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Saiyuki is based on Kazuya Minekura's manga based loosely on the Chinese legend of Xiyouji. The keyword there is loosely.
There are several elements of the old legend present in this particular retelling: a band of four, a monk and his three demon companions, must travel to the west, overcoming enemies that would like to stop their progress. The original legend has the quartet fetching sutras, the point of Minekura's story is to stop the resurrection of the sealed demon Gyumaoh. However, Minekura also gave the story a few updates, so look for things like jeeps, ATM cards, and modern clothing set in what looks like it should be ancient China. This makes the story a little easier to understand, especially if the viewer isn't all that familiar with ancient China.
The characters are also tweaked. Gone are the family friendly versions that tend to populate the re-tellings. Instead the four pretty-boy heroes are rough and tumble - with the mouths and habits to match. Genjo Sanzo is a chain smoking, hard drinking, rouge priest with loads of charisma, drooping purple eyes and golden hair. Sha Gojyo is a a womanizing half-demon who smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. Cho Hakkai is a demon whose kind smile and dry humor hides a dark and painful past. Lastly Son Goku is a mischievous heretic born from a rock with an appetite that can't be filled.
Visually, Saiyuki is stunning. Mostly done with computers, the animation quality is high end, and compliments Minekura's character designs. The score is an eclectic mix of bad 80's rock, southern bluegrass, and Buddhist chants.
Perhaps Saiyuki's best quality is that it is one of the rare animes where the dubbed version is actually better than the original Japanese. The dialogue represents the humor of the original tenfold. As Japanese humor and American humor isn't the same, the translation of the jokes into American humor make for a much more enjoyable time, and the story comes to life as never before.
This is the Journey to the Max!
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