Should You Watch Saiyuki Reload Blast?

Episode 1 Summer Anime 2017 Review
saiyuki reload blast anime
A screen from Saiyuki Reload Blast episode 1. (c) Platinum Vision

Saiyuki Reload Blast is a hell of a throwback for me. I was obsessed with the show back in the 00’s when the first series aired and can still sing along to its iconic theme song. I was also a huge fan of our four heroes, whose contrasting personalities and dashing good looks mean there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy. Saiyuki’s grown a lot since then, and I haven’t kept up with the several manga series, OVAs, anime series and even musicals that came out since Gensomaden Saiyuki first aired.

Luckily, you don’t have to have kept up to follow along with Saiyuki Reload Blast episode 1. The narrative is very simple at heart: four cool guys are on a Journey to the West (yes, like that Journey to the West) through a dangerous land fraught with demons, which they will mow down as needed in order to keep moving through their destination. The first episode’s plot perfectly captures the feel of the whole series, with a subplot featuring a town in danger, hidden sins and a whole lot of stylish ass-kicking.

If you’re looking for a lot of depth, you won’t find it here. The characters’ angst-soaked backstories make no appearances in Episode 1, which focuses on showcasing their rapport and badassery while winking to the camera about how long it’s been and how unchanged they are. For longtime fans of the series, this is like sinking into a comfortable armchair complete with butt grooves. For new series entrants, I can’t imagine this is too jarring, as anyone with a basic grasp of anime tropes will have a full understanding of who Sanzo, Goku, Hakki and Gojyo are.

The plot of Saiyuki Reload Blast Episode 1 is simple and shallow: a town has hidden itself so that it’s not raided by demons, but it sacrificed one of its own in order to keep itself a secret. The dead guy’s wife is driven so mad with grief that she won’t stop singing the village’s old festival song and ends up letting the demons into town. Some kid, who’s related to her and is in charge of caring for Sanzo’s party, screams at everyone about how even in her madness she’s trying to preserve the village’s song so that once they’re safe, they can experience joy again.

Team Sanzo, already pissed off and knee-deep in blood, have no issue cleaning house. His dad or something makes the heart-wrenching decision to not just let her get absconded (wow, so brave, such morality) and asks Team Sanzo to rescue her, so they do. Just another day in the Wild Wild West.

There’s a few stylistic tricks the episode relies on a bit too heavily, like a shaky cam (once you notice it, you see it wavering in every damn shot) and blood splatters on screen during a fight, as well as a moody greenish filter that seems to lurk over half the shots. I get that Saiyuki Reload Blast wants you to know these guys are cool, but trust me: the viewers will grok that. Cool is built into these characters and this world.

The animation is nothing to write home about save for a few glamor shots of Gojyo’s weapon and the like, but the character designs of Team Sanzo are rock-solid from shot to shot and lovingly detailed as well. Goku is cheerful and annoying, Hakkai is soft-spoken and sensible, Sanzo is cranky as hell and Gojyo is a smoove operator: all is as it was. At the end of the episode, we meet two mysterious people we know nothing about, one a demon and the other some kind of human religious figure, but I’m sure we’ll find out more about how they relate to the plot soon enough.

The opening theme has all the rock feel you’d want from a Saiyuki theme as well as giving us a glimpse into Team Sanzo’s angsty backstories (and a peek at their past lives from Saiyuki Gaiden ). I especially loved the ending theme, less for its serviceable song than for what is shown while it plays. We get to see how Goku and Sanzo as well as Hakkai and Gojyo met each other and how they fit into each other’s lives afterwards. It’s a nice touch for faithful fans coming back to the series.

The episode closes with a humorous short celebrating the Tanabata festival, and if you didn’t understand the characters fully yet, the short really gives you all the info you need. Also fun to note: the show’s voice cast is returning, which is important to me because Toshihiko Seki is one of my favorite seiyuu. The boys are back in town, baby.

Saiyuki fans will certainly want to add Saiyuki Reload Blast to the queue, but episode 1 is so accessible that those who missed the boat on any of its past incarnations could easily use this as their launchpad into the Saiyuki universe.

Saiyuki Reload Blast is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Wednesday at 11 a.m. EDT. Will you be watching? Let us know in the comments section below.

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