I've really been getting into the Saiyuki manga recently, so the news that a Saiyuki film was being released by ADV really made my day.
For those unfamiliar with Saiyuki, it's a retelling of the old Chinese legend Journey to the West, in which the great monk Genjo Sanzo and his companions travel to India to recover ancient Buddhist teachings and prevent the resurrection of the demon king Gyumaoh. Saiyuki isn't quite what you may expect from the adaptation of an ancient legend though - I'm pretty sure Sanzo wasn't a short-tempered, chain-smoking, gun-toting pretty boy in the original, and I'm pretty sure they didn't ride around in a jeep.
But that's Saiyuki, and this film is the first anime interpretation of the excellent manga series to get a UK release. Saiyuki Requiem is a side story set somewhere in the middle of the main manga story arc, and sees our intrepid heroes get more than they bargained for when they save a young girl who is being chased by a monstrous demon. After accepting her invitation to stay at her master's house they soon find themselves trapped in a nightmare where the past mingles with the present and strange illusions cloud their minds. Separated and unable to tell what is real and what isn't, Sanzo and co struggle to hold on to reality whilst a mysterious assailant manipulates events to his own ends. With the danger increasing they're going to have their work cut out if they are to get to the bottom of what's going on, and if that wasn't bad enough Gyumaoh's son Kougaiji and his companions are not far behind them...
It is often the case that films spawned from anime series are little more than long versions of a normal episode with no noticeable increase in production values. However, this is not the case with Saiyuki Requiem. The quality and scope of the film is evident from start to finish, and there is a real cinematic feel to the film throughout. The animation is noticeably good, as is the music, and the plot is well laid out, drawing you in and tripping you up on occasion. The film is highly enjoyable, with plenty of action and some flashes into the characters' tortured pasts. It even finds time to bring in the excellent Kougaiji and his followers, but in a way that's the film's problem.
Saiyuki Requiem is aimed firmly at fans. There is no character description, no explanation of what their quest is, or who Kougaiji and his followers are. If you haven't read at least three volumes of the manga you will miss the significance of some of the illusions, and you won't know who the characters are or their relationship to each other. This isn't to say you can't enjoy the film without knowing this, but it would detract from it.
As a fan I found plenty to like in the film, although I was a bit disappointed at a couple of aspects. For one Kougaiji's group are utterly peripheral, they seem to be crowbarred in to provide some action scenes to break up the drama of the main story, and have no bearing on the plot at all. Another thing is that that the plot is bordering on being a retread of one of the early story arcs from the manga, so isn't as original as it could have been. The ending is a bit cheesy too. However, it must be said that the action scenes are stylish and pretty well choreographed and as the illusions get more elaborate it does get pretty intriguing and quite tense. The horror is well done (crap demons aside), and the twisting middle section, where the characters' confusion and the drama really peaks, makes a pretty average story a lot better than it should be. There is plenty to enjoy and the moody darkness much of the film takes place in really ramps up the tension and mystery.
Saiyuki Requiem is a decent and enjoyable film, and for fans of the manga it is great to see Sanzo, Goku, Kougaiji and the rest of the crew in all their anime glory. The production values for the film are noticeably high, and there is plenty of action and a touch of psychological drama to sink you teeth into as well. For those unfamiliar with Saiyuki it probably isn't the best place to start as it makes few concessions to new fans (although ADV have tried to compensate for this with some character profiles), but it is a solid fantasy actioner nonetheless. It falls short of being great, but for fans it's a must.
Surprisingly quite a lot. Most impressive is that ADV have tried to make the title more accessible for those new to Saiyuki by giving characters descriptions with some images. The descriptions hit on all the most important info for the characters and are essential reading. Also included are the usual ADV Previews, as well as Japanese promos and TV spots, a text interview with the author of the original manga and an audio commentary from the US voice cast. All of that combined with a reversible DVD cover makes for a great selection!