Saiyuki concludes in this final volume, and Judge Sandra Dozier is more surprised than anyone that she was on the edge of her seat the entire time.
The fate of the world lies in the hands of its outcasts.
Saiyuki is a long-running adventure series that sort of resembles a very pretty, stylistic Dragonball Z. The story is familiar and accessible: We follow four travelers as they head West to confront a powerful evil. Our group of heroes is quite the bunch: an ill-tempered priest, a lecherous water sprite, a gluttonous monkey god, and a pacifist dragon slayer. To say things get interesting is to say fire is hot.
Back story: Genjo Sanzo is a priest in Shangri-La (paradise). When a negative energy wave, the result of forbidden magic being used to resurrect a demon named Gyumaoh, sweeps the land and turns all nonhumans into mindless monsters that devour anyone in their path, he is commanded to go West, vanquish the ones responsible, and restore sanity to the land, allowing humans and yokai (supernatural beings) to once again live in peace with each other. He is instructed to take three part-human yokai with him, who can withstand the negative wave of energy and aid him in his quest.
This run of the Saiyuki saga concludes in this volume of four episodes, and whether or not you have enjoyed the entire run, these four gems make it all worthwhile. All the complexity and posturing of this series are stripped away completely, revealing a simple premise: Homura wants to remake Heaven and Earth, partly to wipe out the Heaven he hates so much, and partly either to escape his past or to end his own pain…perhaps both. He now has both the Maten and Seiten scriptures, and soon he will have Son Goku, the last thing he needs to make it happen.
I'm not a big fan of the "too cool for school" attitude in stylized animes such as Saiyuki. For most of this series, the characters have been so concerned with looking cool and getting what's theirs that I haven't felt much of a connection to them. If it were possible to be wowed simply by good looks, gorgeous animation, and coolly aloof guys, I would be in heaven over Saiyuki. However, these things have only served to distract from the core story (which is basically strong) and complex plot.
That's why I am so pleased to see a formerly plodding plot finally unspool in this lovely, tightly paced finale. Each of the four main characters found a sort of redemption, and even the "bad guys," especially Homura (who always fascinated me, anyway), have their moment of ultimate connection with the viewer that leaves a lump in the throat. When everything is said and done, these transformations make the final scene in the last episode all the more endearing for its familiarity. Although the ending successfully wraps up many dangling threads in this series, it also leaves some questions tantalizingly unanswered. However, the fight scenes are outstanding, and each of the major characters receives a poignant and moving spotlight that had me in tears for nearly every episode.
Despite my not connecting to it personally (at least, not until this final volume), Saiyuki is one of the more successful bishounen animes I have seen. (Bishounen refers to stunningly beautiful males who are almost feminine in their look.) Although this is not typically my cup of tea, devotees of this particular genre will get both ambiguously lovely gentlemen and a good story with cutting-edge animation and plenty of fight scenes. The grace and beauty of the characters is carried over into the animation, which can be whisper-light or have as much gravity as it needs, depending on the moment. Scenes of our travelers moving through the forests and empty land between towns are worth watching all by themselves. Again, there is much eye candy in this series—enough to keep fans happy for hours.
Video transfer for this volume is, as usual, beautiful, with a crisp print that shows off the lovely, glossy animation and subtle color variants (in scenes with trees, one can see different-colored greens just a shade or two apart with clear outlines and no bleed). Sound quality is similarly excellent, with a lively surround track, particularly in the 5.1 English dub. Extras for this volume include a very nice fold-out poster (it's folded in quarters, so the final product is as large as four DVD boxes laid out in a rectangle) in green with the four leads (and Hakkai's dragon!) posing and the "Saiyuki" logo underneath; production sketches (set to music); extensive translation and cultural notes for those into Japanese culture or wanting to know more about the Chinese origins for the Saiyuki story; a set of clean opening and closing credits; a trailer; and more ADV previews.
This concluding volume will leave fans hungry for more, but since the ending is left wide open, the possibility of future adventures with our favorite half-human demons and their bitter priest leader, who has perhaps learned a lesson or two about letting people into his heart, isn't totally out of the question.
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