Movie: Much like in mainstream "buddy" films where characters having polar opposite personalities are thrown together to achieve some goal, often barely able to stand one another, anime also uses this premise on a regular basis in order to establish a dynamic that helps propel them along a path. The reasons for doing this are varied but most often it helps give the viewer a means by which to see the imperfect protagonists face various antagonists (that are usually far worse) in a meaningful manner. Think about it: wouldn't anime be boring to you if the cast just went mindlessly killing all the bad guys in short order? That brings me to the subject of today's review of Saiyuki: Requiem: The Motion Picture, the last in the series to be released by ADV Films (they were outbid on the Saiyuki: Reloaded series by Bandai). The basic story is this: Once upon a time, demons and humans got along swell. An evil force changed all that and made the demons go crazy so that they attacked, and usually killed, humans. The evil forces were trying to revive an ultra powerful demon known as Gyumaoh who had been trapped in a tomb by a combined force of humans and demons long ago. Some heavenly force has chosen Genjo Sanzo to lead a group of powerful fighters, including Son Goku, Sha Gojyo, and Cho Hakkai (each having a completely different background and powers; renegade priest, a monkey king, a lecherous water sprite, and a demon) to stop the evil plan. Along the way, they meet and defeat a variety of forces, both supernatural and otherwise, as they head west to achieve their task. None of them is a saint-they all have their vices and could be considered less_than_model citizens-so they're not like traditional characters at all.
The movie takes place a some generic point in the series continuity, meaning you don't have to see it in any particular order to fully appreciate it (although you'd want to see at least some of the series first to establish the character personalities better), and the guys are still heading west to achieve their goal (see how I avoided spoilers?). They get sidetracked while coming to the rescue of a young, attractive gal, and end up in a trap that was reminiscent of several episodes from the series (is it any wonder when the guys let their little heads do their thinking?). They fight one another, demons with nearly unstoppable powers (even their usual tricks don't work), and a being that has given up his humanity in a quest for revenge. If they don't kill each other, they always have their rivals in the sidelines waiting too (as with the series), and the theme of the past coming back to haunt the party seems as evident here as in about half the series episodes.
So, as a standalone movie, it was flawed by virtue of the seemingly endless details surrounding the cast. Without knowing more about them, you'd be lost in the wealth of past material so I really can't recommend this to someone without first telling them to get the series. If you have seen the first couple of seasons of the series though, this would easily rate a Recommended since the production values were higher, the characters were even more complex than in the series, and the themes explored had more time to flesh out. I wish ADV Films and others would commission their own films based on the various series they acquire as it might allow them to create more unique material that fans could come to appreciate. One of the biggest complaints I hear is how most domestic anime companies simply feed off the creativity of others, a charge I don't typically agree with but does have some minor basis in fact.
Picture: The movie was presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 ratio color, as originally released in Japan. For the most part, I found the visuals better than the series but not by as wide a margin as I would have guessed given that this was mastered with more care, from a newer print, and the whole anamorphic process. The colors were accurate, the effects pretty much the same (using static shots numerous times), and my biggest problem was in how much video noise was seen in a couple of grainier shots (typically the night stuff). Overall though, it looked well done.
Sound: The audio was presented with two choices, both in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 tracks: the original Japanese and the English dub using the same voice actors. I have grown accustomed to the voices on the dub and original tracks (I can only imagine how much Reloaded will sound wrong to me) and think that each had its place. For the vocals, the Japanese track was better in terms of how the characters reacted to certain things while the soundstage and effects were easily better on the dub track. There was a moderate amount of separation between the channels when the cast was fighting demons and the dynamic range better than the series by a good amount.
Extras: My favorite extra was the inclusion of a director's commentary where the voice actors joined in (one actor at a time though, sadly enough) for the entire feature. While I preferred hearing about their anecdotes from the series more than how one got a ticket for speeding in Houston, about a near plane crash experience and other trivia, overall it was a nice way to end the series for fans such as myself. There was also a set of character profiles and sketches, a text interview with creator Kazuya Minekura, a few television spots and promos, a poster, double sided DVD case and some trailers.
Final Thoughts: Saiyuki became one of my favorite series of 2003 and 2004 even though I only got to review sporadic volumes so I naturally enjoyed this movie a lot more than some newbie would. I tempered my rating as such but other than a mild feeling of "been there, done that" I got from the movie, I thought there was a lot to enjoy on multiple levels. It may be no gateway to getting anime fans into buying the boxed set versions of the series (which will likely be a good value considering ADV Films other attempts at reasonable marketing) but it should be welcome viewing for those into the series.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article!