The Last Saiyuki 001-007 – Manga Review
Synopsis: Ryunosuke’s life is wrecked when he gets a surprise sister who can’t move or talk. But she has a secret. (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)
Warning: Spoilers to Follow:
The Last Saiyuki makes the fundamental mistake of telling rather than showing. We’re introduced to Ryunosuke’s recently troubled life, due to his father taking in a disabled girl by the name of Koharu Mori, preventing him from pursuing his dream of joining the baseball team. The manga explains the origin’s of Ryunosuke’s dream, an attachment to his late mother who caught a fly ball for him during a local baseball game. There’s an over-reliance here on narration, having Ryunosuke explain his attachment to his mother, and the pursuit of his dream more so than showing us within the flashback itself. While narration is typically used like this in early manga chapters to quickly establish what drives our lead characters, The Last Saiyuki ends up using frequent narration as a crutch.
It’s not long after Ryunosuke is introduced to Koharu, his new, adoptive sister, that the manga loses faith in its ability to convey its story to the reader. We get a few sequences showcasing how much of a burden Koharu becomes upon Ryunosuke’s life before the manga dives into more lengthy narration, spelling out Ryunosuke’s mental state, rather than trying to depict it through visuals. This frequent use of narration is damaging to the emotional punch of the story. Which is unfortunate as what lies beneath could be quite gripping.
At its heart The Last Saiyuki’s first chapter is all about Ryunosuke growing from a bratty, self-centered child and into someone who understands where Koharu is coming from. He transforms from selfish into selfless. However, because of the frequent narration this transformation is spelled out, leaving little room for the audience to feel such a shift in Ryunosuke’s character through the imagery and dialogue. If told in a slightly different way, with more focus on conveying the story through imagery, rather than narration, The Last Saiyuki could’ve made an incredible impact. As it stands the opening is ho-hum and mediocre.
The series troubles don’t end there though. The Last Saiyuki has a twist on the end of its first chapter (mentioned within the chapter’s opening pages) that turns the story from merely a drama into something far more supernatural. But The Last Saiyuki handles its exposition in much the same way it does its narration; with all the subtlety of a hammer to metal. Exposition riddles the last few pages of The Last Saiyuki, drawing out its first chapter with an overabundance of explanation, offering more information than is truly required.
These issues continue to haunt The Last Saiyuki all the way through its current chapter. Chapter 2 is perhaps the worst offender. Ryunosuke’s father explains to him the supernatural details required in order for the story to make sense. But when Koharu goes missing, Ryunosuke and his father don’t jump into action right away. It takes them six pages of discussion and additional exposition before they rush after Koharu, a girl who has the power to ‘destroy the world.’ It’s then another six pages before they actually go to her aid. There’s no sense of urgency to these events, despite it being super important that Koharu be found, and her fears and worries be dealt with. In fact, Chapter 2 ends before Ryunosuke can challenge his own fears, physically manifested by Koharu’s terrifying ability to turn a person’s imagined fears into reality. This is a story that should’ve been contained in the series’ second chapter, not spread out over an entire two issues.
When the series is focused on action however, is when The Last Saiyuki truly shines through. The artwork is great, the paneling strong, and the storytelling much faster and more purposeful. But these moments are fleeting, as the series all too often falls back on over exposition and lengthy discussions.
By Chapter 7 The Last Saiyuki does start to feel at least a little more natural and gradually transforming more and more into an action manga. I don’t know that the series really needs to force more fighting into the mix, but the gradual lean away from lengthy exposition, and less talking heads makes the manga more engaging and interesting.
At its heart The Last Saiyuki has potential, although much of its early character work doesn’t seem like it’ll extend very far. Ryunosuke’s transformation from selfish to selfless is great, but finished by this point. By Chapter 7 he’s your more typicaly manga protagonist, prepared to give it his all to save others. Koharu is primarily a damsel in distress, despite possessing quite a few supernatural powers, and incapable of protecting herself. This is made up for with teases of greater world building, evil groups seeking to exploit Koharu, and Ryunosuke’s dad keeping darker secrets. If the series can continue to put more faith in its ability to show us the story, rather than tell it, The Last Saiyuki might end up coming together to make for a decent read. But that’s assuming it can overcome such a limp start. Typically the best shonen have strong openings, and The Last Saiyuki’s is far from that. There’s always the chance that its turn around could bring back readers lost early on, but that’s more of a gamble than a sure thing.
That’s it for today. Please let me know your thoughts on The Last Saiyuki in the comments below!
The Last Saiyuki is published as part of Shonen Jump.