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"Saiyuki Reload": Digital Doesn't Equal Good

Y’know, even though I gave Saiyuki Requiem a negative review, I have to admit one thing. The premise is interesting. I’m always up for your standard anime adventure series, so I thought I’d check out the sequel series, Saiyuki Reload. After all, the Japanese have gotten used to digital animation by now, and it can’t help but be better than the movie, right?

I hate being wrong.

Saiyuki is all about four travelers—the always-pissed-off Genjyo Sanzo, the kind Cho Hakkai, the suave Shu Gojyo, and the happy-go-lucky Son Goku—who are heading to India to stop the resurrection of the great demon Gyomaoh. Well, it’s a long way from China to India, especially by foot, so our gang is going to have a lot of stops before their journey is through. Too bad their stops aren’t all that interesting.

In our first adventure, our heroes stop to rest at a gigantic castle. Inside, they find an entire city, and a very strict city at that. Music is regulated, training is at the forefront, and there’s no drinking or smoking. Then a bunch of demons decide to attack. Yes, there’s a lot going on in this episode, and it would have been better off as a two-parter, as it seems rushed here. We meet the son of Souryu, the city’s leader, but he’s only given about five lines, meaning that we don’t really care at all when he gets into trouble when the castle is attacked. Then there’s the final battle, where Souryu changes his entire belief system in response to a couple lines from Sanzo. His internal struggle lasts for all of thirty seconds before he picks up a sword and starts fighting. And after that, everyone in the city instantly forgives him and everything’s peachy. All in the span of tweny minutes.

Then everyone decides to relax in “Bath Playland,” which is basically a pool/spa house. Goku, thanks to some unfortunate coincidences and the jokes of Hakkai and Gojyo, thinks Sanzo is starting to turn into a demon. As he runs around trying to protect his friend at all costs, Hakkai and Gojyo try to get to the bottom of the mystery. This is easily the most entertaining episode on the disc, mainly because Goku is the most excitable of the bunch and is easily tricked, though Sanzo gets some nice scenes as well. Too bad the animation is bad and the music mediocre.

The third episode focuses on Lirin, one of four antagonists chasing after our heroes. In “A Kind Visage” she meets two boys who stay near a tiny shrine in the vain hope of seeing their mother again. Lirin, who wants to know what it feels like to have a kind mother, ropes Goku into trying to steal Sanzo’s Scripture. This episode is actually pretty decent, and it isn’t even marred by the horrible animation of the other episodes, but it relies too much on events and characters (such as an evil shadowy doctor) from earlier stories. Viewers of previous volumes will get the most out of this episode.

Finally, in “Forest of the Spirited Away” Goku is separated from his friends during yet another demon mob fight and meets a young girl named Shihon. She treats him to a fabulous meal, but something doesn’t seem right, as her parents don’t respond to him at all and a giant valley appears where there wasn’t one before. This is an interesting start but it falls apart in the second half due to idiotic plot conveniences, crappy animation, and bad acting. The final scene with Goku is especially cheesy.

Speaking of bad animation: I thought that in the digital age cartoons were supposed to look better. I guess I was wrong. While the battles are actually animated, movements are limited to as few frames as possible. Seriously, when the best animation comes from a CGI energy ball, you know you’ve got problems. It’s like Gilagamesh all over again. Or Star Ocean EX. Or even Rave Master. Yes, it’s that bad. Evidently, name recognition can’t get you a bigger budget (see: Gundam SEED). It’s a shame, really. Good animation would’ve livened up these episodes.

The gang’s all here, and this time they’re digital!

Thankfully, the music isn’t quite as bad as the animation, though it’s still not all that great. The opening theme is awesome if you like heavy metal (which I don’t), but I swear if I hear “Jump it up! Wild, wild rock!” again I’m gonna kill something. The ending theme is some hardcore soft rock. Nothing memorable, but apparently the singer “needs” something. What, I don’t know. Background music is your typical action-series filler.

As far as dubbing goes, I’d thought I’ve never say this, but I miss the ADV cast. The voices ADV used did fit the characters pretty well and made them seem a bit more lively than usual. Yes, ADV can actually get good performances out of their actors once in a while. However, since Geneon has this license, they decided to use Bang Zoom! for their dubbing. Despite the presence of great actors like Tony Oliver and Sandy Fox, the dub just doesn’t feel right after listening to ADV’s. But then again, new voice casts never sound as good as the originals, do they? The voices themselves aren’t all that bad, but they just don’t fit.

This is a Geneon release, which means limited extras. First off we have four episodes of “Ura-Sai,” which are little two-minute side-stories featuring the Saiyuki cast that are played after the episode previews. These little vignettes are actually pretty funny, if a bit too short. I wish they had made them longer and bundled them as a separate extra, though. Aside from that, we have the Japanese Sanzo doing some TV commercials (which are actually pretty funny) and some Geneon trailers. Oh, and there’s this really cool pencil board featuring Goku. It’s so cool that I’d have to say this is the best part about this entire release. Yes, you read right. A pencil board is the best thing about this release. Pitiful, ain’t it?

Overall, this is for diehard Saiyuki completists only. Those just getting in on the series would be well-advised to pick up ADV’s Double Barrel collections instead.

Episodes on Volume 3:
Episode #09: Invincible Castle
Episode #10: Demon Genjyo Sanzo
Episode #11: A Kind Visage
Episode #12: Forest of the Spirited Away

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