Saiyuki Manga Review
A grim, bloody retelling of the old "Journey to the West" legend, "Saiyuki" takes a familiar Eastern parable and shapes it into a bizarre, adult story meant to attract more mature readers. However, the muddied-up nature of the series makes it divisive and unusual.
"Saiyuki" follows the basic story of "Journey to the West": A Buddhist priest, Sanzo, must travel from China to India with the help of three companions: Sun Goku, Cho Hakkai, and Sha Gojyo. On the way they encounter demons and devils who seek to impede the priest's journey. These basic similarities are, overall, the main thing that "Saiyuki" actually has in common with its source material. All the characters are darker, edgier versions of their original forms: Sanzo is a chain-smoking, gun-wielding priest, Hakkai (a pig in the original) is an energy-blasting intellectual, and Gojyo (a water-demon in the original) is a womanizing street punk. Only Goku (the monkey king) remains somewhat similar, perhaps even being lighter than the original, as his main character trait is his childlike desire for more food.
The basic story is similar, as mentioned, but incorporates some weirder modern stuff as well. The conflict between demons and humans is one of magic versus technology, although the only "Technology" really seen in the series is the main character's jeep (which is also a dragon) and Sanzo's gun. Largely, it just seems to be an excuse for the main characters to wear modern clothes and use modern slang (though science of the "crazy mad science" variety comes into play later in the story). The primary conflict is one of race: demons and humans live in the same world, but don't trust each other due to demons going crazy and murdering humans. The attempted moral - if there is one - is confused by the supernatural elements present in the universe, so in that regard the lesson only applies in-story.
The "mature" design of the series consists largely of effeminate, beautiful male characters and lots of blood. The characters are weird enough to be distinctive from each other, but other than that are largely divorced of their origins. It's an exercise in fanservice, which is further shown by the fashion-model art used to begin and end the compilation books. It's "adult" in the sex, blood, and violence way, but not really in terms of writing or characterization. It comes off as an attempt to be edgy and grown-up, but ends up as a teen drama. The fight scenes are either one-sided (protagonists versus generic enemies) or puzzle based, and then one-sided (protagonists versus major enemies), so there's not a lot of interest to be found there. The idea of the main characters being "totally awesome" goes against the concept of protagonists being sympathetic underdogs, and most of their fights are won handily after they figure out the villain's trick for that round.
Saiyuki is a manga that seems to be trying to "reboot" the Journey to the West story as more gritty and adult. However, the immature direction of the design and story coupled with the loose association with the original story itself makes it feel more derivative and less creative. It's an excuse for one-liners and running gags between violence and nudity. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who's not reading it just for the effeminate, beautiful male protagonists.
Purchased at Waldenbooks.
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