I started reading this because many people were talking about a) how good it was, b) how good the art was, and c) how good it was.
I actually wasn't particularly impressed with vols. 1-3. It took a while to get used to Minekura's art, which is very different from most shoujo and shounen art. The eyes are slantier and tend to swoop downward, the linework is much finer and more detailed, and only Goku has big, sparkly eyes. Sort of.
Saiyuki is a take on the Chinese classic Journey to the West ("sai" in Japanese can either mean written as "west" or "extreme," depending on which kanji is used... so Saiyuki is technically "Journey to the Extreme"), and a very loose (and cool) one at that.
Basically, something has driven all the youkai (demons, but not necessarily evil) crazy, and they've been rampaging around. Genjyo Sanzo, Buddhist priest extraoridinaire, has been ordered by Kanzeon Bosatsu (the bodhisattva Kuan-Yin) to go around with Goku (Monkey), Hakkai, and Gojyo, all youkai who haven't been affected to stop it. Or... find scriptures. Or... find scriptures to stop it.
To be honest, I actually forgot what the plot was! There's a whole other thing in which a mirror group of youkai are attempting to resurrect a demon king for assorted Oedipal reasons, and both groups fight a lot.
The first few volumes aren't all that interesting because the story is very episodic, as opposed to epic (much like Journey to the West). But then Minekura starts getting into the characters' backstory, and hooboy!!! Angst galore! Angst and pretty characters and then I melted into a little puddle and wibbled a whole lot.
The grand arc doesn't get concluded by the end of the nine-volume series and is being continued in Saiyuki Reload (someone -- Rachel? Mely? -- told me that the arc got split up because of a change of publishers or something). But honestly, the arc doesn't matter all that much to me; it's merely a vehicle to let me spend more time with the characters, who all have deep, dark, tortured pasts. Also, I adore the dynamics among Sanzo, Gojyo, Hakkai and Goku (*wibble*HakkaiGojyo*wibble*).
Racing through Saiyuki Reload now, as well as Saiyuki Gaiden, a look at past incarnations of the characters.
Also, rachelmanjia had mentioned that I should get the books themselves because the translations were really good, but I didn't really take note until some point in vol. 4, where Gojyo is yelling something like, "Frickkin' argh!" Then I sort of stopped and realized that they sounded natural, not stilted at all. The translators also manage to make it so that the characters' voices are all very distinctive, which is nifty! I really want to check out the original and compare it to the translation for fun...
Really, I don't want to write up some objective thing at all! I just want to squee madly about all the characters and the art and the characters and their angst and the art and the characters!
So, I wasn't very caught up in the story in vols. 1-3, largely because I was reading one volume a month or something, and completely forgot what happened before. Then I read vol. 4, except in Chinese. So I got that there was some major angst going on and decided that Hakkai needed many pats on the head.
Then I got vol. 4 off Amazon, finally, read it, and immediately went, "GAH! The angst! It kills!" and ran off as fast as I could to Borders to get the rest.
Actually, I read vol. 5 while standing there and didn't end up buying it, which was an extremely poor decision on my end, because now I desperately want to reread! But! Poor Hakkai!
And I am reduced to a squeeing fangirl at pretty much every single scene with Hakkai and Gojyo, and eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee slashiness!! Gojyo saves him! Hakkai's dying on the ground! Blood! Angst! Running away! Gojyo wants to be saved! Hakkai wants to know why Gojyo saved him! The hands, bloody hands! Blood-red hair! Exclamation point!
I am completely irrational about this.
And then! There was Sanzo getting poisoned by a youkai and Goku taking his inhibitor off to save him and angsty fight and gunpoint and Sanzo's steeliness and Goku being sorry and wanting to be whapped on the head with a fan! Even more wibbling!
OMG TEH ANGST!
Anyhow, I still have an enormous soft spot for Hakkai, just because... Jeep! Incest! Quiet, nice guy with monocle who has lots of hidden angst and is incredibly hot! But then... there is Gojyo and his angst and the way he took care of Hakkai, and Sanzo's complete lack of a soft marshmallow center, and then Goku comes in, and much love. Much.
I may be able to write something more rational later, but I seriously doubt it, because every time I get into thinking about Saiyuki, my brain just goes into *wibblewibblewibble-squee-thunk* mode. It's rather sad.
Me on Saiyuki and Journey to the West
Any other links would be highly, highly appreciated!