There is a traditional Chinese story dating to the Ming dynasty about the “journey to the West” of four characters that has made its way into Japanese folklore as well, where the tale is known as 西遊記 Saiyuuki. And so the Saiyuuki story has had multiple retellings in anime over the past 40+ years. One of the more popular anime retellings, known as Gensoumaden Saiyuuki, came out in three seasons from 2000 to 2004. It is an enjoyable series, admirable on many fronts, with elements likely to please many different fan bases. The four main characters — Genjou Sanzo, Cho Hakkai, Sha Gojo, and Son Goku, as their Chinese names are rendered in Japanese (and no, not that Son Goku, or at least not that version of him) are voiced by veteran actors with impressive and varied resumes (Seki Toshihiko, Ishida Akira, Hirata Hiroaki, and Hoshi Soichiro respectively). Regardless of what fan base you put yourself in, the high action, nonstop humor, and sense of weight of history that somehow connects it all together, are virtually certain to please you if you treat yourself to watching Saiyuuki and its two sequels, Reload and Reload:Gunlock.
The thirteenth episode of Saiyuuki Reload might just barely be considered a Christmas episode, if we use the term loosely. Certainly it is set in early winter. As they drive through the desert highlands of China, our four protagonists stop in a small town for the night. I say “drive” because their means of transport is a jeep: Hakkai’s pet white dragon Hakuryuu (whose name, as I am fairly certain, means simply “White Dragon”) can change at will into a jeep. (And I am sure that anyone reading this knows better than to ask further questions, as we all know this is #anime after all.) Unfortunately, the inn has a clearly posted “No Pets” policy — and this being such a small town, it is the only inn for miles. So Hakkai reluctantly “parks” Hakuryuu outside for the night, then returns to his friends in their room.
Pretty soon, a couple of thugs happen by, looking for something to steal. Well, a jeep should get a good price, no? At least, that’s what they both are expecting their boss to say, as they try in vain to start Hakuryuu’s engine. So Hakuryuu starts up on his own, then takes the two criminals on a fast-paced ride, ending with a sheer drop into a river.
Soon after Hakuryuu has lost his would-be captors, three small children happen along. Their parents apparently work nights. When Hakuryuu sneezes, the game is up and he is discovered. Of course the children are enchanted with their delicate (and versatile) new acquaintance. Eventually they persuade Hakuryuu to keep them safe for the night while driving them around the area.
The thieves won’t be dissuaded so easily, however. Particularly not when their boss was as disappointed as they expected when they reported in. So they plot and lay an ingenious serious of traps in which to catch Hakuryuu, who is still playing the babysitter.
Meanwhile, back at the inn, Hakkai and friends are at a loss as to what might have happened to Hakuryuu. Arguments ensue (especially between “frenemies” Goku and Gojo) as to which one of them is most at fault for his disappearance. They decide to go look for him, but their searches come up empty.
A rollicking jeep chase ensues, in which Hakuryuu deftly misses most of the traps, until he and the children are caught in a large net. A situation in which it’s clearly more advantageous to be a fire-breathing dragon than a jeep. The two thieves and their boss cannot keep up, to say the least.
Hakuryuu gets the three children safely back to their home, where their parents find them (mysteriously, so they think) sound asleep when they get home from work early in the morning. Back at the inn, Sanzo and the other three are only just beginning to catch on.
All’s well that ends well, however, and as snow begins to fall gently on the village, Hakuryuu returns to the four travellers, ready to be their mode of transport once again for the day. They are none the wiser about Hakuryuu’s activities the previous night, and perhaps that’s just as well.
The most “Christmasey” part of the episode occurs in the “Ura-sai” short at the end, in which we get to see the always-grumpy Sanzo being forced to wear a reindeer outfit. The other three seem to think it suits him just fine.
Deep lessons from Saiyuuki? Probably not, at least not in this episode. But if I’ve tempted any of you to watch these four on their long journey, as they struggle against demons who would stop them on their path while navigating other similar plot twists to this one, then these words were well worth writing. It was fun to remember the hours I spent watching this show all those years ago, back (if you can believe it) when Netflix sent me DVDs by snail mail.
Merry Christmas to all of you, and best wishes for 2016!