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Saiyuki: Complete Collection

ADV Films // Unrated // August 11, 2009
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted August 9, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Show:

ADV is back!  The one-time leader in the US anime market fell on hard times and it was looking that they might not survive.  They sold many of the property rights they possessed to FUNimation and went a long time without releasing any anime.  I was ready to right them off, but it looks like I was a bit premature.  ADV has just released several boxed sets of earlier released series, all at bargain prices, and I for one couldn't be happier.  The more companies that are releasing anime, the better for the US anime market and consumers.  It's a win-win situation.  One of their recent wave of series sets is Saiyuki, an amusing light tale of demons, magic, and the possible end of the world.

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 detects 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.
The first season involves the group mainly travelling to new towns and fighting the demon or evil presence that they discover.  The best episodes are the ones that reveal the characters backgrounds and history, and the occasional two-part story.  Those are plotted a bit more deeply and don't feel as rushed.
In the second season 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, he's a god after all and immortal, and promises to add some problems for the group traveling west.

This series is enjoyable, though not anything special.  Some of adventures are exciting, and there are some good laughs over the course of the program, but it never rises above the mediocre lever.  One of the reasons is that Saiyuki is fairly episodic in nature, especially in the first season, and it has the feel of a "monster of the week" show a lot of the time.  Thought there's not a lot of continuity the nice thing is that the show will unexpectedly present an episode that refers to earlier events.  Because of that, at least in part, the characters don't change from the way they are when you first meet them.  Their personalities are pretty much set in stone.
One of the things that I really dislike is the frequent references to modern day conveniences that didn't exist in ancient China.  The group travels around in a jeep, they pay for their food with an ATM card and Sanzo packs a gun, but the villages that they encounter have no electricity or any technology at all.  I'm sure this was done for humor's sake, but I just found it distracting.
Another strike against the show is that the animation is pretty cheap.  While not the worst that I've ever seen, it is pretty well down on the list.  Most of the show is still images with just the characters mouths animated.  A lot of the action scenes consist of still images that are panned across or zoomed in on.  I will admit that they do a good job of giving the illusion of motion, but it's just an illusion.  The show does use some infrequent CGI effects, such as when demons explode (bloodlessly) after being killed.  This motion just serves to remind viewers that the rest of the show is very limited.  

The DVD:

The ten discs that make up the two seasons of Saiyuki come in two inch-wide cases.  Each case contains five discs on a spindle.  That really surprised me, I was assuming they would come on pages, and putting them on spindles was a bad choice.  The discs are too easily scratched, and it's hard to get the disc you need.  The two cases have a cover, similar to the limited edition slipcovers that come on some DVDs.


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.

Nothing in the way of extras, just some previews for ADV titles, some of which they no longer sell.  Oh yeah, there's also an ad for NewType USA, ADV's magazine that is no longer being published.

Final Thoughts:

This isn't a bad show, but it just doesn't offer a lot.  It's a run of the mill anime but for the price it's going for, half of what the previous collected edition retailed for, I'd say it was worth picking up.  There's certainly more than enough entertainment to justify the price, especially with the discounts available at various Internet retailers.  Recommended.
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