Saiyuki Reload Gunlock Vol. #1 (also w/box) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, March 30, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, May 02, 2006
What They Say
The epic journey westward of Sanzo, Goku, Gojyo and Hakkai continues! In this first volume, the group must face a corrupt temple priest, an impassable river, deadly illusions and a newly unstoppable Kougaiji.
Kicking off yet another season, Saiyuki Reload Gunlock hits up something of a background plot early on while it plays around a bit.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Having grown used to the cast over the course of the previous series it was a zero-choice issue for us. The series mix is pretty much the same as we got back in the previous show with a fairly good stereo mix that has some occasional moments of directionality, often coming from Sanzo's weapon or some minor piece of dialogue but never anything really outstanding that really rises up. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and the music from the opening sequence is probably as loud as it gets throughout the show so it's an easy way to set the level.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The differences between this show and the previous one are pretty stark. Faring a bit better than the previous series and getting its groove with the digital animation, it fixes some of the problems that it had before but some of them still exist, such as somewhat awkward movements, the overly bright color palette and that feel at times that the characters weren't exactly inside the show but on top of it. The transfer in general though is of good quality and represents the materials accurately as there's hardly any aliasing and no cross coloration that was visible on either of my setups. The one area that I was really happy to see come across well was that there were no issues with the color gradient being obvious as it blends really well here. The end credits is probably the worst offending area though, especially in how it stutters at the start and finish and the crawl itself is just riddled with shimmering.
Using the same character artwork as the Japanese release, this volume features Sanzo with his gun close and his cigarette even closer. The illustration is really nice and tops the previous series in its detail. The cover doesn't retain the original Japanese logo even though it was in English and instead goes for a more stylized piece for the US release. The back cover provides a brief summary of the premise and then lists each of the four episodes with their number and titles and provides four images for each of them. The rest of the cover is filled out with the discs features and extras as well as production information. As nice as the layout is overall, it's covers like this that really make me wish Geneon would adopt the technical grid. The insert replicates the front cover artwork on one side while the reverse side lists the chapter stops for each of the episodes and a list of release dates by month.
The main menu for this show is done using some of the stylish elements that are used in the show such as the grainy footage for the background, the hard rock instrumental music and things like the police barrier line being used along the top while some of the animation from the opening plays through the center. It's hard to describe but it fits the feel of this installment of the series with its Gunlock title and harsher feel. The layout is quick to load and easy to navigate and access times are nice and fast. Submenus load quickly and the disc correctly read our players language presets.
Kicking off the extras for the series, the opening volume has the clean version of the opening sequence as well as the original Japanese version.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While Saiyuki Reload finished out its tale by doing an actual storyline towards the end of its run, the Reload Gunlock series looks to be more intent on starting off with a storyline instead. Of course, it takes a bit to get going which leaves us with some standalone tales at first but throughout the first four episodes there's an actual plot going on. Whether it's interesting or not will depend on your level of Saiyuki-fatigue at this point. The realization that at the end of this series that I'll have seen over a hundred episodes of Saiyuki was a draining one.
The franchise is aware of its most basic problem in that it's doing a lot of episodes without seemingly getting anywhere due to all the detours the characters take. We get a quick visit up with the gods right at the start of this series as they note this but they do say that they are making progress and getting closer, an obvious effort to try and show that things are going as intended. But like it has been said before, Saiyuki is the ultimate road trip show where the destination isn't the real story but the trip itself is. The four characters have grown along the way in some small way while also revealing a lot of their pasts and moments that have defined them which has made them more than just the basic archetypes they started as. In addition, we saw some really interesting ideas with the previous lives that have had some effect on how their current lives are proceeding.
Gunlock gets underway with a pair of standalone episodes that are mildly amusing but with the fatigue setting in, feel like a chore to watch at times. An opening episode deals with a temple that they crash at that has something of a bad reputation according to a local child but nobody else which of course means that there are some interesting demons in the mix that are manipulating some of the monks there to do their bidding. The demons this time around are interesting in how different they are from others such as their size and the general plan of using people to provide sustenance for some very creepy baby type demons. The second episode was amusing in its own way but managed to be far less interesting as it revolves around the group doing their travel on foot and having to deal with bears. Yes, bears. Lots of bears. Angry bears. Baby bears. The all important second episode that's supposed to keep you hooked dealt with bears.
While these events are going on, a good bit of time is also spent quite some distance away as Ni Jenyi has been doing his duty by rebuilding and changing the mindset of Kougaiji so that he's not essentially nothing more than a mindless battle machine that does exactly what he's told. He's been in the good doctors care for over a month now since his most recent defeat and Ni Jenyi has done exactly as he's promised. Kougaiji's friends aren't keen on this change and rage against it a bit, particularly Yaone, but with Lady Gyoukumen being someone that you don't exactly want to upset, they go only so far in their dislike of what's happened. With a few quick tests out of the way, Kougaiji in his new slow-moving form is sent off to get the job done of taking care of Sanzo and his friends.
It's good to see that this is being pushed forward more as a plot line early on and there's even a two part storyline that gets tied into it towards the end where a demon type named Zakuro has his way with the group by messing with their minds. This allows for some creative backgrounds as Zakuro toys with them and it even gets Hakkai and Sanzo to have some great moments where they're shirtless. Talk about flat chests. But even as there is so much going on in these later episodes and the first two start the changes going on with Kougaiji, I found it hard to really get too involved in the show. The opening episode was interesting enough but the bears just pushed me over the edge to disinterest and I wasn't able to get beyond that for the remainder of the disc.
Saiyuki Reload Gunlock kicks off in a couple of interesting ways with a background plot that will be even more prominent in the next volume while still doing some good action episodes here. Unlike Reload which seemed to be stuck in a completely episodic mode until near the end, Gunlock looks to try and correct that with more plot and some action related to the final destination. Having just finished Reload though, I'm already starting to feel burned out from the franchise and jumping right into Gunlock has left me more disinterested in it than I expected to be.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Japanese Opening
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Saiyuki Reload Gunlock