quite some time, and it looks like the entire series will feature the same style. With an almost painted manga look, the lead character of Sanzo takes the main image here as he grips a bloody wound with a gun in his hand while casting a dark but almost smirky look. The back cover provides screenshots and a decent summary of what to expect. On the plus side, volume numbering shows up on both the front cover and on the spine. The insert has taken the form of a mini-poster that has all four main characters lined up and provides a bio on them plus their vital statistics.
Using various action scenes from the series and matted against brightly colored blood splotches and other nice effects, the main menu plays out with some of the theme music to the show. At first glance, it?s a bit of a morass of colors, but as you see what?s coming through it looks better. Episode selection (though no scene selection) is available right from the top while other selections take you to their submenus. Access times are nice and fast and we had no troubles getting around, though the black and red text selections made it awkward at times figuring out whether we were on a selection or not.
The opening volume has some nice extras to kick things off with. A production artwork video gallery is rather nicely filled with items and runs about three minutes in length to a nice subtle piece of instrumental music. The opening and ending sequences are provided as textless versions and there?s also an eight page cultural background segment that talks about the origins of the story and what the original characters were like compared to these versions.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When it comes to anime based on Chinese history, it?s been real hit or miss with me. Some of it?s interesting, but a lot of it I just tend to not get into all that much. There?s usually just a certain something that doesn?t click with me in regards to it.
Saiyuki, as mentioned earlier, is based on a classic Chinese tale that?s grown from a real person and a real journey that happened. A lot of it has naturally changed as it?s achieved folklore status over the centuries, but the tales with a kernel of truth often have something interesting about them. This is also the tale that helped inspire the entire Dragonball franchise, so you know it?s something that clicks with a whole lot of people around the world.
Saiyuki starts off fairly slow in its first volume and the first five episodes. We?re introduced to the land of Shangri-la and it?s inhabitants, where humans and demons live side by side and co-exist peacefully. Or rather, used to co-exist peacefully as something negative has started to flow through the land. That negativity has been causing the demons to go on rages and turn to serve someone from the west. This has never happened before since demons typically don?t really serve anyone.
The three who lead Shangri-la bring Genjo Sanzo before them, a monk whose achieved a certain status among the priesthood of Buddha. They converse about the evil that?s going throughout Shangri-la and instruct him to head west to India to find out the source and deal with it. They?re also quite insistent that he takes three traveling companions with him on his journey, though he?s somewhat reluctant with at least one of them. The early episodes don?t spend a huge amount of time introducing the rest of the cast, but they all get their moments.
Sanzo?s closest of the companions is the young Goku, a boy he rescued some time before who is a demon and wears a power limiter. Goku?s an eager ready to rumble kind of character with a huge love of food and just messing around. If you can?t stand Goku?s style within the first few minutes of meeting him, a rather amusing way of showing two people walking, then he?s going to get on your nerves later.
One of the best companions to have is Hakkai, similarly aged to Sanzo, he has a friend in the form of a small white dragon that provides transportation. Yet not as a dragon, as he can transform into an army style jeep. Hakkai is also well powered in the world of magic, though he doesn?t appear to wear a limiter. To complement his calm and peaceful exterior, the final member of the group is Gojyo, the gambler and happy go lucky archetype with the long hair and a willingness to do anything to get the ladies into bed.
All four end up coming together very early on and allow Sanzo to provide an explanation of what?s going on. Tied with this, we see the rumblings of what?s going on over in India, as we learn about an ancient power that had been sealed away 500 years ago that is now being prepared for revival and the growing number of demons moving over there to serve under those who would be building this powerful new army. There?s a few minutes worth of interesting moments given to what goes on in India, but that?s over the course of all five episodes. That particular mystery is meant for later.
What we?re really given once the foursome heads off to the west is the standard journey show, where they wander into different towns or areas, deal with someone?s sob story about demons and how it?s affected them, get into a little fight and then move on. There?s usually some half moral to the story, such as the ?beat you over the head? one about humans and demons being able to get along, since everyone by Genjo is a half demon or more. Where it becomes really obvious what a good number of these episodes and likely upcoming ones will be like is when we have the Merciful Goddess provide the explanation that they need to learn to work as a team and trust each other, something they don?t have at the beginning of the story.
Someday they?ll tell the tale where a group gets along great right from the start.
Saiyuki?s first volume ends up becoming something of a monster of the week storyline while they introduce the world of Shangri-la to the viewer and get you familiar with the characters. The characters are most definitely done up as pretty boys and will appeal to the crowd that loves that, though they certainly didn?t bother me any. They?re well designed, but at times the animation cuts a few corners that leaves them looking a little less detailed than they should.
Saiyuki?s not bad so far and it has some hooks that will keep me interested, since you have the mix of the old style integrated with things like jeeps, guns and other modern things that add a certain flavor to things. There?s a sly nod and wink almost to Sanzo and how he sees this playing out for the viewer as well, where you get the feel that the characters already know the story and how it ends. Whether this turns into an exercise in technical storytelling or something really fun is hard to say at this point, but enough of that is mired in my own issues with shows based on Chinese folklore.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing animations,Historical background,Production sketches
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2