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
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.