Saturday, 3 September 2011

Monkey Challenge: Give and Take

Superficially looking at this episode one could be forgiven in thinking it continues the trend of recent episodes to get - if anything - even sillier. This would be entirely down to the visual realisation of the monsters who appear in this episode.

If I say that the least ridiculous of the monsters resembles the most stereotypical Dracula imaginable (save only that he's played by a Japanese actor and not Bela Lugosi) then that tells you something of the level we're dealing with here.

However, beneath the surface appearance I find this is actually one of the deepest and most moving episodes of Monkey for quite some time.

The pilgrims encounter the aforementioned Dracula lookalike, who wants to drink Tripitaka's blood. He's no match for Monkey in a fight and so runs away, escaping with the help of a mysterious stranger who hides him.

But once Monkey and co have given up looking and Dracula's double can come out of hiding, the stranger kills him with a comically giant wooden stake. It turns out that the stranger is a monster hunter, and wanted to kill not-Dracula himself so he could claim a reward.

The next day the pilgrims arrive in a town where they find out a bit more of what's going on: this country is plagued by monsters, and the king offers a bounty of 10 gold pieces for bringing them in dead or alive.

They discover that the stranger they met is a skilled monster hunter, and he is growing rich from the number of monsters he has brought in. But he has alienated the townsfolk, who hate and fear him because he kills for money. Tripitaka also disapproves of this un-Buddhist activity.

So far so typical for a Monkey story, but then the plot really gets underway when Pigsy meets and befriends a blind girl. She tells him that it would cost her 100 gold pieces for an operation to restore her eyesight, and Pigsy - with Sandy's assistance - hits upon the idea of hunting a few monsters to earn her the money.

So Pigsy is now in competition with the monster hunter, and there is a great scene where they both fight a monster, with each trying to ensure that he is the one who kills it so he can claim the money. Pigsy is successful and claims his first 10 gold pieces, which he gives to the girl.

At this point the story takes another twist, when the king offers the monster hunter 50 gold pieces for killing Tripitaka, who he claims is the most evil monster of all, and the hunter is only too happy to take the job.

The two plot threads dovetail very nicely when the hunter goes to kill Tripitaka - when he gets there he overhears Pigsy explaining why he has taken to monster hunting to Tripitaka, and he then gets a glimpse of Tripitaka's humanity when the priest offers to pawn his holy relics (with him since the start of the series but very rarely mentioned since) to pay for the blind girl's operation.

The hunter confesses that he too was hunting the monsters for the gold to pay for the operation, because he is the brother of the blind girl. While not exactly the hardest twist in the world to guess, it is neatly executed and shows the hunter was doing questionable things but had good motives for doing them.

Monkey realises the king that offered him the money to kill Tripitaka must have been a monster in disguise, and this leads on the final confrontation between Monkey and the rest of the absurdly-becostumed monsters-of-the-week.

The story ends with Pigsy leaving the girl behind with her brother to have the operation. He has clearly grown a little this episode, because he has acted from good motives and, unusually for him, is embarrassed by the thought that, when she has her sight, she will see he is not as handsome as he made out.

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