If you were a kid in Australia any time from the late ‘70s to the mid-’90s or thereabouts, you almost certainly saw Monkey.
Originally broadcast on Japan’s Nippon TV from 1978 to 1980, Saiyūki, as it was titled in Japanese, was adapted from the book Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. But banish all thoughts of highfalutin, impenetrable philosophising – Monkey was full of high-kicking, accessible philosophising, cramming the book into an “adventure of the week” serial format.
In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned…
The title character, played by Masaaki Sakai, is the mischievous and arrogant King of the Monkeys. Imprisoned for offending Heaven, as penance, he is tasked with accompanying the boy priest Tripitaka (Masako Natsume) on a perilous journey from China to India to retrieve a batch of Buddhist scriptures.
Also along for the ride are two former Officers of Heaven who have been transformed into monsters for their own crimes: the gluttonous, lecherous pig monster Pigsy (Toshiyuki Nishida, then Tonpei Hidari in Season 2), and the cannibal river monster Sandy (Shiro Kishibe), plus a dragon (Shunji Fujimura) who transforms into a horse for Tripitaka to ride.
And that’s your lot! Every episode, Monkey and the gang would come across some weird problem they’d have to solve, often a town plagued by some kind of demon or monster, which they’d deal with by employing a winning combination of martial arts and Buddhist/Taoist philosophy. There was plenty of action wrapped around a cool moral lesson and, thanks to seemingly endless afternoon reruns on the ABC, generations of Aussie kids got a crash course in Eastern philosophy in between Danger Mouse and Doctor Who.