I was about 7 years old when Monkey was first aired in this country (Australia). Now days I don't remember too much about the experience, other than that my dad made me my very own Monkey staff, made from a 6 foot length of orange electrical pipe, and complete with rubber protected ends to prevent me from hurting myself (and anyone else). That pretend staff got a stack of use over the next 12 months, and with it thousands of imaginary demons were destroyed. Now I'm in my early 30s and I have begun collecting the series on DVD, and I have to say that the reason for the show's huge popularity should be no mystery. The special effects are not much greater than those used by my dad with the electrical pipe, and the stories are repetitive and simple, but what makes the show special is the 4 central characters. Masaaki Sakai (Monkey), Toshiyuki Nishida (Pigsy), Shiro Kishibe (Sandy) and Masako Natsume (Tripitaka) are all very likable and charismatic people, and it is largely thanks to them that the show got everyone's attention. Monkey was of course the most important and popular character, with his huge friendly grin and lovably arrogant personality demanding the lion's share of the attention in every episode. Pigsy too was a very likable character, despite his piggish tendencies, and his fabulous portrayal of a pig in human form combined wonderfully with Masaaki's character. Next was Sandy, another friendly and lovable goof who was the more steady of the three, but who still managed to get himself into serious jams in nearly every episode. And lastly was Tripitaka, easily the most puzzling of the 4. Both beautiful and determined, Tripitaka was the perfect leader for such a bunch of ignorant misfits, but why on earth did they choose a woman to play the part? It has puzzled me ever since I first watched the show, but I never felt disturbed by it. Instead, I always imagined Tripitaka to be what she really was: a girl! Whenever I heard Monkey refer to her as 'that boy' or 'master', I simply ignored it. But why they did it in the first place did indeed perplex me. I was also puzzled as to whether the show was Japanese or Chinese, though I now know it to be the former. Just how important these particular actors are to my enjoyment of the show became clear recently when I watched the first episode of series 2, which appears out here on the end of Vol 9 of the DVDs. The dragon they had to defeat was ridiculous, as was the battle itself, but I could bare that if it meant being able to see the gang together again. The new addition of the horse in human form seemed odd but was acceptable, as was the higher level of emotion that Tripitaka seemed to be showing. But what I absolutely could not accept was the new Pigsy. It's terrible to say, and he's probably a great guy, but he completely lacked all of the character that Toshiyuki had.
Every time Pigsy came on screen I couldn't watch it, and it made up my mind that I would not be buying any volumes past No 9. Other people may disagree, but for me it appears that the show is ruined once just one of the four is replaced. Thank goodness I still have 26 43 minute episodes from the first series to enjoy whenever I wish.