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Details At A Glance
||Notes - DVD Credits
Notes - Synopsis
(Not 130 Minutes as per packaging)
Cast & Crew
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame
||Pan & Scan
||English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 224
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio
|Original Aspect Ratio
||Annoying Product Placement
|Action In or After Credits
It was something of a pleasant surprise to discover
that, after about fifteen years without watching the show, I still quite
enjoyed Saiyûki, or Monkey as it is called
in English-speaking countries. Based on the ancient Chinese legends that
trace the origins of the Buddhist faith, Monkey follows the
adventures of Tripitaka (Masako Natsume), Monkey (Masaaki Sakai),
Pigsy (Toshiyuki Nishida), and Sandy (Shirô Kishibe)
from China to India in order to fetch the Buddhist scriptures that will
save the world. The first volume of their adventures to be released on
DVD was something of a prologue that details how Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy
fell from the heavens and were steered by Buddha (Mieko Takamine)
towards aiding Tripitaka on his perilous journey. This series introduced
me to the concept of Buddhism as a faith that seemed to emphasize that
all humans are capable of achieving enlightenment if they are willing to
work at overcoming their faults. Being that I have no idea what order the
series is actually meant to run in, although it is sort of clear if you
are following the story, I assume that these three episodes pick up where
the last three left off. As one would rightly expect, bad dubbing, corny
special effects, and ridiculous-looking costumes are all the order of the
day, as is some great chop-socky kung fu action.
In order, the three episodes on this disc are:
If you already own the first volume of this series,
then I am certain you don't need any further persuasion to acquire this
one. The standard of the stories and the Buddhist philosophy imparted by
each episode is much the same, as are those of the dubbing and the special
Monkey Swallows The Universe (42:24)
As the quest continues, Monkey, Tripitaka, Pigsy, Sandy, and the horse
enter the lands ruled by the demonic Golden Horn and his wife, Silver Horn.
Pigsy is bewitched by a beautiful lady, while an elderly lady proves too
much even for Monkey to handle. Meanwhile, Tripitaka and Sandy are left
to their own devices, and find themselves a bit tied up as a result.
The Power Of Youth (41:57)
The adventurers wander into the kingdom of an immature King Of Youth,
who has just declared that everything old is useless. When Tripitaka and
his party arrive, the King decides to kidnap the young priest in order
to gain the attention of Heaven and Earth, primarily to stop living in
the shadow of his father, the King Of Ox.
Even Monsters Can Be People (43:04)
Monkey kills a girl and her family, leaving Tripitaka no choice but
to send him back to his mountain of fruit and flowers. Nobody believes
Monkey's story that they were in fact demons disguised as people, but Tripitaka
soon finds himself in grave danger and wishing that he'd never denied the
validity of Monkey's story.
The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1,
and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. I am a little confused as to what the proper
aspect ratio of this series is meant to be, as the credits make the picture
appear to be cropped, but the scene composition doesn't look any the worse
for it. At a rough guess, I'd say the intended aspect ratio was somewhere
between 1.37:1 and 1.66:1, but technical information about this Japanese-made
series tends to be sketchy at best.
The transfer is as sharp as the previous volume in
the series, in that it betrays the television heritage of the program,
but is as good as can be expected. While this transfer is never as bad
as Series One of The Black Adder,
it doesn't make for the best demonstration disc. An abrupt loss of focus
was noted at 23:06 in the first episode,
Swallows The Universe, which I believe to be the result of sloppy
camerawork. The shadow detail is average, but scenes with great expanses
of darkness are few and far between in any case. Low-level noise does not
appear to be present in most of the sequences, but grain is a moderate
issue from time to time, especially during the opening credits.
The colour saturation is muted and dull for the most
part, but variable from shot to shot in some cases. As was the case with
the previous volume of the series, there are no overt problems with misregistration,
bleeding, oversaturation, or undersaturation, but the colours are the biggest
clue to the age of the source material.
MPEG artefacts do not appear to be a major problem
in the transfer, but I would still have preferred that these three episodes
be compressed to a dual layer disc. The grain apparent in some shots has
been magnified by the compression, and the backgrounds often lose some
definition, but I doubt you're going to find a sharper or cleaner transfer
of this series. Film-to-video artefacts are not a real problem for the
most part, although camera wobble and misaligned frames are still apparent
from time to time. Film artefacts are a slight problem for this transfer,
but not nearly as much as was the case in the previous volume of Monkey
episodes, with black and white flecks being apparent at half the rate of
Volume One's transfer.
Again, the audio transfer is a slight improvement over
the previous volume, although we are still missing the original Japanese
dialogue, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. There is only
a single soundtrack present on this DVD: the English dub in Dolby Digital
2.0 Stereo, which sounds a lot like a mono master divided into two channels
during the mixing stage. Since there is little or no static or distortion
apparent in the soundtrack, it is reasonable to assume that the audio source
has been restored or remixed before being compressed. The dialogue is clear
and easy to understand most of the time, but the Japanese accents do occasionally
pose a challenge. Audio sync still doesn't come close to being coincidental,
but this has to be expected when dubbing a flexible language such as English
over one as rigid and light-on for syllables as Japanese.
The score music by Yoshino Micky helps to
bring some atmosphere to the otherwise B-grade show, and an exciting, moving
atmosphere at that. The music may well be as B-grade as the show itself,
but it has a heart and soul, which is more than can be said for any of
the music in television shows that are aimed at schoolchildren today.
There is no surround channel activity in this soundtrack,
which is something of a pity, but still to be expected when dealing with
a programme of this age. The music and sound effects are given enough space
to breathe by the stereo separation, which is more than we really have
any right to ask for. At a guess, I would say that the show was originally
recorded in mono and then remixed to stereo at some point in the last ten
years for release on home video formats. The result is a pleasant soundtrack
that builds a nice sonic picture without becoming cluttered or constricted.
The subwoofer was not specifically used by the soundtrack, but it did take
some redirected signal from the stereo channels to support the music and
other bass-heavy effects.
The menu is, for all intents and purposes, identical
to that featured on Volume One of this series. My comments about this menu
remain unchanged, in that the menu is not exactly very user-friendly or
Simple dossiers of Tripitaka, Monkey, Sandy, and Pigsy,
which relate some salient facts about each character.
Notes - Synopsis
From the character biographies screens, select the DVD
icon to read the DVD production credits. From there, select the
hash (#) symbol to read a synopsis for each episode in the series.
Navigating through these synopses is not particularly
R4 vs R1
This title is not available in Region 1, and it doesn't
appear likely that it will be in the near future. Given that the series
is now twenty-two years old and the source elements are not in the best
condition, I'd say the Region 4 version of the disc is as good as any other
you might find.
Monkey is thoroughly B-grade, but it is
well thought-out at the story level and quite entertaining. The DVD is
an improvement over the previous volume in the series.
The video quality is reasonable.
The audio quality is reasonable.
The extras are limited.
© Dean McIntosh (my bio
sucks... read it anyway)
December 12, 2000
||Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
||Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated
using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
||Built In (Amplifier)
||Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version
of Video Essentials.
||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers,
Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer