So, here we are: a fifty-episode prequel, one movie, an OVA, and another twenty-five episode follow-up series, and BOY, HOWDY! India sure still seems a looong waaay off, huh!? The first episode of “Gunlock” promises not to deviate from Saiyuki’s previous format. The Sanzo party arrive in yet another village being terrorized by demons, and our four heroes are nominated to save the day. Gojyo hits on a few girls, Sanzo fires a few unnecessary bullets, Goku eats like a horse, and Hakkai sits in the corner smiling his enigmatic bishounen smile. They defeat the offending demons, and drive off into the sunset with their dragon-jeep thing, while Goku and Gojyo bicker in the backseat.
“I wonder just how far they’ve gotten now,” grumbles Kanzeon Bosatsu’s elderly servant, as he and the goddess both survey the party’s sluggish progress through a mystical lotus pond. “Exactly how long is it going to take them to get to India?”
She responds with a none-too-promising smirk.
“Oh, they’ll be there before you know it,” she assures him; a statement that has probably elicited more than a few snorts of derision from the show’s viewers.
But is a solid, fulfilling ending finally in store for Saiyuki fans? I’ll try not to spoil anything, but don’t hold your breath. This series appears to have graduated from the “Naruto-School-of-Useless-Mary-Sue-Centric-Filler-Episodes,” and we’re gonna have to watch at least a dozen more “Hourans,” “Fumikas,” and “Kougyokus” get killed off before the torture ends.
Aside from “Requiem,” Saiyuki has never boasted anything above average graphics. Kazuya Minekura’s manga offers up an aesthetic feast for fan girls and boys alike, serving up scores of long-legged bishounen and big-breasted women, sprawling landscapes, and bloody brawls. Each stationary panel, frozen in time, seems more dynamic than the show’s clunky animation. Fight scenes, of which there are many, consist of still shots and speed lines. (Look! They’re really moving!)
No. They’re really not.
On the other hand, the character designs strive to meet Minekura’s standard of excellence. The characters are usually very attractive and charming-looking: save for some of the women. Is it just me, or did that red-headed Mary Sue from episode eight look like a drag queen? I kept expecting one of her boobs to slip.
The opening and ending theme are pretty average, but stay consistent with Saiyuki’s premise. (Four bad-ass guys, driving around doing bad-ass things.) I always expect to hear a bunch of random Engrish exclamations peppered into the Japanese lyrics, such as: “let’s go!” or “wild rock!”
However, where “Gensou Maden’s” composers excelled at compiling back ground music, “Reload” failed pretty hard. Rather than opting to write original pieces, they plugged in what can only be described as crappy MIDI versions of the opening and ending themes.
The starring cast of Saiyuki have always carried the show remarkably well. Sanzo is bizarrely charismatic, despite his anti-social tendencies and steady stream of death threats. Goku and Gojyo have always provided ample humor, and Hakkai is the perfect gentleman… when he’s not ripping apart demons and disposing of their entrails in tidy little piles of gore. I’m also something of a “team Kougaji” fan. I’ve always enjoyed that the Sanzo party’s rivals aren’t explicitly evil.
Points were deducted for the two new useless plot devices, Hazel and Gato, both of whom suffer from “sacrificial-lamb” syndrome. Characters exhibiting symptoms of this syndrome often pop up out of no where, hang around the lead characters just long enough to derail all of their primary objectives, consume two or three episodes detailing their tragic past, then die dramatically in a shower of sparkles.
Are we there, yet?
Warning: This review is written from the point of view of someone who has read the manga version first.
If I had to sum up this series in two words, it would be "filler episodes". Boasting all of 6 out of 26 episodes actually based off of the manga counterpart, this season is practically nothing but filler episodes.
The characters are the same as always, so we're not going to touch on that; yes, two new characters were introduced as antagonists, which was actually why I docked points. I didn't find Hazel interesting in the manga, and I found him even worse in the anime adaption.
The animation was still as clunky as always with the fight scenes, preferring a dramatic still-scene (and sometimes not even seeing a point of contact) to actual blows being traded.
The sound was rated off of the intro and exit songs, which really didn't impress me much. They aren't as bad as one song from Reload, but they didn't serve to psych me up like the songs in the first 50 episodes did.
I also didn't care to rewatch it just to pinpoint various failings. Rather, I'll go over the biggest disappointment and the reason for for such a low overall score (despite the fact that I love the Saiyuki series):
Reload:Gunlock was completely crap in storytelling to the point where I can't even sum it up without getting annoyed. It didn't do the "Just a Worm" saga in the manga ANY justice at all, as it deviates quite a lot from the actual events of that. When I first heard that there was an animated season which went over that saga, I was thrilled. There was one fight scene in particular I was looking forward to the most...
...and it never appeared.
That was an early fight, in fact, but was the point where I threw my arms up into the air and went "well, they've just completely screwed it over".
Everything was downplayed, and there wasn't nearly as much emotion and drama as there was in the manga (this saga in the manga spans from the last chapter of volume 4 up through volume 10).
The ending was also much different in the anime than the manga, and incredibly disappointing. In fact, the entire thing was, and I really have no desire to watch this season again (aside from episode 7, which remains one of my favorite filler episodes of all time due to the sheer hilarity of it; I call it "The Jumanji Episode").
When I looked back on it, I can only describe this season as being something of an AU story from the manga. It uses the same characters, but deviates in the situations and what happens.
A poorly written one, as it doens't go deeply enough into it that you even feel bad for Hazel or Gat. There aren't any raging emotions or breath-holding moments.
What I said in the beginning stands: A poorly written AU version of the "Just a Worm" saga of the manga (volumes 4-10) with horrible storytelling, flat characterizations, and mostly filler episodes.
I would not recommend this to anyone who has read the manga version (volumes 4-10 of Saiyuki Reload), especially those who really wanted to see that one heart-pounding, dangerous, and awesome fight scene (fans of the manga, you know what scene I'm talking about; I'm trying not to include spoilers) in volume 7 animated.
Fans who haven't read the manga...I'm on the fence about it. My suggestion would be to read the manga instead of watching episodes 13-26. Though, you might find it interesting, but once you read the manga version of it, you'll see just how badly Reload:Gunlock is lacking.
Some of the filler episodes are good for a laugh, but it's otherwise not really worth watching (not for the plot/story, at least).
By this stage the plot is starting to lose all sense of purpose. They are just there to beat up some more people. Some points that were crucial in the earlier series have been forgotten.
Similar in feel to the other 2. Good, but for an action anime decidingliy lacking when it comes to action.
The music is actually ok. It works quite well with the tone of the show. The voices follow the last series too. By this point, by shear exposure to it you will have grown tired of Goku and his incessant complaints.
They all bounce of each other in a way that it looks like they don't get on but you know they really do. Disappointingly they have turned down Hakkai's badassness. In the first series, his quietness was for a reason and he never sat that comfortably with you, which was a good thing. Now, however, his quietness has lead him to be a pushover.
The worst of the three. I watched it because I had to finish it, as I like things to be done. If you are the sort of person who can leave something unfinished then consider doing it here