Episodes seen: 1-6 of 50
In the land of Togenkyo, where humans and demons have co-existed peacefully, the balance is disturbed by someone seeking to resurrect the mighty demon Gyu-ma-o through a ritual that combines science and mysticism. The five gods who rule Heaven summon before them a monk and charge him with the tasks of finding and stopping the person responsible for the disruption of the natural order. The gods also assign three demons to travel with the monk, who is not too pleased with his lack of say in the matter.
For a monk, Genjo Sanzo is not the virtuous type you'd normally associate as the main character, but he possesses a certain leadership quality that reveals itself only when the situation calls for it. Otherwise, you'd think he was just some pistol-toting punk pretending to be a monk. Sanzo's traveling companions don't seem like boy scouts either, even with their human appearances. Sha Gojyo resembles a womanizing chain-smoking biker, but he is actually a chain-smoking water demon who specializes in wielding a chijiriki (a spear with a chained weight at one end). Cho Hakkai is most likely of the three companions to pass for a human with his gentle manner, but his superficial nature leaves others wondering about his true intentions. Then there's Son Goku who is usually thinking about food and serves as the mascot of the group.
Son Goku? Isn't he also a character from Dragonball? Yes, both Saiyuki and Dragonball share common roots in being based upon the classic Chinese tale about Goku the Monkey King and his involvement in the Journey to the West. While both series feature battles of mythical proportions, Saiyuki takes different liberties with the characters and the plot to create its own take on the popular legend. Minekura sets her version of the story in a fantasy world where demons roam free, but she adds a few modern touches like Sanzo's pistol, Hakkai's dragon/jeep, and the high-tech facility where Gyu-ma-o is being revived. In addition to their assignment, the four travelers have their own personal quests, seeking answers to their pasts. For Sanzo, his quest is finding any surviving members of his religious order from a demonic massacre that happened when he was a boy. The goals of Sanzo's companions are revealed as the series progresses, giving each battle a new sort of relevance since different things are at stake.
Herself the Elf sez: First off, this is only VERY loosely based on Journey to the West. I'm not sure what time period this is supposed to be set in; for the most part it seems a fairly standard fantasy-adventure time period, but anachronistic elements abound--for example, they smoke cigarettes, Sanzo fires an 'exorcism gun' and wears J-rock-boy clothes under his robes, and they ride around in a jeep that's really a dragon (for some unfathomable reason the dragon can ONLY turn into a jeep, not a plane or a tank or even a car with a roof, which is pretty inconvenient when it rains).
The animation is really inconsistent, with cheapass digital animation tricks like sliding cels and superimposed characters abounding. At some points it's really nice, but then a second later the animation quality goes down the toilet. The art style is also kind of weird; the guys are obviously supposed to be bishounen heartthrobs (as evidenced by the numerous shots in the opening sequence of them tied up in the rain...meow!), but the bizarre way they're drawn almost completely eliminated the appeal for me. The voice acting, on the other hand, is great, with favourites such as Ishida Akira and Seki Toshihiko leading the crew. The opening song and animation are great, but the ending song is really awful (some guy trying to sing in English and failing miserably).
The story takes quite awhile to get going and is kind of convoluted, and I found it very hard to get into. As for the characters themselves, they play off each other adequately, but what character development there is seems rather forced and superficial. Maybe it'll improve further into the series, but I don't know if I'll stick around to find out. I didn't feel any connection with or concern for the four main characters; there's too much bouncing around between scenes and elements for any real cohesion.
Despite these flaws, there are some nice action scenes and comedic elements, and Saiyuki certainly measures up better than Weiss. I was expecting more, though, and in the end Saiyuki's only average and not the super-cool bishounen ass-kicking extravaganza I'd hoped for. Somewhat recommended.
Available from ADV under the name "Paradise Raiders".