Saiyuki Reload Gunlock Vol. #4 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2006



What They Say
On their journey, the Sanzo group is attacked by a bevy of villagers that seem quite human - except for their glowing yellow eyes. Unable to fight these attackers off, they choose to flee, escaping to a nearby town.

While searching for lodging, they meet two strangers, Hazel and Gato, who proclaim their intent to kill all demons. They are quiet, ruthless, efficient and quite hostile to youkai. The most amazing thing about the duo, however, is Hazel's astonishing gift: he is able to resurrect the dead by transferring the soul! But is there more to this miracle-man than meets the eye?

Contains episodes 13-16.

The Review!
Kicking off a storyline that may actually have some long term effect, Gunlock gets a fair bit interesting this time around.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Using the same character artwork as the Japanese release, Hakkai comes across very well with the style used as we get a solid close-up of him. The detail and look of the clothing in particular just looks fantastic here. Fans of this series have a treasure trove of creative and fun artwork with the characters and the covers have been fantastic. 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. 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.

Menu:
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 four lead characters in their charcoal suits striking a pose. 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.

Extras:
With the show bringing in a new opening sequence with this volume, the extras are basically made up of a clean version of it as well as the very welcome original Japanese version.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I'd say my love/hate relationship with the Saiyuki franchise continues with this volume but it's not so much love and not so much hate but rather something in between. The show lost a lot of its goodwill with me in the previous season with its heavy use of standalone stories and that seemed like it was going to do the same here. Gunlock has managed to be a bit better about it but here it is in the fourth volume, past the halfway mark, and we're just now getting what I suspect is the real story of the season.

This volume kicks things off pretty quickly as the gang, in their never ending journey to the west, start coming across what they think are initially demons but are a fair bit different. Being attacked by them, they're surprised to find out that they're actually undead people trying to kill demons. Their eyes are yellow though and apparently they come across as little more than shikigami, which means that someone must be controlling them. This starts the mystery which will plague them for some time to come and brings a bit of a change to the dynamic. When the group ends up in a particular town on their travel, the usual demons show up to claim some meals for themselves but then the dead rise and battle the demons, leaving Sanzo and friends standing there wondering what their place is.

Naturally, it doesn't take too long to learn who is controlling these undead folks and it brings a rather new element to the show, one that actually makes the make-up of this world a bit more confusing if you're trying to pretend/believe it fits into reality in some way. Journeying from a continent west of the ocean to the west, a man named Hazel has come in search of demons in order to eliminate them all from the world. Dressed up in something that easily reminds you of Catholic styling and accompanied by an undead native American looking man with a strong build, the two have a personal quest in destroying all that they see. Before they come across the Sanzo party though, they get some information about the Scriptures from everyone's favorite teddy bear owner and Hazel is carefully misled into believing that what Sanzo has will be of use to him.

This isn't a surprising twist but it is nice to see that Hazel approaches things with a different sensibility by befriending the group and looking for a bit of an exchange of ideas as both of them are basically in pursuit of the same thing though there are differences on a few levels. The first meal that they share is amusing if only to show the fairly low class nature of Gojyo and Goku when it comes to eating. The pleasantries don't last long but there isn't a real sense of animosity between the two sides until Sanzo and the others start to get a better understanding of the powers that Hazel employs and how it affects those that he uses it on. The nature of the undead that rise as well as those that he claims are "brought back to life" sets Hazel apart and puts them at odds in a lot of ways when it comes to the smaller tales that get mixed into this larger storyline.

As is seemingly typical with this and the previous season of Saiyuki, the animation quality is about what you expect in that while it looks decent overall and keeps to its style, it does have its moments throughout where the quality takes a hit and you can see some off-model designs for the leads. The introduction of Hazel with his western nature and the very Native American clothing and looks really stands out here compared to everyone else and it does have a distinctive flavor to it. The entire storyline does start to push the Sanzo group to the background a bit though as there are more competing forces going at it as well as Goku being a bit more prominent in dealing with his feelings about everything.

In Summary:
For a new storyline in the larger scheme of things, this one seems like it might have a bit of potential and it does bring in something new to the series. On the flip side, these early episodes do feel like they're minimizing Sanzo and the others since you end up having Hazel on one side, the undead fighting and the demons fighting. Much like the scene where Sanzo and the others are simply observing, a good chunk of this feels a bit detached from events. That said, this does carry through all four episodes here and that alone provides a bit of much needed continuity and break from the standalone stories which is a definite plus.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Original Opening

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
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.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Saiyuki Reload Gunlock