I had no preconceptions when Saiyuki Reload landed on the mat. I had heard little about it, but the artwork suggested a bishounen demon-bashing affair with some stylish bloodletting. What I got was Dragonball Z crossed with Yu Yu Hakusho.
Here's the summary:
"Welcome to the world of Shangri-la, a land where men and demons, science and magic once coexisted in peace. But this previously tranquil haven is now descending into chaos, its natural order disrupted by experimental attempts to revive the demon Lord Gyumaoh, a creature vanquished in battle over half a millennium ago. The experiments have resulted in a negative aura that is polluting the land, causing the demon populace to go berserk. The hopes of the Shangri-la lie in the hands of four youths – the young priest known as Genjyo Sanzo and his travelling companions Cho Hakkai, Sha Gojyo, and Son Goku. These four adventurers are forced to embark on an arduous journey west, their destination India, where they must put a stop to the attempts to revive Gyumaoh and, in doing so, restore order to the world."
So basically 4 guys go West in a jeep to stop a big bad resurrection. Normally I wouldn't copy & paste a plot summary, but if the creators can't be bothered being original, neither can I.
Let me explain - whilst this sounds exciting, it's hampered by lazy writing, sub-standard design and some cookie-cutter personalities. It's as if the commission for this series was to fill a time-slot, not entertain, and boy does it show.
Firstly, the four main characters of this series are a group of stereotypes - gruff leader, short excitable type, gentle warrior and smart-ass. They spend most of their time telling each other to shut up (understandable actually) or else spouting dialogue so contrived it sounds like they pasted the script together from fortune cookies.
The writing, such as it is, recycles so many clichéd plot devices it ought to get tax relief for being green. Everything is spelled out in case you're some kind of T-H-I-C-K-O and if you haven't seen it all before, you must be new to anime.
Finally, the design. Now, I like anime because it has few boundaries, but the "demon hordes" faced by the group are purple men with pointy ears. This would be considered low-budget for live-action, but in anime? Where's the imagination? The effort? The... love?
Actually, I did find some love, but not with the main characters. Demon protagonists Kogaiji, his little sister Lerin and her "babysitter" Yaone are far more interesting, motivated and, ironically, human, it's a pity that they're not in every episode. With any luck they’ll joing forces and get future volumes a few more points.
In short, the series is an action anime that employs A-Team levels of believable violence, a B-list writing team and a group of “guest-stars” that are the only things worth watching. I can only hope that things improve drastically by volume 3, or this is going to be one series we all forget very quickly.