|That was then... (Shiro Kishibe, Masaaki Sakai, Masako Natsume and either Toshiyuki Nishida or Tonpei Hidari(1))|
The New Legends of Monkey is a left-field reimagining of Chinese literary classic The Journey to the West-cum-remake of the Japanese series Monkey! (aka Monkey Magic.) Instead of mytho-historic China it's set in a fantastical land, populated by a multi-racial population with mostly Australian or New Zealand accents. Instead of the Buddhist texts, the quest is for a set of sacred scrolls hidden by Monkey right before the gods were overthrown by hordes of demons. Instead of the Buddha punishing him for arrogance, Monkey was buried under a mountain by the gods for a crime he did not commit (which is not to say that he isn't arrogant.) Instead of a young Buddhist monk played by a woman, Tripitaka is an orphan girl disguised as a monk and adopting a sacred name given by her foster father, a wise scholar. Sandy is a rather baffled god, and a woman, and Pigsy is just gluttonous rather than a serial sex pest.
And I'm basically okay with this. Like... all of it.
|...this is now. (Josh Thomson, Chai Hansen, Luciane Buchanan and Emilie Cocquerel)|
In the pilot episode, our hero witnesses the demon-murder of her mentor and the monk chosen to take on the name Tripitaka and take up the quest to wake Monkey and recover the sacred scrolls. She stumbles across Monkey and wakes him, only to find that he has little interest in helping the world. In a nearby town, she stumbles across down-and-out gods Pigsy and Sandy, and together the four of them defeat the local demon overlord to free the town. After this opening, and with Monkey controlled by a sutra which causes his crown to contract and inflict crippling pain, the group head out to seek the scrolls.
They... don't find them.
They encounter a group of Monkey worshippers who have been guarding one of the scrolls, but discover that their leader sold it to a demon long ago. They are captured by a demonic shaman who is using captive gods to translate the scroll and Monkey almost gets trapped in his own brain, then escape through a forest full of faceless horrors. Tripitaka gets all self-doubty and tries to find her birth mother, but falls into a demon trap. Monkey and Pigsy manage to sneak into the demon stronghold on Jade Mountain, while Sandy follows Tripitaka's captors and they all join up to thwart the demon lord's plot to become immortal and thus ascend to the status of the gods.
|Admittedly, the demons are pretty much just dudes in make-up.|
Now, I'm not going to claim that this is a good show, and certainly not that it will stand the test of time like Monkey! has done (especially given what a bizarre fluke that success was,) but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Was it whitewashed? Well, the leads are Australian-Thai and New Zealand-Tongan, and only one of the core cast - Emily Cocquerel, playing the gender-flipped Sandy - is (probably(2)) white white. It is stripped of most of the aspects of Chinese culture embedded within the original nodded, leaving only a few names and some okay martial arts. The mysticism is entirely genericised, and the complex interactions of Taoist deities and Buddhism removed in favour of a bunch of fairly generic gods who shot themselves in the foot by imprisoning their best demon-puncher, leaving the rest of them to be murdered by demons.
But, I really enjoyed it. It was fun and undemanding, with quirky, likeable characters and decent performances. It is very slight, and I'm actually sad that there isn't any sign of any further episodes, because I think it had places it could have gone.
(1) I'm not sure what series this is from and they changed over.
(2) I mean, I don't know for sure. 'Australian' is as varied an origin as 'British'.