Saiyuki

Alt title: Gensou Maden Saiyuki

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sothis's avatar By 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
mdchan's avatar By on Jun 1, 2014

I'll start off by saying that if you don't like slow paced anime, you won't like Saiyuki.  That said, it's one of the most brilliantly written pieces of work.  Even the filler episodes are interesting and worth watching at least once.

Though, I did have to dock points off of the Story for not including the Kami-sama arc (even though they did instead use a rather interesting anime exclusive arc, so I didn't dock too many points due to that).

The soundtrack for this series is one of the best soundtracks for an anime.  Usually, when I watch a series, there will be at least one opening or ending song I don't like.  With Saiyuki, I liked all the opening songs, all the ending songs, and all the insert songs.  They were really done well, and some of them (like "Still Time") even have slower, piano versions.

So, let's start this. 

Story

Something called the "Minus Wave" has descended from the west and is causing all youkai (demons) to go insane and become mindless killing machines.  To find out the cause, the Three Aspects of a Buddhist temple (under the Merciful Goddess) have sent Genjo Sanzo, the head "monk", on a journey to find the cause and stop it.

He isn't to do the task alone, and is also to take with him Son Goku, who lives at the temple with him.  He is also to take Cho Hakkai and Sha Gojyo on the trip, and they travel around with a little flying dragon who can transform into a jeep named "Hakuryu" (though in the manga, his name is just "Jeep").

So, simple task, right?  Go to India, find the source of the Minus Wave, and stop it.

However, there's a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to not only the antagonists they have to face, but their own personal demons as well.  This isn't just the story of four men on a trip to India, it's the story about four men on a trip to India in a functional yet disfunctional group of unforgettable characters.

Characters

Unforgettable characters, indeed.  There are a lot of them, and even the antagonists get their time in the spotlight, but I'm just going to focus on the four main protagonists, since you'll be seeing a lot of them.  I'm also only going to go over the basics, because delving further into the characters would spoil many episodes as they all have ghosts in their pasts.

Genjo Sanzo is the 31st of China as a monk...but he's hardly the image of a monk in any form of the word.  For one, he's not bald.  For another, he smokes.  Thirdly, he drinks beer, and fourth...he's a gun-toting badass who has a short temper and an even shorter fuse.  He's also the only human member of the group, which sometimes can be a detriment, but he can shoot down his own share of crazed youkai.

Son Goku is the simplest of the group, the most cheerful, and the most obsessed with food.  Granted, he did sit in a prison for 500 years, but that's all water under the bridge.  Like in the book, he was born from the Earth, and draws his power from it...but only under certain conditions.  Otherwise, he favors the bo-staff (the Nyoi-bo, which can extend and retract or even split into sections) if he's not using his fists and feet to beat his opponentes into submission.

Cho Hakkai is the most enigmatic, and though he is typically found smiling, he is one person whom you do NOT want to anger.  He's most often seen as the "babysitter" of the group, and was a couple times compared to a "nagging mother" as he tries to reel in the bad behavior of the rest of the group...not that he doesn't have his own devious side to him.  He is well versed in hand to hand combat, particularly joint locks, and will either use that or kikoha (energy blasts) to fight with (though, his ki/chi can also be used as a shield, or even to heal the injured). 

Sha Gojyo is a half demon pretty-boy, skirt chaser, and just as much of a chain smoker as Sanzo is, not to mention drinking habits as well.  He's loud and often straightforward with his words and actions even though he pretends not to be, and can be a little arrogant at times.  He favors a staff-like weapon with blades on both sides (and can become a sickle and chain) called the "Shakujo" to fight with.

Animation

I don't often dedicate a section to this as part of my "main review", but it needs to be mentioned.  The animation is where the series (the anime, at least) falls flat on its face.  Though the anime is slow paced, there are plenty of fight scenes, be it against rivals or random youkai who attack the group as they travel along.

There are only two problems with that.

The first and major problem is the lack of heart-pumping fight scenes.  Most scenes use still frames and lines, as if they're a cell shaded image from the manga.  Others don't even show a point of contact, just the sound of a weapon (or fist) hitting the other, and then a scene where attacked person or youkai to goes flying back. 

Most of these issues of "no on-screen contact" occur during filler episodes, while the "still frame" is a constant recurring problem in all episodes and takes away from the immersion and the tension of the battle.

The second issue is blood.  There are some episodes (again, mostly main arcs) where blood is shown (not nearly as much as in the manga, but enough), while others don't have any.

In the case of the defeated random youkai, they all just dissolve into dust.  While someone might be able to convince me in an argument that Sanzo's youkai-banishing gun or Hakkai's kikouha can disintegrate low level youkai on a molecular level, I doubt anyone can convince me of the same with Goku's Nyoi-bo or Gojyo's Shakujo.  Sorry, it just takes the immersion and believe-ability out of the fights (even if it is cool the first couple times it happens).

In fact, that animation actually conflicts with a later episode where they're fighting youkai who won't die even when mortally wounded (pretty much zombies).  They just heal and get up again.  So, what happened to all that disintegration?  Why are they now having a problem dissolving the youkai on a molecular level when they've been dong it all along?

I could understand more if the anime was for kids, but the manga is rated at 16+, and the anime at 15+.  I've seen bloodier and more immersive fights in anime with a younger target audience.

One scene in particular comes to mind, when a character is run through with a sword.  First of all, we aren't even shown the character being skewered in the first place (just the sound and a gasp as the character jerks slightly in a shoulders-up shot), and when the sword is pulled out, the animators do their darnedest to avoid showing a full body shot in order to avoid the wound...which is nonexistant in any scene where it does show up.

Now, I'm not into rivers of blood or gore of any kind, but if someone is in a fight and gets slashed, let alone skewered, I expect to see BLOOD.

The reluctance of the animators to show blood or battle injuries half the time also serves to break immersion, and I just can't get into such an unrealistic battle.  They might as well not have the battle at all, in that case.

Both of these problems actually makes me glad that the Kami-sama arc was animated in Reload instead of in the original series, because I dread to think of what it would have been with these restrictions.

Overall

If you have the patience for slow moving anime, Saiyuki delivers drama, action, adventure, and plenty of laughs to enjoy it from episode 1 to episode 50.  In fact, it can get quite emotional as well, and more emptathetic viewers might find themselves near or in tears at a couple points.

There are laugh out loud moments just as there are sombering dramatic moments.

One thing to remember is that, at a certain point, the anime stops following the manga and branches off into an anime exclusive saga.  This happens at episode 23 (with episodes 1-22, minus the occasional filler episode, following the manga faithfully up until volume 6).  For viewers who want to specifically see the Kami-sama arc (manga volumes 7-9), that's animated in the last few episodes of Saiyuki Reload.

Though it is anime exclusive, the story from episode 23 onward is still a very interesting saga, and was actually well written; the antagonists have their own backstories which go deeper than what they appear to be.

In the midst of that anime original arc are also a couple episodes which do defer back to the manga, delving over 500 years deeper into the pasts of the four protagonists.

It's definitely a series to check out, and gets much better past all the explanations of the first couple episodes.

9/10 story
4/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
8.5/10 overall
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angelsreviews's avatar By on Aug 6, 2013

Well, I have to say that this is one of my favorite shows even if it does have some flaws. We open with one of the most epic narrations by Sanzo and then get into the bad ass additude as he attacks Goku. The why the show introduces the characters is actually one of the reasons why I really like this show. We see each character in their ‘element’ so to speak and not all at once. It also doesn’t give us a whole lot of narration about these characters because they don’t really need it this early in the show. We get small tastes of the personalities, then bring them all together. I do wish that they had a little more information on how the group did meet earlier in the series then they do though. The series seems to believe that we have all seen the manga and since I have not, it makes me feel a bit out of the loop. It is a double edged sword because for me, I want to know more but for others, it can throw them off.

We see that Sanzo is not like many monks around the temple, but we never really see his past until later in the series though we do get a one second glimse of someone who died in front of him as a child. It seems that the only person he really listens to is the goddess but when he is hanging around the other characters, I can sort of understand.

Goku is actually rather annoying in the first part, acting like a little child and yet the little things he does make him seem even more like a monkey then a little boy. He is rather innocent, and As the series goes on, he grows more and more. He is the only one that we get a little piece of the past right up front but they don’t explain much more then a 5 minute clip.

Gojyo is pretty much a womanizer and gambler. He seems to always start fighting with Goku as though they are brothers and its fun to watch seeing as how I have a brother myself and we used to fight a lot. Although he is like that, he actually has a good heart he shows every once in a while. He doesn’t really show it to the others but there are some places where this good heart shows.

Hakkai is rather sweet at least when it comes to children and always willing to help others even if they aren’t rather nice at first. He is more level headed then any of the other characters. Although he is level headed, he tends to get scary in certent situations. He shows a rather masicistic side in a way.

The goddess is rather odd, sometimes sounding really wise and sometimes she sounds like she just wants to have a little fun with the characters. She actually really interesting

I love the fact that this show not only makes us feel for the main characters, but for some of the enemies as well. Not all of them are bad for bad sake. Now sadly, I really wish they did have a bad ass girl in their group. Without the girl, the group makes me think of yoai like a lot of other people I know. There are a lot of interesting groupings that I like and I’m sorry I’m getting into my fan girl love again.

Sadly, there is no ending to this really. It seems to go in arks like Pokemon or Inuyasha but doesn’t get to the ending of the story. There are times where is does become boring because they keep walking and riding with some of the same old jokes that they normally do where Goku fights with Gojyo and Sanzo threatens to kill them. Fighting scenes do get bad once in a while but yet are still interesting in some places.

I really wonder some of the choices that they do for the artwork like the very first part when Sanzo is saying the only one he can trust is himself, why do they show him naked when he does this? Now, there are many times that the characters have long limbs or long necks and it changes once in a while but because of how the story is, I was able to over look it for the most part. The tiny waists though and sometimes broken eyes area bothers me a bit.

The music is pretty bad ass. The first opening is highly addictive to listen to and actually fits the series rather good. I’m not so sure about the ending song though, it’s alright but not something I would listen over and over again. I skipped it most of the time. Sadly, some of the voices aren’t that great or the prononciations are bad but at least the main cast is pretty decent so I don’t have much problem with them. This is not the show for little kids as they don’t hold back on the language. It works for the personalities but it’s a lot.

8/10 story
5/10 animation
7/10 sound
8/10 characters
7/10 overall
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PhdInCartoons's avatar By 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
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londonafrost's avatar By 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
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