Saiyuki Vol. #04 (of 12) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, September 01, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, September 02, 2003

What They Say
When the members of the Sanzo Party are forced to camp out during a storm, the closed atmosphere brings out the horror of long-buried memories. The tangled pasts of Hakkai, Gojyo, Sanzo and Goku are fraught with murder, lies and a bloodthirsty quest for vengeance.

As a demonic evil encroaches, we begin to discover the questionable aspects of our heroes’ pasts—and why the past is a continuous dark cloud hanging over their future. With demon exterminators, Crowmen and a city where men are immortalized in stone—before they die—this is one exciting volume in the Saiyuki saga.

The Review!
Moving into the late teens of the series, this installment of Saiyuki offers up two of the best episodes of this series yet.

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 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 still some amount of aliasing as well but it’s still mostly during panning sequences and nowhere near as noticeable as it was earlier in the series. Things look very good overall, but there are just some things inherent in the print that may catch the eye of some folks. On this particular volume, the cross coloration actually goes up a bit higher than normal due to a few sequences that were done in black and white with a lot of close lines, but that’s simply inherent in the source.

The eye-catching covers continue here and continue to impress me. With the near painted manga look, this cover provides a great shot of Hakkai with blood and torn clothing in a few places that gives him a really dark and almost tragic 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 again taken the form of a small foldout poster but changes its content. Instead of a character pose, we get a “Saiyuki personality quiz” on one side while the results are on the reverse. There’s some interesting variety to it and it also provides a compatibility list with other characters as well, something I’m sure a number of fans will love and hate at the same time.

The blood-splotched aspect of the first menu is carried over here while below it is the nice animated sequence of the group moving along in their jeep to some of the series instrumental music. 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 extras are similar to the previous volumes and that continues to be a good thing. There’s a new batch of good production sketches here and the opening and ending sequences make another textless appearance. The much-valued cultural background notes also make another appearance here with many pages describing various differences in cultures as well as spending several pages going through the original origin story for Sanzo, which is definitely different than the anime version.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With this volume of Saiyuki, I found myself getting much more involved in the show and enjoying the cast a lot more now that some of their motivations and beliefs in life are laid bare and easier to understand.

With this volume of Saiyuki, I’m wondering if the technical change is something I simply missed in past volumes or unique to my own player. On my Toshiba TV/DVD combo unit, I can no longer change audio and subtitles on the fly. Losing the ability to listen to the dub while having the full subtitles on while writing the review is critical since it gives me access to both pieces, especially considering how easy it can be to mess up in getting names down right. The inability to switch on the fly is something that’s never gone over well and I hope it’s not a trend.

With the content side of this disc, this is a real beauty. The show opens up with a simple moment of the group setting up a tent in the rain so they can stay dry for the night. While Hakkai and Goku do the work, Sanzo and Gojyo sit inside by the fire, each absorbed with their own thoughts. Gojyo reflects on the rain a bit, remembering that there was some reason Hakkai said Sanzo hated the rain, but for the life of him he can’t remember. What he does remember sparks a journey into the past this time.

Moving three years into the past, we meet up with Gojyo inside a bar where he’s winning at cards once again and surrounded by the ladies. His life is fairly carefree at this point, but parts of his own past with his mother and her attempted murder of him continues to haunt things. Any mention of his eyes or hair causes him to close up and pushes him away. The same happens again from one of the girls who’s fawning over him, so he ends up leaving early and fairly somber into the rain soaked night.

His leaving early brings him into contact with another rain soaked man, one who collapses right in front of him. Gojyo takes him in to his apartment and essentially takes care of him for a week while he’s unconscious, doing some basic healing and having a doctor look at him. When the man awakens, and we know that it’s Hakkai, he realizes that he’s been taken care of. Both men find the other interesting, feeling something more than normal from each other. Gojyo offers him the chance to stay until he’s fully rested, something like a month according to the doctor. Cho takes him up on it and the two spend an interesting month together, talking and playing cards, but never touching on names or what brought Cho into the area.

Cho’s past is one of mass violence after the kidnapping of his love and his attempts to free her from those who took her. His violence became so widespread that it attracted the notice of those very high up, enough so that they send Sanzo to the area to bring Cho in for his crimes. Sanzo doesn’t like what’s going on, feeling that there’s something bigger at work here, and ends up bringing Goku along for the trip. The eventual meeting of all four people plays out in an intriguing way as each of them has their own tales that find a fair amount of common ground with each other.

All of them are dealing with troubled pasts, but each has their own way of coping with it. When brought together like this, with typical male posturing, the words of one affects another and creates a train of thoughts between them all, including the originator. The way they all affect each other at this time, most still dealing with open wounds of one sort or another, find some amount of solace in each other without realizing it. There’s one moment that’s intended to be beautiful and comes across strongly where all four are at a sunrise and Sanzo begins a chant for the living. This is the moment where you really feel that the full bond between them began. And knowing that once thrust back into the present, it does alter how you perceive the group and their dynamic.

Of course, after a two part origin story like that, it’s time to shift back into gear with the larger journey to the west and they do just that. Two standalone tales come up next. The first is an interesting one about a town who was late in becoming infected with the mist and decided that rather than let the townspeople change and fall into chaos and death, the majority of them found themselves turned to stone until the problem could be dealt with. A prophecy by the leader of the village bears resemblance to the arrival of Sanzo and the group and they find themselves being manipulated by those who remain.

The changes in the land have caused something new to crop up into the world. During their continuing journey, the group comes across a sizeable and active army that’s built around the core idea of demon hunting. They go into various villages and eliminate the problem and move on. The group is ready to just leave them be and continue on, but they find themselves being hailed by one of them, with it turning out to be an old friend of Gojyo and Hakkai’s from three years earlier when both lived together in that little village. With an old friend, they opt to stay for a day or so to catch up on things but instead become involved in the demon hunting group when they capture Yaone and they realize they have to free her.

The two standalone episodes feel different after taking in the origin story. Having a closer connection to the four of them now and how firmly bonded they are after what they went through together has changed how I perceive them working together in the present. The closeness of them, which is admittedly hidden by typical male posturing at times, becomes more evident in their words and actions. This allows for more subtle pieces to play in the dialogue or at least become more noticeable.

I was close to writing off this series as something of a monster of the week piece that was getting weaker as it went along, but these two episodes have turned things around for the better. There’s still a long way to go, but now that I’ve got a real hook in the characters as opposed to people who just moved across the screen, this may all become more interesting if it’s tightened up a bit.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Production sketches,Cultural background notes,Clean opening and closing animation

Review Equipment
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
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Saiyuki