Thursday, March 04, 2010

Saiyuki and Saiyuki Reload series by Kazuya Minekura

"Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome."
~ Arthur Ashe

"The journey is the reward." ~ Chinese Proverb

"Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it."
~ Greg Anderson

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end."
~ Ursula K. LeGuin

Do we see a theme here??

Do you remember team sports played in your youth, and coaches would assure you that "no matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game"? It may sound like a line to comfort the losers, but only focusing on the end diminishes the journey to get you where you are now, and it is the journey where you see the interesting stories, work, sacrifice, struggle, and effort that makes that end a possibility and a personal triumph. The Saiyuki series relishes in the journey itself: taking an actual road trip out west that, at the same time, parallels the idea of life as a journey.

One of my favorite manga (and anime) series: Gensomaden Saiyuki (which translates to “Journey to the extreme,” is a pun on and a radical version of the Chinese tale about the Monkey King, Journey to the West). There are four anti-heroes that pass for the protagonists:

  • There is Sanzo: the drinking, smoking, gun-carrying, bad-tempered Buddhist monk (his favorite lines are “shut up,” “die," and "I’ll kill you.”) and his religiosity are as interestingly and radically portrayed as his character.

  • Goku: The monkey king is still very much like a monkey (and an ever-hungry one at that) and the child of the bunch who provides the heart and conscience.

  • Hakkai: The pig monster is depicted as the quiet one who usually balances the hot tempers of the party, but he is one scary demon when he becomes angry.

  • And Gojyo: The lecherous kappa is similarly rendered as the womanizing flirt (who is so pleased to be stuck on this journey with only guys for company) but, underneath, he is like the big brother of this group.
These four misfits are sent on a mission west to stop a growing evil force, and, of course, things are not as simple as that with hints of some larger conspiracy. This series follows their journey with plenty of delays, as they must work together (or not) to complete their mission, deal with the demons that come their way (both literal and figurative), and unravel this conspiracy.

This is a great story with cool characters. It is not quite a parody of the Monkey King tales, more like an extreme retelling. Though it would be neat to be familiar with the original tale, it is enjoyable in itself. Elements of the story still appear in Minekura's rendition, especially when she delves into their past lives. There is plenty of action, adventure, attitude, and some food for thought accompanied with plenty of colorful dialogue, humor, and, refreshingly, there is little romance (too many times a story is bogged down with characters falling in love with each other). Minekura's art is stunning, distinct, and nuanced, capturing a strong sense of the characters' personalities and undercurrents of strength, even darkness. The art combined with the darker story and more enigmatic characters will appeal to older readers and teens looking for something edgier. This series has also been adapted into an anime. Part 1 and 2 of the Saiyuki anime series captures the story well, and the English dub is spot on for the characters, with some colorful dialogue improvements thrown in as well.

Currently, running at 19 volumes, the journey still continues. You can find the Saiyuki series, Saiyuki Reload series, and the Saiyuki anime in the VBPL catalog. If you like darker stories or Minekura's art, you may also enjoy her Wild Adapter series. For more gun action, colorful characters, and even a touch of philosophy, try the Black Lagoon manga and anime. Gene Yang's Michael L. Printz award-winning American Born Chinese is another graphic novel take of the Monkey King legend.

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