Saiyuki 1-3 by Kazuya Minekura: B

Although Saiyuki‘s sequels and prequel ran/run in magazines aimed at a female audience, the original was serialized in GFantasy, which, as MJ pointed out in her Black Butler review, features many shounen series created by and appealing to women. Therefore, while I associate Saiyuki with intense female fandom, it still technically qualifies for inclusion in the Shounen Sundays experiment.

Saiyuki is based on the famous Chinese tale, Xi-You-Ji, or Journey to the West. Accordingly, the story begins with a Buddist monk, Genjyo Sanzo, receiving orders from a bodhisattva to gather three youkai (supernatural beings) companions and travel with them to India to stop the resurrection of a dangerous youkai lord known as Gyumaoh. Whoever is attempting the revival has combined human science and youkai magic in forbidden ways, resulting in a “Minus Wave” that has turned normally peaceful youkai into monsters and threatens the harmonious cohabitation they have enjoyed with humans. Sanzo and his companions, who are protected from the Minus Wave by virtue of either part-human lineage or power limiters, duly travel west as ordered.

The real point of the story, however, lies not in thwarting Gyumaoh’s return—a plot which proceeds at a pace best described as glacial—but in the characters and their personal journeys. In addition to Genjyo Sanzo, the priest who believes only in himself, there’s Sha Gojyo, a half-youkai womanizer; Cho Hakkai, a generally level-headed manipulator of chi; and Son Goku, the energetic Monkey King. Each character has a painful backstory more detailed than the main plot and as they travel ever so slowly westward, their various encounters with violent youkai or would-be assassins lead to gradually more revelations about their lives before they met.

While some of them get along well from the start—it seems Gojyo and Hakkai have been friends for a long time—Sanzo, the sole human of the group, initially has trouble trusting that his companions will not someday succumb to the effects of the Minus Wave and turn on him. Gradually, trust grows all around, leading to some nice moments of what I like to call “teamy goodness.” The characters are so compelling—though I could do without the constant (and grating) siblingesque arguing between Gojyo and Goku—that one finds oneself reading just for them. I really don’t care at all about Gyumaoh, for example, and the youkai encounters are already getting repetitive, but the promise that the fourth volume will offer more information about Hakkai makes me eager to continue the series.

It’s not just the heroes that are likable, though. I love a story with sympathetic villains, and so far Saiyuki has produced several. The chief antagonist so far is Kougaiji, son of Gyumaoh who is (unwillingly) doing the bidding of his father’s lover on the basis of a promise to free his mother from some kind of… containment. He sends members of his band to target Sanzo and his group, eventually arriving in person with his (mostly) likable inner echelon of followers. One gets the sense that he regrets having to fight Sanzo, but has no choice if he wants to free his mother. Another villain turns out to be a former priestly comrade of Sanzo’s who voluntarily cursed himself so that he could protect other priests from murderous thieves responsible for the death of Sanzo’s master. This brings up some informative and painful memories for Sanzo, as one might expect.

Artistically, Minekura has improved a lot since the early days of Saiyuki. Even by volume three the art is looking better, but initially the contrast between the covers and interiors is pretty major. This especially manifests itself in characters with droopy eyes, like Sanzo and the bodhisattva, who end up looking severely deformed on a number of occasions. I’m also strongly reminded, by some of the costumes, character designs, and the feel of the story as a whole, of Yun Kouga’s Gestalt (not that this is a bad thing). They did run in the same magazine, so perhaps that’s not unusual.

Ultimately, I liked Saiyuki a lot more than I’d expected to. It’s no Wild Adapter, and it’s a little bit pokey and a little bit silly, but it’s still much better than I thought it would be.

Saiyuki is published in English by TOKYOPOP and all nine volumes have been released. TOKYOPOP also publishes a sequel, Saiyuki Reload, and has released nine volumes of that series, as well. No word yet on a release date for the tenth and final volume.

This is my fourth and final Shounen Sundays review. Thanks again to MJ for participating along with me. It’s been fun!

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  1. I was initially pretty disappointed with Saiyuki, probably because (like you) I’d read Wild Adapter first. It did eventually really grab me, though, and I hope that will happen for you as well. 🙂

    Great review!

  2. Danielle Leigh says

    Saiyuki eventually gets so much prettier (and as a result much easier to read). Sanzo is my favorite (am I remember his name wrong or did they change it for the manga or something?) simply because he is the crazy-ass, cranky human in a sea of demons (or half-demons) and he’s probably the scariest one of them all.

    • No, you’re right. I was mistaken. 🙂

      And yeah, I like him a lot, too. I’m also quite fond of Hakkai so far; I tend to like the mild-mannered ones in a sea of loonies.


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