Story & Art by Kazuya Minekura
Translation by Alethea Nibley & Athena Nibley
Lettering by Evan Hayden
Edited by Nathaniel Gallant
Kodansha Comics Edition Cover Design by Phil Balsman
Saiyuki is among the plethora of iconic anime and manga franchises that permeated the late 1990s and early 2000s. Inspired by Journey to the West, this supernatural story has gained a cult following due to its fun cast of characters and compelling adventure narrative. While Tokyopop’s previous release of the manga is long out of print, Kodansha Comics has come to the rescue and is republishing the series. This new “Resurrected Edition” lets fans re-experience the beloved classic, while also allowing new readers to join in on the fun.
Saiyuki wastes no time, quickly introducing its premise and jumping straight into the action. The yokai of Togenkyo have suddenly become hostile, and all signs are leading to the potential revival of the great yokai Gyumaoh. In order to prevent further calamity, monk Genjyo Sanzo is paired with the immune yokai Cho Hakkai, Sha Gojyo, and Son Goku, and they head west to restore balance to Togenkyo.
At first glance, these four protagonists are far from heroic. They feel more like a band of misfits, constantly being crass and bickering with each other. Yet, underneath their rough exterior, they’re genuinely kind people, protecting the innocent from the bombardment of yokai. While we get minimal information about their backstories in the early chapters, it’s these qualities that make the cast feel compelling. The heroes are on a crazy road trip, and you’re along for the ride.
An interesting aspect of Saiyuki is how it handles the relationship between humans and yokai. The series explains that before recent events, humans and yokai lived together peacefully. Several of the people that the protagonists encounter even mention having former friends and family who were yokai. That makes the sudden malevolence of the yokai all the more heartbreaking, making many humans detest and fear them. This places our three yokai protagonists in a tough position. Despite protecting humans from violent yokai, they are still treated contemptuously. That said, they are also ostracized by other yokai for “betraying” their own kind. These heroes belong to neither side, which makes their claims of fighting for themselves all the more true.
Still, even among the enemy yokai, there is plenty of nuance to their motivations. The primary antagonist of this volume Kougaiji is not attacking the heroes out of animosity, but to save his mother from her predicament. He’s even shown regretting the yokai lives lost in battle, and wishes to limit the casualties. It makes you unexpectedly sympathize with the antagonists, and makes their conflict with the heroes far more engaging.
Saiyuki’s classic artwork is incredibly appealing. Minekura draws the heroes in a particularly bishonen style that is starkly contrasted by the violence within the series. This dissonance is what allows Saiyuki’s comedy and action to intertwine. The characters are naturally attractive, so that allows them to be entertaining, but they are placed inside an environment that is the exact opposite of that. The end result is a manga that manages to be both bloody and beautiful, which makes it perfect for action fans.
Saiyuki has returned to English with a definitive release for fans new and old, and it’s an absolute blast to read. The characters are incredibly entertaining, the action is superb, and its story remains compelling. As this journey continues westward, I will certainly be following suit.