Anime Series of the Week: Saiyuki

By Michelle Villanueva

Jan 29, 2010

As a follow-up to our Anime 101 guide, we've been highlighting one anime series every Friday during the month of January. And now for our last installment: Saiyuki!

What do Monkey, Monkey Magic, Dragonball, and Saiyuki have in common? Yes, they're all TV shows. But they're also all based on a classic work of Chinese literature: Journey to the West, a well-known (in Asia at least) tale of a Buddhist monk assigned by the Buddha himself to travel to India and retrieve sacred scrolls called Sutra. And since the monk is non-violent, he is usually accompanied on his quest by three protectors/bodyguards. The story is so ubiquitous that TV shows can just take individual aspects of the original tale and adapt them to fit new settings. In Dragonball, for example, the Sutra are replaced by those wish-granting Dragonballs. But in Saiyuki, the objective of the quest has changed from retrieving Sutra to preventing an all-powerful evil demon king from being resurrected.

And a demon king is feels just a little more urgent than scrolls, don't you think?

Go To the West
In the first episode the monk, Sanzo, is sent on his quest with his comrades in tow.



Sanzo is joined by three compatriots. It's hard to call them his protectors or bodyguards, because, thanks to his magic, Sanzo can handle fights all on his lonesome. Making up the rest of his team are Son Goku, the monkey king (and yes, this Goku and Dragonball's Goku are based on the same character from Journey to the West); Sha Gojyo, a half-human, half-demon; and Cho Hakkai, a human-turned-demon. This is the ragtag group is chosen by the three aspects of the Buddha, to save the world from being annihilated once the demon king is brought back.

In this world, demons and humans co-exist, but that doesn't mean they like each other very much. Particularly jarring is the fact that sometimes the demons tend to go berserk and start killing the humans, so humans are a bit prejudiced against them. It's something that Gojyo, being a product of mixed parentage, constantly struggles with, as Saiyuki focuses as much on its characters and their mysterious pasts as it does on the action and the overall quest.

Mother - Crimson Bond
Gojyo feels compelled to help a woman whose baby shows signs of being both demon and human, just like Gojyo.



Even though Saiyuki departs a bit from Journey to the West, there are still some similarities between all the anime series based on the story. For example, in Saiyuki, Sanzo and the monkey king Goku share a bond, with Sanzo sealing the bulk of Goku's powers away to keep him from unleashing them all. When Sanzo is injured and his magic weakens in the episode "Farewell At Dusk," the seal breaks—causing Goku to transform into a raging monster. In Dragonball Goku has a similar seal on his powers—and when that seal breaks, he... transforms into a raging monster.

Farewell At Dusk
Someone has cut off Goku's tail released Goku's power—and this is apparently a very, very bad thing for the world at large.



Like most adaptations of Journey to the West, Saiyuki became so popular that more shows were made that starred the same characters: Saiyuki Reload and Saiyuki Gaiden. But of course, one should start by watching the original. At its heart, Saiyuki is an action series that's as much about the journey as it is about the goal.

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... Hello, class, and welcome to Anime 101
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Anime Series of the Week: Galaxy Express 999
... Anime Series of the Week: Mushishi

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  • SarahTaylor5 Jan 31, 2010

    Stop Getting Ripped off by Cable and Dish Companies ! Stop Paying Monthly Bills! Go to http://www.WorldWideTVonPC.com

  • nestosmells Jan 30, 2010

    This is one of my all time fave shows!

  • telvisnostic Jan 30, 2010

    This was an excellent show. I stumbled upon it when it would come on the Starz! Action channel.

  • Shidousha Jan 30, 2010

    Actually, I think they should do things that are less popular in the west than Code geass or gurenn lagann. Get some K-on! or Welcome to the NHK or some more obscure (to westerners) series like that

  • KingofIPirates Jan 29, 2010

    Never was really impressed with this series.

  • shadowysea07 Jan 29, 2010

    finally they reccomend a decent and more recent series.

    you should totally do code geass or gurren lagann next.