If you’re just joining us, Briefs by Blake is a special series that spotlights a handful of manga that only ran for a short while (chapter lengths in the teens to twenties). We hope you enjoy the final installation of this series.
Ryunosuke is a ten year old boy who dreams of playing baseball. His father surprises him with a new adoptive sister, Koharu, and tasks him with protecting her. Unfortunately, she is blind, and her arms and legs are artificial and unusable. Ryunosuke resents the burden she is to him, particularly because he has to drop out of school to care for her full time, quashing his baseball dreams. However, he soon learns that monsters are real, both summoned and defeated by mou, which is essentially the belief in the impossible. If you think there could be monsters enough, there will be. If you believe you can beat those monsters, you can. Anyone is capable of opening their mou, releasing monsters or allowing them to slay them (although few do, and far fewer figure out how to fight back). Koharu has mystical powers that allow her to move her body, and when Ryunosuke catches this, he unleashes his mou and brings a monster into the world. He learns about wielding the nyoibo, the mythical staff from the Journey to the West, and defeats the monster. He vows to protect Koharu as a proper big brother, and finds himself plunged into a new world of mystics preparing for the end of days.
That’s the premise of The Last Saiyuki, a delightful manga from 2019 that ran for only 23 chapters. I’ve written a few blog posts in the past about other series that only lived into the teens or twenties – Hell Warden Higuma, Red Sprite, and Stealth Symphony – and this manga shares a lot with them, in that it seems to have been suddenly and swiftly put to bed just as things were really kicking into gear.
As is common with a lot of shonen anime, you get the premise (my opening paragraph, which basically just covers the first chapter). Then you get a few early chapters that are functionally exposition, learning about the world and the powers in it. You get an early mission, a main/first villain reveal, and then you kind of kick off to the races. Obviously these are not plot stations that are set in stone, nor are they required to be in this exact order, but they’re common enough that they should be recognizable tropes to any shonen anime or manga fan. And, indeed, passing through those stations of plot can be part of the fun of a good shonen experience.
Unfortunately, a lot of these early stations don’t have a ton of meat on their bones, if you will. It’s a lot of setup, and while the various scenarios, rules, and powers being set up may vary, the process can feel familiar and, at times, rote. This, I think, is the key to why some of these series live and some die. Because I think The Last Saiyuki, like Stealth Symphony and Red Sprite before it, has solid artwork, exciting action, fun concepts – basically everything you want in a prospective shonen success. But because these plot stations can be a bit rote or familiar, I think it’s also a dangerous time for a manga, because if enough people are unenchanted by your core concept, you may not make it through these stations to the proper good stuff.
And that’s, sadly, where The Last Saiyuki seems to have found itself. Yet again, a manga with good art, action, and concepts that I thought had real staying potential, but found its early demise due to low sales numbers. It’s a disappointment that I fear will continue to be experienced in series I will read in the future. One of the unfortunate byproducts of needing to sell your art, rather than simply make it.
All that said, let me assure you it’s not doom and gloom. As I’ve noted several times already, I found The Last Saiyuki utterly charming and intriguing. Some of the concepts can be a little complicated (possibly one of the things that helped keep people from embracing it), but now that it is complete and relatively bite-sized, those more abstract concepts should be much more digestible. And as you’re digesting these concepts, you get really fun character design, some disturbing monster design, powers that feel simple yet with deep possibility, and a mystical, world-ending plot with a sentimental heart at its core. I think this manga does a great job of giving you so many of the mainstays of a good shonen story, and I really think it’s worth checking out.
I guess I spent most of my time pontificating on the general tragedy of good manga that are forced to end too soon. Part of that is because The Last Saiyuki is really establishing a trend of that, and one that I’m not fond of. But part of it is because I just really liked this series, and I don’t want to spend too much time on the details because I think they’re worth discovering on your own. I hope you read my teeth-gnashing reflection on early cancellation as an endorsement of the series, of it having deserved better, and more. Because I think it did. And while I think it’s sad that we only have so little of the series at the end of the day, what we do have is more than fun enough to warrant an endorsement from me.
Blake is one half of Blake & Spencer Get Jumped – a member of The Geekly Grind podcast network! Make sure to tune in and get their thoughts on classic anime series, new manga titles and more!