The series ran for two seasons of 26 episodes each. The first season ran from October 1978 to April 1979. The second season ran from November 1979 to May 1980. Both seasons had footage shot on location in northwest China and Inner Mongolia.
The show is unusual in that it was performed by Japanese actors in China and then into English. The English language version was produced by the BBC and broadcast in and Australia in November 1979. The script for the dubbed dialogue was written by . It ran for only 39 episodes, because at the discretion of the BBC select episodes were not dubbed for the original run. These remaining episodes were dubbed by Fabulous Films Ltd in early 2004 by the original actors following a successful release of the English dubbed series on VHS and DVD. The missing 13 episodes were shown on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on 8 September 2004.
Besides Britain and Australia, ''Monkey'' has also aired in New Zealand and is available on DVD. ''Monkey'' has not been screened in the United States , although ''Saiyūki'' was screened on a local Japanese-language TV station in California during the early 1980s.
, the title character, "born from an egg on a mountain top", was a brash king of a monkey tribe . He achieved a little "enlightenment" and proclaimed himself "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven". After demanding the "gift" of from a powerful Dragon king, Monkey is approached by Heaven to join their host in the lowly position of "Keeper of the Peach Garden of Immortality". Monkey eats them all, becomes immortal and runs amok. Having earned the ire of Heaven and being bested in a challenge by an omniscient, mighty, but benevolent, cloud-dwelling , Monkey is imprisoned under a mountain in order to learn humility.
Eventually Monkey is released by the priest in CE 630, who has been tasked by the Boddhisatva to undertake a pilgrimage to India to fetch holy scriptures. The pair soon recruits two former members of the heavenly host who were cast out as a result of Monkey's transgressions: , the water monster and ex-cannibal, expelled from heaven after his interference caused a precious jade cup to be broken, and , a pig monster consumed with lust and gluttony, who was expelled from heaven after harassing star princess Vega for a kiss. A dragon, Yu Lung, who was set free by Guanyin after being sentenced to death, eats Tripitaka's horse but upon discovering the horse was carrying Tripitaka, assumes the shape of a horse to carry him on his journey; later in the story he occasionally assumes human form to assist his new master. Monkey can also change form, for instance in 'The Great Journey Begins' Monkey transforms into a girl to trick Pigsy. Monkey's other magic included a cloud upon which he could fly, a fighting staff which could be any size and the ability to conjure bare-fisted monkey warriors by blowing on hairs plucked from his chest.
The pilgrims face many perils and antagonists both human and supernatural. Monkey, Sandy, and Pigsy are often called upon to battle demons, monsters and bandits, despite Tripitaka's constant call for peace. Many episodes also feature some moral lesson, usually based upon and/or philosophies.
Spoken word introduction
Each episode of the English language series begins with the following spoken word introduction, given in a dramatically breathless faux-oriental accent:
"In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned. Heaven sought order. But the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown. The four worlds formed again and yet again, as endless aeons wheeled and passed. Time and the pure essences of Heaven, the moisture of the Earth, the powers of the Sun and the Moon all worked upon a certain rock, old as creation. And it became magically fertile. That first egg was named "Thought". Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha, said, "With our thoughts, we make the World". Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch. From it then came a stone monkey. The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!"
In 1980, the BBC released a ''Monkey'' single on a 7 inch RESL 81. It featured three tracks, an edited version of "Monkey Magic" on side 1, and "" and "Thank You Baby" on Side 2. Note: "Gandhara" has one verse in and the other in .
The songs in the series were performed by the five-piece Japanese band Godiego. Formed in 1976, Godiego had also provided the theme to the TV series ''The Water Margin''. An album containing many of the songs from the programme - ''Magic Monkey'' - was released in Japan . The BBC also released the full Godiego soundtrack on in 1980, which featured 11 tracks.
Masaaki Sakai, who plays Monkey in the series, is also a popular singer in Japan. Sakai himself sang "Songoku" which was played at the end of every episode of season two. Songoku is the name of the character Monkey in the Japanese language version of the show. He also sang "Imadewa Ososugira" in episode 15 and "Kono Michi No Hatemademo", a Japanese version of Godiego's "Thank You Baby" , in episodes 11 and 15. The three songs were released as two singles in Japan. The B side of the Songoku single was another Godiego song sung by Sakai called "20 Oku Nen No Kurayami" .
A cover version of "Monkey Magic" by Orange Range was featured in the Nintendo DS video game, ''Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2''. Another cover was featured in ''''. The Japanese-Canadian pop group Monkey Majik released a new cover version in 2007.
''Monkey'' is considered a in countries where it has been shown, especially in Australia, where its immediate widespread popularity surpassed that of both Japan and the UK. Among the features that have contributed to its cult appeal are the theme song, the dubbed dialogue spoken in a variety of over-the-top "Oriental" accents, which often was not correctly synchronised to the actors' speech, and the fact that the young priest was played by a woman.
Australian contemporary youth programs like alternative music show '''' and radio station ''Triple J'' often made references to ''Monkey''. ''Triple J'' interviewed the original voice actors on several occasions.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation frequently repeated the 39 episodes dubbed by the BBC at 6pm on weeknights throughout the 1980s. ''Recovery'' aired an episode of ''Monkey'' weekly from 1997-2000. When ''Recovery'' was put on hiatus it was replaced with three hours of ''Monkey''.
In ''Love Hina'', when the characters put on a ''Journey to the West'' play, Seta insists Naru play the priest Tripitaka because he wanted a female to play the role to be like this series.
In one closing credits sequence of '''', Konata tries to karaoke to the "Monkey Magic", only for her wanting to bail out upon realizing that the song's lyrics are in English.
Monkeys dubbed English voice is almost identical in sound to Masaaki Sakai's real Japanese voice.
In 1994, Nippon TV produced another television series, based on the ''Journey to the West'' story, titled ''New Monkey'', it ran for only one season. The series when released was considered a special effects achievement.
In 2006, Japan's Fuji Television produced another television series, based on the ''Journey to the West'' story, titled ''''. The lead character of Son Goku was given to Shingo Katori, a member of the pop group SMAP. This latest remake has been so successful as to break viewing records with one in three Japanese viewers watching each episode of the series . Companies from South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Malaysia and the United Kingdom are trying to secure rights to broadcast this 11 episode first series. In lieu of a second season, Fuji TV and Toho are producing a feature film version, to be released in Japan on July 14, .
China CCTV made a faithful and costly TV serial adaptation of ''Journey to the West'' in 1986, which in the strict sense is not a remake. The Chinese version focused on authenticity through using traditional imagery and interpretation and adopting a much more serious tone overall. The show is still considered by most Chinese as the definitive interpretation of the novel, while the Japanese version is often derided as a second-rate adaptation. Hong Kong TVB also made a more humorous version while still tried to stay faithful to the original novel. There were numerous campy action and humour sequences in this version, possible as a tribute to the Japanese version. The show was redubbed into English and broadcast to their English sister channel TVB Pearl.
The highly popular Japanese anime & manga series '''' was based on the story of ''Journey to the West'' and its creator used the original Japanese series as a form of inspiration when making it.
Jackie Chan and Jet Li star in the film, ''The Forbidden Kingdom'', which is based on the same story.
In the run up to the Beijing Olympics, the BBC commissioned Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett - the team behind Gorillaz, to create a 2-minute advert based on the show. It features a twist on the ''Journey to the West'' as a Journey To The East, towards the Olympic stadium. Monkey will appear to introduce the Olympics on the BBC Sports coverage.
# "Monkey Goes Wild about Heaven"
# "Monkey Turns Nursemaid"
# "The Great Journey Begins"
# "Monkey Swallows the Universe"
# "The Power of Youth"
# "Even Monsters Can be People"
# "The Beginning of Wisdom"
# "Pigsy Woos a Widow"
# "What Monkey Calls the Dog-Woman"
# "Pigsy's in the Well"
# "The Difference Between Night & Day"
# "Pearls Before Swine"
# "The Minx and the Slug"
# "Catfish, Saint and the Shape-Changer"
# "Monkey Meets the Demon Digger"
# "The Most Monstrous Monster"
# "Truth and the Grey Gloves Devil"
# "Land for the Locusts"
# "The Vampire Master"
# "Outrageous Coincidences"
# "Pigsy, King and God"
# "Village of the Undead"
# "Two Little Blessings"
# "The Fires of Jealousy"
# "The Country of Nightmares"
# "The End of the Way"
# "Pigsy's Ten Thousand Ladies"
# "The Dogs of Death"
# "You Win Some, You Lose Some"
# "Pigsy Learns A Lesson"
# "The Land With Two Suns"
# "The House of the Evil Spirit"
# "Am I Dreaming?"
# "The Tormented Emperor"
# "Between Heaven and Hell"
# "The Foolish Philosopher"
# "Who Am I?"
# "What is Wisdom?"
# "The Fountain of Youth"
# "Better The Demon You Know"
# "A Shadow So Huge"
# "Keep on Dancing"
# "Give and Take"
# "Such a Nice Monster"
# "The Fake Pilgrims''
# "Pretty as a Picture"
# "The Tenacious Tomboy"
# "Hungry Like The Wolf"
# "Monkey's Yearning"
# "At the Top of the Mountain"