Saiyuki Reload Blast – Journey to the Middle

Saiyukiblast

  • Genre : Action, fighting, supernatural
  • Episodes: 12
  • Studio: Platinum Vision

 

Something has awakened. Something that’s been slumbering for a long time is beginning to stir and the shockwaves are being felt all over heaven and earth. Demons are getting restless and the attacks on innocent villages have become routine. Thankfully, the Sanzo party is here to protect the good people from the fiends that would do them harm. Never mind that they happen to be just as fiendish themselves. As long as you can pay for the services, you can trust them. Probably. After all, you have to be able to trust a venerable Sanzo monk now don’t you? He’s the one smoking and getting into a fist fight with his demon buddy while screaming obscenities. Yeah, this should work out just fine!

The journey for this little title to make it on my to watch list went something like this: this looks like an otome adaptation, it’s probably really stupid, I’m gonna watch it. a week later – yeah there’s plenty of stupid out there, maybe I don’t need this one, I’m going to flush it. Wait the summary says Yokai, I like Yokai, I’m going to keep it. OK, I guess I should really watch this at some point…

Saiyuri Goku

yeah…this is a smart way to start this post…

If you didn’t pick it up from my little skit there, I did not know what I was getting into but I sure thought I did. The production value for this show is decent. animation can get a bit visibly cheap with reused scenes and stills with offscreen battles but for the most part, everything is well done. Voice acting is quite good, colours stick to a signature palette, design and art is pretty.

Unfortunately, I think this pretty design and art is in fact doing Saiyuki Reload Blast a disservice. I took one look at those chiseled young men and their intricate costumes (all different and this is important) and I immediately thought, this is clearly an otome. At best it’s a poor man’s Touken Ranbu which remains one of the best cute boy shows I’ve ever seen and also only. The lack of a clear female lead was pushing me towards option number two but I was expecting some basic slice of life nonsense with historical flourishes thrown in for flavour. Some manservice and if they wanted to push it maybe a drop of hoyay suggestion.

Saiyuki Reload Blast - 01.mkv_snapshot_15.32

look at all that…mancandy?

I judged it entirely on it’s cover I have to admit. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one at that. That’s the problem you see. Those that are generally uninterested in those types of shows probably dismissed it offhand. I don’t blame them, the aesthetic is pretty glaring, and it’s not entirely wrong, the show is classified as Josei. But aside for a few scenes in the OP, there’s no fanservice at all (unless you count the lady monk with the super tight outfit) and none of the expected staples of the genre. Someone specifically looking for the show insinuated by those visuals, would be disappointed or at least, confused.

The narrative and execution of Saiyuri Reload Blast is closest to a rather traditional fighting shonen. If you had switched one of the main characters’ design to a sexy lady without changing anything else at all, you could have marketed it as such easily. The season is roughly separated into three arcs. The opening establishing arc plays out as a series of monster of the week episodes, with our main party going from one village to the next and saving them from demon attacks. It’s fine, a little dry but I’ve seen worse.

Saiyuki Reload Blast 2

I said it was ok….

The second arc is a flashback to 500 years prior where the story starts to really from and the foundations are laid for the greater lore. It quickly became apparent the this show was basing itself on a Journey to the West, which is pretty awesome. It’s a very loose retelling but there were enough similarities for me to recognize it pretty easily, that made my appreciation for the series rise quite a bit.

This flashback arc was rich in references to classic Chinese folklore and filled with a tense atmosphere unmatched by the other episodes. I also found the flashback characters considerably more interesting. Despite how bloody and ultimately sad this arc was, it was by far my favorite part of the anime and I would have loved a season that explored just that story. The last arc brings us back to the present where past and future collide in an all out multiple episode battle.

After watching the show I found out that Saiyuri is an expansive franchise. Reload blast is only the latest in several anime incarnations, a whole series of OVAs, multiple rounds of manga, at least one movie and a stage play. This may in fact explain some of my gripes. You see, Saiyuri really plays up a lot of shonen tropes. The never ending battles, mid-fight monologues (this is so prevalent in fact that I think in the middle of battle is the only way we get an exposition), the best friend fisty cuffs, the super dramatic realization screams and the cathartic last minute saves.

maxresdefault

Nantaku really needed more development mind you

They’re all there and all well done, except this is a 12 episode series. When you’re characters are going through this massive emotional struggle over what is a pretty silly situation in fact at episode 60, it works because you’ve grown to really know the characters and you accept their eccentricities. Also the stakes have been slowly rising so you got accustomed to it at your own pace before everything spilled over into ridiculous. Now you’re just kind of in for the ride. When the same thing happens at episode 4 you’re like, yo relax dude and this is kinda silly.

The low episode count and the need to fit in a fully realized three arc narrative with a centuries spanning background really condensed everything. To Saiyuri’s credit, the narrative was still pretty easy to follow and although the characters were pretty shallow, they weren’t completely 2 dimensional either. But the dramatic pacing is what really suffers here and ultimately will stop most people from engaging with what is at it’s core a decent, even interesting story.

Saiyuri cute

mullets again…

If you happen to be interested in the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, I say give this anime a shot. It has some good moments and the parallels with Journey to the West are really fun to notice. If you like the character designs and are in the mood for a fighting anime that won’t make you commit to a high episode count, this could also be for you. Otherwise, it’s uneven and clumsy. There was enough there for me to be intrigued about the other anime seasons and-or manga but not enough for me to actively seek it out.

Also, in the very last episode we find out the jeep they have been driving in al along has a mind of its own and is in fact Hakuryuu which is Hakkai’s pet dragon. We find this out in the last 5 minutes of the last episode. Like wha??? OK, I’m done now. Oh no wait one last thing. There’s no Yokai. I mean the demons are technically yokai but they call them demons and they look like demons… this show has some failings is what I’m saying.

Favorite character: Field Marshal Tenpou (If there’s a season dedicated to the heaven’s arc – I will watch it!)

What this anime reminded me: This is the only way a monocle makes sense:

Saiyuki-Reload-Blast-1d

The problem with some people is that when they aren’t drunk they’re sober

Suggested drink: Berry Burbon Blast

  • Every time Sanzo is sleepy(ing)– take a sip
  • Every time Gojyo gets called a water sprite – take a sip of water
  • Every time Sanzo tells someone to shut up – take a sip
  • Every time we hear a stomach growl – get a snack
  • Every time Hakkai spouts random facts – humour him
  • Every time Gojyo’s chain scythe thingy appears out of nowhere – take a sip
  • Every time Nantaku gets hurt – take a sip
  • Every time Goku throws a fit – roll your eyes
  • Every time anyone smokes – take a breath
  • Every time there’s mid battle monologue – laugh, it’s all you can do at this point

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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11 Responses

  1. Lost a previous, much bigger comment to Jetpack failure, so I’ll say this – if you’re looking for the heaven arc, a quick hop to Wikipedia says you should look at the Gaiden OVAs.

    Also, this article made me give Reload Blast a chance and Reload Blast made me give the entire Saiyuki series a chance, which is why I covered the first two volumes of Reload in reviews in September last year -> http://www.animefringe.com/magazine/2004/09/feature/03.php .

  2. I’m pretty sure the anime of Reload Blast was for the 20th anniversary of Saiyuki as a franchise.

    This old article on the works of Kazuya Minekura was basically what convinced me to give Reload Blast a chance, and then Reload Blast made me give a chance to the series as a whole -> http://www.animefringe.com/magazine/2004/09/feature/03.php . However, I’m pretty biased when it comes to this series, because thanks to the various libraries I have access to, I still have access to Reload’s manga (bar the 10th volume, which Tokyopop didn’t publish)…that’s how I covered those manga volumes (1 and 2) back in September. I admit it’s not the best starting series for learning about Saiyuki, but hey, I’m that crazy person who’ll do anything for a franchise I’m growing attached to, steep learning curves be damned.

    A quick hop to Wikipedia says the Gaiden OVAs are what you want (re: the heaven arc).

    It’s probably because of my having studied Chinese for 10 years, but I find Chinese literature to be real boring…

    • Irina says:

      Really, I’ve always liked the chinese classics. They’re bananas! I like the slavic ones because of nostalgia but I find a lot of the european classic lit kinda bland myself.

  3. Karandi says:

    I will admit I wasn’t very interested in checking this one out for a whole range of reasons though after reading this I might add it to my extremely long watch list. It doesn’t sound like too bad of a way to waste an afternoon. Thanks for sharing, it was a fun review to read.

  4. Dawnstorm says:

    Watched episode 1, felt it wasn’t bad, but I was sort of lost, and put it on the backburner, where I forgot it until this post. I’ve never seen any other Sayuki, nor has it really been on my radar, so that’s probably part of it.

    Also, I had to click the link to the four Chinese classics, because I couldn’t think of the fourth. I’m surprised to say [i]Dream of the Red Chamber[/i]. It sounds interesting, though. (I haven’t read any of them, actually.)

    • Irina says:

      I also found out about Red Chamber through this post. I have read 3 Kingdoms…after playing a very naughty game based on it… You get your culture where you can

      • Anonymous says:

        Here’s how I got to know them:

        Water Margin: Japanese TV series, early 70ies: one of my earliest story influences. Probably a big part of why I like multi-character stories.

        Journey to the West: A series of Monkey KIng Hong Kong movies from the 60ies or 70ies. Good fun.

        Three Kingdoms: Can’t remember. Possibly some anime.

        Dream of the Red Chamber: This post.

        Impressed you understood my post, considering the jumbled wording.

  5. Reading this write-up is kind of like seeing someone watch an episode of Star Trek for the first time. I can’t even imagine what it’s like sitting through the first few eps, without realizing that this is just more of the *same* Saiyuki that’s been around for what, fifteen years now?

    • Irina says:

      It’s not a bad experience. In it’s defense it didn’t immediately feel like a small disparate part of a much larger franchise so that’s actually a pretty good thing

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