By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting
Saiyuki is a series near and dear to my heart. The original anime and its several seasons, movie, and OVAs are all top tear action anime with deep stories that I obsessed over in high school (and now, as an adult). So, when I scrolled through MAL’s (MyAnimeList) Winter 2022 anime lists last season, I literally screamed in excitement upon seeing Saiyuki Reload: Zeroin on the list. This anime aired just a few days ago on 6 Jan. 2022 and is a remake of the Saiyuki Reload Gunlock season, which covered the last manga arc “Even a Worm.”
Since only the first episode is out, I don’t know if this adaptation will be entirely faithful. It may become a FMA: Brotherhood type-remake or it may be entirely different–who knows? Honestly, I’m not too sure it matters as I firmly believe that adaptations are, in many ways, separate works from their source material because of the many people working on them and the necessary differences that come with the change in mediums from print to animation. Essentially, I treat it like the same world, but different versions… a multiverse for each series adaptation, you could say.
With that note, I’m so happy at the revival of this series. I hope that more comes out–particularly more of Goku’s story as he continues to grow. Now, that may or may not be in this series (it was, a little, in the prior edition), but if it isn’t, I hope the series drums up enough fandom interest to inspire further remakes and additions to the Saiyuki animated collection.
Much of the original series left Goku’s history in and with heaven hinted toward, but undeveloped or underdeveloped. We get more of it in later seasons (and a full re-do in three episodes of Saiyuki Gunlock Blast), but that shortens it by a lot. This kind of works on me because all of the other main characters get a pretty solid look at what has led them to where they are now. (And even the antagonists in one offs seem to get more than Goku most of the time.) The characters also get closure to these traumas or the chance to show that they’re making significant progress in working past the trauma.
As a quick review:
Source: Screenshot from https://saiyuki.fandom.com/wiki/Characters
Gojyo is a half-demon and has had a traumatizing childhood as a result of being not just a half-demon but one born from an affair. His stepmother heavily abused him and his brother ended up killing her before Gokyo’s eyes to protect him. However, said brother then left the still young Gojyo behind as he was unable to deal with his own trauma.
Sanzo was an orphan raised by monks and grew up to become the gun-wielding Sutra-wearing monk/priest we know today as the leader of the party. His life has been in the priesthood and he’s working past the loss of his mentor and father figure.
Hakkai–the seemingly most mild of the group–brutally lost his wife (we’re not mentioning the incest thing of the manga), murdered a LOT of people/demons and became a demon himself… also, he found jeep and adopted the cat-dragon-car creature.
AND GOKU? Well, that info you have to piece together over several seasons and specials before finally getting the episodes that explanation what happened in heaven that lead to his 500 year imprisonment on Earth. But the short episodes in question went by so quickly that you barely get to see how traumatic all of these experiences must have been for the ‘youngest’ member of the cast. (I highly recommend watching the Saiyuki Gunlock Blast re-make of the episodes and OVAs rather than the early 2000s version or the Saiyuki Gaiden OVAs as the updated art looks better and is a cohesive review. I believe the Blast episodes are Episodes 3 through 6.)
With the other characters, you’ve had time to see the developing depth of their experiences and how that has shaped the people they are today. Especially with the Burial OVAs and the last season of Saiyuki Reload Gunlock season for Sanzo, Gojyo and Hakkai’s characters.
The OVAs especially develop Gojyo and Hakkai’s relationship, Sanzo’s past, and Goku became so attached to Sanzo after being picked up by the priest.
However, the OVAs leave a lot to be desired for Goku’s character arc.
I know that some argue this is because Goku lost his memories from those times–so, unlike the others who carry their trauma daily and work to overcome it in the series, Goku is just carefree but that’s fundamentally incorrect based on the show itself. Rather, he probably carries the most out of all of them yet is expected to just get over it quickly because he’s ‘young.’
Why does this bother me?
Unlike the rest, Goku has not been reborn or had the chance to make new and lasting connections outside of these three people. (It is understood that Sha Gojyo, Genjo Sanzo, and Cho Hakkai are reincarnations of the three gods that used to be guardians of Goku in heaven and died saving him from wrongful execution.) These three don’t generally let him fully deal with the trauma he’s experienced, nor do they seem to try to understand it. Look, for example, at Saiyuki Reload episode 16 where Goku shows sincere fear and hatred of snow.
There is a legitimate reason for this hatred and fear. He was trapped for hundreds of years in a mountain-made cage with no one and nothing to hold onto. It snowed a lot and he was in very thin clothing for the entirety of his imprisonment.
How do the “adults” in his life deal with this?
They tell him to get over it because kids should love the snow and when that doesn’t immediately work they kind of force him to come out. Does it work? Sure, but that kind of trauma doesn’t just go away. For all intents and purposes, it seems to me like it’s just been buried. In fact, in the same episode, we see the current Goku is still affected by the snow (although not to the point of being unwilling to go outside).
Look also at Goku’s trauma response anytime that Sanzo gets seriously injured prior to the 2017 Saiyuki Gunlock Blast season. If his heaven-made limiter doesn’t just break, it is something he removes out of fear that he’ll lose the most important person in his life. (I mean, his mental state bottoms out nearly every time.) Probably because so far in his life he has lost every single person of importance to him–his bird friend, the three gods that took care of him (Konzen Douji, Field Marshal Tenpo, and General Kenren), plus Nataku Taishi.
Source: Screenshots from Saiyuki Gunlock Blast, Episode 6
Even if Goku doesn’t remember them totally, the trauma is still very much there. Sort of like infants who may not remember being abused but still have lasting trauma responses.
The response to Goku’s trauma being displayed? Put a limiter back on him. We’re not dealing with it or his mental health today.
By the way, we know that these traumas stick with him physically. After all, that seems to be the explanation for why Goku is always hungry. He is, by all understandings, basically immortal and super strong, but he starved for so long in that cell that upon release he’s extremely hungry and far weaker than he was in heaven. This also seems to explain why it is only in later seasons after he’s grown some and consumed a lot of food post-release, that Goku starts to get really strong again. Gojyo and Hakkai theorize that it’s Goku reaching puberty–and, maybe it is as he didn’t age physically in the cell–but, more than likely, it could also be simply that he’s starting to get his heaven-equalizing strength back now that he’s no longer constantly starving.
EVERYONE else gets a personal arc in the anime that expresses what has happened and how they are recovering from it. Gojyo gets to reconnect with his brother (though in the anime they still playfully act like they’re enemies–although post Blast-season his brother may be dead); Hakkai seems to find peace in his kikou jutsu and in caring for the group; Sanzo appears to find general comfort or, at least, fulfillment in his care of Goku and work. All of them are recovering, self-discovering, and growing from this journey (which, makes sense as Saiyuki is a loose adaptation of Journey to the West–a Chinese classic that serves as an allegory for enlightenment, human striving, and perseverance). Except for Goku, who–again–gets a semi-underdeveloped backstory that conveniently he hasn’t remembered in the multiple seasons of this anime.
Now, Goku gets some character development, but mostly seen in base-level maturing with age. However, he is still very much a child by comparison to the rest. Some attempts at developing his character in the anime are his repeated attempts at outside connections, which are 99/100 times crushed by the extenuating circumstances of the episode. In Season 1, this show of Goku being rejected leads to a powerful scene between Hakkai and Sanzo discussing how the limiters on Hakkai and Goku (and Gojyo’s red hair) mark them as yokai and how that affects their abilities to connect with the wider world… but, overall, the only one really struggling with it is Goku.
Hakkai rarely has or experiences the kind of rejection we see Goku undergo. And, Gojyo hits it off with so many women that it’s not as major of a factor for him. Sanzo, of course, is welcomed by pretty much everyone to the point that he’s annoyed because of his priestly status. Meanwhile, Goku is faced regularly with either rejection upon learning he’s a yokai, or complete betrayal or immediate loss by those that accept him.
The Gunlock Blast season really primes us for this development too as we saw the return of Nataku and the moments of both Goku and Nataku almost remembering, but not yet.
Okay, with that said…
I don’t think this season will do much with Goku’s character or back story. I’m not expecting it to as the original animated arc really focused more on Sanzo. I do, however, hope that this season revives the fandom’s love and appreciation for one of the best-written adventure/action/comedy/dramas I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching (repeatedly). Maybe earlier seasons or manga arcs will get their own re-makes too.
I hope that with the revival and potential growth, we get more additions to the animated adaptations of this work. I’m sure 2017’s Saiyuki Reload Blast is probably why we’re getting this season–I just hope we don’t have to wait another 5 years to get the next one… or a movie or something.
But, what are your thoughts? Is what we have enough for Goku’s story or do you also think there could be more? Let me know, please!