GENSOUMADEN SAIYUKI by Kazuya Minekura
(and a 4/10 for the Tokyopop edition)
– Serialised in G-Fantasy
– complete (9 books total)
– licensed by Tokyopop (currently 2 books available)
STORY: Saiyuki is a take off of the well-known Chinese play.legend Journey to the West. So well known that it has spawned countless musicals, operas, novels, comics, and cartoons, and all other sorts of media. Of course, Minekura probably knows that this story has been told over and over and over again to the point of nausea. And who can blame her? So she takes the story and wrenches it…now it involves fighting demons, both physical and personal, as well as preventing the stopping of some evil demon(youkai) guy who’s about as big as a all of Donald Trump’s houses smashed together from being revived, and she sketches up new pasts for once-familiar characters. This lady is genius.
Lots of angst, lots of cursing, violence, and confusion which all wraps up rather excellently in the end (and sets up for its sequel Saiyuki RELOAD). The manga may seems mild by description but it is VERY graphic and comes with it’s own 18+ only label. Personally, though, I think it’s not that bad. Minekura uses a “shock” factor a lot (you see a lot of condoms, pills, and other random objects just lying around but there’s no proof that anyone actually uses them…) (along with some bare breasts and a lot of drug references…) The whole idea of people fighting for other people who aren’t really doing much but standing around and mumbling evil plans while recording progress of the big guy’s revival rather tedious. Luckily, Minekura knows how to keep the reader focused so she throws in 4 elements: bishounen, angsty pasts, plenty of blood, and as always, a lot of shounen-ai hints. That’s enough to get any obssessed fangirl and fanboy going…
CHARACTERS: a long list again but these are just the basics
– Genjo Sanzo: The corrupt monk who reminds me so much of Dr. Umeda from Hanakimi. He’s bish, smokes, doesn’t care a whit about scripture, doesn’t care a whit about people who care about scripture, and probably isn’t a virgin while we’re at it. You know…overall, he doesn’t seem to really care about anything except stopping the rebirth of big ugly demon (Gyoumaou), but we all know better. When this guy gets philosophical, though, it’s quite a significant change of personailty that may be for the better or worse depending on which end of his gun you’re facing.
– Sha Gojyo: The perverted playboy. Like all of the other characters, he possesses a very bloody and angsty past that is deeply rooted in the youkai/human battle. A half-youkai, half-human, he uses his bad habits of smoking, gambling, horrible language, and sleeping around as cover-ups for the compassionate person he really is. He’s not as “deep” as the other three when it comes to philosophical matters, but he’s big on companionship and family. He carries a giant weapon w. a crescent knife on one end connected to a chain and a spade-like thing on the other. He tends to be rash in battle and judgement but adds a lot of colour to the group.
– Son Goku: (note: Goku, though undoubtedly more familiar through DragonBall Z, not many people will know that Son Goku of DBZ fame is based on the Son Goku from the original “Journey to the West”. Well, the name at least, and the tail. Like I mentioned earlier, the evidence of “Journey to the West”‘s popularity is everywhere. )
Goku, a youkai formerly trapped inside a mountain for 300 years (for reasons explained in Saiyuki Gaiden, the series that comes 500 years beforehand) until released by Sanzo, comes off as a noisy but hilarious brat most of the time, but like Sanzo, is a very deep-thinking character when he needs to be. He’s very possessive of his companions, especially Sanzo. In his youkai form (He wears a gold crown on his head to keep him in human form.), he is a force to be reckoned with and takes great pleasure in fighting to the point of sickening violence. He fights with his “nyouibang”, a long stick that can extend to whatever lengths he so desires and break into 3 parts to use as an even more destructive weapon. He is also contantly hungry because, well, if you were stuck for 300 years without food…you’d be hungry too, wouldn’t you?
-Cho Hakkai: Hakkai’s the last of the main 4 protagonists and my favorite. Hakkai has probably, I think, the most terrible ‘past’ story which explains his right eye monocle and the three rings on his left ear to keep his youkai – yup, he’s a youkai,too – form in check.Though he may seems like a weak little wuss at first glance, Hakkai possesses some of the most terrifying power in the group. He is also the “healer” of the group, so to speak, and a gentle soul. Hakkai wears what his companions call a “mask of happiness” to cover up his sad past. He is always smiling, never curses, always knows exactly what to say, and apparently, can never lose at cards or get drunk.
-Kougaiji: The main “bad guy” who really isn’t the “bad guy” at all, but a pawn and posterchild for blackmail victims (His mum’s been frozen into stone until he can get Sanzo’s scroll.). Kougaiji has a major mother complex and he’s protective of his younger sister too, but not obssessively. Kougaji’s a determined dude, but unfortunately, he also tends to come off as a mentally stupid character who can’t do too much other than try to stop Sanzo because he’s really got no other way to save his mum, not that he’d be trying to stop Sanzo otherwise…
ART: It took me a while to get used to Minekura’s unique style. At first glance, the faces seem too thin and the mouths too wide with everything else very sloppily done, but at second, maybe third, glance, you note that her details are much more subtle and very beautifully done. Her artwork is actually quite intricate and she pays a lot of attention to detail, but physically speaking, the eyes on her character are usually lopsided, giving them a sort of sad, but mocking look. What gives her art the most definition is in the flow of lines, especially in cloth and shading, as well as her graphic violence, which she likes to use a lot. She doesn’t really use the artwork to tell the story as much as other authors, but there’s plenty of striking two page spreads of the title characters to accompany pivotal points. It might take some time to appreciate, but once you do, her art goes from weird to uniquely gorgeous.
PERSONAL THOUGHTS (SPOILER-IFIC): My sister introduced me to this series through the phone from Taiwan about 3 years back when she gave me the title and told me to look it up, saying it was another version of Journey to the West and I responded “ANOTHER one?” To me, it was bad enough that Akira Toriyama had used “Son Goku” in Dragonball Z and that there were numerous parodies of Journey to the West lying in my Chinese School’s library. But I never expected anything like this. Minekura seems a little soap-operapy at first with the whole Hakkai in incest and Gojyo with Doukukaji half brother thing, but as those become background stories and have really nothing to do with the main quest anymore, it improves a lot. There is no a single character in this series that does not possess a major flaw (or two or three) which leaves a lot open to symbolism and some deep thinking. In fact, peek under Saiyuki’s skin and there’s quite a bit of philosophy to be found. Not surprising for a story that’s been popular for over 100 years now and is showing no signs of slowing down.
I really don’t like the whole “yaoi” aspects of it. I’m not a big shounen-ai or yaoi fan so when people online (or IRL, even) rant on about how Hakki and Gojyo make such a “cute couple”…I kinda want to barf. But that’s just me. One of Minekura’s main trademarks is shounen-ai “subtlety” so I don’t care for it but I hate getting bugged about it. I think it ruins the entire feel of the series.
TOKYOPOP EDITION ADDITION: I was extremely angered by Tokyopop’s “let’s appeal to fangirls” gimmick by sticking in the snide “are they straight or gay” comments in the character profiles at the end of the first book. Also Gojyo saying “capiche” to a youkai in book 2 totally pissed me off. Tokyopop didn’t stop there though. In book 4, Gojyo’s vocabulary expands to include “mondo” as well. It’s nowhere in Gojyo’s character to say anything that lame on either count. And while I’m on the topic of speech, all of Hakkai as well as Sanzo’s words of wisdom have been watered down to the point of obnoxiousness rather than inspiration and hope. Surprisingly enough, it’s gotten to the point that everyone in the main traveling party has become a total annoyance except for the one character that’s supposed to be obnoxious: Goku. Goku’s not half as whiny as he should be nor as adorably childish anymore. Perhaps Tokyopop thought they were being cute by manipulating the dialogues, but they’re making themselves even worse editors than ever. I’m definitely not looking forward to the rest of it. ADDING snippets (yes, they weren’t there in the Japanese or Chinese and I don’t believe any other language versions…) like “Hakkai might be the only straight one” when it’s a Minekura trademark to be subtle about her shounen-ai/yaoi hints and leaving it up to her readers to decide with no interference on her part is complete and utter blasphemy. I never believed that Tokyopop would sink this low to try to appeal to a mass audience, but they have and it’s really very sad.