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Saiyuki-Volume 1

 

Note:

This is my second read of this first set of the Saiyuki series. I really enjoyed it the first time around, plus, even though I haven’t been able to find any new Saiyuki Reload‘s or the next set in the series, I finally found out there’s a ton more out there, and I’m hoping to see the conclusion of the Saiyuki saga. So, I figure, before I get into those, why not recap what was going on from the beginning? Since I’m doing that, why not bring you guys along? This is the first manga in Blues Reviews. I will later add a page where you can find these reviews alphabetically, if you don’t want to wade through all the new ones. It is with my pleasure, I give you: Saiyuki, Volume 1.

*This review has spoilers. So, if you don’t want it spoiled, please skip the “Blow-By-Blow Walk-Through.” The “Pros and Cons” sections do have some spoilers, but doesn’t reveal too much of the actual events.*

Saiyuki Volume 1-Highly Recommended


Mangaka: Kazuya Minekura
Copyright: 2002 (Japan) 2004 (English Translation)
Genre: Seinen, Bishounen (type characters), Action, Fantasy
Chapters:

  • Prologue: Go to the West
  • Chapter 1: First Game
  • Chapter 2: Even
  • Chapter 3: Get Square
  • Chapter 4: His God
  • Chapter 5: My God

Charcters:
Main Protagonists:

  • Genjyo Sanzo
  • Son Goku
  • Sha Gojyo
  • Cho Hakkai

Side Characters/Protagonists:

  • Hakuryuu (also called Jeep, Hakkai’s dragon companion)
  • Kanzeon Bosatsu (“Goddess” who commands Sanzo to begin his trip to India–I put goddess in quotes because she’s actually a hermaphrodite)
  • Sanbutsushin (three councils who send Sanzo on his trip for Bosatsu)
  • Koumyou Sanzo (Genjyo Sanzo’s late master)

Minor Characters/Protagonists:

  • Crown Prince Nataku (defeated demon Gyumaoh)
  • Houmei (Inn girl)
  • “Daddy” (couldn’t find a name for Houmei’s dad)
  • Yo (little boy Buddhist student)
  • Head Buddhist priest at shrine
  • Various monks

Main Antagonists:

  • Kougaiji
  • Dokugakuji
  • Yaone
  • Lirin (Kougaiji’s half sister)
  • Gyokumen Koushu (Gymaoh’s consort and kinda Kougaiji’s step-mom)

Side Characters/Antagonists:

  • Gyumaoh (evil youkai that’s been sealed away by Prince Nataku)
  • Rasetsunyo, Kougaiji’s mother (actually, she could be either good or bad–we don’t know yet)

Minor Characters/Antagonists:

  • Dark Spider Tribe (Youkai)
  • Head Spider Youkai/Witch
  • Ax Wielding Youkai
  • Various Unnamed Youkai

Summary:

This story is loosely based on the Chinese Legend of Priest Sanzo’s trip to India to retrieve a bunch of scrolls and bring the to China. He’s joined by the Monkey King (Goku,) a Kappa (Gojyo,) and Hakkai (who in the original legend is a lecher.) Minekura definitely puts her own spin on it, as the cast become sexy bishounen traveling to India to save Shangri-la.

Pros and Cons: Story and Content

Characters:
The main characters are awesome. They each have their own, individual personality, and take on a life of their own. Three dimensional, and well developed. Though you don’t get much of their back story here, you have hints at what’s to come to show how each character grows and reacts the way to they do. I haven’t decided yet if they are dynamic or static. Sanzo is definitely dynamic. As you read though the story, he does change and evolve. I think they all do to some extent, but most of that evolution came from dealing with their past.

Kougaiji and his  crew are totally dynamic, too. By the way.

One con is the large amount of “stock” characters you see on both sides. Many of the youkai are simply generic characters with no personality what-so-ever. Which isn’t something I blame Minekura for, seeing as the youkai have all gone crazy and are just attacking mindlessly. But still, its somewhat remenisent of the annoying level-up battles you get into during any RPG game (ah…the numerous goblins I battled in Final Fantasy I and II…insane.) The monks at the temple are pretty much stock characters, too. Very flat, not a lot of depth to them. With the exception of Yo, of course. Possibly the head priest…but even then, you don’t get much out of him.

Story:
The story itself progresses quite well. If you’ve read this series, then you’ll know it’s really long. But it’s good. And unlike the anime, it does actually go somewhere. I don’t know if I’m missing some the anime, but I remember liking it, but recalling, these series are going no where. The manga isn’t like that. It does, slowly, go somewhere. And Minekura does great story telling. The series is really funny. I mean, I find myself laughing a loud a lot. And it’s got a lot of action, which for me is always good. The flashbacks are well placed, and help to supplement the story going on around it.

I also like how this series has a lot of underlying themes. It touches upon subjects like science and morality, race and sexual orientation. There’s a question of balance here. What’s too much? What’s going too far? Science and technology are basically okay. So is yojoutsu (magic.) The two combined, however, tips the balance. There’s no more yin and yang–it’s all the same. This mixture oversteps the boundaries of nature (a lot like performing alchemy upon humans.) Overstepping the boundary is what makes Koushu so evil. She doesn’t care the consequences of her actions. She doesn’t care about the general balance and harmony of the world, or how causing the minus wave puts no only humans in danger, but the youkai as well–especially since this is the very action that spurs forth Sanzo and his party, and they pretty much take out anyone who’s attacking them along the way. Those attackers, tend to be youkai. She doesn’t care for their well being, only her own selfish ends. Her use of science and magic, is therefor wrong.

On morality, you could say the whole thing she’s doing is immoral. The combining of science and magic is a moral wrong here. But the manga on a whole makes you question what’s right and what’s wrong. How does one tackle morality? The margins between what’s wrong or right, good or bad, have become blurred. One subject that comes up is whether or not killing is right. The prevailing resolution with the Sanzo party tends to be, “survival of the fittest.” Life is fleeting, but it’s also cyclic. If you screw up in this life, you can always give it a go in the next. So, yeah, to kill is wrong, but when it’s between you and some crazed youkai, then the answer’s obvious. Plus, most of the people questioning morality are hypocrites who aren’t truly placing their faith in the scripture. They fear death themselves, and advocate against it, but at the same time, there are many things they do not observe or practice. And clinging to life is a no no, anyway, because life is suffering, and the goal here is to finish life right so you don’t have to be re-incarnated again. Soooo….fearing death and trying to live as long as possible isn’t what the monks and priests were supposed to be doing. I mean, yeah they’re right in that you aren’t supposed to kill or eat meat or anything like that, but to impose the rules upon others, while not following them yourself, is hypocritical. The series will address this more often as it gets into it, but the first volume at least gives us a taste of what’s to come.

Race is a big issue. Not black and white, or indeed skin color like we deal with, but rather human and youkai. Now, before you try to say “humans and youkai aren’t even the same species,” just remember first off, this is a different world, and although the two may seem different, I think…and I’m stressing “I think…” they are the same species all the same. It might be forbidden for humans and youkai to sexually reproduce, but they can do it. I’m not sure, but maybe if their offspring could reproduce, then we’d be able to say for sure they are the same species, scientifically speaking. However, unless I’ve missed something, I don’t think the series says whether or not they can. So, until that can be addressed, we’ll just take the book’s word for it and say, “yes, they are the same species, just a different race.” Which would make sense on why they should be getting along. It’s stupid to kill someone just because of their race.

Okay, so let’s zoom on this issue. The story’s trying to impress that once upon a time, humans and youkai lived in peace. And although they were different, they neither felt better than the other. This minus wave’s got everything messed up. The humans have been living in fear of their life from the youkai, and reasonably so, have begun to harvest a burning hate for them–at first, not because of their race, but because of their actions. However, the humans forget, it’s not the youkai acting how they wish to act. They are driven to do so–driven to insanity  by the minus wave. So their actions, their attacking humans isn’t by choice. It’s like hating a tiger because it kills out of instinct. It’s not the tiger’s fault, that’s just how it is. It’s kinda similar in this case. The youkai are just doing what they’ve been made to do by the wave.

So there’s this conundrum. The gods don’t want the two to hate one another, but it’s pretty hard when you’re being eaten by the people you’re supposed to love. The killing Sanzo and his group does, it’s different from what most people want to do to the youkai. Sanzo kills from self defense and a need to complete his mission, which is to re-instate the peace which once was. As we’ll see later in the series, most people begin hunting youkai and killing not simply for defense, but because they’ve begun to hate all youkai (even the ones trying to protect them, or who are able to stay out of the fight because they are strong willed.)

Well, people are constantly having to be reminded to have patience. An example of this? Homei wakes and witnesses the spider queen eating one of her own–so she goes on this tirade about how she hates every single youkai and how they all should die, only to be saved shortly thereafter by whom she discovers to be good youkai (111-14.) She clearly just can’t understand why some youkai, like Goku and the others, are protecting her. Hakkai has to explain, “[p]lease don’t forget. Human or youkai, inside we are no different” (123.) This concept becomes magnified more in Saiyuki Reload when new yokai hating characters are introduced (Hazel.) I like the message Minekura’s sending out, about not hating based on race.

You probably noticed I mentioned sexual orientation. This is not a main topic, especially here in volume one, but Sanzo’s ambiguity and the orientation of other characters will become evident and sometimes play an important role in the series. In volume one, our only real encounter with sex and orientation (besides Gojyo’s sexipades) is in the form of Bosatsu, who’s both male and female. I give Minekura extra kudos for this, because a lot of ancient Indian art which would spread throughout Asia had produced androgynous statues.

Bodhisattva image is property of Akim15’s blog. I do not own this image, so if you’d like to check out his blog, please do so! Just click this picture.

Unlike Greek and Roman art which usually depicts men as über masculine, and women über feminine, much of the older carvings and brass statues show men very curvy and feminine in their build. They often look as though they transcend gender completely. Many Bodhisattvas do this, with the exception of the ones bearing mustaches, of course. China would even get a Bodhisattva that’s female–Guan Yin (who was also a goddess of some form before Buddhism made it to China. I’ll have to check on that, so don’t quote me.)

This is from wikipedia.com. I looked Guan Yin up and found this information pretty interesting. You might want to check it out.

So I like how Bosatsu also transcends gender by…well…having both genders. Plus she’s just a kick ass character anyway. Her personality and her body compliment each other, too, because it’s difficult to really get a read on her. One minute, she’ll have a perfectly rational explanation for doing something, while the next she’ll act like it was a joke and the whole thing is for her entertainment only (163-64.) She’s awesome.

I’m not just skipping out on the “cons” section. I just couldn’t think of anything that was all that bad, story wise. Really, things are just beginning, so there’s not much one could complain about. Some of the lines are a little cliche, but a lot of that is intentional, and even joked about. Sooooo…I got nothing. I liked it all!

Pros and Cons: Art

This is one of those artists whose style improves with time. Overall, the art’s great.  The picture’s story moves smoothly, and the detail done on many different objects is impeccable–as you learn to expect from manga. Good example of this skill is seen on page 108 with Sanzo’s gun, or the close up on the radio on page 47. The screen toning is professional, as well.

Cons on the art? Hm…well, their eyes are a little droopy and lopsided at times. Their bodies a little too carved and kinda ill-proportioned. But her style does evolve over time, and even these traits aren’t all that distracting. It’s funny how she even jokes about it with the characters–like the spider queen calling Sanzo a “baggy-eyed priest” (101.) Anyway, this isn’t even that big of a deal, since you grow accustomed to it pretty quickly.

Blow-By-Blow Walk-Through


Prologue: Go to the West

Genjyo Sanzo and Son Goku meet. This meeting will become emphasized, and its importance illuminated, later in the series as their bond solidifies. Sanzo has been ordered by goddess Kanzeon Bosatsu to solve the disturbance in the  force…er…I mean Shangri-la. Gyokumen Koushu has been trying to resurrect the evil youkai Gyumaoh, who doesn’t play well with humans. Gyumaoh had angered the gods by refusing to assimilate with humans, and live peacefully in paradise. So, it was ordained that Crown Prince Nataku seal hm away. Which he did. The problem is, Koushu’s not too happy about her lover being sealed off, and so she’s trying to combine youkai magic (youjutsu) with human science in order to bring him back. Not a good idea, since no one’s really sure what’ll happen–well, they at least know it’ll produce some wave that’ll screw up the universal balance (its unclear on whether this wave is the same as the “minus wave.” On the same page we’ve got Sanzo saying no one knows, while the Sabutsushin are saying it’ll produce a universal minus wave. I think they’re different.) In the process, she has a “minus wave” created that stirs all the other youkai to go insane and start killing humans. Some of them loose their senses completely, while others just start lusting after human flesh. It’s kinda a toss up depending on whether they’re just a generic youkai attacking the Sanzo party, or if it’s an actual opponent. Or maybe, like the force, it depends on a youkai’s willpower. The weaker their minds, the less control they have. Eh, that’s for another to decide, not me.

All this killing makes Shangri-la a living hell for humans. The gods are pissed cause it’s supposed to be heaven on earth, and here their two main races are duking it out. So Sanzo’s told to team up with Gojyo, Hakkai, and Goku to put a stop to Koushu (I don’t think they know it’s her doing it, they just know it’s going on in India.) The tasks set before Sanzo: Stop the resurrection of Gyumaoh, restore sanity to the youkai, and bring back peace to Shangri-la. does anyone else hear that Three Dog Night song every time Shangri-la is mentioned, or is it just me? Probably me.

So they all meet up as a group of youkai are randomly attacking Sanzo and Goku. Gojyo and Hakkai appear literally just in the nick of time. Not that these guys are all that tough to beat, but they do have the advantage of number. Anywho, the demons are all shocked that Hakkai, Goku, and Gojyo are fighting along side Sanzo, as it’s suddenly revealed they, too, share a tie with the youkai: they are either completely youkai and wearing power limiters, or they are half human/half demon (which is supposed to be forbidden, just as science and magic mixing is.) They all have some kind of humanity in them, in some form. These guys are obviously different. We can liken them to Jedi. Sorry for all the Star Wars references, I just like to compare things–though this is nothing like it! Plus the Sanbutsushin are all like “help us Genjyo Sanzo and party, you’re our only hope.” Well, close to it, look at page 32. So these guys all have f*cked up backgrounds which has made each of them mentally stronger than your average youkai. There’s more it than that, but this volume doesn’t really get into that, so I’m not. You’ll just have to read on. 😛

The gods, Bosatsu especially, really want these guys to form a bond. We don’t know why, but it may be to help them get strong enough to face their opponents. Sanzo thinks its a bunch of bull, but he certainly isn’t gonna argue with the gods. He figures, he’ll do the quest, and if it has to be with these three, so be it…but what’s this?

Mwa ha ha! Back in Houtou Castle, India, we’ve got the antagonists scheming. So while Sanzo is heading West, Kougaiji (Gyumaoh’s son) and his crew–coincidentally they make four all together to match Sanzo’s four–are heading East. One thing that always puzzled me, is how Kougaiji could magically make it East so much quicker than Sanzo. I mean, sure, he doesn’t have all these demons attacking him, but still, he’s got…distance to travel. And it’s not like the goes there once, this thing happens all the time. Crazy. Well, I’m side tracking, because they don’t even butt heads in volume 1. Kougaiji’s not all in this for his dad. Or for his kinda sorta step-mom. This dude’s almost got Oedipus complex, in his obsession with his mommy. As it stands, he’s doing this all to free his mom of a spell Koushu’s placed on her to bend his arm and make him join her cause. So his group assembles and head’s East.

Sanzo and his group have difficulty staying on task, what with all their bickering–though most of his happens between Gojyo and Goku. But their quest is underway, as is pointed out by the head of the Sanbutsushin. Bosatsu corrects him, and alludes to a time before this recent crisis. Their kinship apparently truly began 500 years ago, where Goku, the monkey king, was born.

Chapter 1: First Game

So, the guys are just riding along. On a road trip. Heading West. Just chilling in their Jeep…who also happens to be Hakkai’s little dragon buddy Hakuryuu.

*Wha!?* Is that what happens when you cross the streams? You never cross the streams! Magic + science = Jeep Dragon. Maybe not. Something to ponder, though.

Well, if you’re going on a long trip, you know there’s gonna be a lot of pit stops. It’s necessary, you know. So they make a stop in a village, where the first thing they come across is some chick, Houmei, being harassed by a troop of losers trying to rob her. Goku and Gojyo help out, and what a surprise, she happens to be the daughter of a local inn owner. Seems like the gods are on their side. *Ouch* Sorry, I had to go there.

So they get there, and they’re pigging out, and apparently there’s a bunch of rumors going around about a bunch of monsters killing youkai, a misunderstanding that youkai are fighting youkai. In reality, they’re rumors about Sanzo and his group killing the youkai who attack them along the way West. But…it’s in their interest not to mention this to inn keepers, and so they stay quiet and just discuss the sudden change in the youkai. Through this, they discover that Houmei..yeah…not so keen on youkai. I mean, it’s a livid hatred she has for the beasts. She lacks an understanding of the minus wave, and its effect on youkai, so in spite of previous harmony between humans and demons, she hates them all regardless.

Wined and dined the guys retire to their rooms. Yet, something’s afoot. A band of supposed gypsies arrive and have rooms I guess reserved for them at the inn, since all the heroes (or more so, antiheroes) have to stay in separate rooms.

Not a great idea, but it couldn’t be helped. As Sanzo expected, they get attacked in their sleep. They kick ass, though, so Gojyo, Goku, and Hakkai have no trouble dealing with their would-be dispatchers. Sanzo, on the other hand, gets screwed. He’s attacked by just one dude at first, but accompanying this youkai, is the Spider Queen…I guess. She doesn’t have a name, so I’m calling her that cause she’s the head of the Spider Tribe. Well, not only does she have this webbing that entangles Sanzo, but she’s also taken Homei as a hostage. Typical bad guys, gotta involve others in their goals. Ah well. Sanzo presses, all the same, that he’s gonna kill the crazy b*tch.

And so ends chapter 1.

Chapter 2: Even

While Sanzo’s dealing with the Mega-B*tch (Drop Dead Fred,) the others have their own problems. Like I said, it doesn’t take them long to kill the weaker demons, so they figure what’s up real fast and are able to get to Sanzo to help him. Well, in their absence, Spider Queen’s all talking about how she’s gonna eat a Sanzo priest and gain immortality, hurling insults back and forth with Sanzo. The hostage situation is quickly remedied as Hakkai rescues, the girl. Most of the demons get killed off pretty easily, and Sanzo’s even able to get in some good hits on leader. But…she’s got something up her sleeves. Or sprouting out of her back, whichever you prefer. And poof, there she is, her real youkai form–a nasty spider. Oh, and guess who wakes up from being knocked out just in time to scream and make a scene and get all freaked out? Not that a giant Shelob wouldn’t freak everyone out, but it’s none other then–yep, Houmei. Youkai!!!!!! Ah!!!!!

And cut! Onto the next scene.

Chapter 3: Get Square

Yeah, Houmei’s screaming really doesn’t help the situation. Everyone’s a bit distracted, giving Spider Woman the chance to shoot out her webbing and capture them all. Well, gramps…Houmei’s dad, actually (he just looks so old!) is a pretty good shot. He must have come-to also, cause he shoots the spider right in one of her eyes. She’s suddenly weakened and lets go her webs. Turns out, the dad picked up Sanzo’s magic gun. It’s a Smith and Wessen M 10–can’t make ’em like we make our magic/blessed banishing guns!

In a pickle and needing to heal, the youkai ends up eating her remaining tribesman, and thus gains all his strength. Houmei freaks out again, cursing all youkai as evil, since she’d witnessed her friend being eaten not too long ago. I guess that’d be pretty traumatic for anyone, so really, she’s something of a trouper for not passing out again. Still, she’s annoying, since she’s inadvertently insulting her own rescuers. But while fighting against them, the Spider questions why youkai such as they would pit themselves against their brethren–revealing their true race to Houmei. They don’t need no stinkin’ reason, so working together, they off the bad guy, while Hakkai school Houmei on the reason youkai have lost their wits. The demon dies, a new day begins, and Houmei makes a special “please forgive my insults and thanks for saving me” to go dish to help tide the travelers as they set off once again.

Chapter 4: His God

The mountains turn out to be a b*tch. They’re all tired from traveling and come across a shrine and a free stay courtesy of having a Sanzo High Priest in their party. These dudes are a big deal, as they possess scriptures that are extremely powerful. This Sanzo’s got the Tenchi Kaigan Sutra that he guards, so he’s all set for a free stay and free food. The monks reluctantly allow Sanzo’s whole gang to stay, even though it’s technically sacred grounds…who could resist Sanzo’s charm? Ha ha, well, you get the picture.

Of course they can’t just stay and have a good time. If they haven’t got hypocritical priests trying to get them to stay at the shrine, then they’ve got an annoying little kid, Yo, chiding them for not following customs. Even worse, they can’t get a moment’s piece because the moment their back is turned, in comes another hot-shot youkai. This dude’s got no name either, so Imma gonna call him ax wielding youkai. Maybe Axel from here on out, K?

Okay, so Axel busts up the party, what a dick, right? He just kills a bunch of people, and I guess eats a couple, and comes in trying to find Sanzo. If he doesn’t give himself up to Axel, then the demon’s gonna smash up the place and kill every monk there.

What are the gods doing while all this chaos is smashing about on earth? Reading the Heavenly Times, I guess, cause Bosatsu couldn’t care less. You know she really cares, but she’s so damn nonchalant, you can’t help but wonder if they really care about human lives at all.

One more to go!

Chapter 5: My God

Things have gotta be wrapped up, right, so let’s get to it!

Poor little naive Yo’s about to be eaten when the good “youkai” show up. I’m referring to, you know, Goku and all them. Minus Sanzo. I guess he’s still babbling with the priests about the problem at hand. Well, the others get to work killing the demon, and are making some head-way when he suddenly the dude transforms his arm into this giant blade. Before he can bring it down upon Goku and Gojyo, Sanzo comes to the rescue and Axel decides to self-destruct. How he did it without a cyanide capsule, I dunno.

Yeah, talk about a little ingrate. Unlike Houmei, Yo isn’t happy to be saved, he’s too busy acting like the other priest and pointing out the flaws of Sanzo. He’s got a point, and for him, things are a little different. This kid’s for real, he really wants to be the best he can be. But just like most people, he just can’t help but judge others. And how does a Buddhist, one who is supposed to be a pacifist, explain claiming the life of another being?  Sanzo’s a bit different. He keeps it real: you either kill or be killed. If you don’t like being saved, off yourself. They chose to live-ikiru! By the way, Ikiru means to live, and it’s one helluva Kurosawa film. Watch it if you get a chance.

They must have hit home with their point, because it turns out the little sh*t wants to learn Mahjong when they return (a game he’d previously been insulting since you place bets during the game often.) And after all the damage is done, our heroes still stroll off smiling. At least Hakkai is. But he’s just an all around nice guy, trying to cheer everyone else up all the time kind of person.

Back at the evil lair of Dr. Koushu…okay, she’s not a doctor, but I’ve gotta have fun with this, right? Koushu is still unfolding the same old plan. She doesn’t care what happens to the world, she wants what she wants. And she wants it now! Like Erica, right? In the Chocolate Factory movie? I can’t remember, the rich brat. So she’s all telling Kougaiji to make sure no one gets in the way of her and her man, or else he will never get to see his mother alive again. So he swears to get rid of Sanzo and his gang, and the volume ends with him and Yaone, Lirin, and Dokugakuji (man, I hate typing his long name!) all preparing to leave.

End! Yay!

Conclusion:

An awesome introduction to a great series! It’s one of my favorites, and I’m excited to continue reading it again!

Saiyuki, Volume 1-Highly Recommended!

Citations:

*These should be indented…but I’m stupid
and can’t figure out how to do it. Sorry!*

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2003.

Harman, William and Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2003.

Minekura, Kazuya. Saiyuki. Trans. Alethea Nobley and Athena Nibley. Vol. 1. Los Angeles: Tokyopop, 2004.

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