Saiyuki

Alt titles: Gensou Maden Saiyuki

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sothis's avatar By sothis on Dec 12, 2006

Story
This ain’t yo’ mamma’s fantasy series! In a land filled with demons, gods, and jeeps, four men set off to India to defeat the ultimate demon. Along the way they encounter people to save, demons to defeat, and situations that help them to grow and reflect.

As a fantasy tale, Saiyuki doesn’t have much to offer. In the same vein as Kenshin or Inuyasha, the majority of Saiyuki’s fifty episodes are comprised of filler content that doesn’t affect the main story. A typical episode begins with the gang traveling to a new destination in their jeep, and inevitably leads to a new harrowing or morally-charged situation to become entangled with. The whole "group kicks more demon ass yet again" dynamic works well, but soon wears out its welcome to all but the most dedicated of fans. Then again, if you are the type of person who enjoys long filler-filled series, this shouldn’t bother you a bit.

What Saiyuki does have to offer is not the fantasy; it’s the technology and fantasy hybrid aspect. A pet dragon turns into a jeep; cigarettes are plentiful; and swords intermix with guns. Combine these oddities with a heavy dose of humor and character development, and you have something that’s much easier to swallow.

In addition to the filler problem, Saiyuki has another thorn in its side: the pacing. After several dozen episodes of filler, the last ten or fifteen episodes of the series focus solely on the life of the main characters, 500 years in the past. Had this back story been spread out throughout the series, it wouldn’t have felt nearly as rushed or randomly placed. The ending also leaves little to be desired since it’s, well, not an ending. With two other Saiyuki series and a movie to watch, it makes sense that everything wouldn’t be wrapped up in a tidy bow; still, after sitting through almost fifty episodes of filler, it would have been nice to have some sort of concrete resolution. Certain details and characters are left an enigma, and like it or not, various boss battles can’t replace major plot elements that should have been resolved.

Even with its problems, the odd combination of fantasy, technology elements, and hilarious cutting humor make Saiyuki’s story an enjoyable watch. Unlike series you can fully watch in one sitting, Saiyuki would probably be more enjoyable in short bursts.
Animation
Saiyuki's animation is undoubtedly low budget. Scenes are littered with still shots, minimal backgrounds and a lack of fluid motion. To show movement, often a still frame is dragged across the screen; this is tacky. Shadowboxing is common and composite arrangements of portions of the characters’ faces are often shown.

Though low budget as far as movement, the character designs are colorful and pleasing to look at. Solid patches of color and shading abound, and backgrounds in particular (at least, the ones that aren’t incredibly minimal) are gorgeous and full of life. The only problem with the character designs is that many of the characters are so similar that it is very difficult to keep track of who is who.

The last thing worth mentioning is the needless ecchi thrown into the mix. Essentially no ecchi is part of the plot, but the female characters -- as should probably be expected for anime -- have enormous breasts which like to jiggle randomly. I’d have less of a problem with this if the characters didn’t have waists the size of Barbie dolls and had relatively reasonable proportions. Then again, when is this ever really the case? ^_^;; Raise this score a point if you are male, unlike me, and like such things.
Sound
As a console RPG fanatic and music snob, I was very excited to discover that Motoi Sakuraba – my favorite composer – was responsible for Saiyuki’s soundtrack. If you follow Motoi’s work, you will immediately recognize songs that are reminiscent of Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile, and other games. Though the majority of the music kept my interest there are definitely a few tracks that don’t fit well with the rest. There are also not enough tracks to keep the music from sounding incredibly repetitive and overdone once the last ten episodes roll around; but hey, it’s Motoi Sakuraba! In my opinion he can get away with it where others can’t.

Saiyuki is one of the only series that has a better dubbed than subbed track. I know, I know... all of the naysayers out there are cursing my name and silently (or out loud, depending on how passionate you are) telling me I’m not a true anime fan; but it’s true! Even hardened dub haters can agree that Saiyuki’s dub is lively, hilarious, and full of enough slang and swearing to win you over. The subbed version is fine, but it doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the dubbed version. Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself.

One unfortunate note is that the other Saiyuki TV series were not licensed by ADV and thus don’t have the same English voice actors. I haven’t heard the new series to judge how well the dubs compare to this phenomenal one.
Characters
The story is somewhat generic, the animation is low budget, and the music tends to be repetitive, but the characters make Saiyuki worth watching. From beginning to end we are introduced to a variety of characters, and by the end of the series most of them have been developed in some way. We learn about each character’s background, their motivations, and hidden agendas. Even the most evil of villains has a story that will leave you feeling empathetic.

As far as the main characters, Sha Gojyo and Goku’s dynamic is undoubtedly the best; they argue about everything from who gets the last gyoza to who is the more annoying of the two. Genzo Sanzo is the cool and brooding member of the bunch, and Hakkai is the do-gooder. The four make up an exuberant and entertaining group that is fun to watch. At over 500 years in age, our heroes have a rich history together; a history which is presented in great detail near the end of the series.

Though the characters are developed well, there are also far too many of them. It’s difficult to remember who is who and who is on what side, especially in the case of the villains. Over the course of the fifty episodes we are introduced to a number of villains, none of which are the ultimate demon the gang are searching for. Certain foes become friends, certain friends become enemies, and all of them happen to look exactly the same. Confusing? You betcha.
Overall
Saiyuki is a very difficult series to rate. The majority of the content isn’t anything special: monster-of-the-day filler episodes, sub-par animation, and too many characters to keep track of. But it also has its strong points: the humor, the wacky mix of technology and fantasy, and the development – albeit poorly paced and scattered – of the main characters. Saiyuki definitely would have been better as a shorter series with less filler; then again, the majority of people who will love Saiyuki are the ones who love just that: filler.

6.8/10 story
6/10 animation
7.5/10 sound
6.8/10 characters
6.5/10 overall
Masakari's avatar By Masakari on Aug 6, 2005

Story
The story has some noticeable problems... Firstly, the show really doesn't come into its own until the second 'arc' starts about halfway through it. Until then, there's lots of mulling around and very slow buildup of a story that ends up never getting resolved. Also, there are a LOT of filler episodes, particularly in the first half of the show, and some of the back stories of the characters end up being told over and over again. I think there must have been at least three episodes, if not more, that retell generally the same story of what happened to Hakkai... The only things that makes these filler episodes entertaining are the brief glimpses into the ethical structure that the show operates around, which I will mention later in this section, and the interplay between various characters, particularly Goku/Gojyou and Goku/Sanzo.

This show also requires a large suspension of disbelief. While supposedly inspired by ancient China and featuring all sorts of mysticism and fantasy, it makes unexplained inroads on the modern world. Sanzo carries a revolver, various characters use cigarette lighters, look through binoculars, drive cars (?!) and one guy even has a machine gun! Now, I was able to just accept that this kind of stuff is nothing exceptional in this anime's world, since it never claims to take place in the 'real' world, but some other problems are just plain silly. IE towards the end, in one episode, two characters have their weapons broken (not damaged... broken to pieces) by a bad guy, but manage to defeat him anyway. The show then cuts away to another place, and when it comes back, those two characters are fighting another bad guy and both have their weapons back in perfect condition with no explanation given.

However, one element goes a long way to making up for these deficiencies, and that is the moral ‘edge’ of the show. Even the silliest filler episodes usually have some sort of ethical topic it breaches on, and unlike almost every other action anime out there, that ethics lesson is never sugarcoated. I quickly became aggravated at the anti-violent "can’t we all be friends" and "love everyone even if they’re trying to kill you" mentality of shows like Get Backers and Trigun, but Saiyuki takes the opposite road, encouraging self-determination, confidence, independence, and fighting (even killing, if you have to) for what you believe in. I was overjoyed to see an action anime in which the ‘good guys’ aren’t wracked with insecurity every time they have to fight a bad guy, and where bad guys actually die when they lose instead of being spared and magically converting to the side of good. It goes a long way to helping me take this show seriously as an action show, and I never onc e felt like shaking the characters and slapping some sense into them like I almost inevitably do at many points in these kinds of animes.

The ending is pretty well-done overall as well. It’s not quite ‘final,’ since there are already two sequel TV series to this one, but it closes out the arc that develops over the second half of the show, and doesn’t feel rushed at the end like many animes do.
Animation
The animation is undeniably low-budget for a modern anime. Most action scenes consist of lots of still shots that are simply panned across the screen to simulate movement. It also tries to incorporate 3DCG into the show to animate some 'special power' FX, and they tend to stand out as being highly fake-looking. It's not that the CG is so awful really--it's just that they completely clash with the rest of the show, which is drawn in a very stylized manner. On the other hand, I did like the character designs and a lot of the settings in the show are also creative and atmospheric. Saiyuki is a ‘bishounen’ show, which is to say it’s a show which definitely tries to draw its male characters in a very certain way, a way which will likely appeal to female fans. However, it’s not at all ‘shounen-ai’ (which designates shows with homosexual themes), and I enjoyed the clean, crisp art style even though, as a heterosexual male, pretty guys don’t do very much for me.
Sound
The sound is quite good. Like many animes, it suffers from the 'reuse the same two major themes over and over' syndrome... You've got the 'action theme,' the 'happy theme' and the 'dramatic theme' that come in at scenes that fit the criteria. Those themes are well-arranged, however, and overall were effective. The OPs and EDs are also high quality It's not every day you have a show that combines sad piano music with modern J-pop but hey, as long as it works...

The voice acting in the original Japanese version is overall good, if not stellar. Goku sounds way too much like a stereotypical punk kid with attitude, when his character is actually a lot more complex than that, but aside from him, the characters seem relatively well-voiced. The dub for this show is unusually good... It shows not only in the voice acting, but also in the script writing. The dub actually aids a lot of the interplay between the characters, particularly when it's for comic effect, by making the script a lot more 'mature,' so to speak. Let's just say you'll hear some words that US TV stations would have problems with if this show were ever aired in that format. It's difficult to express in words, but I felt it added an edge to the show that made some of the cheesy one-liners (there are a lot) seem tolerable. I could smile at them, because I didn't feel like the characters were taking them seriously either. Overall, in terms of the voices of major characters, I think the dubbed Goku is much better to the original and the dubbed Sanzo is slightly better. Gojyou and Hakkai I liked better in the Japanese version. Overall though, this is one of the few shows I've seen that I would actually recommend people to watch dubbed.
Characters
The characters are what really make this show worth watching. All four main characters are not only well-developed--they’re flat out fun to watch, which is highly important in a show of this type. Each of the characters has a defined history and rapport with at least two of the others, and that makes for a multi-dimensional setup where the characters aren’t just always on the same side. Goku and Gojyou and chronically at each others’ throats; Gojyou and Hakkai are old friends; Hakkai and Sanzo share a bond from a past life, and the relationship between Sanzo and Goku, which is somewhere between master/student and father/son, is often the centerpiece of the show. Every time I watched them, I got a sense that they’re not just mindlessly cast into being on the same adventure, but are actual friends, which comes with all the good and bad times that it does in reality. The importance of that in a show that follows one group for 50 episodes cannot be overstated. Even in the othe rwise largely pointless filler episodes, Saiyuki’s commitment to developing the four main characters not just in themselves but also in how they relate to each other keeps the show fun.

Somewhat less impressive is the amount of development that more minor characters receive. The ‘bad guys’ introduced in the first part of the story end up being a lot less important at the end than you’d figure, and I felt like the show didn’t really come into its own until the second half, when it introduced the characters of Homura, Shien and Zenon and delved far back into the past lives of the main characters. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that all four major characters were far from ordinary in their past lives, and that those lives are both developed and satisfyingly intertwined into the main story. The servants of Gyumao, particularly the more cliché ones like Liren, get little if any development and I particularly would have liked to see more about the obviously insane yet highly amusing Dr. Ni.
Overall
Saiyuki’s problems, from its animation to its story, are quite apparent, but in the end the pluses outweighed the minuses for me. I came away from this show feeling like I know the characters far better than I did in most action animes I’ve seen, and with a view on ethics that I could be proud of embracing for 50 episodes. I ended up not caring much about the cheaply animated action sequences and cliché filler plots (both of which there are unfortunately large amounts of) because seeing these particular characters go through it was undeniably entertaining. Overall, I heartily recommend Saiyuki to fans of action/adventure animes who are more interested in following a group of interesting characters than in high budget animation. As long as you can accept some of the show’s odd quirks and inconsistencies, you should be in for a good time.

7/10 story
6/10 animation
8/10 sound
8/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
Hajime's avatar By Hajime on Sep 24, 2010

Yes yes Yes, this is jouney to the west my friend and I wanna make sweet love to it, that’s right, see Sanzo, Goku, Gojo and Haikki in this funny, brutal, cliff jumping version of the cult classic. A Sanzo priest is venturing west, in this story to discover the origins of a mist which has caused all demons that onced lived harmoniously with human to go insane. with him is the god born from stone (Goku) and the two half demons (Son Gojo - mother was a human, father a demon) and Cho Hakkai (Killed over 1000 demons in a rampage after the loss of his beloved and became a demon himself). together they battle hords and uncover the story of the gods, and there origins/ I love this beautiful work of art, for both its humour and plot. watch it, I urge you

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
PhdInCartoons's avatar By PhdInCartoons on Feb 28, 2013

Story

Great action anime. It is a little filler-y in places. It is another take on the old legend (Journey to the West) and is therefore not that original. At times it is very episode-at-a-time and if you skipped these you wouldn't miss much but it does get a little better

 

Animation

Feels somehow cheap. The action sequences aren't great, wel they sometimes are ok but are very inconsistent. the characters change and aren't very well drawn. This is one thing that lets this show down

 

Sound

The dub and script in this anime is excellent. I would recommend it. It fits the rowdy tone of the anime very well. The music, however, is a little overused. It gets very repetitive

 

Characters

Nicely developed and fun to watch. There is obviously a deep relationship between all the characters in the group and even the bad guys have enough background to make what they are doing believable

 

Overall

A good solid action anime. It isn't a great anime in its own right but if you enjoy action anime then I would recommend it. It has a strange charm which wins you round despite its flaws

8/10 story
6/10 animation
6.5/10 sound
8/10 characters
7.1/10 overall
londonafrost's avatar By londonafrost on Apr 14, 2012

This anime was great.  I spent so much money to get the entire series the moment I watched the first disk.  I had to continue to watch it.  I got it all and watched it all in about one month. 

The only two things I had a problem with this was 1)  Animation:  the fight scenes were a little too manga - meaning the fights were just them attacking and then the bad guys going puff into the wind like litte dust particles.  2) They NEVER showed Haikai change!  I wanted the entire time to see Haikai change.  He is AWESOME.  He was my favorite character and they never showed his demonic self.  I wanted so bad to see that.

10/10 story
6/10 animation
10/10 sound
9/10 characters
8/10 overall