If we were to sum up the first three volumes of Saiyuki Reload on DVD here at UK Anime, the word 'mediocre' would be more than a perfect fit. Clichéd cardboard cut-out plots and characters aren’t exactly the kind of thing liable to get you on the edge of your seat, and thus the biggest cliff-hanger that has come from this anime so far is whether you can manage to stay awake through an entire episode.
So, when volume four of the show landed on my doorstep, the usual enthusiasm I show for a new review disc coming my way was… Well, let’s just say lacking. Nonetheless, after a deep breath I popped in the DVD and filled my head with positive thoughts - After all, this series could get better, right?
For the duration of the first episode on this disc (episode thirteen - Unlucky for some, and I certainly felt like one of the unfortunate ones), the answer seemed to be a resounding 'no'. The plot was as dull as dishwater while remaining as clichéd as ever, and worse still it had basically nothing to do with the plot of the series as a whole, as per virtually all of the episodes before it.
Thankfully, just as I was about to sink into a deep depression - Hallelujah! Finally things began to pick up a little. The good news from this point on is that the remainder of volume four focuses its sights firmly on the 'big picture', and more specifically Kougaiji and his cohorts increasing turmoil coupled with the formers newly redoubled efforts to try and capture the scriptures held by Sanzo and company. Considering that the situation of Kougaiji, Lirin et al has thus far proved to be the most interesting part of the storyline from a characterisation point of view, this really is good news for the series as a whole, and the darker turn taken by the show in these episodes also adds a little more gravitas to the whole affair after the light-hearted frippery that has preceded it.
So, at last we find a little meat on the bones of this story - Not enough to turn it into a classic by any stretch of the imagination (largely thanks to the four main characters sitting somewhere between 'deeply irritating'and 'exceedingly dull' on the scale of characterisation), but at least the series finally has a feeling of movement and purpose, enough to make this reviewer feel that the remaining volumes might not be a complete waste of time after all.
If they can keep up this momentum, then we could at least be looking at an entertaining second half to the series, so fingers crossed the rest of this anime sticks to the main story arc rather than being distracted by needless single episode side stories that are duller to watch than paint drying.
Set of TV commercials featuring Goku, trailers, English and Japanese 2.0 audio, English subtitles with signs.