A classic Japanese show based on a Chinese myth gets an Australian/New Zealand revival.
500 years ago, the Monkey King Sun Wukong (also called Son Goku) (Chai Hansen) was buried under a mountain because he offended Heaven by stealing their scrolls of knowledge. Unfortunately, in the intervening centuries, the Earth has become overrun by demons and monsters, leading humans to be oppressed as the Gods are in hiding from the most powerful demon lords. A human scholar and some warriors had come up with a plan to free Monkey and recover the scrolls so that they can learn how to stop the demons’ reign of terror. Unfortunately, the night before the plan was set to commence, the demons killed the party, save for the scholar’s adopted daughter (Luciane Buchanan), who takes on the name Tripitaka after her father and pretends to be a man. She eventually manages to free the Monkey King and gain a pair of allies in the form of Cho Hakkou (AKA Pigsy) (Josh Thomson) and Sa Goji (AKA Sandy) (Emilie Cocquerel). Together, the four set out to recover the scrolls that the Monkey King lost and thwart the demons that are ruling over humanity.
Journey to the West is one of the most famous stories from ancient China, particularly because it’s been adapted so many times in both Eastern and Western media. The most famous adaptation is probably Dragon Ball, although it stopped having anything more in common with it than a character named Goku before I was born. This show is a spiritual successor to the Japanese adaptation from the late 1970s, which was itself dubbed into English by the BBC and released in New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom. It became a cult hit in those areas, although it was never broadcast in the United States. There are a number of references to watching it in BBC shows from the 90s and 00s, though.
This series tries to update the story in a number of ways, mostly for the better. The BBC dub, if you’ve seen it, contains a lot of accent work that does NOT age well. Since this one is in English, that fortunately is not an issue. In the original, one of the biggest draws was that it contained a lot of solid fight scenes, and this show follows in that tradition, but the updated special effects help add some variety. Additionally, they expanded the role of Tripitaka from the original. While Tripitaka is still not one of the central combatants, in this she’s much more willing to endanger herself in order to spare others. On the other hand, the show has softened the characters’ more outlandish traits, like Sandy being a pronounced cannibal or Pigsy having been a serial sexual harasser. I understand why they did that, but it does make them a little less conflicted and stops their arcs as redemption-focused characters.
Regardless of whether you liked the original series, this interpretation of the characters is very charming. Monkey is the cocky rebel who constantly has to be brought down a peg. Pigsy and Sandy bicker like rivals and yet still manage to get along well after a few episodes. Tripitaka is the moral center who is caught unprepared for the challenges, but steps up anyway. The writing is pretty good for a fantasy adventure series, although it’s not going to blow anyone away. The villains are usually pretty creative and well played in the first season, but they get a lot better in the second that just came out.
Overall, it’s mostly just a fun show to watch, which is more than enough sometimes.
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