Review

by Zac Bertschy, May 3rd 2003

Saiyuki

DVD 1: The Journey Begins

Synopsis:
Saiyuki DVD 1
In a twist on the classic Chinese tale “Journey to the West”, Saiyuki features an embittered chain-smoking monk named Sanzo who's asked by his brotherhood to travel (to the west, believe it or not) with a band of three demons (who look like humans). These three demons, named Cho Hakkai, Son Goku, and Sha Gojyo, are questing to put a stop to whoever's trying to resurrect the ancient and powerful demon god, Gyumao. Of course, there are armies of other demons just aching to get in the way.
Review:
It's not that Saiyuki is a bad show, per say. It just isn't very good. The show seems to have been created with fangirls in mind; it focuses entirely on the four main male characters, who are all super bishounen and frequently run around shirtless and pose for the camera. The story is basically stock. Four guys kill demons on their way to kill an even bigger demon. So what's to like about Saiyuki? Well, simply put, if you're a bishounen fanatic, there's probably not much here you won't flip out over. It seems to have been made for those with only the shallowest of tastes.

Saiyuki is not a show intended for analysis. Any glimpse beneath the thin veneer of what this show offers will only provide a vast empty well of nothingness; there is no substance, only style and action. As a matter of fact, they seem to have beautified the show as much as possible so as to distract the viewer from the fact that the story seems to drag on forever without actually going anywhere and that the characters don't really seem to develop much. In the five episodes included on this disc, the only character related question I found myself asking was, "Why does the guy with the dragon that turns into a Jeep bother using the Jeep when he could just ride the dragon?" It would probably be faster and I've heard Jeeps don't really get good gas mileage if you're off-roading.

Wait, what was that? A dragon that turns in to a Jeep? Isn't this supposed to be a fantasy show based on an old Chinese fable? Yes, it is, but there's still a whole pile of stupid crap that the creators saw fit to throw in to this series. The monk carries around a pistol while everyone else seems to be stuck using medieval-era weaponry like sticks and swords and catapults. Why does he get a gun? Wouldn't that effectively make him the deadliest person on the planet? The costumes also seemed especially ridiculous. It's obvious they were designed in such a way to differentiate the characters (since we all know how difficult it is to tell bishounen apart from each other and other women), but they come across as just ugly.

Really, though, the problem with Saiyuki isn't any of the silliness or the costumes. It's the characters. None of them are interesting to watch and rarely do they ever do anything out of the ordinary. They all have their little pigeonhole personalities and they stick to those religiously. They don't seem to grow, or change. Goku is a spunky troublemaker, Sanzo is bitter and threatening, etcetera and so on. Even the guy with the monocle and the Jeep-Dragon is like Simon from Alvin and the Chipmunks, in that the exists solely to analyze the situation and then tell the audience what they already know. I kept expecting him to bust out with a calculator that made “beep!” noises every time he hit a button. As these four characters traverse the countryside and kill demons (who all seem to die by bursting into the same black and white particle effect), you'd think they would change or grow or something. Nope.

The show itself uses an attractive and vibrant color palette and is perfectly suited for DVD presentation. It's hard to imagine an anime DVD looking more alive and colorful than this one. The animation was all-digital, and while it's cheap looking and awkward in many spots, it gets the job done. There's a lot of repetition and still frames, though. The music is suitable, with forgettable opening and closing themes. ADV did a nice job with the packaging, inserts and extras; there are helpful cultural liner notes, clean openings and closings, and all manner of fun things to play around with, provided you could stomach the show in the first place.

The dub isn't bad at all. It would have been difficult to cast four different-sounding 20-something men, but ADV did a nice job here. Goku's “brat” voice isn't as annoying as it could have been, and the acting all around is effective and, for the most part, pleasantly understated. There are moments of inadequacy and bad acting, but they pass quickly enough. The only uniformly bad performances are the demons, who do the typical Dub Henchman voice, which is to make your voice gravelly and then shout all your lines out at once in run-on sentences with no natural pauses in between. “DAMN YOU SANZO I WILL DESTROY YOU AND YOUR BAND OF CREEPS RAAAH!” Just say that really fast in a hoarse voice, and you'll get the picture.

Simply put, if you dig bishounen and are shallow enough to like anything with pretty boys in it regardless of how lame and contrived their adventures are (I'm looking at you, Weiss Kreuz fangirls), then Saiyuki will not fail to please. If you want a little more depth in your anime but still want bishounen, there are countless options out there (Utena, Descendants of Darkness, Rurouni Kenshin) that are intelligent and thought-provoking and well-written and still chock-full of pretty boys.
Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B

+ Decent animation, pretty colors, standard action show.
Zero depth, seems to have been made just to please shallow fangirls.

Director:Hayato Date
Screenplay:
Katsuyuki Sumisawa
Michiko Yokote
Storyboard:
Hayato Date
Tomoki Kyoda
Hitoyuki Matsui
Toshiyuki Tsuru
Episode Director:
Masaaki Kumagai
Hitoyuki Matsui
Masahiko Murata
Toshiyuki Tsuru
Music:Motoi Sakuraba
Original Manga:Kazuya Minekura
Character Design:Yuji Moriyama
Art Director:
Yuji Ikeda
Rieko Ohiwa
Art:Kazuhiko Suzuki
Animation Director:Shinichiro Minami
Executive producer:
Keisuke Iwata
Yuji Nunokawa
Producer:
Tomoko Gushima
Ken Hagino
Tetsuya Watanabe

Full encyclopedia details about
Saiyuki (TV)

Release information about
Saiyuki - The Journey Begins (DVD 1)

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