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Saiyuki Reload, vol. 8 (Kazuya Minekura)

It's been a whole year since Sayuki fans have been able to read an official English translation of any new material - but of course, no time has passed for our boys. As you no doubt recall, the Sanzo ikkou had split up in the aftermath of the mysterious and nearly deadly attack on Goku. Sanzo's off on foot with cheerily narcissistic, youkai-hating Western exorcist Hazel Grosse and his massive native American bodyguard Gat, while Hakkai, Gojyo, and Goku (and Jeep) have been struggling to make it on their own without Sanzo's Gold Card to pay for their upkeep.

As of last volume, the three sort-of youkai had been rescued from the desert's hostile clutches by the inhabitants of a youkai village, all of whom have been through the Minus Wave and come out the other side quite sane, although frighteningly blasé about the possibility of Human as a menu item. This village turns out to have a serious water problem: the inhabitants used to be part of a mixed human-youkai town located on an oasis nearby, but the youkai were kicked out some time ago, and have since depended on hauling water from a river several hours away. When drought dries up even that remote source, the youkai are poised to invade their ancestral territory so that they can take what they feel is rightfully theirs. Hakkai, Gojyo, and especially Goku - whose friendship with a downright young youkai girl is blossoming rapidly into something more - are caught in the middle as events push the village to the breaking point.

Meanwhile, in a striking coincidence, Sanzo, Hazel, and Gat find themselves in ... a lovely, prosperous human town located on an oasis. The mayor and townsfolk have a wee problem, however. Seems some vicious youkai live just over the hill, and are fixing to attack the town for its water. Hazel is charmed to be among people whose viewpoints correspond so well with his own, but Sanzo is deeply skeptical about the entire situation. What's the truth about the town? Only time - and a lot of sorrow, and learning of the toughest kind - will tell.

This is a very involving volume with a lot of real-world parallels. I found myself thinking of racial conflicts, terrorism, water rights (obviously), and environmental issues, just to name a few.

 

Saiyuki Reload, vol. 8 (review)

Warning: I've made some of these remarks before, on the saiyuki_manga translations. Sorry for the repetition ... .

First off, the whole relationship between Goku and the youkai girl (and let's call her Pippi - everyone else does) is indeed heartbreaking. I think Minekura has done a really excellent job of showing Goku, unworldly in the ways of physical attraction, waking up to the implications that she's a girl. But there's more to it than that, and I really am convinced that in some way, she's meant to at least make us think of Nataku, even is she really isn't his reincarnation. Goku does a huge amount of growing up here: he's separated from Sanzo, working to survive by his own labor in a physically hostile environment, forced to consider the issue of whether he's really a youkai and whether he belongs, faced with attraction to the opposite sex for the first time - and then has to deal with the death - the willing death - of his new friend. And Gojyo and Hakkai also find themselves considering the question of whether they really belong anywhere.

Next, I really love Sanzo in suspicious gumshoe and then righteous youkai rights advocate modes (he'd make a hell of a civil rights lawyer, wouldn't he?). He is supremely snarky and pissy in this volume, and because his targets are so odious, it's easy to get behind him and cheer him on. My favorite bits are his gunning for Hazel about the "even a worm" saying, the breezy little "thanks for having us" as he blows off the Mayor and his troops after Gat destroys the amulet, and his "bitch, please" moment seconds later, and finally his little snipe exchange with Hazel during the fight against the youkai as they escape from the town. (Did anyone else notice how he goes all wide-eyed for a moment after Hazel makes his exorcist-exercise pun?)

I think it's rather interesting that both Goku and Hazel are forced into hard-knocks learning situations here. I'm thinking of the two of them as the proteges of opposing forces (Sanzo and Ukoku), and they both have to grow up a lot. Hazel, for his part, learns how easily he can be manipulated by his prejudices and vanity, and that Sanzo is even wiser than he thought (I'm wondering if this will make his crush even worse), and of course, he loses his amulet.

Gat really comes into his own as a character here - without saying more than a couple of dozen words. In addition to his bold move with the amulet - which Hazel essentially condones after the fact (notice that he never takes Gat to task for this) - there's the lovely mini-flashback to his childhood, the scene where Hazel fusses at him after he's nearly killed in combat - and the wonderful scene where Sanzo, in a snarky Sanzo version of the tribal elder's words, reminds him that his responsibility for Hazel is his destiny.

The extras are fun, although I'm sad to have to say good-bye to the idea that all youkai develop the ability to summon a weapon as they grow up. There have been so many good Gojyo and Jien stories involving this concept. Still, it makes sense: the only other youkai we've ever seen summon weapons are Yaone and Dokugakuji, and as someone (meganbmoore?) pointed out, that's probably something Kougaiji, with his potent chi magic, did for them.

And I still think the idea of Gojyo playing the role of the first teenager to get offed in the slasher movie - because, you know, you should never go down the basement by yourself, and it's always the class slut who gets it first - is terribly funny.

 

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