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"Saiyuki Reload Gunlock": They Made Another One!?

Wow. I knew Saiyuki had some pretty decent popularity, but I never thought it would be so popular as to get not one, but two sequel series. Too bad these sequel series seem to really suck, making me think that Saiyuki is simply the Weiss Kruz of this generation.

Previously, Kougaiji was brainwashed by the evil scientist Ni Jenyi and has attacked Goku, who hid the villagers of a random village inside a cave to protect them from some random evil demon guy. Unfortunately, Goku isn’t much of a match for Kougaiji and gets his butt kicked. As Ni continues to experiment on Lirin, Dokugakuji and Yaone try to convince Sanzo, Cho and Gojyo to help out. Unfortunately for them, Sanzo doesn’t give a damn about Kougaiji and fights to kill instead of help. Can they rescue Kou from his brainwashing and save Lirin? Later, our heroes rest at a run-down hotel, and are bored out of their minds. The hotel manager gives them a board game, which comes to life Jumanji-style. Sanzo and the rest must fight to survive the board game from hell, which gets more dangerous as they continue to play. Finally, in the last episode, our heroes rest in another town, where Gojyo’s anxious to find some female company. Unfortunately, said female company is merely a toy dangled in front of the half-demon by a hired killer demon, but can the woman come to her senses and break free?

OK, so it seems that going digital was the death knell in the Saiyuki franchise. Either that, or the writers have a hard time getting these series off the ground. The two-parter (well, really, parts 2 and 3 of a 3-parter) just feels rather flat. The first half of the first episode on the disc focuses mainly on the villagers stuck inside the cave, who are your typical random villagers. You know, the kind who are scared stiffless by anything that even remotely resembles threatening, except for one random kid who lacks physical strength but makes up for it in sheer brashness. Really, I couldn’t give a damn about this kid and his little sister, and the cave seems rather annoying, since its internal structure reeks of simply creating a cave for story convience. Even the main story seems rather lifeless, since much of the action is made up of bad animation and manipulated stills. Maybe if the fights were a bit more exciting and it didn’t try to stretch Kougaiji’s rescue, then the episodes could have been more tightly written and might have flowed a lot better. As it is, the only part of these two episodes that actually works is the final scene where Kougaiji goes up against Ni. But even then, it doesn’t save the disc.

The other two episodes are of about the same quality. The third episode on the disc is actually rather entertaining, as we get to see the eternally-pissed-off Sanzo get made fun of, and the entire premise of the story reminds me of Jumanji, which was both a great book (my favorite as a kid) and an awesome movie. My love of that franchise probably masked all of the lack of quality in the episode, as it still seems rather laxadasical compared to other series. The final episode on the disc is the typical “woman shunned by everyone else gets picked up by a rotten thug and is thus eternally devoted to him until womanizer hero comes along” cliché, and there’s nothing to really set this episode apart from other series that use the same story. The actual episode itself is rather decent up until the last seven minutes or so, when everything falls apart and it just delves into mediocrity, with a badly-storyboarded final battle, a rather childish trap and a rather annoying ending. It just seemed to stretch on forever, and I was ready for it to end five minutes before it actually did.

Much like Saiyuki Reload, Gunlock has rather mediocre animation. The drawings themselves are rather nice and detailed, not to mention on-model, but the compositing and frame rate are a joke, making battles seem more of a chore than an added feature. Really, I believe this series would be better off as simply stills with words instead of actual animation. I could expect this back when digital technology was brand new back around the year 2000, but this was made in 2004, and for a franchise that’s supposedly as popular as Saiyuki, this is just embarrassing. I’m not asking for Ghost in the Shell-level animation, but at least look better than Pokémon or Naruto. But then, I guess the staff is more interested in dressing the big four in random sexy clothes to swoon fangirls than actually crafting an interesting story that’s fun and exciting. Not even the opening can escape this, as most of it is made up of manipulated stock drawings and sped-up animation. I’m beginning to wonder if dentsu can actually make a good digitally-animated show, since it seems every time I watch a show by them the animation is embarrassing. Eh, I guess I did like that the haunted board game’s pieces looked like LEGO people.

The sound isn’t much better either. The opening theme isn’t as good as that in the original Saiyuki Reload, while the ending theme is forgettable. The background music is forgettable as well, but it serves its purpose and it didn’t annoy me, so that’s good. As for the voices, not much has changed since my original Reload review. Lex Lang’s Sanzo & Jimmy Benedict’s Goku sonud OK, as does Tony Oliver’s Gojyo and Steve Cannon’s Cho, but they all pale in comparison to the ADV cast and the dub isn’t nearly as awesome as some of the other LA dubs like Planetes. The best voice comes from Ni, but Kougaiji’s little posse have argueable the worst voices in the dub, especially Yaone. A damn shame too. The Japanese cast is slightly better, but it’s not a pitch-perfect dub. Overall, both dubs are rather bland and I’ve heard much better on other series.

Like most Geneon releases of late, the extras are lax as well. We have the textless and Japanese versions of the ending song as well as trailers for Tetsujin 28, Elemental Gelade and Strawberry Marshmellow. There’s also a rebate coupon for $3 back by mail when you buy Saiyuki Reload Gunlock Volumes 2-7. Not the best series to put this rebate on, but at least you get some money back for buying this DVD. Though I personally would’ve had a $5 rebate instead of $3. Unfortunately, that’s it for the extras. We don’t even get those little shorts that we got on the original Gunlock, and I liked those too.

Overall, this is only for diehard Saiyuki fans, and by diehard, I mean the ones who buy anything with the name Saiyuki on it. New fans should check out ADV’s Double Barrel Collections before jumping into the Reload series.

Episodes on Saiyuki Reload Gunlock Volume 2:
Episode #05: Combat ~the opponet~
Episode #06: Awakening ~back~
Episode #07: Cursed Board Game ~inevitable game~
Episode #08: The Red-Haired Woman ~stupid woman~

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