Alt titles: Gensou Maden Saiyuki, Gensoumaden Saiyuuki

TV (50 eps)
2000 - 2001
Spring 2000
3.813 out of 5 from 5,733 votes
Rank #2,337

In the mystical world of Shangri-la, demons and humans live side by side, watched over by a parthenon of ancient Chinese gods. But when normally-civilized demons start to go berserk, the gods require the services of Genjou Sanzo - a Buddhist priest with a magical gun, an evil-banishing scripture and a take-no-prisoners attitude. Aided by the ancient monkey god Son Goku, the half-demon Sha Gojyo and the demon exterminator Cho Hakkai, he sets off on a treacherous journey westward, with armies of demons, dark mages and angry gods all standing in his way...

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StoryThis 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. AnimationSaiyuki'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. SoundAs 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. CharactersThe 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. OverallSaiyuki 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.

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