Appellate Judge Dan Mancini wants to know if all movies with the subtitle "The Motion Picture" suck, or if it's only this one and the first Star Trek feature.
The mistakes of the past are paid for in blood from the future…
Saiyuki: Requiem isn't a stand-alone motion picture so much as a minor tangent in the main Saiyuki story arc. The series follows a cynical renegade priest named Genjo Sanzo, and his companions—Goku, a grating monkey king (whatever that means); Gojyo, a half-demon/half-human; and the tragic Hakkai, a man whose quest to avenge his late wife has transformed him into a demon. Sanzo and his team travel westward, banishing demons to the netherworld as they go. Their quest is to prevent the resurrection of a demon named Gyomaoh by a rival quartet of adventurers led by Lord Kougaiji.
But Requiem has little to do with any of that.
In the film, the gang of four rescues a beautiful girl named Houran from a flying demon called a shikigami. As thanks, she offers to let them stay in her master's residence, a menacing castle on the far side of a rickety rope bridge. Once in the palace, the team is haunted by visions of their bleak and broken pasts, then threatened by a host of demons—as well as their own doppelgangers. Houran, it turns out, is the half-breed daughter of a pacifist demon murdered by her master, a mysterious conjurer named Dougan whose past collides with Sanzo's in mysterious and threatening ways. Dougan is determined to avenge himself of the wrongs done him by the cold-hearted, cigarette-smoking priest.
Saiyuki: Requiem opens with a set piece in which Sanzo and his team make mincemeat of an army of demons determined to stop their forward progress. The action is peppered with jokey dialogue and action movie clichés that communicate the team members' cold assurance of their own prodigious powers. While the spectacle probably fills Saiyuki fans with glee, it doesn't accomplish what Requiem most needs in order to function as a stand-alone adventure in this detailed fantasy world. It doesn't bring newcomers up to speed. The movie suffers enough from its quirk-defined characters—Goku's always hungry, and always arguing with the womanizing Gojyo; the effete Hakkai has a miniature pet dragon named Hakuryu; and Sanzo's a priest who smokes and seems to hate everyone—but its corny opening salvo makes it hard for a casual viewer to care about what may come next.
It's unfortunate that the filmmakers didn't see fit to do the extra work to make Requiem viable as a stand-alone movie. Its central story is atmospheric and makes good use of non-linear storytelling without stepping over the line into pretension. The movie is marred, however, by a third act that degenerates into an all-out fight for survival that quickly grows repetitive and dull. In addition to the weak third act, the movie suffers from the inclusion of scenes of Lord Kougaiji's pursuit of Sanzo and his crew that go absolutely nowhere. Structurally, the movie is a mess.
The film's animation is a mixed bag. Some of the backgrounds are lush computer-generated images with gorgeous depth and clarity. This is especially true in the movie's opening minutes, which raise expectations of a Miyazaki-like visual experience that Requiem doesn't come close to delivering. The ultra-lean, androgynous characters and the vast majority of the backgrounds are hand-drawn, but of significantly lower quality than the computer drawn settings. They're more like animation produced for television than for big-budget features.
ADV's DVD presentation of the hit-and-miss artwork is rock solid, though. The image is framed at the 1.85:1 theatrical ratio, and the transfer—which was probably sourced from film considering there is a tiny bit of grain and nothing in the way of video artifacts—offers strong colors and fully-saturated blacks.
Unlike ADV's releases of anime television series and OVA, Requiem's audio is offered in Dolby 5.1 Surround in both the original Japanese and an English dub. Both tracks are excellent, making full use of the surround stage both for the bombastic battles and more subtle aural events like rain storms.
The disc's extras aren't as impressive as they appear on paper. An interview with Saiyuki creator Kazuya Minekura is a text-based supplement in which he's quizzed about the origins of Dougan. There's also a cobbled-together commentary track by the feature's English voice actors. Since the actors were recorded separately, director of ADR Steven Foster acts as a referee, introducing each participant and guiding the flow of the track. It's a jovial, conversational piece that offers little in the way of substance. There's also a gallery of profiles for and drawings of each of the major characters in the movie, plus a collection of Requiem's Japanese trailers and television advertisements.
The unfortunate truth is that Saiyuki: Requiem: The Motion Picture isn't much of a motion picture at all, though I suppose fans of the show will enjoy it nonetheless. Everyone else is advised to avoid it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Commentary by the English Cast
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