When the monstrous Gyumaoh was defeated by the war god Nataku Taishi and imprisoned in Houtou Castle, an era of peace began in the land of Togenkyo. Now, hundreds of years later, those seeking to resurrect Gyumaoh have unleashed a plague upon the world. The wave of negative power generated by his attempted resurrection has driven youkai to the brink of insanity. To save humanity from violent slaughter, Kanzeon Bosatsu sends Son Goku, Genjo Sanzo, Sha Gojyo, and Cho Hakkai to the west in order to prevent Gyumaoh from rising once again.
They finally went and did it; they finally animated the Just a Worm arc. Yet...somehow, the manga had way more impact. -- Story As the group continues to head West to stop the Minus Wave and Gyumaou, they encounter a strange priest named Hazel who has a frightening power: He can bring the dead back to live with the souls of demons. In addition to him, there seems to be a familiar crow of darkness behind everything; watching and sometimes interferring with the events as a struggle occurs for the meaning of life, death, and nothingness. "Even a worm will turn." Honestly, it was rather incoherent, and sometimes boring, when telling the story. I had to refer to the manga a few times because I just got lost in the anime's storytelling of it. The pacing was freaking awful, including some flashback scenes of Sanzo's past (yes, those flashback scenes...you know, the ones we've already seen a few dozen times over) in the middle of a dire battle. As a point, that did not occur in the manga; the battle was a smooth one and went from start to finish without being interrupted by boring flashbacks. So, yes...the pacing was terrible. There were quite a few other times where high tension scenes, and even battles, were interrupted by characters reminiscing or sudden flashbacks (the only one forgivable being Hazel's nearing the final episode since it was important to the situation). The story was there, it just wasn't really told in a linear fashion in this animated adaption. So sadly, I have to give it a 5/10. -- Characters Besides all of the characters staying true to form (though Sanzo does struggle a bit in this after being confronted with an unthinkable situation), we are introduced to a couple others: Hazel and Gat. Hazel is a traveling western priest who takes pride in his powers and abilities...as well as his hatred for youkai/demons. He has a mysterious ability to use the souls of youkai in order to revive people who recently perished or were killed. He is accompanied by the stoic Gat, who wields dual pistols and is built like a truck (probably hits like one, too). He doesn't speak often, but seems highly perceptive despite following Hazel's every order for certain reasons. Then of course, is Ukoku...aka, "the crow". Aka, the psychopath responsible for many of the difficult events (such as the Kami-sama fiasco) the Sanzo-party has had to face. We get to see a little more of him here, as well as his abilities, rather than him just talking in flashbacks. The Sanzo-party is...well, the Sanzo-party. The group certainly has mentally grown (and continues to grow) since we last saw them, though that's not too unusual since this arc comes off the tail of the Kami-sama arc. Goku shows a little bit of good growth in this arc, Sanzo is Sanzo (though he also shows a small amount of growth, actually seeming concerned about the others at one point when he's usually the one telling them to "shut up and die"), Hakkai is Hakkai (though we do get to finally see another side to him), and Gojyo is Gojyo. I suppose I can give this an 8/10, as the characters are pretty much the only reason to watch this arc due to the trainwreck which is the storytelling. Hazel is a good anti-hero/partial antagonist as well. -- Sound and Animation I have zero issues with the voice acting (original Japanese), and it's nice to hear the same voice actors return to voice our favorite Sanzo-party characters. However, for Saiyuki, the opening and ending songs were...rather lacking. That means that any insert songs also did not have the same impact. The insert song used during emotional scenes in the anime was not nearly as good as the slow instrumental of Still Time...rather, I think it would have had a much greater impact if they had reused that instead of whatever it was they actually used. I give Sound a 5/10, saved by the voice acting. The animation...where do I even begin? First off, they seemed to nearly go straight back to how things were in the first anime where the combat scenes included a lot of what felt like pieced together stillframes rather than a smooth animation. The Kami-sama arc was amazing in terms of the animation for the fight scenes, but this was...really lackluster because it wasn't fluid. The characters, themselves, also made things a little awkward in that all of the characters had really thick outlines. This made them pop out a little, but it contrasted greatly with the background. Oftentimes, it felt like they were green-screened in there, and it really broke immersion...particularly whenever their battles would damage the background. And if a character got put through a wall or cracked a rooftop, it just looked surreal because you almost forget that the background is even there due to those thick lines. There's some repeated footage here and there, and scenes where a character is getting the crap beaten out of them are really weird because the voice acting will put so much feeling into it...while the character barely even moves or trembles; they just sort of sit/slouch there. Basically, the voice acting had it right, but the animation couldn't keep up to really bring out an immersive feeling. The thick lines around the characters was an awkward choice, and backgrounds don't feel like they actually contain the characters in them. Really bad; 3/10 -- Overall I mostly wanted to see this arc animated for a particular fight scene involving Hakkai. When I read it in the manga long ago, it was the scene I most wanted to see animated (besides the Kami-sama arc). The first time the anime attempted the Just a Worm saga and Hazel, it...really dropped the ball and didn't even include that fight (or really anything which made it the arc). So when I heard that they legit animated it, I was excited...only to find that the animation didn't do it justice. I felt like I was watching a recent season of Nanatsu no Taizai with how poorly it was animated. Not only did they botch the animation, but the fight scene itself wasn't as smooth and suspenseful as it was in the manga. It was just lacking all around, except in the characters department...though forget the Minus Wave; having to sit through seeing Sanzo's backstory for the umpteenth time is enough to drive anyone insane. I'd highly recommend you read the manga of this arc (volumes 4-10 of Saiyuki Reload) instead of watching this if you can find them. It'll save you some time, you won't have to see the lousy animation or hear the questionable choices in op/ed songs, and it'll tell the story in a much more coherent way. Most of the overall score is that they managed to stay true to the manga and get it right this time. And even then, I feel like I might be too generous with the score as I highly doubt I'll ever rewatch it (not even that fight scene; I'd rather just read it in the manga). I had high hopes after the success of the Kami-sama arc, but they seem to have taken the series a few steps backwards. The biggest positives is its lack of filler episodes and its focus on the characters. 6/10
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