In 1979, Monkey (known as 'Monkey Magic' to many fans), a much-loved Japanese adaptation of the 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West, premiered to Western audiences. The series quickly became a hit, and remains a cult classic. A number of remakes and reboots and twists on the story have been attempted over the years, but none have quite matched the success of the original—except for maybe the Dragon Ball anime franchise, which itself began as a loose adaptation of Journey To The West.
Now, in a joint effort between Australia's ABC, New Zealand's TVNZ, and streaming giant Netflix, the story is being retold again, this time as The New Legends Of Monkey. Consisting of ten thirty minute episodes, the series will premiere January 28, 2018 on the ABC ME network before Netflix distributes the episodes worldwide. Can Monkey cast his spell again?
The Origins of 'Monkey'
The original Monkey series premiered in Japan in 1978, under the title of Saiyuki. In 1979 it was picked up by the BBC, dubbed into English, and re-titled as Monkey for Western audiences, though many fans refer to the show as 'Monkey Magic,' thanks to the series classic theme song. "Gandhara," the closing theme of the show's first season, was also popular. Both themes were performed by the Japanese rock band Godiego. In the U.K., Monkey was aired on the BBC, while ABC picked up the show in Australia.
Viewers soon became enthralled in the world of Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy, and their Master, Tripitaka, as they embarked on a long journey to retrieve a collection of Buddhist scriptures from India, learning valuable lessons along the way. Children all over acted out Monkey's adventures on the playground. The English dubbing for the series, which wasn't afraid to include naughty jokes and even a sneaky swear word or two (Sandy once calls a woman a bitch, but it's okay because she's a dog demon), quickly made it a classic.
Despite the series' popularity, only 39 of Monkey's 52 episodes were originally dubbed into English. This included all 26 episodes of series one, but only 13 episodes of series two. In 2004, the company Fabulous Films reunited Monkey's voice cast to dub the remaining 13 episodes. After a successful DVD release, the episodes finally aired on British television.
Since the success of Monkey, many other remakes and retellings of Journey To The West have been produced, some more successful than others. Within Japan, the most successful is the 2006 series Saiyuki/Monkey Magic. This series often paid homage to the classic series, featuring Masaaki Sakai, the actor behind the original Monkey, in the role of Buddha.
When it comes to retellings finding fans worldwide, the most successful is undoubtedly the Dragon Ball anime franchise.
The first arc of the original Dragon Ball anime draws clear parallels with Journey To The West, and therefore Monkey as well. Goku, an unusually strong orphan with a monkey-like tail, represents Monkey (some English translations of Journey to the West even name Monkey Son Goku). Oolong, an often perverted shape-shifting creature, represents Pigsy, and Yamcha, a bandit when the group first meets him, draws parallels with Sandy. Bulma, the young woman whose idea it is to search for the magical Dragon Balls in the first place, rounds out the series early cast, her character loosely based on Tripitaka. While Dragon Ball ultimately goes off in its own direction, moments from the legend remain scattered throughout.
'The New Legends of Monkey'
And so we reach the latest attempted reboot, The New Legends Of Monkey. While the series looks as though it might have tried to capture the spirit of the original, Tripitaka will be played buy Luciane Buchanan. While the original Monkey had Tripitaka as a male character being portrayed by a female actor, the new version seems to have opted for a straight gender-swap, making the character female. Sandy, a definite male in the original series, will also be played by a woman, Emilie Cocquerel, in The New Legends Of Monkey. The main cast is completed with Derek Siow as Pigsy, and Chai Hansen starring as 'The Monkey King,' Monkey.
The series will initially feature ten 30 minute episodes, with the chance of more if it finds a big enough audience. Will The New Legends Of Monkey grow to reach the cult status enjoyed by the original? Only time, and maybe a bit of Monkey Magic, will tell.
You will be able to catch the show on ABCME in Australia, or TVNZ in New Zealand, from January 28. For those in other countries, the series will be available for streaming on Netflix.