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Saiyuki:Double Barrel Collection 5
The fifth volume of Saiyuki Double Barrel presents volumes 9 and 10 of the original release packaged together at a greatly reduced price. The story starts to get its second wind in the eight episodes that are presented here. The backgrounds of several characters are examined as well as what they were like in the distant past. 500 years distant that is.
Based on an ancient Chinese tale, Siayuki takes place back in the dark ages of prehistory, when demons and men lived together peacefully. Something has happened though, and a dark force has fallen across the land. Now demons have become violent and are attacking humans whenever they find them. A trio of sages detect the source of the ills: someone is merging science with black magic and trying to resurrect a powerful demon.
To prevent this, they send a monk and three demons (who have not been overcome by the dark force) on a journey to the west; to India. There they are to stop the resurrection of the dark god. The four who are chosen are Sanzo, a pragmatic monk who possesses a powerful 'scripture,' Goku, the Monkey King who is always hungry, Hakkai, a quite and thoughtful demon who is good in a fight, and Gojyo, a randy water sprite who constantly fights with Goku. As the four travel to their ultimate destination, in Hakkai's dragon that can turn into a Jeep, they encounter teams of demons who are intent on ending their journey early.
In the second season (starting with volume 4) the team has a new enemy, Homura, the Prince of War. This deity wants to obtain Sanzo's scripture in order to destroy heaven itself. This guy is no push-over and promises to add some problems for the group traveling west.
This show is fairly episodic in nature. Though there is a bit of continuity, for the most part there are stand alone episodes, with the occasional two-parter, that have the team traveling to a new town and fighting the demons that they find there.
This DVD set really falls together nicely, with each disc of four episodes having its own theme. The first DVD looks at the background of several characters. It starts out with an episode about Homura. He's a half-breed, which has lowered his status, and falling in love with a mortal woman didn't help things either. Exploring Homura's motivation and history makes his character more three dimensional and not just a caricature.
Gojyo gets an episode too. He gets trapped in a cave with the one person he just can't stand, someone who is his greatest enemy and also his brother. When the pair get attacked they realize that they have to work together if either of them are ever going to get out alive. In a series of flashbacks, we get to see the brothers as young children, and how they acted in the past. This show explains a lot about the two warring siblings.
Next its time for Hakkai's story as the group encounters a village that is beset by demons. It turns out that this town is where the orphanage that Hakkai was raised in is located. As the demons prepare to attack, Hakkai finds his old home and discovers that the current head of the orphanage is a girl he knew as a child. As they reminisce, we learn about his past and how he acted as a child.
The first disc wraps up with a look at Sanzo's past, and his love of wine.
Progressing on to the next disc, we get to see the group as they were 500 years ago in a previous life, and how that effects what is happening in the present. It turns out that in the distant past, all four of the member's of Sanzo's group were in the heavens all in various positions. In one of the better story arcs of the show, we see how they grew together and became friends. This isn't just throw away filler though, they do a great job of linking what happened all those years ago to what is happening in the world today.
I'm really enjoying the second season of this show, even more than the first. The show seems to hang together much better than it did in the first season. They are giving depth to the characters and really explore their personalities and why they act the way that they do. Though I was getting bored with the series at the end of the first season, it's really picked up.
This two disc set comes in a clear single-width double keepcase. There are four episodes on each disc, each one of which seems to be identical to the original releases.
This DVD has both the original Japanese soundtrack in Japanese, and a 5.1 English dub. I alternated language tracks as I watched the show, and enjoyed the Japanese track a bit more. The English dub was fine, there really wasn't anything wrong with it, but I felt that the Japanese voices sounded better coming from the characters than the English ones. Both dubs sounded good, with no hiss of distortion being present.
The full frame video quality was about average for a recent show. There was some aliasing, but the colors were bright and the image was sharp. A solid transfer that fits the show well.
The both discs in this set includes the original animations, a reel of production sketches and many text pages of cultural notes. The last of these I found very helpful and interesting.
This season the show has really picked up. They are taking time to explore the history of the various characters and make them more three dimensional. At the same time they relate this background information to the present day which helps make the show more detailed and intricate. If you gave up after volume three, go back and pick up volumes four and five. They are worth it. Recommended.