Review covers the full series

Unusually for a book published by Tokyopop, Saiyuki opens with with a couple of pages written by them, explaining a bit about the context and just generally hyping the Manga up before you start reading.

I felt that this was a nice touch. Partly because no, I would not have been aware that the book was based on a Chinese legend; and partly because it's nice that Tokyopop went to the effort to put what we are about to read in context.

Not that Tokyopop are suddenly perfect translators in my eyes; annoyingly all of the sound effects are left in Japanese with English translations an index in the back, rather than on the page. But that's a tiny fly in the ointment and Saiyuki is actually quite good.

Put simply, Saiyuki is a typical Action Manga. The four main protagonists could loosely be called “heroes”, and face off against another group of what look like “villains”, until another group betray the first group and become the “real” villains.

Saiyuki's protagonists have to get to the villains base and stop what is happening there, and it's the villains' job to stop them, usually by throwing at them whatever people they have or can hire. Oh, but not all at once, as villains can only attack in small groups at a time.

Saiyuki is episodic in nature, and chapters tend to follow the same pattern. The protagonists are heading west, but rather than travel 24/7 they tend to stop at each town or settlement that they come to. They get to meet the people there, and beat up any local antagonists causing trouble. If there were no antagonists, or if fighting the antagonists didn't provide enough material to reach the end of the chapter, then hired assassins will show up and try to kill the cast.

Usually watching the violence teaches at least one person from the town a valuable lesson about life (“Oh, thank you hero, your violent behaviour has taught me that there is more to life than hatred and violence”). Later on in the series, the peachy notes go away and the antagonist of the week usually has something to do with one of the main casts' back-story, replacing a lot of the preachiness with angst.

Note that nothing I've said is actually meant as a criticism. Regardless of how many hundreds of times the things Saiyuki does have been done before, Saiyuki does them again and it does them well.

The four protagonists are very well characterised. As the plot involves them constantly travelling, there are no reoccurring minor cast members and the main leads are pretty much the only focus of of the story. Because of this, Saiyuki's author has gone to a lot of trouble writing both their characters and their relationships, to the point that they are very entertaining even if left on their own with nothing to do.

The villains aren't exactly uninteresting either. As seems to be the norm nowadays, they get some focus and characterisation as well, and even have their own internal sub-plot which has nothing to do with the main protagonists.

Confusingly, while this Review is for the full series, the series actually ends with the story half-finished. We're not left hanging, as the story is continued in the Saiyuki Reloaded series; hence Saiyuki Reloaded volume 1 is actually Saiyuki volume 10.

I'm hoping that the continuation will be of the same standard, and I hope to get my hands on it and cover that in it's own review at some point in the future.