Minekura Kazuya's Saiyuuki

First things first. Saiyuuki is based on a classic Chinese novel called in English The Journey to the West or Monkey. It's about a pious and na´ve monk, Tripitaka (Sanzou in Japanese) who's ordered by the Bodhisattva Kwannon (Kanzeon Bousatsu) to make a trip to India to fetch certain sacred sutras. The monk is accompanied and protected by the wily Monkey (Son Gokuu) whom he'd released from a mountain where he'd been imprisoned for running amuck in Heaven. He has two other followers, Pigsy (Cho Hakkai) a fat and gluttonous pig, and Sandy (Sa Gojou), once the murderous inhabitant of a stream who has seen the light. Tripitaka rides a white horse who is actually a white dragon whose life he also saved at some point in the past. The monk is regularly attacked by demons, who believe that eating the flesh of a pure monk is a guarantee of immortality, and who are aching to get their kitchen implements on Tripitaka.

Minekura Kazuya's version of this adventurous and satiric Chinese work is.... adventurous and satiric, yes, but boy have the original characters altered out of all recognition. And now her Saiyuuki has been turned into an anime, Gensou Maden Saiyuuki (Fantasy Fairytale Saiyuuki.) Herewith an introduction to their current Japanese incarnations.

Genjou Sanzou

To clear up the first source of confusion-- his name is Genjou and his title is Sanzou, but he's always called Sanzou, which is confusing, because there's more than one Sanzou in the series. 'Sanzou' is the title of the highest rank of monks, reserved for those who have become semi-divine by reaching the heights of spiritual advancement. This is indicated by the small red chakra in the middle of their foreheads. The Sanzous in this series all wear the same outfit- a gold diadem like a crown above a white head veil; a white robe with a wicker or bamboo breastplate; a highnecked bodysuit covering the torso, made of either black leather or rubber (PYK- pick yer kink); long rubber/leather gloves from just below the bicep to the wrist and then narrowing to a single anchor around the middle finger. Very hot, in all senses of the word. Sandals and tabi, by the look of it, rather than shoes. Our Sanzou wears jeans under his robe, but there's no saying that goes for all the Sanzous. Most importantly, the Sanzous bear one of the five scriptures used in the creation of the world (that's what makes them a Sanzou), which they wear like a shawl around their necks and recite at need.

Our Sanzou (hereinafter known merely as 'Sanzou') was abandoned as a baby and set adrift down the river, whence he was rescued by Koumyou Sanzou and raised by him as his disciple. The only clue to his origin was a set of beads found with him that he later gave to a monk at the monastery. Sanzou's childhood name was Kouryuu- set afloat + river- which besides being highly appropriate also contains a reference to the great Yangtze River of China. He was the object of some dissatisfaction among the other monks, who grumbled at Koumyou making this outcast his favourite disciple. The young Sanzou wasn't terribly accommodating either, having more attitude than anyone needs and a disrespectful mouth on him as well. But his innate power was manifest from an early age. The other monks thought he looked like one of the guardian gods of hell and steered clear of him.

Koumyou Sanzou seems to have been the essence of nonattachment, and his example is perhaps the reason our Sanzou is so very unattached to certain things he ought to be, like Buddhist precepts. 'I don't believe in Buddha or god, only in myself.' Sanzou says Koumyou taught him this form of 'nonattachment'- do your thing and if anyone tries to stop you, kill them. One may wonder if Koumyou intended his disciple to take the classic Zen precept 'if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him' quite as literally as Sanzou does. But then again, Sanzou strikes this reader as an untrustworthy narrator, so take anything he says with a grain of salt. Sanzou isn't as unattached as he'd like to think he is.

One rainy night when Sanzou was 13, Koumyou gave him his monkly name of Genjou and his status as a Sanzou, after which the chakra appeared in the middle of his forehead. Koumyou was the guardian of two sutras, the Maten sutra which disperses darkness and the Seiten sutra which creates light. He gave the Maten sutra to Sanzou. Koumyou's last words to Sanzou were 'Be strong.' At that moment a youkai broke into Koumyou's rooms to steal the sutras. Koumyou shielded Genjou from the youkai's attack and was killed. (This is the reason Sanzou hates rainy nights.) The thief fled, taking the Seiten sutra, but because Koumyou was protecting him Sanzou was able to hold on to the Maten sutra. Next day Sanzou was acknowledged as the heir of Koumyou Sanzou by the abbot of the monastery and given Koumyou's diadem. Sanzou asked permission to leave the monastery and find the stolen sutra. The abbot agreed, but said he would need something to protect him from the wild mountain goblins that surrounded the monastery. He showed Sanzou the monastery's collection of weapons, and Sanzou chose the shoureijuu ('rise + spirits + gun'), made by Smith and Wesson, which disperses youkai into atoms when fired.

As a monk, Sanzou is a total failure. The only vow he seems to regard is that of chastity, and that's more likely because he hates being touched than from any austerity of nature. Otherwise he drinks, smokes, swears, gambles, curses, threatens, and kills with abandon. Nonetheless he is a Sanzou, and the reader may well echo Gojou's question- 'How'd someone like *him* get to be one of *them*?' Well- Minekura may be making some kind of religious point here, something Calvinist about divine grace having nothing to do with good deeds. (gr) Or it may be related to Sanzou's past life. Once upon a time, 500 years ago up in heaven, Sanzou was a heaven dweller called Konzen Douji. For reasons yet to be revealed, Konzen and two of his heavenly cronies were either condemned or chose to come to earth and suffer a series of reincarnations. The events of Konzen's present life are being watched closely and with interest by the Bodhisattva Kanzeon up in heaven. Kanzeon, let us say now, is a hermaphrodite who quite happily reveals hir female secondary sex characteristics to all and sundry. Se's *stacked*, and you see it all. It's Kanzeon who sends Sanzou and the others on their journey to the west, though the actual marching orders come through the three Buddhist deities- three disembodied heads that dwell in a temple in the capital.

Sanzou is clearly a problematic character- preaching non-attachment to the past even while his own past haunts him, preaching self-sufficiency even while blaming himself for having failed to protect Koumyou. His friendship with Gokuu, Gojou and Hakkai is based to a very large extent on the fact that they can look after themselves and he'll never be called on to protect them. He rejects any overt suggestion that he has any connection to the others at all, even though he regularly gets his nose rubbed in the profound inter-connectedness among them. Selfish and bad-tempered and an emotional mess, he's still unarguably a clear-sighted leader and a charismatic figure who draws others to him. Doesn't hurt that he's hot as the hinges of hell.

Sanzou's virtual nickname with Gojou is namagusa bouzu- raw-smelling monk, the stock term for a monk who breaks his vows and eats flesh of whatever description. Gojou perennially tries to get Sanzou's goat and Sanzou regularly curses him out. There's a certain tension between Sanzou and Gojou, given that the two are opposites in ways that tend to jar rather than attract: Gojou the emotional and open womanizer, Sanzou the chilly self-enclosed loner. Sanzou obviously finds the easy-going smiling Hakkai much more to his tastes. It's Hakkai he regularly rooms with when they stay at an inn.

Son Gokuu

Unlike the other three, Gokuu isn't a reincarnation of a celestial being. He's the same Gokuu that was formed from the concentrated aura of the earth and birthed from a rock centuries ago. He's thus neither truly youkai or human, but generally considered a bit of both. In his natural form of Seiten Taisei Son Gokuu 'the great sage equal to heaven' Gokuu possesses seemingly infinite and invincible power, but is also an insane killer unable to tell friend from foe. (He's also totally gorgeous, if you go for long-haired wordless smiling psychopaths.) At some point in the past his power was contained by the diadem that he wears, which seems to have turned him into just an ordinary adolescent monkey. The diadem itself is a special controlling device, different from the usual kind that youkai use to restrain their power. It's a concatenation of divine energy, god-manufactured, which it has to be to contain the kind of power Gokuu has. It's twice come off in the manga, leading the divine Gokuu to go after Gojou and Sanzou as well as the enemy of the moment. One time it was restored by the direct intercession of Kanzeon, and once by Sanzou reciting the Maten sutra. Returned to his senses, Gokuu was naturally crushed at what he'd done.

Gokuu was brought up to heaven by some kind of heavenly trader where he made the acquaintance of Sanzou's former incarnation, Konzen. What happened afterwards we don't yet know. Gokuu did something for which he was punished by being imprisoned on top of a mountain, alone, for 500 years, and his memory of what he did was taken from him. All we know is that it had something to do with Konzen, and something to do with a desire not to lose Konzen. (Gokuu canonically hates people having secrets from him. 'I don't have secrets, it's not fair for him to,' he says, apropos of Gojou's secrecy about his half-brother. One could point out that Gokuu has no secrets in his past because he has no memory of his past, and that of all the characters he's possibly the greatest enigma.) At any rate, he remained on his mountain top, longing for the sun that he couldn't see, and terribly lonely, until the young Sanzou on his travels heard Gokuu's 'voice' calling him. It was so persistent and so annoying that Sanzou had to go find him, with the stated intention of knocking his block off. 'But when I saw him he just looked at me in such a dumb-ape fashion that somehow I forgot about wanting to hit him.' Sanzou stretched out his hand to Gokuu and Gokuu's chains fell off him. Sanzou brought him back to the capital where the other monks treated him with the same contempt and dislike the monks of Sanzou's youth had shown Sanzou. This served to cement the relationship between Sanzou and his young pet.

Gokuu is about eighteen in this series, and like most eighteen year olds and most Son Gokuus, he's always hungry. And always telling people about it, and whining, and complaining, and... It's not surprising Sanzou prefers to room with Hakkai. As a character Gokuu's the embodiment of a couple of untranslatable Japanese words and concepts. Pure-hearted, straightforward, 'bright'-- all suggestive of innocence and a transparent nature with no dark emotions and nothing to hide. Probably what Sanzou would like to be, if he weren't such a complicated mess. His devotion to Sanzou is complete, and hints are that Sanzou is attached to Gokuu in his fashion. Only being Sanzou he expresses that by calling him 'bakazaru' (stupid monkey) and hitting him over the head with a harisen (folded piece of white paper used, as far as I can tell, for hitting people over the head with in stooge comedy.) That seems to be just fine with Gokuu. We're definitely not dealing with sensitive New Age men here. Nope, the most tongue-tied of otoko-rashii (manly) Japanese guys for us, who show deep feeling by hitting people and calling them names. Heigh-ho. So the fact that Gokuu and Gojou are always fighting there in the back of the jeep and always trading insults probably means they're the best of friends. Easier to take is Hakkai's relationship with Gokuu, which the Japanese fen have characterized as 'maternal.' Looks after him, fusses over him, gives him encouraging words of advice. Hakkai's good with kids, what can one say?

Sa (Sha) Gojou

Red-haired, red-eyed, with three parallel scars on his left cheek, Gojou is a carefree drinking brawling gambling womanizer, evidently without a care in the world. In fact he has a traumatic past. He's a half-breed, son of a youkai father and his human mistress. Such unions are frowned on and semi-forbidden in the Saiyuuki world, being seen as inter-species cross-breeding. The red hair and eyes are the sign of these 'tabooed children.' Gojou was raised by his father's youkai wife. God knows what happened to the father; he doesn't seem to be around. Gojou had an older half-brother, Sa Jien. He desperately wanted his stepmother's love, but she hated him and cried every time she saw him. Obviously a woman well over the edge of hysteria, she eventually attacked Gojou, ripping his face with her talons (hence the scars) before trying to kill him with an axe. This happened when Gojou was either eight or twelve; Minekura contradicts herself on that point. Young Gojou felt guilty for existing and didn't try to protect himself from his stepmother. 'I figured if I was dead Mom'd stop crying, so it was better this way.' But his step-brother saved him, running his mother through with a sword. Jien, who'd had to endure his own domestic abuse from his mother, then left.

Gojou grew up somehow to become a footloose drifter, making a precarious living through gambling, and picking up women on a regular basis to get him through the night. Dogged by a sense of guilt about his stepmother and brother, he lived without any real human contacts until one rainy night when the wounded Hakkai fell across his path, quite literally. Seeing he was still alive, Gojou picked him up and half-carried him home, got a doctor to look after him, and let him stay at his place for a month until he was able to move again. Gojou discovered a sense of kinship with Hakkai, who seemed to be so much his opposite, partly because both had been wounded by their pasts, partly because Hakkai was the first person who'd ever made him feel needed. When Hakkai left Gojou's place, fleeing from Sanzou who'd come to find him and bring him to justice, Gojou followed after him with Sanzou and Gokuu. Later the two moved in together, still very different but somehow managing to become best friends.

Alone of the three 'half-youkai', Gojou doesn't need a controlling device to keep him in his human form- since his human form is half youkai to start with ie the eyes and hair colour. (Also the shape of his eyes hints at an unhuman origin.) Nonetheless, unless one knows the marks of the tabooed children, it's natural to assume Gojou is human. Gokuu's regular name for Gojou is erokappa- sexually perverted water spirit. Not that Gojou is a water spirit in any way, but the original Gojou in Journey to the West was. (Gokuu also calls him cockroach head, for reasons unknown. Japanese cockroaches are large and reddish brown, which may have something to do with it.) Gojou isn't perverted, but he's aggressively heterosexual in a way that guarantees his relationships will remain sexual only. 'Love? I don't really know what it is. Never really wanted to. I can get it up even without it...' You can look to his childhood for hints as to why he avoids any deeper contact with women. Gojou's complicated feelings about the woman he feared and whose love he desperately wanted are currently being explored in the series.

Cho Hakkai/ Cho Gonou

Hakkai was born Gonou. He was orphaned in his childhood and he and his sister Kanan were raised in separate orphanages. Gonou was a solemn little boy who never smiled, missing Kanan, his other half, intensely. Sometime after they left their respective orphanages they met again and became lovers, both happy that they weren't alone any more and not especially worried about issues like incest. (This detail gets cut from the anime.) They moved to a small village and Gonou became a school teacher. One day he was out playing with his kids after school and came home to find the house a shambles and Kanan gone. There was a tribe of youkai led by Hyakugan Maoh (hundred/eyes/demon/ king) who used to go on 'women hunts'- finding women for Hyakugan Maoh's bed. They'd come to the village and were going to take some of the village women but the villagers offered them Kanan instead. (Hyakugan Maoh shows up in connection with another character, who says that it's H's custom to use the women for sexual sport and eat them when he's tired of them. Not a nice man. Is also a centipede of some sort feh.)

Gonou had said he'd protect Kanan from the world, but not only had he not been able to do that, he hadn't even realized she was in danger. No evidence as to what was going on in his mind at that point- all we *know* is that he went on a rampage and killed half the men of the village. Gonou went after Hyakugan Maoh and apparently took some time getting to his castle, because it was two months later that he got there, killed the whole tribe of youkai, and found Kanan still alive imprisoned in the dungeon. When he rushed to the bars of her cell to free her, Kanan pulled Gonou's knife out of his belt and said he was too late to rescue her. She told him she'd become pregnant by Hyakugan Maoh, and then stabbed herself.

Enter at this point the jaded youkai, son of Hyakugan Maoh, whose original name we don't know but who later calls himself Chin Isou. Isou had apparently just wandered back in to find his entire family dead. This fact he finds mildly interesting, and so tracks the murderer down to the dungeons in time to witness the scene with Kanan. Gonou intrigues him, as evidently nothing has intrigued him in several centuries- ahh being a youkai prince is so dull, you just can't conceive of the ennui, my dear- and he decides to try a little experiment. There's a saying that if a human bathes in the blood of thousand youkai he becomes youkai himself, and well well could it be possible that Isou is the 1,000th youkai let's just nick a vein here and dribble it over him and see what happens. What happens is that Hakkai becomes youkai and does something messy to Chin Isou.

Gonou then stumbled into the night and was sometime later discovered by Gojou. Hovering on the brink of death, he says he was pulled back by the sight of Gojou's red hair that acted as a sign to remind him of the crime he'd committed. He stayed at Gojou's a month and then prepared to leave, intending to return to Hyakugan Maoh's castle and bury Kanan's body before giving himself up to the authorities. Sanzou, sent to find Gonou by the three Buddhist divinities, showed up at Gojou's door before Gonou could leave. After a fight, Gonou fled into the night, carrying Sanzou's gun that he'd picked up in the course of the fight. On the way to the castle Gonou is stopped by a youkai from his old village, seeking revenge for what Gonou did- specifically for the fact that Gonou gouged his brother's eyes out. Gonou happily agrees to make recompense, and gouges out his right eye. He's about to take out the left one as well when Gokuu jumps on him and stops him. Evidence on this right eye is contradictory. Minekura says in vol. 1 that he can hardly see out of it; in vol.5 he actually gouges the thing out so it flies through the air. Why Hakkai then wears a kind of half-spectacles in front of it is anyone's guess. Because it looks cool, I bet.

Sanzou, Gojou and Gokuu accompanied Gonou to Hyakugan Maoh's castle, only to find that it had been burned to the ground some days before by someone unknown and that nothing at all remains. Sanzou takes Gonou back to be judged for his crime by the Buddhist divinities, and later tells Gojou that Gonou is dead. That's 'dead' in some religious sense, because Gonou is still alive, but has changed his name to Cho Hakkai. Hakkai moves back in with Gojou, who needs his domestic presence. 'He can't even remember when garbage days are,' says this born house-husband.

Hakkai has three earcuffs, worn in the left ear, which keep him in his human form. His youkai form, the one view we've seen of it is kind of pretty if you don't count the claws. Youkai typically ahve body markings, and Hakkai's is a pattern of vines with little leaves. Suggestion however is that he's not entirely sane when in youkai form. When he changes over in vol.7 to get rid of a large black thing with teeth, he tells Gokuu to stand well out of the way 'or else I might kill you.' On the other hand, as someone pointed out, he's able to find and reattach his earcuffs afterwards when the threat is over.

Perpetually smiling, patient, reasonable and soft-spoken, with his feelings well-hidden on the inside in a perfect exemplar of the Japanese word enryo (holding back out of politeness), Hakkai is a difficult character to fathom. He gives very little away; and when, under extreme duress, angst over his past comes to the surface, Sanzou is usually there to tell him to stop. Sanzou's view is that having killed a thousand youkai and half a village is nothing to lose sleep over. "However much your hands may be running with blood, it'll wash off." Just part of life. Whether Hakkai agrees or not- well, who knows?

Hakkai owns a little white dragon, Jiipu in the manga and Hakuryuu in the anime, who at need turns into- what else?- a jeep. Evidently Jiipu too was once a celestial up in heaven.

The Youkai

The youkai are the equivalent of the novels' demons. The common run of youkai are all mad now, but we're told their ferociousness and cannibalizing activities aren't necessarily natural to them. In the old days humans had youkai as best friends and even as lovers, forbidden as that may be. The upperclass youkai that Sanzou and the others must face have an aristocratic air to them, and a certain contempt for the vulgar lowborn but nonetheless arrogant human beings. Youkai have characteristic pointed ears and skin markings somewhere on their bodies, like tattoos. Some at elast are able to disguise themselves as humans by the use of controlling devices (earrings, bracelets etc) that contain and subdue their youkai psychic power.

Gyuumaoh (ox-demon-king)

A great youkai king 500 years ago who refused to live with humans. He was prepared to plunge the world into chaos and devour the human race wholesale, but was defeated by the heavenly champion Nataku, the designated (and impure) 'prince of battles' among the gods, and the only one allowed to shed blood. Nataku imprisoned Gyyumaoh in his castle in India, in some sort of state of suspended animation. The Saiyuuki action begins because a cabal in India is intent on bringing Gyuumaoh back, using both magic and science. The combination of magic and science is as forbidden as the mating of human and youkai, because it destroys the delicate balance that keeps the world going. The destruction of the balance engendered by the resuscitation attempt released waves of negative energy that sent most adult youkai in the world insane and set off a wave of murder and rapine by the youkai who'd lived peacefully alongside humans for centuries. The Sanzou-tachi are sent west to stop the scheme to revive Gyuumaoh, and naturally meet youkai sent to stop them.

Gyokumen Koushu (jewel-face princess)

Gyuumaoh's concubine, a conniving woman who begins the project to bring him back and have herself declared his queen.

Rasetsunyo

Gyuumaoh's queen, currently in a trance and imprisoned inside a pillar by Gyokumen Koushu, her rival. By all accounts a gentle person.

Kougaiji (crimson newborn child)

Son of Gyuumaoh and Rasetsunyo, imprisoned with his father 500 years ago but since freed- presumably by Gyokumen Koushu and her scientists. A master of weapons and magical arts and a charismatic leader who can win the blind loyalty of youkai, Kougaiji has no real desire to see his father revived and chaos return to the world. Nonetheless he lends his aid unwillingly in order to have his mother released from the spell under which Gyokumen Koushu has placed her. He and his retainers are sent by her to stop Sanzou from getting to the castle. What with his Hamlet-like internal conflicts, he could never put his heart wholly into the fight with Sanzou. In the fight sequences gets paired up with Gokuu, from whom he learned, in the course of one of those intra-battle conversations that Japanese heroes are wont to carry on, to change his motivation so that he does only what he desires. What he desires is to free his mother, so he takes on Gokuu a third time in earnest, and gets ripped apart by undiademmed Gokuu. You can't win. Also Minekura's worldview, as seen through Sanzou's eyes, has very little room in it for noble characters. Sanzou is a Darwinist- 'Good or bad, in the end it's the people with the strongest will who survive'-- and Kougaiji's altruism, like Hakkai's remorse, is a character flaw in this scheme of things.

Dokugakuji (single horn child)

Kougaiji's bodyguard, a tall youkai in the habit of calling his master 'Kou' and 'omae' and patting him on the head, which is hardly the way to talk to (or treat) a prince. Turned up at the castle out of the blue six years previously and was taken on by Kougaiji without question. Fights with a large sword that has an eye in its blade, which he seems to pull out of the air. Doku's big brother act may spring from the fact that he's really Sa Jien, Gojou's brother, and the role comes naturally to him. There are dark canon-bolstered suspicions that he took up with Kougaiji to make up somehow for having killed his mother and abandoned his brother. No Saiyuuki character is complete without a large dose of angst in their past, but Dokugakuji is perhaps the least angsty in presentation, always excepting Gokuu, of course. In the fight sequences, gets paired up with Gojou, naturally.

Yaone (eight hundred mouse)

A herbalist or apothecary or whatever you want to call it. Knows her plants and poisons and exploding materials. She was about to be taken as a sacrifice to Hyakugan Maoh when Kougaiji happened to catch sight of her and bought her for his own service. Not sexual- he employs her in her usual capacity. Yaone is the essence of 'bushi' in spirit and language- samurai to the bone, loyal, devoted, and ready to cut her throat open in atonement when she fails to subdue the Sanzou-tachi. In the fights gets paired up with Hakkai, with whom she trades civilities and polite inquiries as to everyone's health. 'Please die!' she says, throwing a bomb at him which he deflects before attacking her, followed by a 'I hope I didn't hit you too hard. Are you hurt anywhere?' They make, one must say, rather a sweet pair.

Lirin (plum bit)

Kougaiji's younger sister, daughter of Gyokumen Koushu and Gyuumaoh. Distinctly kittenish, with something of a mouth on her. Gives the impression of being mid-teens, nubile but not terribly mature. Her mother doesn't like her, but intends to use her somehow in the plan to revive Gyuumaoh. Gets to sit out the fight sequences in the company of Sanzou, neither of them especially delighted at the situation.

The celestials

Kanzeon Bousatsu

One of the five great bodhisattva who govern the world. Looks like a high-painted woman, but is in fact a hermaphrodite. The moving spirit behind Sanzou's journey to the west, obviously with an agenda of hir own.

Nataku

The toushin taishi (god of battles prince), also one of the tabooed children, in this case offspring of a celestial and a human being. The toushin taishi is the only person in heaven allowed to shed blood, but the position is one abhorred by the other celestials which they shove off onto people whose lineage is somehow impure. Because of what happened in heaven 500 years ago, Nataku is now in a state of catatonia, evidently self-imposed as punishment for whatever it was he did.