The Winter 2022 Preview Guide
Saiyuki Reload -ZEROIN-
How would you rate episode 1 of
Saiyuki Reload -ZEROIN- ?
Community score: 3.1
What is this?
When the monstrous Gyumaoh was defeated by the war god Nataku Taishi and imprisoned in Houtou Castle, an era of peace began in the land of Togenkyo. Now, hundreds of years later, those seeking to resurrect Gyumaoh have unleashed a plague upon the world. The wave of negative power generated by his attempted resurrection has driven youkai to the brink of insanity. To save humanity from violent slaughter, Kanzeon Bosatsu sends Son Goku, Genjo Sanzo, Sha Gojyo, and Cho Hakkai to the west in order to prevent Gyumaoh from rising once again.
How was the first episode?
Let's be clear here to start off: This is the fifth anime in this Saiyuki series and I've never seen a single episode before this one. Worse yet, most of what I know about the original Saiyuki legend comes from a mix of cultural osmosis and Dragon Ball—so my view on this one will be far different from that of a seasoned fan. That said, even as I scrambled to understand the setting, world, and characters, I found the episode-specific plot and accompanying moral dilemma to be not only understandable but enjoyable as well.
But before we get into that, let's be clear that this anime has no interest in reintroducing its core concepts for new viewers like me, even with this being a “first episode.” It's to the point where you can tell if a character is new or returning simply by whether the anime gives them an introduction scene or not. Likewise, the world is an odd clash of technology levels; our heroes drive around in a jeep, and revolvers exist, yet the rest of technology seems to be from the feudal era. Honestly, though, it wasn't too hard to let all this slide, especially since it's likely all addressed in the previous four anime series. The only real issue I had was figuring out what the definition of a “demon” was—namely if Goku, Gojyo, and Hakkai count as demons, as this is vital to the episode's plot.
Speaking of which, the story of this episode is centered around a Western priest, Hazel, who can use the souls of demons to bring recently deceased humans back to life. However, while the resurrected people have their memories and personalities intact, they basically become rage zombies when a demon is near—and while the series has yet to dive into this in any detail, it presents a complex moral issue when you think about it.
On one hand, I for one would totally take a second chance at life under these conditions. After all, it is basically just killing a murderer to bring his victim back to life. As for the rage zombie issue, if demons are not around, everything is fine. And as it appears that Goku, Gojyo, and Hakkai are pretty much the only good demons, there's little chance of an “innocent” demon getting attacked. On the other hand, if all demons aren't actually evil by nature, things are a little more nuanced, as resurrected people are basically ticking time bombs at best and a genocidal army just waiting to be unleashed at worst. And that's not even getting into the social issues—where either the resurrected or the demons would need to be segregated to prevent deaths on either side (should this be a world where the two races are in regular contact).
Of course, this is all going off of how the whole resurrection thing appears on the surface. Perhaps the people aren't really resurrected and it's just some trick. Or perhaps it's all part of some evil plan set up by Hazel. But I'll tell you one thing, the ethical dilemma, as it appears in this episode, makes me want to come back and see more next week—so I'd call that a successful premiere episode if nothing else.
The only episode of Saiyuki I've ever seen was the one episode of BLAST that I covered for this very Preview Guide… when was it… five years ago!? Well, if I ignore the inevitable existential crisis that comes from reckoning with the unceasing flow of time, I can see that I approached that show with the same central question that I did with this new series: Does Saiyuki Reload -ZEROIN- work as a jumping on point for franchise neophytes? I think it does, though longtime fans will obviously get a lot more out of the experience.
Given that the whole series is a quasi-episodic reinterpretation of Journey to the West, it makes sense that newbies can jump into ZEROIN without too much trouble. This premiere largely makes sense and is easy to follow for the uninitiated, aside from a very slow and somewhat confusing opening, and one bizarre cutaway to a mad scientist character whom I assume is really important (at least, according to my brief glance at Wikipedia when this episode was over). Other than that, it's a bone-simple premise: Goku, Hakkai, Sanzo, and Gojyo arrive in a town that gets overrun by demons that need shooting. In the midst of all the chaos, a pair of mysterious men from the West show up to slaughter demons and perform some casual resurrection miracles. The sketchy-looking guy with the giant pentagram amulet is named Hazel Growth, because of course he is, and his giant henchman of dubiously Native American origin is Gat.
I dig Sayuki's bold outlines and appealing character designs, and LIDEN FILMS does a good job with most of the animation, even if the editing with some of the fight scenes can get pretty sloppy. I didn't have a bad time at all with Saiyuki Reload -ZEROIN-, though the overall lack of familiarity that I have with this crew and their adventures made it hard to get especially invested in the proceedings. I don't anticipate returning to the Saiyuki-verse anytime soon, personally, but ZEROIN might be a show to keep in mind for fans who don't mind catching up on the older entries of the franchise.
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