Sunday, June 3, 2007
Saiyuki, what a way to go
Four men face look across the open valley. A slight wind blows across their face and carries the faint scent of lotus to their noses. Two of the men fight urges to light cigarettes while the wait for the oncoming danger to get closer. The rumbling of the dusky ground is overpowering as 1,000,000 frenzying demons rush toward them armed and bloodthirsty. Issuing threats, the beasts salivate and wait for the four men to surrender. No one moves until the monk shoots his gun and threatens the leader’s life. That’s when all hell breaks loose…literally.
No, I’m not talking about the new Resident Evil 4 Wii game—though I can’t wait for that to come out—I’m in fact talking about “Gensoumaden Saiyuki: Requiem”. There might be some of you out there who’ve seen the Saiyuki images on Yahoo! Images, and thought, “there is no way I’m watching that!” Or there may be some of you who have looked at the pretty boy art of the manga and said, “What kind of girl’s story is this?” Well, to you people, I nod my head in agreement, you are absolutely right, but I would also like to inform you about the aspect that very few “Face Value” appraisers ever find out. You see, Saiyuki may be a girl’s comic, but I don’t think a single guy out there would be too upset about sitting down with his girl and watching a pretty show in which the pretty boys blast away tons of demons with their “Exorcism Gun” and bash some skulls in the TMNT style that we grew up with.
Let me give you the low down on Gensoumaden Saiyuki: Requiem. So, you guys are all familiar with the old Chinese fable “Journey to the West”, right? You know, the story that they used to make Dragonball, but then sucked it up pretty bad? What? You don’t? Okay, let me give you a really (and I mean really) short blurb provided by Wikipedia.org—ah Wikipedia, we love you. (If you do have a fairly sophisticated knowledge of Chinese Folklore, you can skip the next 5 paragraphs):
The tale is also often known simply as Monkey. The novel is a fictionalized account of the legends around the Buddhist monk Xuánzàng's pilgrimage to India during the Táng dynasty in order to obtain Buddhist religious texts called sutras. The Bodhisattva Guānyīn, on instruction from the Buddha, gives this task to the monk and his three protectors in the form of disciples — namely Sūn Wùkōng, Zhū Bājiè and Shā Wùjìng — together with a dragon prince who acts as Xuánzàng's horse mount. These four characters have agreed to help Xuánzàng as an atonement for past sins. Journey to the West has a strong background in Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology and value systems; the pantheon of Taoist and Buddhist deities is still reflective of Chinese folk religious beliefs today.
The novel comprises 100 chapters. These can be divided into four very unequal parts. The first, which includes chapters 1–7, is really a self-contained prequel to the main body of the story. It deals entirely with the earlier exploits of Sūn Wùkōng, a monkey born from stone who learns the art of fighting and secrets of immortality, and through guile and force makes a name for himself as the Qítiān Dàshèng, or "Great Sage Equal to Heaven". His powers grow to match the forces of all of the Eastern (Taoist) deities, and the prologue culminates in Sūn's rebellion against Heaven, during a time when he garnered a post in the celestial bureaucracy. Hubris proves his downfall when the Buddha manages to trap him under a mountain for five hundred years.
Only following this introductory story is the nominal main character, Xuánzàng, introduced. Chapters 8–12 provide his early biography and the background to his great journey. Dismayed that "the land of the South knows only greed, hedonism, promiscuity, and sins", the Buddha instructs the Bodhisattva Guānyīn to search Táng China for someone to take the Buddhist sutras of "transcendence and persuasion for good will" back to the East. Part of the story here also relates to how Xuánzàng becomes a monk (as well as revealing his past life as the "Golden Cicada" and comes about being sent on this pilgrimage by the Emperor Táng Tàizōng, who previously escaped death with the help of an underworld official).
The third and longest section of the work is chapters 13–99, an episodic adventure story which combines elements of the quest. The skeleton of the story is Xuánzàng's quest to bring back Buddhist scriptures from Vulture Peak in India, but the flesh is provided by the conflict between Xuánzàng's disciples and the various evils that beset him on the way.
The episodic structure of this section is to some extent formulaic. Episodes consist of 1–4 chapters, and usually involve Xuánzàng being captured and his life threatened, while his disciples try to find an ingenious (and often violent) way of liberating him. Although some of Xuánzàng's predicaments are political and involve ordinary human beings, they more frequently consist of run-ins with various goblins and ogres—many of whom turn out to be the earthly manifestations of heavenly beings.
Okay, well, that’s about enough explanation about the background behind the inspiration for Gensoumaden Saiyuki. Now, take all that, and change the character’s names to Genjo Sanzo, Son Goku, Cho Hakkai, and Sha Gojyo, and then switch all the goblins and ogres and such (and forget that they are earthly manifestations of heavenly beings) with a humanoid demonic race called “Youkai”. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the dragon mount, whose name is Hakuryuu, and he morphs into a jeep so that they can travel faster—I want a jeep that changes on command, like organic transformers. You do all that, and you’ve figured out the entire plot of Gensoumaden Saiyuki.
Aah, but I see you are still reading. That is because you are smart and realized that I haven’t talked about the movie yet. Good job. Well, as your reward, I will tell you that the movie is well done. As sort of a prologue, the team takes on about a million youkai before they hit the road again. When night hits, Goku begins to complain that his stomach is empty, but the tension grows as Hakkai announces that he managed to get them lost somewhere. That’s when this story moves into the horror flick genre, dropping our team in an abandoned manor, on a dark and stormy night, with one other person, who says that many of the townsfolk disappeared many years ago, completely without explanation. Goku and Gojyo are too busy arguing to hear her, but Sanzo does hear her and remains on the lookout for the rest of the evening.
Well, as the team is confined to cramped quarters without any understanding about the place, before long, things began to change for the worst. There’s some stereotypical doppelganger situations, but I must say, there were times when I didn’t know if it was the real character or not. And the plotline is really well written. You can tell, however, that the writers were looking for a plot twist and decided to go to a standard cop out: refer to something that happened just directly before the show began, that way there are no discrepancies. And so, our opinions of Sanzo from the first episode, and changes some things we’ve come to understand about some of the characters.
To make the scene more “horror movie” clique, it eventually does become dark and stormy, and there is a shower scene in which one of the main characters does get knifed repeatedly. Yes, and it does show the blood and water rushing down the drain. It is devoid of the classic “REE REE REE” music though, so it lost some points in my book.
Normally I would tell you all about the plot and the twists and the ins and outs, but I’m feeling the Anti-spoiler Police coming on, and I don’t want to be the one that turns you off of Saiyuki because I told too much. Besides, I already explained the whole story behind Gensoumaden Saiyuki, so you have some knowledge of Chinese literature.
The art was well done, the voice acting was way up to snuff, but the only thing I had a problem with was parts of the story. There were a few things that I just didn’t like. For example, I know that there is a whole plot line following Kougaiji and his band, but I thought that there could have been more storyline, more creepyness, and more of a thiller feeling if we didn’t keep jumping back and forth between the Sanzo crew and the Kougaiji crew. Personally, I think we would have found it a whole lot cooler if they would have just came in at the end, looking down at the group from above, as if they had always been there, watching. CREEPY!!
Well, that’s it. Go get the movie and watch it. It’s worth it, but it’s not going to blow your mind, not even if you really get into movies. Overall, I think this movie deserves a passing grade, and I’m going to shut my bias aside so that I can give it a B- grade. Happy Viewing.