Anime In-Jokes: Saiyuki Edition
So a monk, a pig, and a monkey walk into a temple…
Seriously though, this isn’t the opening to a bad joke. This is the premise of an ancient Chinese novel Journey to the West, which has permeated not only Japanese culture, but its entertainment as well. Many Westerners sit blindly as references to the Merciful Goddess and Ox King are thrown at them, and are left none the wiser.
Journey to the West is such an integral part of Japanese storytelling that it formed the basis for such hit shows as Dragonball, Gensomaden Saiyuki (as well as its sequels), Patarillo Saiyuki! and more. It was even the basis of the plot of Jet Li and Jackie Chan’s film The Forbidden Kingdom. References to The Journey to the West have been used in a tremendous variety of anime including: Yu Yu Hakusho, Read or Die, Lupin III Digimon Savers, and Love Hina.
The story of Journey to the West or X?yóujì, or (in Japanese) Saiyuki lived via multiple oral legends until it was compiled and published in 1590. Around that time, Japan was busy trying to conquer China, Korea and even India, and managed to loot a few important things like art, culture, and Journey to the West.
Journey to the West takes place during the Tang Dynasty where a fictional high holy Buddhist monk, Xuanzang (Genjo Sanzo), undertakes a dangerous journey from China to India in order to study Buddhism at its root and attain Buddhist texts called sutras. He, being a holy man, does not believe in violence, so he has three supernatural companions kick butt for him.
These companions are Zhu Bajie, a greedy pig-faced demon, Sha Wujing, a river monster whose ugliness makes girls faint, and Son Wukong (Son Goku), a mischievous monkey king who gets the first seven chapters devoted to him even before the main protagonist gets mentioned.
The Merciful Goddess is a Bodhisattva who plays a key role through the events of Journey to the West. It is through her power that Xuanzang converts demons that assist him on his journey. Because of her mercy he and his companions travels safely from China to India and back over the course of fourteen years.
When Akira Toriyama wrote Dragonball, he kept Goku’s name and several elements related to him: the monkey-features, the Nyoi-bo (extendable staff) and a nimbus cloud, based off a cloud mentioned in the novel. Little of Toriyama’s Goku wit remained, however, as his version of Goku was childlike and innocent. Both versions of Goku did go through a transformation from bloodthirsty to…. well, less bloodthirsty.
In Dragonball the role of the monk was surprisingly given to Bulma. Bulma and Xuanzang (Sanzo) were both the helpless human protagonists of their stories and had to boss around their less-reserved companions. And Oolong was, of course, the pig.
Kazuya Minekura’s Gensomaden Saiyuki is a direct parody of the actual novel itself. The kanji for Journey to the West can also be interpreted as “Journey to the Max,” so she made sure to flip all of the characters’ personalities (and make them hotter, for your viewing pleasure). Sanzo became a foul-mouthed, beer-drinking, hot-headed, smoking, gambling, trigger-happy monk. Goku was reduced to acting like a child with ever-lasting hunger, and Gojyo, who was the ugly-as-sin river monster in the original legend, now seduced women them with his red-haired goodness. The only polite and decently behaved character in the mix is the pig-demon Hakkai who was no longer a pig, but definitely kickass. He’s like a pot set on a fire, and you know he’s going to boil over, but you just don’t know when. For now, he’s pleasantly simmering with a cheerful smile always in place.
Gensomaden Saiyuki details the journey of these four holy misfits as they attempt to stop the resurrection of Gyumaoh as demons around them go stark-raving mad. Also a running gag is that because the four holy men are so out-of-character, none of the commoners believe they’re really the holy quartet until they prove their power. Plus they carry weapons and ride around in a jeep.
You heard me: jeep. In the original legend, a dragon prince was forced to turn into a horse for Sanzo to ride. Minekura decided to give them a cushier ride for the trip, I guess. Throughout their journey, they continuously encounter the same group of four demons while the rest of society gets plagued with some sort of sickness that turns mild-mannered demons into rampaging murderers. Sanzo and company are out to put an end to this madness and stop Gyumaoh once and for all. Oh, yeah. And sutras are bondage weapons, the Gods have credit cards and the Merciful Goddess isn’t entirely…. female.
Patarillo Saiyuki! is a much softer re-examination of the legend, starring the cast of Patarillo! Sanzo is by far the most in-character, as he is dainty, helpless, easily deceived and out to survive. The only concern is that this is a spinoff of Patarillo! – one of the first yaoi-anime. The original show even had m-preg. I like a good yaoi just as much as the next person, but when you start impregnating monks, I get a bit wary.
Patarillo (the character) stays pretty much the same as always: chibi and mischievous. He, of course, plays Goku in this series and manages to antagonize the rather prissy Sanzo, portrayed by Mariach in the original series, on a constant basis. Bancouran the “Bishounen Killer” (known for seducing everything with a Y-chromosome within 100 yards) makes several inexplicable appearances, leaving our dainty monk less… holy… several times. Each episode is graciously only 10 minutes long, and has an extremely girly/catchy opening theme song, so you know what you’re tuning in for.
So, according to my explanation, The Journey to the West is about four furries gathering dragon balls and getting pregnant while eating a lot and hitting on people of questionable gender-orientation, right? Well, at least you’re on the right track, guys. Happy viewing.