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Saiyuki Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

9 min read

SaiyukiJourney to the West meets booze, bullets, and bozos.

What They Say:
Once demonkind and man lived together in harmony. But when a band of rogue demonic forces seeks to resurrect a diabolical monster, a dark spiritual energy begins to cover the land. Now, it’s up to a renegade priest, a monkey king, a lecherous water sprite and a sympathetic demon to stop the resurrection and return harmony to a dangerous land.

Enter the world of Saiyuki! A unique universe of beauty and betrayal. Where sacred scrolls battle enchanted weaponry and where dragons can transform into jeeps. A land where four reluctant heroes are just as concerned about having a good time, a stiff drink, and a beautiful woman as they are about saving the world.

The Review:
Standard dub and sub tracks. The English dub is in 5.1 and the Japanese dub with English subtitles is in 2.0 Standard barebones audio tracks for a release like this.

4:3 aspect ratio with no digital enhancements made. The animation quality shows it’s age and while it isn’t particularly bad it looks incredibly dated when compared to the animation quality of todays productions. There is minor use of CG in this show, particularly the backgrounds for the episode titles that looks extremely dated even for a show that’s 10 years old at this point.

Simple, two case package with a slipcase that both fit into. Each case contains 5 DVDs with 5 episodes each on them. The individual discs as well as both DVD cases contain simple artwork of various characters from the series. The slipcase itself is easily the best looking part of the packaging with a dark red background and black border at the top that catches the eye pretty easily if this was sitting on a shelf. Beyond that however, the packaging is unremarkable and has all the hallmarks of a re-release that’s meant to keep a show on shelves and in the public eye.

The menus for each DVD are the same static background with a different still image of a character from the show with the same music track for each and every single disc in this volume. All that’s available for each volume is simply a list of the 5 episodes that are on the disk. For this kind of barebones release this kind of simple and somewhat lazy menu is more or less to be expected but even a minimal amount of effort could have at least made them distinct instead of them being completely forgettable.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sometimes, anime likes to take a piece of literature, classic or contemporary, and present it in animated form. Sometimes these are simply adaptations of a work, but often the creators like to re-imagine the literature in a variety of ways and really play with some ideas for telling the story in a different or remarkable way.

An example of a show that did this well I think was Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo which reimagined the classic Alexandre Dumas novel in a more futuristic setting, complete with gorgeous colors and used a lot of interesting animation techniques in production as well.

Saiyuki is such an adaptation, taking the Chinese classic Journey to the West and reimaging the tale with a more modern feel and a grittier, more irreverent take on the characters.

Sounds cool right? A monk who drinks and smokes, fires a gun, and swears is accompanied by three demons-in-human-form who each have their own littler quirks like eating all the time or chasing after women constantly. Sounds hip and edgy, right?

Sadly, they could not have been further off the mark if they were aiming to hit the broad side of a barn and instead shot directly into the sky. And to be clear, I’m not saying they don’t do Journey to the West justice. Because they don’t. But they also fail at doing their own interpretation of the story justice as well.

The basic premise sounds fine – Priest Genjyo Sanzo must travel to the west with his three companions to investigate the rise of an evil demon lord and put a stop to whatever trouble is brewing out there. The basic formula of the story is snapshots of various adventures and heroic deeds the party accomplish while also facing their past and inner demons, rising above themselves to become better, and stronger, inevitably to face what they will find when they make it to the West. There are recurring characters and villains that help tie these side stories together towards a main, overarching plot. So, for the most part, this feels like it should be a good, adventure anime based on a classic that has booze, cigerettes, and guns. It can’t be THAT bad right?

Spoiler Alert: It is that bad, and arguably way worse than that as well. While we’re suppose to feel for this band of misfits as they experience challenging fights and personal struggles, the problem is that none of the characters ever seem to learn, save for Sanzo, who sort of sits off by himself as the all knowing priest that easily solves all the problems they encounter. Goku, the Monkey King, is basically an invincible punching bag that serves as the man source of beat-‘em-up for the group, all the way up to the end of the series as well. The characters are more often annoying and rarely funny at best while being incredibly boring and unremarkable at worst. The only character who had a background and a story arc that was actually engaging at all was Hakkai, who had previously been human, but when his lover was taken from him and abused by demons, he went on a murder spree that turned him into a demon. He has a seriously screwed up and haunted past, and he’s more scared of himself it seems than the dangers of the world around them. He’s the only character who doesn’t make awful jokes or act like a sheltered 14 year old who likes to quote the bad movies that come on after mom and dad go to bed, and along with Sanzo, he’s one of the only two characters who seems to actually be able to think through a situation and make a rational decision without restoring to The Art of Fisticuffs.

The main group of villains that recur sit in that weird place of maybe-they’re-not-really-bad-guys-just-misguided and it makes them just look more foolish than it does conflicted. The fight scenes with a few notable exceptions are very cookie-cutter and derivative of what so much anime was about in the early 2000s. IN a lot of ways, that’s not bad. DragonBall Z made it’s success off these insane, over the top combat sequences, and Saiyuki has a lot of these troupes. I will say that some of them are good, but many of them are just forgettable hit-it-until-it-drops-or-Sanzo-shoots-it.

And it seems like I may keep harping on the booze and swearing and cigerettes because it was a trend in anime during this time to try and be edgy and cool and “not kid stuff” (thanks ADV) and so the American dub of some of these shows were just mishandled to abysmal levels. I certainly don’t mind swearing in my anime – real people swear sometimes, so it’s only natural that realistic characters should too. But the use of several words that are derogatory for homosexuals in early episodes only really serve to show the world “Look at us! We won’t budge away from the hard, gritty, adult nature of these cartoons! Look how cool and adult cartoons can be!” And it just makes it juvenile and feel very forced.

There were several other productions of Saiyuki including prequels, sequels, movies, and games. The show was pretty popular when it first launched, but eventually fell off the radar as so many of these shows did. While I appreciate that they could actually close a story out over the course of the 50 episodes that this collection contains, the fact that it takes so long and drags for what seems like ages doesn’t help the already poor character development and unimaginative hijinks that Sanzo and his friends get into.

In Summary:
Journey to the West and Saiyuki have in common about three things: The Monkey King Goku is in both. The preist Sanzo is in both. And both involve a journey to the west. That’s about it. Taking an old story and spinning it with a new coat of pain and a fresh set of wheels isn’t a bad thing – in fact sometimes I think it can turn out quite well. It can serve as an entry point for people who have never heard of the literature to become interested in it. As much as I despise it, Hetalia has had a great deal of impact in getting younger teenagers interested in the topic of history. Even if I dislike it, it’s a worthwhile merit that it’s had that beneficial impact.

But instead of trying to tell this story in a different light, or to get fans of anime interested in this classical piece of text, it feels like the creators just started designing a car, adding bits and parts and gadgets and doohickeys to what they wanted their car to be, and in the midst of adding rockets, scotch bottles, cigarette lighters, guns, demons, and bad puns that play constantly, they forgot where they were actually trying to go, or to put all four wheels on the car, and left half the engine block sitting outside when they drove off in the completely wrong direction.

In my opinion, this is the kind of show that is fairly dated at this point, and puts fans into two very simple camps. There are people who like this show, who are nostalgic for it and saw it when first came out, and it’ll hold a place in their hearts because it was one of the first shows they ever saw or maybe owned on DVD. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with having a nostalgic enjoyment of something that ages poorly and looks worse and worse with each passing season. I have a ton of guilty pleasures like that.

But then there is everyone else, who didn’t see this show when it first aired, and who may be interested in revisiting many of the shows of the early and mid 2000s that they missed for one reason or another. And if you’re one of those people – then your time is better spent on something else. To put it another way, people who will like this show, already own it and have for probably the last decade. If you never managed to get all the DVDs or maybe sold them but wish to own this again, this collection is perfect for you. Barebones, simple, and cheap. But if you’re one of the people who have never heard of this show, then you won’t want to own it, and you can pass this collection by.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, English subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

Content Grade: D
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C-
Packaging Grade: C+
Menu Grade: D-
Extras Grade: F-

Release Date: June 18th, 2013
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 1250 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 4:3

Review Equipment:
Intel Alienware laptop, Windows 7, 25” HP2509m screen at 1920×1080 resolution

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