Saiyuki Reload Blast
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
I spent the weekend scrolling through a list of next season's new shows, and boy do we have some odd story setups headed our way. Dude gets resurrected as a slime in a fantasy world? Check. Girls train as astronauts to go fishing in space? Check. High school boy marries big, weird fluffy monster thing? I don't quite believe it, but check. Something tells me we're going to have a fun Preview Guide in a couple of weeks. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Saiyuki Reload Blast
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Shelf Life Reviews
Saiyuki Reload Blast brings the venerable action franchise back after quite a long time out of the spotlight. Gabriella took a look at the new season to see if its appeal holds up after all those years.
Honestly, for something that ran for as many episodes as Legend of the Galactic Heroes without ending, Saiyuki's story seemed pretty easy to catch up on, which is handy, since the first episode is pretty profoundly newbie-unfriendly. The long and short of it is that Saiyuki is a Journey to the West riff set in a magitek world where our heroes are a bunch of scraggly hot guys traveling to India to stop the resurrection of a demon lord. In this version of the classic tale, our Genjou Sanzou is a belligerent blond gunslinger who's tasked with holding 1/5th of the universe's source code, Cho Hakkai is a team dad who was turned into a demon following the tragic fallout of his failed incest marriage, Sha Gojou a jerkwad half demon with ludicrous hair antennae, and, and Sun Wukong… is pretty much just Sun Wukong. Some drama emerges regarding the fact that they were all best friends in a past life, but the show goes over all that like you don't already know about it, so it all works out. Otherwise this is pretty clearly a later-stage arc in a sprawling, if weirdly unchanging saga ala Fushigi Yuugi or Inuyasha.
From this limited material alone, I think that I can see Saiyuki's appeal. The cast has some decent chemistry and I pretty soon found myself attached to all of them in some way. I'll even admit that it was neat to see them interact as a fully consolidated party, bypassing the likely dozens of episodes that it took for them to get together in the first place. While a lot of the gags were fairly stock, there were a couple of good ones, mostly in the post-episode omake segments. In terms of characters, while I don't think that I can pinpoint a favorite yet, Sha Gojou is the hottest (discounting the cockroach feelers sticking out of his head), Cho Hakkai has the best personality, and Sun Wukong gets the most emotionally affecting material. Genjou Sanzou kinda splits the difference between Gojou's “grumpy” and Hakkai's “reasonable,” although I do like the whole “chain-smoking gun-toting Buddhist priest” aesthetic. They also have a dragon that turns into a Jeep, because why not. All things considered, the serious story and silly character-based antics are quite well balanced here. While I'm pretty out of the loop myself, I can see why people would have affection for this traveling band of idiots.
On a visual level, Saiyuki Reload Blast is unfortunately disappointing. While the show has a distinctive art style and is only rarely noticeably off model, the animation resorts to speed line-shaking pseudo-motion within its first few minutes and never gets better from there. Also, the colors are now way more muted compared to what I've seen of the original. While this puts Saiyuki's aesthetic more in line with modern anime palettes, it also comes with a bunch of hit-or-miss filter effects that – once again – frequently take the place of actual animation. Basically, don't watch this show expecting stunning visuals. On an unrelated production note, this show also got a dub from Funimation. On the whole, this dub is quite solid, although Hakkai and Gojou's VAs have been recast to members of the Funimation stable.
Honestly the biggest problem with Saiyuki Reload Blast is that this season really feels incomplete in itself. It opens on what seem to be three episodes of a self-contained filler-y story arc, goes on to introduce an antagonist during a three episode back story flashback, reintroduces that antagonist in the present day, and then… doesn't resolve that? It's like, they brought these boys back after more than a decade for this? Notably, this hasn't received another season, so if you're an anime-only Saiyuki fan, you could very well be waiting another 13 years for more.
As far as I can judge the property itself, it feels alright, neither particularly compelling nor notably terrible. Really, the most remarkable thing about Saiyuki Reload Blast is the very fact that this property was resurrected so late in the game. And, more specifically, would even diehard fans want to wait that long for what amounts to just half of a late-season story arc? At this point a full reboot might have made more sense. (Especially considering that first season's 2001 digipaint aesthetics. Holy cow, those aged poorly.) In the end, recommendation of this show boils down to you answering yes to the following two questions: are you already a fan? and are you ready to be thrown back into the adventure without a contextual cushion? If not, this is a hard pass, and the path to nirvana remains closed to us non-initiates.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!
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