The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide SAIYUKI RELOAD BLAST
How would you rate episode 1 of
Saiyuki Reload Blast ?
What is this?
It's been two years since the holy monk Sanzo and his followers Goku, Gojyo, and Hakkai were presumed dead, but not only are they very much alive but also continuing their journey to the west. When they run into a group of humans being attacked by demons on a mountain road, they leap into action…only to quickly collapse from hunger once the job is complete. Reluctantly, the villagers allow them to return to their hidden town, which turns out to be the best possible plan – one of the women in the village has gone mad with grief since her husband was killed by demons, and in her sorrow she opens the hidden gate, allowing demons to attack. While Sanzo and his crew take on the invaders, the town is forced to confront the consequences of living in fear. Saiyuki Reload Blast is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Wednesdays at 11:00 am EST.
How was the first episode?
Apparently Saiyuki Reload Blast is a continuation of an existing narrative, though it seems like you really don't need any prior knowledge for a show like this. “A quartet of attractive guys go on rambling, action-packed adventures” pretty much covers it for the setup, and it looks like this season's story will be largely self-contained. Frankly, I kind of appreciated the fact that this didn't bother trying to include its four heroes' origin story. That's not what we're here for, after all - we're here for the fantasy action, and this episode certainly provides that.
Saiyuki Reload Blast's setup is one more riff on the classic Journey to the West narrative, with a monk and his three rowdy companions here taking the form of gangly human warriors with extremely luscious hair. This episode sees them introduced through their visit to a remote mountain village, where the danger of demons keeps everyone afraid to speak too loud, for fear they'll alert the demons to their home. Trouble inevitably ensues, our heroes strut their heroic stuff, and the gang drives off into the sunset.
As a self-contained story, this premiere is reasonably executed and also kinda disposable. I appreciated how the four leads already have a solid existing rapport, but didn't find myself all that impressed with their actual personalities, which all seemed to stick to very well-worn archetypes. And as far as this episode's conflict goes, the attempt to turn a grief-stricken woman into some kind of symbol of hope wavered between maudlin and ridiculous, but the story at least moved relatively quickly through its tried-and-true beats.
Overall, Saiyuki Reload Blast feels like an utterly functional stab at its goals: it offers dashing guys striking sweet action poses, a vaguely fantastical road trip setting, and that's about it. There isn't really any fluid fight animation, but the character and background designs are quite solid, and this seems more like the kind of show you watch for the character rapport anyway. If you're in the mood for a road trip, you could certainly do worse.
My experience with the storied Saiyuki franchise is limited to flipping through the very first manga volumes published in English back when I spent all of my after school time at my neighborhood library, which is to say I came to Saiyuki Reload Blast as an essential newbie. This premeire did I pretty good job of setting up the premise of this new 12-episode run, though, and despite the fact that I had to double check the wiki a couple of times to keep the characters straight, I think the setup of this show is easy enough to follow. The gist is that Genjo Sanzo and his motley crew of friends travel the land fighting demons. I'm sure there's a lot more to it than that, but it's all you really need to keep up with this entry.
One of the things I have to say I liked is the fact that this being such a long running series means that our central characters actually have some personality and a fun rapport with one another, something many of these new summer shows have been sorely lacking. I may not know the full histories of Sanzo, Gojyo, Goku, and Hakkai, but their personalities and relationships with one another were still very apparent. This helps a lot considering that the plot of this episode was fairly formulaic, though not necessarily bad, per se. The whole “Band of warriors deliver a small town from an overwhelming threat” is the plot of almost every western ever, and while I'm always down to throwback to some Akira Kurosawa/Henry Sturges nostalgia, I probably would have felt a lot more ambivalent towards this episode if the central characters didn't stand out.
I have to admit though, the blending of the Journey to the West framework with the more modern-day spaghetti western stylings is pretty cool, and cool is what Saiyuki Realod Blast really seems like its aiming to be. The action scenes were brief but stylized, and I found them to be sufficiently entertaining (even if I found the blood-splatter-on-the-camera effects to be a bit tacky here). The little vignette after the credits that shows our boys messing around with the Tanabata Festival isn't just timely (the real world Tanabata begins in just a couple of days), it also reinforces that this is a show that is driven by its leading band of demon killing ruffians. If you're a fan of Saiyuki, I imagine this will be more of what you love, and if you're completely new to the series like I am, Sayuki Reload Blast might be a solid jumping on point to test the waters and see if you're game to catch up on everything the franchise has to offer.
It's been a while since the last anime iteration of Saiyuki came out, which may explain why the first episode of this new series doesn't ask for much as far as background knowledge goes. As long as you're vaguely familiar with Sanzo and his party of handsome demon-slayers, it should be easy enough to follow the story here. I've only seen a portion of the original TV series (and that was a long time ago), and I still felt like I was more or less up to speed.
It certainly helps that the basic formula doesn't seem to have changed all that much. Sanzo, Goku, Gojyo, and Hakkai are still on an endless road trip in their shape-shifting dragon-jeep-thing, bickering constantly with one another along the way. They arrive in a new area, help out the locals by slaughtering some bad guys, and carry on their merry way. The show even seems to poke fun at itself for doing the same old thing after such a long absence; one character remarks that everyone had assumed Sanzo's party had either died or disappeared, and the guys gripe about how their lives always seem to follow the same pattern. Considering that this franchise has been around in one form or another since the late nineties, it's nice to see that it's able to poke fun at itself here and there.
This episode acts as a kind of standalone reintroduction to the main characters, and as a result it's somewhat predictable. As soon as Sanzo and company roll into a remote village, it's pretty obvious that they'll end up mowing down the demons that have been threatening the place. The guys seem to have things well in hand from beginning to end, and it never feels like they're in any serious danger. The focus here isn't so much on tense, dramatic action as it is on letting the characters exchange some amusing banter while showing off how tough they are. I wouldn't call it thrilling, but it's at least entertaining. The series looks good in its own dark and moody way, though I could have done without the shaky-camera effect in some of the action scenes.
Saiyuki Reload Blast looks like it's poised to scratch the same itch as its predecessors. You could potentially enjoy this episode in isolation, but I think it functions best as a leisurely catch-up for returning fans who may have forgotten some of the narrative details over time. If you have fond memories of watching these dudes kick butt and take names, this seems like as good a time as ever to dive back in.
I have to admit that I never really liked Saiyuki; I watched and read it back in the day because one of my sisters was into it. That said, I definitely enjoyed the first episode of Saiyuki Reload Blast, based on the latest incarnation of Kazuya Minekura's ongoing manga. The story reimagines the Chinese classic Journey to the West (also the root story for Dragonball), setting it in a world that's sort of like an Eastern version of the Old West. That's part of what really works in this episode – the contrast between hard-bitten Western tropes and beautiful Buddhist background imagery, like the fabrics and mandalas in the village the guys end up in. There's also just something inherently bizarre about a guy in monk robes shooting a gun with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and that sort of contradictory imagery works to draw you in.
The story of this first episode is pretty typical Western fare – the good(ish) guys ride to the rescue of a town tormented by bad guys, and no one knows that they're the most famous good guys around until the last minute, when they ride off into the sunset. In this case, it's a hidden mountain village, and our heroic quartet collapses in hunger seconds after striking their super-cool hero pose in my favorite part of the episode. There's a nice balance between humor and seriousness, with Goku and Gojyo providing most of the chuckles (Goku's line about the water sprite becoming a diarrhea sprite is a good example) and Hakkai trying to maintain some sort of equilibrium, both in terms of the group and their larger interactions with the town. (Sanzo's role? To be consistently pissed off.) The action scenes are a little dark, since they take place primarily at night, but the choreography is decent. I'm not hugely thrilled with the use of blood spatter on the camera in the beginning, but it does keep the theme of the Western in mind, so it works on that level. In a particularly fun touch, the episode is followed by two “Ura Sai” shorts, with the guys celebrating Tanabata and writing their wishes on slips of paper…and Hakuryu, the dragon/jeep takes part, creeping everyone out.
If you know the basics of the Saiyuki story, this is a fun episode. I wouldn't go into it cold, but as long as you remember who everyone is, the episode does a decent job of reminding you the backstory and Gaiden information in the credits. If you've been waiting for this, you shouldn't be disappointed.
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