"This is the end, beautiful friend..." - While I have my doubts that The Doors were singing about the final volume of Saiyuki Reload on DVD, it at least gives me a slightly different angle of attack than my usual discussion of how mediocre this series has been thus far. Despite one or two bright moments and half-decent episodes, this series has largely been little more than a fabulous blueprint for creating a run of the mill anime, featuring characters with few or no redeeming features embarking on a quest that seems to have lost any semblance of a purpose long, long ago. So, now we're at volume seven and the final three episodes, can Saiyuki Reload at least go out with a bang?
Rather than keep you all in suspense for the remainder of this review, let's answer that question categorically straight away - No. At the end of the last volume, we saw the show's brave quartet suffering both mentally and physically after a heavy defeat at the hands of 'God', a mysterious fellow with a penchant for calling himself after a deity. How do our heroes recover from such a humiliating defeat? Why, they play Mah-Jongg for an entire episode of course. No, really they do... I only wish I were joking. From then on, the series finale recounts the fearless foursome's third and final encounter with 'God' - A gripping finale if you're a fan of the show I'm sure, but for the rest of us it was more suitable for that great drinking game 'count the anime cliché'. Just how bad was it? Well, I laughed out loud at one point, when I get the feeling I was supposed to be on the edge of my seat. Oops.
In case you haven't guessed, I really can't help but let my frustrations with Saiyuki Reload slip out in the review of this final volume. Despite all my indifference to most of the characters, I was really hoping that at some point the series would return to the main plot, which always promised to be by far the most interesting storyline, but this simply never happened, with the show happy to plod along, dragging the main players through side quest after side quest, and failing to move on with the entire purpose of their journey even in the closing episodes, making for a hugely unsatisfying conclusion. Even with the possibility of a second season of any anime, it isn't too much to ask show some form of character or storyline development from beginning to end, but on this occasion none is visible whatsoever, and on top of all the other criticism of this series it's well and truly the killing blow. Even if all you're after is a mindless, action-packed anime (and there's certainly nothing wrong with that), then Saiyuki Reload is likely to frustrate far more than it is excite.
Overall, it isn't very often that I watch an entire episodic anime from beginning to end and find myself completely unable to pick out any redeeming qualities, but I think Saiyuki Reload may be the first. From the characters to the animation, the storyline to the Japanese voice acting, virtually every facet of this show has turned out to be a dud. Perhaps there's something I'm missing along the line, but each and every volume of Saiyuki Reload seems to have been worse than the last - That can't be a good thing.