Friday, December 5, 2008

Saiyuki Reload (manga, vol. 8) by Kazuya Minekura

Although Sanzo, Goku, Hakkai, and Gojyo have mainly traveled together, in this volume Sanzo is still traveling with Hazel and Gat instead. The two separate groups are closer than they realize - both groups stop at desert villages that are quarrelling with each other over water. Sanzo and his group stop at the human village, while Goku, Hakkai, and Gojyo stop at the youkai (demon) village. The youkai villagers are sure that the human villagers want them dead, while the human villagers' story is that the youkai villagers have been attacking them. In order to have an excuse to wipe out the youkai village, some of the leaders of the human village stage things so that it looks like one of the youkai invaded the village to attack - once Sanzo realizes and reveals the plan to his companions, neither he nor Hazel and Gat help the human villagers with their massacre, but that and Goku and the others' help doesn't stop the killings from happening.

After the main story, there's a short flashback story that reveals how Goku and Gojyo got their magical weapons (the nyoi-bo and shakugetsujou) and how Goku's hair got cut. After the bleak and depressing main story, this story's lighter tone was a nice change. Next, there's a very short murder mystery parody story starring all kinds of Saiyuki characters in various roles (Kougaiji as a servant who comes from a fallen noble family, for example). It was nice to see all the characters again, and a bit funny imagining them in their new roles, but it's not a very interesting or very good story.

It's been a while since I've read any Saiyuki or Saiyuki Reload, and I'm not sure if I ever even read volume 7 of Saiyuki Reload. It's quite possible I haven't read it, since I can't remember how the main characters got separated into two different groups (although I'm glad there's a "story so far" section - it helped get me a little caught up). By just accepting that I wasn't going to get everything that was going on, I was able to enjoy the volume, but the tone of this volume was more bleak than I liked. No one in the group was able to help the humans and youkai in this volume attain a steadier peace. Although Sanzo was suspicious of the leaders in the human village and their plans for the youkai, he didn't stop them from doing what they were doing (maybe he didn't feel he be able to do anything, or maybe he didn't find out their plans in time, but still). Hakkai and Gojyo were gone when the most damaging things were happening, and Goku was frozen by indecision, unable to figure out who to side with, humans or youkai.

I love Minekura's art style, which is part of the reason why I managed to enjoy this volume, but I don't think that it was the best that Saiyuki Reload or Saiyuki could offer. No one seemed to gain anything from the events in this volume, except maybe Goku - apparently, all this bad stuff that happened somehow helped Goku become a little more independent of Sanzo, although I don't think there's been much evidence yet that this is really the case. The flashback story after the main story had a more enjoyable feel for me - I liked the tone, which was both goofy (Goku and Gojyo using their weapons for the first time and breaking everything around them) and painful (Goku's memories of his past imprisonment).

Overall, it wasn't the most interesting volume - I hope that things either lighten up in the next volume, or move the story forward. As far as extras go, there are a few full-color pages at the beginning of the volume (very nice - I'd love it if they were poster-sized) and a sound effects list (all the sound effects in the volume are left just as they were in the original Japanese version, and the translations of those sound effects can be found in this list).

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Read or Die (anime OVA) - Yomiko Readman is "The Paper," a bumbling, yet powerful operative working for the British Library. Yomiko can manipulate paper, and she uses this skill to try to retrieve valuable stolen books that a mysterious group plans to somehow use to take over the world. I believe the original Genjo Sanzo was both a Chinese historical figure and a character in a famous Chinese novel - anyway, Sanzo and others turn up a lot throughout manga and anime, and this anime is no exception. If you'd like to see another interpretation of Sanzo, you might like this anime, which features Sanzo as a scary and violent foe.
  • Chrono Crusade (manga) by Daisuke Moriyama; Chrono Crusade (anime TV series) - Rosette is a nun who is part of a special demon extermination squad. As a child, she made a contract with the demon Chrono, allowing him to borrow her life energy in order to use his demon powers to their fullest extent. Together, Chrono and Rosette try to get Rosette's brother back from the demon Aion, an old friend and nemesis of Chrono's. Like Saiyuki Reload, the tone of this series alternates between goofy and fun and bleak and sad. Plus, there's plenty of action, demons, and characters dealing with internal conflicts.
  • Bus Gamer (anime TV series); Bus Gamer (manga) by Kazuya Minekura - In order to make some money, three guys who have never seen each other before agree to team up and take part in the "bus game," a secret series of battles waged by representatives from different corporations. The goal of the game is to take possession of a disk filled with corporate secrets, and all players risk losing their lives. Created by Saiyuki Reload's Kazuya Minekura, this series features similar characters (all are pretty boys with secret, disturbing pasts) and life-or-death situations.
  • Rurouni Kenshin (manga) by Nobuhiro Watsuki; Rurouni Kenshin (anime TV series) - During the violent Bakumatsu era, the assassin known as Hitokiri Battousai paved the way for the Restoration, killing many. Years later, this man, now known as Rurouni Kenshin, has given up killing and chooses to wander from town to town. After he helps a woman named Kamiya Kaoru, his wandering life becomes more rooted, at least temporarily. Kenshin is willing to fight to help others, but he does whatever he can to avoid having to kill. Fans of Saiyuki Reload may enjoy Rurouni Kenshin's action, tone (which ranges from light to somewhat dark), and Kenshin's dark past.
  • Samurai Champloo (anime TV series) - Fuu, a somewhat ditsy waitress, enlists the help of Mugen, a fierce and undisciplined fighter who incorporates break-dancing into his fighting style, and Jin, a samurai with a more traditional fighting style and a calmer and more controlled personality. Somehow the three of them have to get along while they try to find a samurai who "smells of sunflowers," someone from Fuu's past. Those who'd like another action-heavy series starring cool guys with dark pasts might like this anime.

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