Saiyûki (Monkey)

Volume 1

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Details At A Glance

Category Adventure Character Biographies
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Year Released 1978
Running Time 129:53 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Yusuke Watanabe
Siren Entertainment 
Siren Entertainment
Starring Masaaki Sakai
Toshiyuki Nishida
Shirô Kishibe
Masako Natsume
Tonpei Hidari
Shyunji Fujimura
Mieko Takamine
Case Brackley
RPI $29.95 Music Yoshino Micky
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None Dolby Digital 2.0
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    One of the few things I remember about the past sixteen years is watching many a series of comedies, science fiction shows, or other general B-grade nonsense on the ABC. One program that would be broadly classified into the third category would be Monkey, a rather hilarious Japanese show about a staff-wielding hero, also named Monkey, who liked to ride on clouds. It amazes me to learn, more than a decade after the series went off-air for good in the mid-1980s, that there was a plot lurking behind the inherently silly on-screen action. Monkey is a story by Wu Ch'êng-ên, based on ancient Chinese legends that trace the origins of Buddhism. Each episode follows the adventures of Tripitaka (Masako Natsume), with his disciples Pigsy (Toshiyuki Nishida during season one, Tonpei Hidari during season two), Sandy (Shirô Kishibe), and Monkey (Masaaki Sakai), as they travel from China to India in order to fetch the holy scriptures that will save the world. The story begins at a time when the Earth was populated only by demons and monkeys, with Saiyûki, or Monkey as he is known in the translated version, being king of the monkeys. Monkey is a rude, loud, and aggressive individual who demands that he be made powerful by the gods, as he managed to defeat the demons. After a trip to heaven, he manages to get all of the power and magic that he wants, but he also manages to annoy the gods, as well as paint graffiti on the finger of Buddha (Mieko Takamine).

    As a result, the gods banish Monkey to Earth some thousands of years later, where he is entrusted with the rather challenging task of protecting the young Buddhist priest Tripitaka. Along the way, they confront many adversaries, participate in lots of Kung Fu fights, and generally give lots of badly-dubbed lessons about Buddhist morality. To describe the plot much more than that would spoil the few surprises this series has left, so I will leave it at that. Only two series of this show were produced, both of which were released in the same year, and it is a real pity that more episodes were not forthcoming. Still, fans of the series who have been waiting for it to be immortalized in digital will doubtlessly be happy to see this disc hit the shelves at long last. The sound effects may be quite twee, the acting may be appalling, and the special effects practically non-existent, but these things all just add to the show's insane charm.

    This disc contains three episodes of around forty minutes in length, with this volume starting at the very beginning:

    It is worth noting that the episodes must be selected manually, and cannot be played back in order as is the case with The Black Adder, Series 1. This is a minor quibble, but the rather poorly detailed menu makes the matter somewhat worse.

Transfer Quality


    I wasn't expecting a great deal from the video transfer, and "not much" is a good description of what I got. Bearing in mind that this is a twenty-two year old TV program that was produced by an independent production company in Japan, however, I don't think that I have ever seen this program look so good.

    The transfer is presented Full Frame, and is not 16x9 Enhanced. The sharpness of this transfer can be described as being good at the best of times, but distinctly average at the worst of times. Obviously, we do not have the luxury of a high-definition master to use as source material for this DVD, so it is reasonable to believe that this DVD is as good as it gets where resolution is concerned. The shadow detail can be described in the same manner as the sharpness, being good at the best times, and distinctly ordinary at worst. Film grain and low-level noise were intermittently present to a somewhat distracting extent, although this is probably inherent in the source material because it mostly seems restricted to special effects shots.

    The colour saturation is rather hard to describe, appearing slightly oversaturated in one shot, and then undersaturated in the next. There was no colour bleeding or misrepresentation at any time, but don't expect a consistent or accurate palette, because the source material, which probably wasn't consistent or well-saturated to begin with, has simply aged too much.

    MPEG artefacts were not noted in the transfer, although the bitrate rarely rises above five and a half megabits per second, which may explain why some shots appear so grainy and soft. Film-to-video artefacts were surprisingly rare, with little in the way of aliasing. Camera wobble, however, picked up the slack in many a shot, but this artefact was not too distracting when it appeared. Film artefacts were quite prevalent in this transfer, and were especially problematic during the beginning of each episode, but they settled down to a more acceptable level once the introductory sequence was over. A large series of horizontal scratches are present at 40:20 during the first episode, which appear to be inherent in the source material rather than a specific film-to-video or MPEG artefact.


    Again, I was not expecting anything special for the audio transfer, and nothing special is exactly what I got. There is only one soundtrack presented on this DVD: the English dubbing of the series in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. No doubt, some will lament the lack of the original Japanese dialogue, but usable source material in this language probably doesn't even exist. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, within the limits set by the heavy accents of those who dubbed the soundtrack. The narrator's voice seemed to lose a syllable here and there, but this was also a problem with his accent rather than the transfer. Obviously, audio sync was quite problematic because of the not-so-subtle problems involved with dubbing English over Japanese, a language that has significantly less sounds to draw from.

    The score music is credited to one Yoshino Micky, and an especially quirky effort it is, too. The show's opening theme is quite reminiscent of all the B-grade Asian martial arts flicks from the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it really does quite an admirable job of bringing an exciting atmosphere to the show. The score music makes it hard to determine whether to take this show seriously, or whether to consider it an outright joke. Still, I have heard far worse scores from films and television shows with much larger budgets.

    Being a straight stereo mix, there was no surround channel activity to speak of, which was a pity considering how much it would have helped this soundtrack if the music was separated into the rears. Still, this is quite a serviceable stereo soundtrack, with most of the sound effects having plenty of breathing room. The subwoofer was not specifically called upon, but it took some redirected signal from my stereo speakers to support the music and action sequences, which were surprisingly bass-heavy when they appeared.



    The menu is very ordinary, being static, and without enhancements of any kind, including 16x9 Enhancement. Adding to the problem is the fact that navigation is somewhat challenging, as the icons are not in the slightest bit helpful in determining which icon must be selected to make use of which option.

Character Biographies

    Simple descriptions of each character and their back stories, which are already covered in enough detail during the first episode.

R4 vs R1

    This title is not currently available in Region 1.


    Monkey is a television show that I immensely enjoyed seeing repeats of when I was a boy, presented on a reasonable DVD.

    The video quality is ordinary, but this is more because of source material limitations than the transfer.

    The audio quality is similarly limited by the source material.

    The extras are extremely limited.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
September 12, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer