Genjo Sanzo and Tripitaka: Saiyuki vs. Journey to the West

The anime Saiyuki is based on the 16th Century Chinese novel Journey to the West with Genjo Sanzo as its main character and I’ve compared the two works in this article so if you would like more background, please read that before proceeding. Over this and subsequent articles, I’ll focus on comparing some of the main characters in terms of depiction in the show versus the original novel. This one focuses on Genjo Sanzo.

So the ‘Sanzo Ikkou’ i.e. Sanzo’s gang in Saiyuki are about as alike to their Journey to the West counterparts as I am alike to Daffy Duck (except maybe Goku) but they do have some similarities (as do me and Daffy) and are definitely directly based on the characters from the original so it’s worth a look even if just for the sake of hilarity. Jury is still out on whether I am based on Daffy or not so we’ll get there some other day.

Genjo Sanzo vs. Tang Sanzang (Tripitaka)

Let me paint you a picture of this comparison through quotations. Can you guess which version of the same monk said which to his companions and friends?

“…If you have such abilities, you should have chased them away. Why did you slay them all? How can you be a monk when you take life without cause? … You showed no mercy at all! …”

“Quiet down or I’ll shoot you bastards!”

Sanzo the monk is our main character in Saiyuki and this guy is the wildest when it comes to the “departure from the original” department. He is based on the Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang, who is also known as Tripitaka in Journey to the West, and I feel if Tripitaka actually ever saw Sanzo in any episode of Saiyuki he would go into apoplectic shock.

Tripitaka in the book is a representation of the soul which seeks enlightenment and is this extremely wise man who is very holy, revered, the embodiment of calmness, wisdom, and being centered. He keeps reminding the more violent and impulsive members of his posse, especially Sun Wukong, to be compassionate and think things through before acting, to avoid killing. He is also the book’s resident damsel in distress cause everybody wants a piece of him…no literally. Demons believe his flesh will give them immortality so they want to eat him and hence in most arcs he ends up with a kidnapping attempt or being actually kidnapped.

Sanzo is nothing like Tripitaka. He smokes, wears Jeans and a turtleneck under his robes, carries a gun for dispatching demons, keeps smacking people with a fan (mostly Goku and Gojyo) when they don’t toe the line, and has zero patience for anything and anyone. He can also kick ass, never actually took monastic vows, doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for any of the bureaucratic divine folk in his life, doesn’t want to preach wisdom, has no patience for “weaklings” (with some exceptions) and can’t really be bothered by a whole lot though he does take his responsibilities seriously.

So yeah, not the same guy at-all. Sanzo’s background arc is rather sad just like everyone else in the show and he even has a previous incarnation who has a whole paternal arc with Goku. What I love about his character is that he is the very representation of Minekura staying both reverent to the original while also completely doing his own thing. Sanzo is very much a monk even if he never took monastic vows and he fulfills his quest, lives a pretty frugal life, and has amazing moments of wisdom so his role as the wise leader of the group is pretty much a given but like I said, Tripitaka’s benevolence is nowhere a part of this character and he is often very anti-establishment, thus setting the tone for the edginess of the entire show.

His interaction with his companions is also most often ballistic but he knows how to get them going as well. He travels in the company of three half demons but is still definitely the most savage of the lot. All in all, Sanzo is a pretty awesome character and super fun to watch. I love him and he is honestly one of the very few characters in anime who can actually awaken the fangirl in me (who even knows why I want a belligerent monk but that’s for my shrink to figure out) but his general aura of not giving a damn which hides a much deeper and softer side is fairly fitting (and a common main character trope). The manga covers his previous incarnation’s paternal arc with Goku which is just beautiful.

Other Articles in this series:

  1. Comparing Saiyuki and Journey to the West
  2. Genjo Sanzo vs. Tripitaka
  3. Son Goku vs. Sun Wukong
  4. Sha Gojyo vs. Sha Wujing
  5. Cho Hakkai vs. Zhu Bajie
  6. Special Mention: Kanzenon Bosatsu vs. Guanyin

For more articles on anime click here

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7 thoughts on “Genjo Sanzo and Tripitaka: Saiyuki vs. Journey to the West”

  1. I keep meaning to get back to watching Saiyuki. But I agree that Sanzo is my favorite character, mostly because he’s just a hardboiled detective type character. One of these days I’ll watch it.

    1. I don’t blame you for not getting back because it’s just so long! Sanzo is your typical cool anime main guy and I like that hard boiled detective description. It’s just hilarious when you read the source material though and compare that guy to this guy. This guy would get annoyed and shoot that guy in five minutes flat.

  2. Man! Sanzo’s my second favourite. I like Goku. But that’s funny reading how the original monk was because that’s definitely not him. In fact I used to wonder how they let him become a monk but guess if he never took vows it makes sense. I laughed so hard at those two quotes.

    1. Yeah I think those quotes say more than anything the article can. Tripitaka wouldn’t survive being around Sanzo for sure. Goku is the fighter. I love the original character he is based on. Ooh we still have the one on him yet to come.

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