Events in the West have taken an unexpected turn.
What They Say:
The journey to the west continues. The boys of the Sanzo party are back and looking better than ever—albeit a bit hungry. When they’re not fighting off demons or searching for a good meal—or smokes!—they’re making their way to take on the Ox Demon King. But the weight of the past is finally catching up with them, and getting to India may be the least of their worries. The truth behind their lives in Heaven comes to light.
Then, a mysterious boy appears, and with him comes destruction. Will Goku remember the boy he once called a friend, or will it all end in bloodshed? And what of the prophecy that speaks of their demise? It all spells nothing but trouble, but if there’s one thing this bickering band of misfits can do, it’s survive.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English dub gets a 5.1 boost, both of which are used with the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show works a good balance of action and dialogue since the big action sequences have a good bit of impact when it comes to weapons used, the cries of the enemies and those being slain, and of course Sanzo’s gun. There’s a lot of movement that’s carried across the forward soundstage well and the 5.1 mix gives it a big more impact as well with the bass. When it comes to dialogue, the show is mostly center channel based but it has some moments where it does get thrown around a bit or has something that stands out but it’s otherwise pretty straightforward. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2017, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Platinum Vision, the show definitely sticks to the general design aesthetic of past works but it also feels fresh and new. The details of the character designs are really nicely done while the backgrounds, which are mostly ruined lands in the West, definitely have a good raw look to them. The fluidity of the show has some really good moments with what it does but it avoids being a budget show in this area as well so we get a pretty good clean look throughout it. The encoding gives us some good color definition that mostly sticks to a flat and earthy tone while the characters get a bit more out of them in terms of color and detail. It’s a good looking transfer overall and fans of the show will be pleased.
The packaging for this release comes in a slightly thicker than usual Blu-ray case with an o-card slipcover that replicates the case artwork itself. It’s an interesting cover design since it goes with a white background and a black stripe along the top but also because it slides the logo through the middle. It’s one that flips the look of it with heavenly and earthly characters on the top and bottom facing inward that’s interesting and really does give it a different feeling. The back cover goes for an all-white background with the summary of the premise covering a lot of it. There are some nice design widgets in the mix here and we get a few shots from the show to give it a bit of color. The extras are clearly listed while the technical grid breaks down both formats cleanly and accurately with how they’re put together. While there are no show related inserts included with it we do get artwork on the reverse side that has a four-panel spread across both sides of the four main characters together in really nice detail.
The menu design for this release is the same for both discs as we get a really good static image that utilizes the artwork from the reverse side of the cover. This has the four ornate character pieces for the main cast with their symbolism backgrounds included. It’s very appealing here with all of its detail and color, making it welcome to have for both of the discs. The menu navigation is along the bottom with a black block that has the basic selections that are quick and easy to use as both the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.
The extras for this release are pretty simple but they’re always welcome. We get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as a selection of promos and commercials for the series.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While there was a three-volume OVA back in 2011, the last time we had Saiyuki on TV was back in 2004 with the Saiyuki Reload Gunlock project. There’ve been a lot of Saiyuki OVA projects and manga spinoff pieces over the years but it was welcome to get something new on TV once again. Saiyuki was huge in the early days of DVD with the two series that came out after the original and this one from Platinum Vision really does carry on the overall journey. We do get something of a change to the core mission in a way here as the season plays on but at the same time we get a whole lot of familiarity. Which isn’t a surprise but I keep hoping that we’ll get something of a conclusion someday to bring it all to a close.
The basic premise does populate this series well while we get the core group continuing their journey as they enter the West itself. The journey to the West made up so much of what came before and it feels like the first half or so of this is more of that, just further into the West than we’ve been before. It’s interesting in that the sense of evil that’s come from this area feels intensified and that’s starting to impact the gang like Hakkai and his own connection to the demon side. This also kickstarts the growing concern by Hakkai toward Gojyo because of his being half demon and half human, which is taking some growing form in a sigil now showing up on the back of his next. There’s some nice exploration of Gojyo’s past across the run to help nudge this larger point forward but I’m also in that place where I feel like we’ve covered their pasts so many times that it feels too familiar and unnecessary.
There are fun adventures within this opening largely standalone tales, including Goku befriending someone that looks similar in physical age that you know will come back to bite him in the end. These tales are simple but they do highlight the way things are different out here as the guys get further west and just how there are so many on the demon side that are living simple lives and feeling very threatened themselves, while we get similar for many human settlements. It plays well but then around the halfway mark the show takes us back in time to when we see the group in their other forms, with Goku off in his mountainside jail. We’ve had a lot of them in the heavenly side before but again, it’s been fifteen years since I last saw TV material that had some of this and we’ve had the whole thing where there’s this sense of repetition about it that keeps me from really getting engaged with it – and knowing that it’ll be forever before we get more Saiyuki anime.
All of this leads into the big change that the series presents, at least temporarily, where Sanzo and the gang are basically fired (for taking too long and going pretty far off-route) and they’re now sending down the war god Prince Nataku after a revival to deal with the enemy. The reactions are priceless but as we see it unfold with Sharak involved as well, Nataku is a single-focus kind of war god that has been sent from high up the chain to deal with things here and there’s no real personality behind it (even if we saw some before with Goku). The intent is the elimination of the enemy and that’s all, which ends up including Gojyo and Hakkai along the way as well because of their demonic sides. The scale of the fight that’s setup is pretty good because we see how Heaven is operating with factions more clearly now and taking place in the human world, but it’s also something that plays out so very quickly in the space of like two episodes. The end arc does get serious since it spends the time with how Heaven’s upper management was viewing Sanzo and the others but the actual fight side with Nataku is short and far to easily resolved, allowing for the expected resumption of the journey.
After having just a few OVA projects in the past decade or so, it was welcome to get into something a little more long form for Saiyuki. This series played to the familiar in the first half with one-off stories before getting into something more serial with a look to the past and the bonds in the present as the nature of their journey is dealt with. It does finally put some changes into the larger story that has been mostly static in my mind for decades but that’s not why people watch. They watch for the core group and just who they are and how they act. That’s all brought to the forefront here in a good way that will please fans. It’s a solid set that’s well put together with a good encoding, a fun dub, and a solid package with a few extras. Fans will be pleased just to be able to own this with all the rest.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Promo Videos, Commercials, Textless Opening & Closing Songs, and Trailers
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: July 24th, 2018
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.