A vaguely intriguing premise, with bad pacing, flat characters, and awful dialogue: all we need is some giant snakes and we would have a Sci Fi Channel original.
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?
Contains episodes 1-50.
For this viewing, I primarily checked out the English dub, though I switched to the Japanese sub track on occasion. The dub is available in 5.1 while the Japanese track is only offered in 2.0. The mix is nice, with each track and channel coming through clearly with no dropout. They also take advantage of the 5.1 technology with some nice directionality in the sound effects. Dialogue stays in the center track, though.
Technically, this is a pretty nice looking anime. In some of the early episodes, I noticed a small amount of cross coloring and aliasing, though nothing too problematic. These small issues clear up as the series progresses, with no real technical flaws beyond the second or third disc. Colors are vibrant throughout, and some of the backgrounds are wonderfully rendered. My only real issue with the video has to be the character designs. They seem to use a bit of a mix between classic anime style with some modern realistic techniques, and I just am not a fan of the results. There is also some unevenness with perspective, as from certain angles the characters have a tendency to look a bit distorted.
This set has some pretty standard thinpak packaging, which is to say that it has a nice, compact design, but is also nothing that will standout. Each side of the box has a group image of the Sanzo party, with one image being their happy-go-lucky selves, while the other side has them geared up for a fight. The individual cases each have two characters with a bit more of a realistic design and coloring than the show, which I actually liked much better than the character models used. Each case holds two discs, and the discs each have one of the character pictures from the thinpak cover. Finally, the backs of the thinpaks have disc summaries and episode listings. A couple minor flaws are that the case for discs 7 & 8 have the same episode listings as the case for discs 5 & 6. The other is that there is some weird spacing on the episode list for disc 3 as if the software used to lay it out reflowed the text and they did not fix it. Otherwise, it is a solid packaging job.
Pretty basic menus for this release. The main menu is a static image of one of the characters set against a red background. Selections are given in white with a black selection marker, making them stand out well. While on the main menu, the main opening theme plays. Basic, but functional.
As with many ADV thinpaks, there are no extras on this set.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the Chinese classical novel, Journey to the West, Saiyuki was a title that I had interest in seeing. Unfortunately, while it has an interesting premise, the execution is anything but. I was able to overlook the problems initially, for the train wreck potential if nothing else, and the story did get better in the second half, it just drags on for far too long for it to be any good.
Genjo Sanzo, the 31st Buddhist monk of that name, has been given a task: travel to the west in order to stop the resurrection of the demon God, Gyumaoh, by his concubine, Koushou. The efforts have caused demons to go insane, despite living peacefully with humans for years. Sanzo is well trained with the scriptures and is considered to be the only hope to stop this resurrection.
Sanzo does not have to go alone, though. Three demons who have resisted the call from Koushou have been assigned to help him in his cause: Goku, the demon Monkey King who cannot control his powers when fully unleashed; Sha Gojyo, the heretical offspring of a human and demon; and Cho Hakkai, a former human turned demon through the repeated slaughter of many demons. The four together form a formidable opponent for any challenge.
As they travel west, the Sanzo Party come across many situations that need their attention, whether they want to give that attention or not. Often, these situations are caused by some demons that have been sent by Koushou to kill Sanzo, but the four never have any real problems dealing with whatever is thrown at them.
I was very intrigued by the fact that they were retelling the Chinese classic “Journey to the West.” There is plenty of depth in that text, and I knew there were many different directions that the creators could take it. In some ways, they did a good job. All the main characters are present and well represented, and the stories mirror one another well. However, there are just too many issues for me to enjoy it.
One of the main problems I have with this series is that there is just way too much treading water. Despite having this mission, each episode pretty much consists of Sanzo and his gang rolling into a town, finding trouble, dealing with it, and then moving on. Very little in the way of plot development is accomplished during this. As such, it does not take too long before it starts to drag. And with the series being 50 episodes, it drags for far too long.
The second half of the series is a little better, as they uncover a plot from War Prince Homura to destroy the earth and heavens and remake them in his image. This plot covers the entire second half, shunting their original quest to the sidelines for the duration. There is a little more focus during this time, and the story benefits from this. However, there is still too much dead time; plus, by the time that Homura appears 25 episodes in, it is too late for it to really help. By that time, I was pretty done with what they were attempting.
Somewhat related to this is that the script and storytelling just felt juvenile. For starters, the characters were incredibly flat. Because there was so little plot development, there was also no opportunity for the characters to grow. Fairly quickly, we learn their personalities and flaws and they never get beyond those initial impressions. Goku’s main motivation for anything revolves around the fact that he is always hungry. Starting a fight because of a spilled bowl of rice can be humorous once or twice, but when it is happening every episode, it gets old. Same with Sanzo’s un-monk-like penchant for violence, Gojyo’s addiction with all things female, and Hakkai’s “out-of-place” serenity. When you add in that they all swear and name-call like a ten-year-old on a message board, it does not help. It is as if the writers were so enamored with the first couple jokes and plot devices that they came up with that they felt as if it did not need any more. It all got old in a hurry.
The final problem is that there are just too many shades of grey in Saiyuki. I am fine with ambiguity in my characters if it makes sense; it adds depth to the plot and characterizations. However, every single person—good or bad—has a dark past; at times, Sanzo is fighting against Koushou’s minions, others he is working with them. Homura is attempting something pretty evil, but he and his group act almost friendly at times with Sanzo’s party. Koushou is the only person in this that is just plain evil from start to finish, but since her plot is not complete by the end of this series, there is no telling what the basis for her motivations might be. In fact, for all of the good they do, Sanzo and his companions can be fairly unlikeable themselves. Essentially, it got hard to follow who was fighting who at any given point, not to mention who I was supposed to like. In the end, it meant that I did not care.
About the only aspect of the show that continually worked for me was the character of The Merciful Goddess. The Merciful Goddess is Sanzo’s superior in heaven, but the irony is that despite being considered “Merciful,” she is actually a bit of a bitch. She only does things if she finds them interesting or if they amuse her. Otherwise, she is fairly unhelpful. Just like everything else, this joke is beaten into the ground, but it is one that actually works for me.
Saiyuki has its moments, but unfortunately they are few, with way too much dragging between them. It had a bit of potential to fall into the “so-bad-its-good” category, but at 50 episodes, it just got old in a hurry. When it finally settles on a storyline in the second half of the series, it picked up a little bit, but by that time, I was pretty burned out on the whole thing. There must be some sort of audience for this since they have had a few follow-up OVAs and TV series, but whatever they were going for just did not work for me.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System