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Stone Monkey is born from a rock by the ocean. His boastful, irrepressible nature soon causes a stir on Earth as he makes himself king of all the monkeys. In search of the secret of immortality, he learns martial arts and magic from the Buddhist monk Subhuti, who renames him Sun Wu Kong (in Japanese, Son Goku), meaning "Awakened to Emptiness." Back on his mountain, he finds that demons have taken over his cave, but the skills he has learned from Subhuti enable him to throw them out. The Demon King's brothers trick him into sneaking into the Dragon King's palace and stealing a famous weapon, a miraculous iron staff that can change size on command. Sun Wu Kong is brought before the Jade Emperor for punishment. Wu Kong eats the Peaches of Immortality and is chased from Heaven, only to lose a bet with Buddha. Immured beneath a mountain for 500 years, he is saved by the Buddhist Priest Xuanzang (aka Tripitaka), who invites Wu Kong to accompany him on a pilgrimage to Gandhara in India, the modern Punjab. En route, the pair meet a pig-changeling called Pigze and Monk Sand, a river spirit who was once a Heavenly guard. After Wu Kong defeats them, they both join the pilgrimage.
Possibly inspired by travelers' garbled tales of the Hindu monkey-god Hanuman, Wu Cheng-En's 16th-century novel Xiyouji is the Chinese story most often animated in Japan, perhaps because its trickster hero is more appealing to the children's audience than the dour generals of Great Conquest or the hotheaded revolutionaries of Suikoden. Nobuo Ofuji's Early Anime Legend of Son Goku (1926) used cutout figures animated by stop-motion and was soon remade as the two-reel Son Goku (1928), directed by Takahiro Ishikawa. However, Wu Kong's real push into the Japanese market came through foreign influences. Amid the many propaganda Wartime Anime, the Wan brothers' Chinese cartoon Xiyouji (1941) was screened in Japan under the title Princess Iron Fan. Featuring one chapter from the legend, when Wu Kong and friends steal a magic fan from Mount Inferno, the film inspired the 16-year-old Osamu Tezuka to write his manga My Son Goku (1952), based on the same Mount Inferno episodes.
Japan's animation business was in ruins after the war, though Taiji Yabushita's New Adventures of Hanuman (1957) was a 14-minute PR exercise funded with American money. Hanuman was chosen over Wu Kong as a subject, presumably because the former Occupying Forces of Japan felt that a character whose main aim in life is revolt against authority was not the most suitable folk hero for the times; for similar reasons during the war, the Japanese censor had lopped 20 minutes off the running time of Princess Iron Fan.
Yabushita returned to the story in 1960 when he directed the anime remake of Tezuka's My Son Goku. Retitled Journey to the West (Saiyuki) in Japan and Alakazam the Great in the U.S., Yabushita's film featured many similarities to the Chinese film that inspired Tezuka. Not only did it keep to the Mount Inferno scenes, but it also played up the moment when Wu Kong, Pigze, and Monk Sand decide to cooperate for the first time and featured a final aerial battle when the characters' feet are surrounded by airbrushed clouds. Substantial name changes were made for the U.S. version, which is set in "Majutsoland," ruled by His Majesty King Amo (Buddha), his wife, Queen Amas, and his son, Prince Amat (Tripitaka). King Alakazam (Wu Kong) tricks Merlin the magician (the Emperor of Heaven) into revealing his secrets and fights past palace guardsman Hercules to confront King Amo, who imprisons Alakazam until he is released to protect Prince Amat's quest to India. Joined by Sir Quigley (Pigze) and reformed cannibal Lulipopo (Sandy), Alakazam defeats King Gruesome (ruler of Mount Inferno) and his wife (Princess Iron Fan), is reunited with his beloved Dee Dee (a new creation in the anime), and all live happily ever after. The film's Japanese origins were further occluded by a big-name voice cast including Dodie Stevens, Jonathan Winters, Arnold Stang, and Sterling Holloway, music by Les Baxter, and the voice of Frankie Avalon whenever Alakazam sang. Released in the summer of 1961, coincidentally alongside fellow postwar anime Magic Boy and Panda and the Magic Serpent, it was Alakazam's commercial failure that led to the perception in the entertainment industry that Americans would not accept Japanese animation at all.
Back in Japan, the experience of making the film further inspired Tezuka to consider repeating the process for TV, indirectly giving birth to Astro Boy and the inevitable TV remake of the Wu Kong story, Goku's Great Adventure (1967, Goku no Daiboken). The first three episodes of this series stay close to the legend, but it soon becomes a gag free-for-all filled with surrealistic and adult humor. Viewers were puzzled or irate; the PTA complained about the level of bad language and the series ended after 39 episodes instead of the intended 52.
Leiji Matsumoto's Starzingers (1978) was a science-fiction version that moved the events into outer space; redubbed as Spaceketeers, it was shown in the U.S. alongside the other anime in the Force Five series. The next incarnation was the live-action series Monkey (1978,DE), featuring scripts from Japanese Folk Tales-scenarist Isao Okishima. The music was from the group Godiego, who also provided the theme to Matsumoto's Galaxy Express 999-their mournful song about Son Goku's final destination became a hit in its own right, in turn inspiring the otherwise unrelated anime Gandhara. The live-action series became well known in the U.K. and Australia through the BBC dub, supervised by future Manga Entertainment voice director Michael Bakewell, but the period following it produced only one TV movie in Japan, Gisaburo Sugii and Hideo Takayashiki's anime musical Son Goku Flies the Silk Road (1982), and a number of SF pastiches, including Dragon Ball (1986), the Doraemon movie Parallel Journey to the West (1988), and Buichi Terasawa's Goku: Midnight Eye (1989). Even Hello Kitty-creators Sanrio got into the act with Raccoon Fun Journey to the West (1991, Pokopon no Yukai Saiyuki). At the close of the 20th century, the character reappeared in several new incarnations, including the very loose adaptation One Piece. Another series, Monkey Magic (1999), was released on video and then recommissioned for TV. Based on a computer game, the 13-episode series retells the early part of the legend relatively faithfully, with a hero now named Kongo, though the actual journey to the west only begins in the penultimate episode. The same year saw a new Saiyuki (Gensomaden Saiyuki, a pun on the characters for Chronicle of Total Fun, aka Paradise Raiders), a two-part video based on Kazuya Minekura's G-Fantasy manga that also graduated to a full-fledged 50-episode TV series. The Minekura Saiyuki is set long after the evil demon Gyumao is buried by the god of Heaven. After magic and science are mixed by parties unknown, Gyumao is brought back, and the monk Genjo Sanzo, accompanied by the usual suspects in updated form, is charged with heading west to determine the cause of the trouble. The movie GS: Requiem appeared in 2001 from the same crew. In 2002 came made-for-video Saiyuki Interactive (Saiyuki: Kibou no Zaika); second series Saiyuki Reload appeared in 2003, directed by Tetsuya Endo with characters designed by Noriko Otake and music from Daisuke Ikeda; third series Saiyuki Gunlock (Saiyuki Reload Gunlock in Japan, just to confuse matters) appeared in 2004 from the same team.
The legend shows no sign of letting up in the 21st century, with a Tezuka Production movie remake of Boku no Son Goku (2003), along with modern re-versionings such as One Piece, one of the Milmo de Pon TV specials, and Asobot Chronicle Goku. The story is also referenced or parodied often in other serials, such as an episode of Love Hina in which the cast put on a play version of it at a resort. The Journey to the West story also returned to live-action television in 2006 with a season on Fuji TV.