Saiyuki Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Art Rating: C+
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: All
  • Released By: TOKYOPOP
  • MSRP: 9.99
  • Pages: 210
  • ISBN: 1-59182-651-9
  • Size: 131x186
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Saiyuki Vol. #1

By Eduardo M. Chavez     February 23, 2004
Release Date: March 02, 2004

Saiyuki Vol.#1

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Minekura Kazuya
Translated by:Alethea and Athena Nibley
Adapted by:

What They Say
It was a time of chaos, when Heaven and Earth were as one, and humans and demons - the youkai - lived together in peace. The foundations of civilization and religion were raised and reinforced in this land of Togenkyo, the paradise known as Shangri-la.
But now, a great evil threatens harmony in this great land. Far to the West, in India, someone is attempting to resurrect the youkai lord Gyumaoh by mixing human science with youkai magic. This forbidden practice has created a Minus Wave of negative energy that is spreading across Shangri-la, poisoning the souls of the youkai and turning them into mindless monsters. The only hope lies in four legendary heroes:
Genjyo Sanzo, a high priest with low morals.
Son Goku, the hungry and mischievous Monkey King, released from 500 years of imprisonment.
Sha Gojyo, a water sprite with an addiction for good smokes and bad women.
Cho Hakkai, the legendary demon slayer, and his transforming dragon Hakuryu.
To Save Shangri-la, these unlikely companions, united by fate, must travel together...

The Review
TOKYPOP uses the cover art that was presented by Issaisha back in 2002 on a matted finish. It's a wrap-around image that presents Genjyo Sanzo in his robes holding a revolver. The logo is to his right covering the flowers that are in the background. The art continues over the spine and onto the back where the other three main characters pose with their favorite weapon in hand. The blurb is on the inside flap, which I really appreciate cause this cover is great.
Logo Check!! (2003 Megs)... the original logo is left in tact with ruby translation above the kanji for "sai". As good as retouched logos are getting nothing beats the original (well, maybe 85% of the time) so I love seeing TP try this technique.
Inside the cover is the blurb for this volume and then 4 glossy colored pages! This volume has images of each of the four main characters. Very nice! A one-page intro to the series by the editor is presented after the volume header page. There are a few issues here, though. The publishing info states that this series was first published by Issaisha in 2002. This is not true. Saiyuki was first published in Enix's Monthly GFantasy in 1997. Enix was noted in the editor's intro and so was the initial release date, but it states that the sequel is currently running in Monthly Zero Sum which is actually published by Issaisha, not Square Enix. So to clear that up... Saiyuki (Minekura Kazuya 1997/Enix. license transfered to Issaisha in 2002.); Saiyuki Gaiden (Enix); and Saiyuki Reloaded (Issaisha).
Okay back to the packaging... at the end of the GN there are character intros, a few ads and in the back cover is a little blurb from the mangaka with an SD self-portrait.
This series is printed in TP's standard soft-cover size. This is a little smaller than the version published by Issaisha but it still fits nicely in my hands. The printing looks pretty good (tone looks good, maybe a tad dark but nothing to worry about as the screen tone does not seem to blend to black very often) and while the alignment might be a little tight everything looked good.

Not really a big fan of Minekura's art here. Jaw-lines are a little too long for me. Eyes and mouths are drawn erratically (sometimes it works with the comedy sometimes it can be a little distracting.) Characters tend to be on the long side - leggy and lanky with long necks. Costumes are very nice though and I like the mix of modern looks and accessories with traditional wardrobes. The women in here are busty but look just like the guys so I completely disappointed in the character designs. Similar to Nightow's (Trigun) works these designs look a lot better in close-ups where lines don't look as sloppy and characters not as silly.
Backgrounds are pretty nice when used. I like the architecture and the scenic backgrounds used on the way to the highlands of central Asia. The lay out is pretty complex. At times I would get a little lost but in general the layout kept the pace steady and presented some nice perspective.

Saiyuki is presented in a tall B6 right to left.
SFX are TRANSLATED!!! Yes, all of them.... in a glossary. I cannot say how pleased I am to see this there. While I know some people will not be happy about it, but with the art of this series it's a good compromise.

Having no prior experience with Saiyuki I am not 100% sure about the translation but it sounds good. There were a few moments that felt a little awkward but with 4 guys in a jeep, each one with their own vice, one can expect them to have a little attitude. Honrofics are used quite often and Sanzo is often referred to as "Priest Sanzo." Did not notice any major spelling or grammar issues (which is something that I noticed more often with TP recently.)
Not sure if this is a problem in the Japanese version but there is an inconsistency with the name of Hakkai's dragon Hakuryu. At times he is called Hakuryu and others he is called Jeep.

Contents: (watch out spoilers ahead)
Something is happening in India that could destroy the balance of the world. Recently, youkai (supernatural beings) have been losing their souls and are becoming mindless monsters killing the humans that once lived peacefully with them. Someone is combining youkai magic and human science poisoning the earth trying to resurrect the legendary Gyumaoh, the Ox King. To prevent this from happening, the Sanbutsushin have called upon Genjyo Sanzo to lead an expedition to the west. He is to be accompanied by three youkai: a water sprite, a monkey and a demon slayer. Together they are to restore harmony to Shangri-la by preventing the resurrection and restoring sanity to the youkai.
Sanzo like his crew is not pure of heart but he is very capable. As a high priest carrying the sacred Tenchi Kaigen sutra one would expect Sanzo to be humble, solemn and respectful of his religion. Instead he is to complete opposite. He drinks, smokes, gambles and packs a revolver! Sanzo has seen the horrors of life and does not hesitate breaking the vows of his religion to keep living. That doesn't make him a bad person. His company can easily answer that but there is much more to Sanzo than his robes and gun. He may not have wanted to go on this journey or have three youkai accompany him but his own motives surpass all of that.
We do not know exactly why Son Goku (the Monkey King), Sha Gojyo (the Kappa), or Cho Hakkai (a demon slayer/pig??) are coming along but these three are pretty unique as well. All three have human blood keeping them in check. Two of them, Goku and Hakkai, have inhibitors that control their youkai strength. But most importantly these three can coexist like brothers. They horse around, fight together and so far for each other. Their souls give them perspective from both human and youkai worlds, so while they could be booze-hounds, greedy, lecherous and violent at the same time they have respect, friendship and compassion. They do what they have to in order to live but what else can a youkai or human do, right?
In typical adventure form, most of the scenes start off looking for a place to stay. Even youkai have to eat and sleep. As they go through the high desserts of Asia towns are rare and places to stay are pretty hard to find. Nowadays with youkai going made there are fewer hospitable places (have to have good food and a nice stock of beer and sake one-cups) for a priest and his youkai pals. Fortunately the trip is not too difficult. Hakkai's dragon, Hakuryu, has the ability to shape-shift into a jeep so they are making good time even on some of the toughest terrain. So when these guys do find a place to stay someone is usually there to meet them. It's only a matter of time before they crawl from the darkness and cause havoc. But who's behind all of this?
In the West, four beings head East. Kougaiji, son of Gyumaoh, is working with Gyokumen Koushu to revive the Ox King. While Gyokumen focuses her efforts on the big guy, Kougaiji stalls to try to resurrect his mother, the She-Demon Rasetsunyo. He excels at martial arts and youkai magic and will stop at nothing to bring back his mother. As he moves East the poison spreads and more and more youkai fall under his control. He wishes to destroy Sanzo to make his wish come true. So far spider-demons and lesser youkai are no match for the Sanzo Team but Kougaiji thinks he and his associates can accomplish what others cannot.

There have been a few versions of this story before (Dragonball comes to mind as one) but where Saiyuki excels is with it's characters and its own mix of science and magic. The four members of the Sanzo Team are stereotypical guys. They fall victim to their vices (women, food, booze, smokes?) but at the same time they usually do the right thing at the end. They make a great team of unlikely heroes -youkai saving humans.
The action is decent. I like the use of traditional weapons (ie: Goku's Nyoi-bo, Gojyo's Shakujyo) as well as the modern science (handguns, dragons that can transform into off-road vehicles!). And having a moving plot is a nice treat as well. Overall a nice twist on the fantasy genre with a popular tale mixed in.

For those looking for a fantasy title that with well-rounded characters with an Asian setting this is a good one. I have to say I love fantasy titles but dungeons and dragons have been used too much. Saiyuki provides a different setting with nice art and a well-known story to tell. At the same it provides a slightly different twist on its characters that really pace this series with good humor and fun action.
For those looking for a series with better art and better fantasy action you might want to look elsewhere. I like Saiyuki for its characters but the art could have turned me completely off if the writing wasn't good. The action is decent but it has never really left me feeling that the main characters were ever in much danger (too one sided to build tension).

I really was surprised by the writing of Saiyuki. This being an old tale that has been done quite a few ways I wondered what Minekura would bring to the table to keep it fresh. But by giving his characters depth and making their struggles somewhat personal I was quickly drawn in. Yeah, I could pass on the art (the cover art using current designs makes this team really look like bishies but in general they look like skinny long haired punks with assymetrical eye placement and jaws that would make Jay Leno's look tiny), but I like the settings and the costumes so it can still be pleasing to the eye. So if this series continues to progress like it is set up to do in this first volume and TOKYOPOP keeps up the production quality I should be in for a lot of fun and some growth for this gang of misfits.



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