Monkey-Volume 8 (1978)
|Year Of Production||1978|
|Running Time||128:56 (Case: 130)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Yusuke Watanabe|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Thanks to the ABC's propensity to repeat classic television shows during the mid-1980s, I really doubt there is anyone of similar age to myself who hasn't seen the English translation of Saiyűki as commissioned by the BBC. Saiyűki is, in a nutshell, a Japanese television show based upon The Journey To The West, a story by Wu Cheng-En that describes the origins of Buddhism, although I am pretty sure the story did not have this much excitement in it. Essentially, Saiyűki, or Monkey as it has been called in English-speaking countries, revolves around four very different adventurers who, though piousness or sheer idiocy, have been drafted by Buddha to retrieve the scriptures that will save the world.
The first of these four adventurers is a young priest who goes by the name of Tripitaka (Masako Natsume), a monk whom Buddha chooses to be the leader of the expedition. Tripitaka is supposed to be a young man, but the fact that he looks so much like a teenaged girl that he might as well be one was a source of great confusion among the viewers back in the mid-1980s. In any case, Tripitaka's first disciple is Monkey (Masaaki Sakai), a foul-tempered king of the apes who achieves enlightenment, gets summoned to heaven, and wreaks havoc wherever he goes. The third of our heroes is Pigsy (Toshiyuki Nishida), a pig monster thing who, try as he might, simply cannot woo any woman that crosses his path, and there's plenty of them. The last of the four disciples is Sandy (Shirô Kishibe), who serves to patiently observe his companions' behaviour and offer the odd funny comment while they constantly butt heads.
To be honest, this is not the best collection of Monkey episodes I have seen; the stories are getting to be a little repetitive, and Two Little Blessings marks a point where the diversion from the main quest was simply childish rather than inspired. I suspect that the story of drinking magic waters that make the consumer pregnant was less tired and old at the time these stories were originally written. Still, even the more pedestrian episodes of this classic series beat the hell out of the best ones from the likes of Hercules or Xena, so on with the assessment of the transfer quality.
Unfortunately, Monkey is another television series where the original negatives have long since been lost, and heaven knows what has been done to the source material that was used to create this disc since it was created.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is not 16x9 Enhanced.
The transfer is reasonably sharp, but the age of the master involved in creating the transfer and the compression doesn't really help matters any. Grain, both of the compression-related and film kind, is rife throughout each episode, with the backgrounds afflicted rather badly by minor pixelization so that their resolution is quite dramatically reduced compared to the foreground. The shadow detail is generally poor, although it is not called for very often during these three episodes, and there is no low-level noise.
The colours in the original programme often have a pastel-like appearance, and the transfer is an accurate reflection of this. The colour saturation in this transfer is more stable than has been the case in most of the previous volumes, with no frames turning to monochrome or showing misregistration artefacts. The transfer does vary from being accurately saturated, at least compared to the last time I saw any of these episodes on the ABC, to being slightly undersaturated. I don't think we can really ask for much more.
MPEG artefacts were occasionally present in addition to the aforementioned pixelization of the backgrounds, with some objects in the picture getting just a little blocky, particularly in the middle of Two Little Blessings. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some variably distracting telecine wobble at several points during all three episodes, with the image seeming to wobble in all four directions at 3:42 during Two Little Blessings. Film artefacts are rife throughout the programme, with all sorts of black and white marks appearing in abundance throughout each of the three episodes. I must persist in reminding the consumer and anyone else who is reading this review that these three episodes would at least look a fair bit more presentable if they had been RSDL formatted. One hundred and twenty-odd minutes of material in this condition is simply too much for a single layer to handle.
There are no subtitles at all on this disc, so Hearing Impaired viewers are out of luck, as are any who don't speak enough English to follow the dub.
Another area where Monkey shows its age as well the lack of distributors who were willing to preserve it for future generations to enjoy is in the audio, which was recorded several years before the advent of digital audio, and shows every year in between then and now.
There is one soundtrack on this DVD: the English dub that was created for broadcast to English-speaking audiences by the BBC, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. This is probably as good as it will ever get with this series, as a master containing the original Japanese dialogue, or the original sound elements, are more than likely no longer in existence.
The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, with the voice of the narrator in particular coming across with its usual warmth and clarity. It doesn't sound any better than a monaural television broadcast, but thankfully the sound quality won't deteriorate with repeat viewings. The audio sync doesn't come close to being coincidental, with the lip movements of the Japanese actors obviously forming words in a language that is more economical with its syllables than English. This, of course, is no different to how Monkey has been seen in any English-speaking territory, so we have little right to complain there. The only real complaint I do have is that an analogue hum can be heard in the lower registers of the soundtrack, exposing the low-fidelity source material that this transfer was taken from.
The music throughout this series was supervised by Yoshino Micky, and the cues or contemporary tunes that were selected for these episodes have quite a strange, otherwordly atmosphere that suits the show quite well. In that sense, they are consistent with the rest of the series, although The Fires Of Jealousy has more music with vocals than I've noticed in previous episodes. The Monkey Magic theme that appears in the opening credits and some moments in the episodes immediately gives away the 1970s heritage of the series, but it is delightful to listen to at all the points where it appears, such as the confrontations at the ends of some episodes. Other, more sedate themes also make an appearance from time to time, and they suit the on-screen action well despite the fact that there often only seems that there were a half-dozen of them for the crew to choose from at any given moment.
The surround channels are not used by this soundtrack, and they didn't make a peep during the time I spent watching this disc. Like the surround channels, the subwoofer was not specifically encoded into the soundtrack either, but it did occasionally take some redirected signals in order to support explosions or musical cues.
|Surround Channel Use|
The menu is static, but accompanied by various sayings that are used throughout the series, "Sometimes it is easier to say 'love' than to admit being scared" being one of my favourites. It is not 16x9 Enhanced. The menu design, with its rather small icons and difficult navigation, is one of the more frustrating ones I have used lately, with many options being quite difficult to access.
If you need any introduction to who the four pilgrims are and why they act the way that they do, these biographies relate some salient facts about them, but I think biographies for the actors would have been more appropriate.
A brief outline of all the episodes in the Saiyűki canon, allowing interested viewers to see the name of the episodes they like or remember, which is helpful in determining which volume to buy.
A listing of all the parties involved in transferring this series to DVD.
It doesn't appear at the moment that this series is available anywhere except in Australia.
Monkey is an adventure series that set a high standard for those that followed, one that recent American efforts certainly have yet to meet. The manner in which it manages to tell a story with a moral without becoming offensive or preachy like others that attempt this trick do is a plus, as are some of the silliest action scenes ever seen in a children's television show. Volume Eight is not the strongest collection of episodes I have seen thus far, but even a low point in Monkey is preferable to a high point in the daftness of the Xena series. Overall, this disc is an example of the old saying that one cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear.
The video transfer shows every bit of the source material's age and then some, and while it is quite acceptable in that regard if you're a fan, it could have done with less macro-blocking and pixelization.
The audio transfer also shows the source material's age, and the low-frequency hum tends to wear the viewer down, but the only improvement to be made here is to remove the hum.
The extras are quite modest. The menu needs a thorough redesign, but this is the only complaint I can really make in respect to them.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output|
|Display||Samsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-835|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|