Toward the end of October, I had the opportunity to participate in the Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon. During this time, I was able to read a considerable number of comic books, manga, and graphic novels. One of the series that I chose to re-read was Saiyuki, by Kazuya Minekura.
Saiyuki is a modern adaptation of the classic Chinese epic, Journey to the West. The manga follows a priest known as Genjyo Sanzo as he travels to India with three youkai companions (Son Goku, Cho Hakkai, and Sha Gojyo) in order to stop the resurrection of a powerful youkai named Gyumaoh. Along the way, the four companions find themselves facing many dangerous situations, including frequent ambushes and assassination attempts, as well as their own memories and enemies from the past.
One of the things I enjoy most about this manga is the artwork. Kazuya Minekura is a phenomenal artist, and her artwork is incredibly detailed. Her character designs are also very impressive, and I love how expressive their faces are. Sanzo, in particular, has some of the best facial expressions in the manga, particularly when he is annoyed…which is a fairly common occurrence. The artist also does an amazing job with action sequences, which is really important for an action-heavy manga like Saiyuki.
It is important to note that the Saiyuki manga is rated OT, which stands for “older teens” who are sixteen or older. While it is primarily an adventure series, the main characters all have significant past traumas that they are forced to confront as they travel west, and these can be difficult to read about. Some of these traumas involve things such as: feelings of inadequacy, involvement in taboo relationships, murder, guilt, and incarceration. In addition to some graphic (occasionally gory) violence, the manga also includes some nudity, sexual innuendos, suicide, and references to rape.
While the series does cover some topics that might make readers uncomfortable, I do feel like Saiyuki is a great manga series that is well worth the time it takes to read. The characters are a big part of what draws me to the series, because they are so well-rounded. The “good guys” are not perfect, and some of the “bad guys” are motivated by a desire to protect their loved ones, which makes them feel more like real people.
The first time I read this manga was while I was in college. One of my roommates was a big fan of the anime series, so I actually saw the anime prior to reading the manga. In all honesty, I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite between them. In terms of the art itself, I would have to say that I like the manga better, but the anime is also very well drawn, and the choice of voice actors for the characters was excellent.
Though I do prefer the original Japanese language track, Saiyuki is one of very few anime series that I will willingly watch either subbed or dubbed (though I cannot say the same for the show’s sequels, which were dubbed into English by a different company). The anime also has a great soundtrack, and its first opening theme song, “For Real,” will get stuck in your head very quickly.
While the overall premise and many of the episodes remain the same, the Saiyuki anime does include a significant number of storylines and characters that are not present in the original manga, making it not only an adaptation of the manga, but also an expansion. It also does not include all of the stories which are present in the manga. The manga’s final story arc, which is found in volumes 7-9, is not included in the Saiyuki anime, but is part of its first sequel series, Saiyuki Reload.
If you are a fan of manga and have not read Saiyuki (or seen the anime), I definitely recommend giving it a try. It’s an exciting, action-packed series that includes a good blend of drama and humor. If you do have the opportunity to read this series, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.