With a manga, multiple animated series, and a movie, Saiyuki has turned into an anime franchise to be reckoned with. Taking inspiration from an old Chinese tale the series has been a mainstay among fans ever since Kazuya Minekura's manga was released. Whichever form of the story you are watching, it is the opinion of many fans (myself included) that the original anime remains the best of the bunch. Thanks to ADV you no longer have to chase around trying to find all twelve volumes. Instead they have finally released a thinpack collection with all 50 episodes on ten discs.
Saiyuki is a story about a traveling priest and the demons that he walks with. To say that the four main characters are anti-heroes would be an understatement. They smoke, they drink, they swear, they objectify women, and they think nothing about kicking a little demon (and sometimes human) butt to see that the job gets done. After all when you're picked by a higher power to stop the resurrection of the ultimate evil you don't really care who stands in your way.
Genjyo Sanzo is not your typical priest. He has a chip on his shoulder, a dark past, and wields a revolver known as the Banisher that he uses to dispense Buddhist justice. He disregards the principles of his religion at just about every turn and even goes as far as to tell monks that if they really want to be closer with Buddha they might as well just die. Through his religious teachings he has also been bestowed with the holy scripture of darkness, the Maten Sutra. Throughout Saiyuki we get glimpses at his past and what brought him to be the way that he is. To say that he's a deep character would be an understatement and though he considers himself to be a lone wolf it's his fate to walk with the three demons that accompany him.
Each of the demons that team up with Genjyo Sanzo have distinctive personalities but share the common thread of being despised by their own kind. After all, they each forsake their brethren to destroy their own kind and save humanity, so in a sense they are turncoats.
Cho is the monocle wearing silent guy who uses mystical energy as a weapon and has a pet wyvern that can turn into a jeep. His polite and soft spoken nature doesn't allude to his darker side which was bathed in blood and sin during his younger days. Gojyo is the crassest of the bunch and that probably has a lot to do with the fact that he is both human and demon. He loves to drink, smoke, and hit on pretty ladies so you can pretty much imagine what kind of personality he has. He's faithful to Sanzo and company but acts like a rogue at times.
The most powerful of the three demons and probably my favorite character is Son Goku. He appears as a child and is often referred to as a monkey for good reason. He's mischievous and obnoxious all at the same time while retaining childlike wonder and enthusiasm. He is virtually indestructible and immensely powerful especially when his power limiter comes off. Before being discovered by Sanzo, Goku was imprisoned without food and water for 500 years which would probably explain his insatiable appetite. Some would call Goku a god of sorts and some would call him a pain in the ass. Whatever the case he's the most personable of the group and arguably the most fun.
Each of the 50 episodes (two seasons) housed in Saiyuki's complete collection sees the troupe journeying to complete their quest. Along the way assassins come to try to stop them at every turn and several characters (both friend and enemy) come and go. In the latter part of this set the story of the show changes and even more villains are introduced.
While the action is a mainstay in every episode the real draw to the series, for me anyway, was the development of its main characters. We are constantly watching and learning about the past of each individual in Sanzo's group. New encounters bring flashbacks and sometimes surprising changes in personality and emotional range. Despite the slower episodes and points where the show focuses on other things each episode moves along at a smooth pace. There was no point during the course of both seasons where I felt that the flow of story faltered or became redundant. Sure there were points here and there when seeing the destruction of random assassins got boring but even those were handled well enough to be entertaining.
If you have never seen Saiyuki you're missing out on a fun, and dare I say epic, show that absolutely must be seen by fantasy enthusiasts. The tale of Sanzo and company's journey to the west is full of interesting side stories and wonderful character development. For 50 episodes the story doesn't skip a beat and it stays fresh the entire way through (a rare feat indeed). The price is a little on the steep side but when you consider the fact that this is a collection of twelve volumes broken down to ten discs it's not that hard of a pill to swallow.
In the span of seven years Saiyuki has aged well and the transfer for this complete collection holds up decently enough. The 1.33:1 full frame image is vibrant, sharp, and free of scratches. Compression isn't much of an issue though it did crop up at times and there are spots of grain here and there. The biggest, and only glaring flaw, with Saiyuki is a terrible amount of aliasing during the earlier portion of the show. Close ups do no justice to the video quality and it's downright distracting at times.
The experience that you'll take away from Saiyuki drastically changes depending on what language track you're listening to. The Japanese 2.0 track features the original dub with a distinct lack of directionality and presence on the soundstage. The 5.1 English dub offers up a decent sense of immersion with some fine quality. As far as the dubbing itself is concerned the dialogue carries more vulgarity than the Japanese one and in most cases there's hardly a point for it. It seemed like the script was changed to allow for swearing for the sake of swearing. Despite this (I like my English dubs to be as close to the original content as possible) the result was gratifying with a great sense of personality and humor emanating from the show.
You're already getting 50 episodes on ten discs with this collection, and you want bonus features too? Come to this release expecting to get nothing more than the show, discs, and packaging and you won't be disappointed. There's nothing here.
When it comes to fantasy anime and shows that are adored by fans they don't come a lot bigger than Saiyuki. It's easy to see why the original show is as popular as it is after watching it in its entirety. Sure it may drag in a few spots and fall into a few pitfalls but for the most part Genjyo Sanzo's adventure remains as fun in the end as it was in the beginning. The price tag for this set may be a little steep but the quality of the show warrants a lighter wallet. Recommended
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