[Warning for rape and incest]
Well, just because I think it looks cool and near impossible to write off memory, this is how it’s spelled in the original Japanese: 幻想魔伝最遊記—awesome!
Back when I wrote Manga Mondays: Dragon Ball Z, I briefly talked about Saiyuki, since both it and the original Dragon Ball are based on the same story. So yes, there is a character named Son Goku, and he is a monkey god. Well, actually, he’s a demon in this version, but he used to live in heaven, so what the hell?
However, despite coming from the same source material, Saiyuki and Dragon Ball are widely different stories from each other. In this version, Goku is not some food-obsessed idiotic hero. He’s a food-obsessed, below average intelligence antihero, and he travels around with three other antiheroes: Genjyo Sanzo, Cho Hakkai, and Sho Gojyo (Hepburn: Gojo, but the actual story spells it Gojyo, so let’s just not argue with it).
So our story begins when our four protagonists get dispatched by the three aspects of Buddha to travel to India in order to prevent the rise of the demon king Gyumaoh.
Unfortunately, the two responsible for trying to revive Gyumaoh, Nii Jianyi (a crazy human scientist) and Gokumen Koushou (Gyumaoh’s concubine), have released something called the Minus Wave as a result of their experiments. This wave infects everyone who’s a demon—except our main characters, ‘cause they’re just that awesome—with madness, and causes them to mercilessly attack people. Naturally, this upsets any and all peace that may have existed between humans and demons.
The author, Kazuya Minekura, has also written Saiyuki two sequels, Saiyuki Reload and Saiyuki Reload Blast, two prequels, Saiyuki Gaiden and Saiyuki Ibun. So the story gets really developed. Oddly enough, Gensomaden Saiyuki doesn’t actually end with the characters arriving at India and killing Gyumaoh. They’re still heading there at the beginning of Saiyuki Reload. And the prequels don’t focus on what the characters did before the first story starts, since both Gensomaden Saiyuki and its sequels flashback enough times that it’s not needed. One of the prequels, instead, tell us what their past lives who resided in heaven did; the other focuses on Genjyo Sanzo’s mentor Koumyou Sanzo.
It’s a pretty dense world.
What makes the Saiyuki universe compelling as a story is the characters. All four of our main protagonists have a lot of baggage, and the journey to India is really less about stopping Gyumaoh’s rise and more about how they deal with their adversaries, including each other. In some ways, it feels more like a character study. And it goes without saying that their pasts are not all that pleasant.
For instance, Hakkai and his sister used to love each other. Then she got kidnapped by a demon, raped, impregnated, and ended that merry flashback by committing suicide in front of Hakkai. Following that, Hakkai went on a killing spree and murdered a thousand demons. Because he had that much demonic blood on his hands, he in turn became a demon himself.
This is one of the less depressing histories.
Saiyuki takes every opportunity it can to develop not only our main characters, but the main antagonists as well. It’s not without its moments. For all the seriousness of everything that happens—murder, torture, implied rape, not-implied rape, blasphemous dialogue against Buddha, a lot of other terrible things, as well as the occasional analysis on religion—it does give us some humorous moments acting as a break. Otherwise, this story would be just a little emotionally exhausting.