Given how much I enjoyed (and still enjoy) Gensomaden Saiyuki, the first anime series based on Kazuya Minekura’s manga, getting my hands on the sequel, Saiyuki Reload, was a foregone conclusion. It’s only half the length of the first series, and left me with some mixed reactions.
The first part of this series is pretty episodic, and echoes in feeling if not actual details many of the episodes in the first series — there’s a lot of feel-good stuff here. The series returns to the manga storyline at Episode 17 (or as nearly as I remember the manga). However, lest you think this is going to be an adaptation of the manga sequel, also titled Saiyuki Reload, guess again — we’re still on the first manga series, and we’re still following the Sanzo Party on its journey to the West.
There’s been some criticism of the first two-thirds of the series because it is so episodic — one commentator called it “filler” — but to be honest, I didn’t mind. The individual, shorter story arcs, mostly one or at most two episodes, are well-executed enough that they hold their own, especially if you, like I, watch an episode or two to finish off a long day. (And quite honestly, if you’re looking for a suspense-filled, action-packed adventure with a tight plot and no frills, you shouldn’t be watching this series anyway.) And we are given some insights into the chinks in the various characters’ armor, which makes the irony of their “official” attitude that much sharper.
One aspect of this that I’m somewhat ambivalent about: everyone’s been prettied up. OK — different director, different character designer working from Minekura’s originals. On the upside, I enjoy looking at pretty guys as much as anyone, and the renderings are more consistent throughout the series. (Even the youkai are prettier.) The downside is that the characters seem to have lost a bit of their edge, which leads to some interesting thoughts on the synergy between the visual representations of characters and the acting.
Speaking of acting, the Japanese cast is the same as the first series — Toshiko Seki as Sanzo, Hiroaki Hirata as Sha Gojyo, Akira Ishida as Cho Hakkai, and Souichiro Hoshi as Son Goku. I am even more impressed with them than I was in the first series. (I made the ultimate sacrifice and watched a portion with the English-language soundtrack. I don’t recommend it. It’s not really bad, but it’s not really very good, either.)
The music is radically different, in the first part of the series jazz influenced and performed by a small ensemble, then heavily synthesized pretty much through the major portion, and it works pretty well. The opening and closing title songs are standard for anime series, which is to say that a Japanese pop band was enlisted to perform them and they may or may not have anything to do with the actual story. (Although the second closing theme, “Alone” by Mikuni Shimokawa, is really not bad.)
One thing that is absolutely not to be missed: at the end of each episode is a short segment called “Extra.” They are really short — maybe thirty seconds — totally insane, and hysterically funny. Don’t skip them.
If I had seen this one before I saw the first series, I would have been delighted, although probably not as enthusiastic as I was about Gensomaden Saiyuki. It’s still pretty good.