Last time on the Journey to the West: the mischievous Monkey King Sun Wukong, after achieving immortality six ways from Sunday, was brought down by the forces of heaven and placed inside Lao Tzu’s Brazer of the Eight Trigrams to be rendered down into an immortal elixir. However, our hero proved too powerful for this scheme and broke free, wreaking even more havoc in heaven. But his reign of terror was abruptly ended when he was imprisoned by the heavenly Buddha beneath the Five Phases Mountain, where he must now wait for a chosen someone to come set him free. So Buddha returns to his home, the Thunderclap Monastery, where he spends a relaxing 500 years writing up three baskets of scripture. Now, these three scriptures are apparently so powerful, that they are capable of redeeming even the most sinful of sinners. Well. Sounds fishy to me, but hey, I’m not the guy with the universe in the palm of his hand. So these amazeballs scriptures need to be delivered to the land of the east in order to spread Buddhism to the sinful folk who live there. But there’s just one problem: for some reason, Buddha can’t deliver them himself. So they need to find someone in the land of the east who can make the journey to the western heaven to pick up the scriptures and then return with them. Our friend the bodhisattva Kuanyin volunteers to find such a person, and after receiving five magical artifacts to give to the scripture pilgrim, she goes off eastward to find someone worthy of making the ~Journey to the West~. cinemasins guy voice: “Roll credits.” So Kuanyin and her disciple Moksa head out along the route the scripture pilgrim will have to take, as a way to test the waters and make sure the guy can make it through in the first place. Their first encounter with a murderous river spirit three minutes out from the Thunderclap Monastery is not exactly encouraging. But Kuanyin persuades the guy to chill out and wait for the pilgrim, and then to join and aid him on his quest, with the added bonus that he’ll be redeemed for the crime that got him exiled to the river in the first place. He accepts the offer and is given the name Sha Wujing, or Sandy for short. Don’t ask me how Sandy is short for Sha Wujing. So Kuanyin and Moksa continue on their merry way, whereupon they encounter a pig demon wielding a huge rake. He and Moksa fight for a little bit, until he notices Kuanyin and immediately stops the fight in favor of asking her for forgiveness, because he’s made something of a habit of eating people who come along the road. Y’know, ’cause he’s a demon. Kuanyin again suggests that he join the pilgrim too when he comes along this way and thus be forgiven for the whole “eating people” thing. And the pig agrees. And Kuanyin is putting this pilgrim in pretty questionable company. Kuanyin gives him the name Zhu Wuneng, Pigsy for short, and heads off, leaving Wuneng to remain strictly vegetarian until the pilgrim arrives. So they continue onwards, when surprise! They encounter yet another charming individual who could potentially help our as yet nebulous pilgrim. Can you tell that this story is the origin of a lot of anime tropes? In this case, our colorful character is a young dragon, who accidentally set fire to his dad’s palace a little and for this transgression against fire safety, has been sentenced to death by the Jade Emperor. Kuanyin persuades the emperor to pardon the young dragon, and then she directs him to a nearby river, where she instructs him to turn into a white horse when the pilgrim passes by to help him reach his destination. Anyway, they continue on, only to encounter an unexpectedly luminous mountain: the Mountain of Five Phases, and with it, the imprisoned Monkey King. *cheering crowd* So Wukong’s like, “Kuanyin! How’s it goin’, girl? Great to see ya. It’s been really lonely for the past 500 years, y’know, nobody ever comes by to visit!” And Kuanyin’s like, “Yeah, that’s great. Listen, I”m about to go find someone to make a pilgrimage for me, he’ll be coming by soon-ish. He’s gonna release you from this mountain and then you need to help him get where he’s going. You got that?” And Wukong’s like, “Ten-four, Good buddy! Yep, I am just all about that virtuous mission. So Kuanyin and Moksa arrive in the city of Chang’an, and disguise themselves so as to not attract too much attention. Then they set about finding the right monk to serve as the protagonist to this little adventure. Speaking of protagonist, here’s where the book veers off into a tangent to describe the ludicrously convoluted family history of this dude, Xuanzang, who, in case you hadn’t already guessed, is our soon-to-be protagonist. Now, Xuanzang has one of the most complicated family histories in all of epic protagonistdom. I won’t recount the whole thing here, because that would take all day, but basically he’s the grandson of an emperor, he’s been raised as a monk his whole life after being Moses’d by his mother, and he’s the reincarnation of Golden Cicada, an original disciple of the Buddha and a holy being. So Xuanzang is basically the best guy ever, and a total sweetheart, despite the wacky circumstances of his birth. So long story short, three court officials convened to select a worthy monk for reasons completely unrelated to Kuanyin’s mission, and of course they select Xuanzang, the biggest Boy Scout in all of ancient China. Anyway, Kuanyin catches wind of this and goes to see if he’s worthy of being the scripture pilgrim. She finds her way to the court officials and gives them two of the various gifts the Buddha had given her to give to the pilgrim, so that they might give them to the most virtuous monk they know. So Xuanzang gets a beautiful robe and a priestly staff, both courtesy of Kuanyin, and Kuanyin learns that Xuanzang is the best man for the job. So the Grand Mass, which is the thing they selected Xuanzang for, happens, wherein Xuanzang has to present a memorial to the Tang Emperor. Kuanyin takes the opportunity to steal the show by revealing herself in all her glory to the court, and officially requests a volunteer from the audience to go on the pilgrimage to go to the western heaven and retrieve the Tripitaka, which is the official name for the thing the Buddha made. Xuanzang obviously volunteers, just as planned, and Xuanzang is given the byname Tripitaka and sent on his merry way with a horse and two attendants to help him. Don’t get too attached to them though, as the party is captured by demons almost immediately and Tripitaka’s two attendants are killed and eaten. Great start. So the demons finish their attendant buffet, and bunker down for the night, leaving poor Tripitaka to ponder his exciting future as lunch meat, when suddenly, a mysterious old man appears out of nowhere and frees him, and Tripitaka’s like, “Where the heck did you come from?” And the old man’s like, “Don’t ask stupid questions. Here’s your horse.” So Tripitaka and the old man zip out of the cave, and Tripitaka goes to thank him, only to find that he’s vanished, leaving a note explaining that he was the Gold Star of Venus himself providing a helpful bit of divine intervention. So Tripitaka goes on by himself for about half a day, only to discover that he reeaally doesn’t have the constitution for all this questing nonsense, and he and his horse are just about done with everything when who should come to the rescue, but a friendly, boisterous hunter named B/Poqin, who spooks all the beasties that were harassing Tripitaka and offers to guide him to his home. So Poqin and his family have Tripitaka over for dinner, which is slightly awkward, because Tripitaka is extremely vegetarian, and Poqin’s family hunts all their food. But they handle it gracefully and Tripitaka further endears himself to the family when he accidentally pacifies the ghost of Poqin’s father, like you do, which prompts Poqin to offer to guide Tripitaka to the mountain on the border of the Tang Empire to ensure no further hijinks ensure. “Did somebody say hijinks?” So as it turns out, the monkey they get to is none other than Five Phases Mountain, where our good buddy Sun Wukong is still languishing. So Wukong’s like, “Yo! Kid! You that pilgrim guy? Kuanyin said you’d be coming by to let me out!” And Tripitaka’s like, “Awesome. How do I do that. That mountain looks kinda heavy. And Wukong’s like, “You just gotta climb to the top and peel off the golden seal.” “Awww.” So Tripitaka manages to get the seal off the mountain, and after he backs off to the minimum safe distance, Wukong breaks the mountain in half and zips on over. So Tripitaka and Sun Wukong continue westward together, but they’ve hardly gone ten feet down the road when suddenly, they’re beset by bandits. So Wukong’s like, “Don’t worry master, I know exactly what to do in this situation,” and proceeds to kill all the bandits with his trusty stick-thing. But Tripitaka’s like, “Sun, we don’t kill people.” And Wukong’s like, “I think you mean you don’t kill people.” And Tripitaka’s like, “No no, you’re Buddhist now, Buddhists do not kill.” And Wukong’s like, “Ooh, look at Mr. Bigshot over here, telling me who I can and can’t kill,” and storms off on a huff. Which, if you’ll recall his not inconsiderable mobility, means the Monkey King is over the horizon before poor Tripitaka can get a retort out. So Tripitaka heads off on his own for a bit, when he runs into a mysterious old woman holding a fancy shirt and cap. So the old lady’s like, “Hey, what’s the matter, kid? You look like a superpowered disciple just totally ditched you or something.” And Tripitaka’s like, “You got it in one, mysterious old woman. *sigh*. If only I had some way to discipline him…. maybe the story could actually progress.” And the old woman’s like, “Funny you should say that. May I recommend that you give him these fancy duds, then recite this spell? I have this weird feeling that he’ll stop causing so much trouble if you do.” And Tripitaka’s like, “Seems legit.” Then the old lady turns into a beam of light and vanishes, because she was really Kuanyin. So thus far, Tripitaka’s two for two for old people secretly being gods. Meanwhile, Wukong is off having a nice little tea party with the Dragon Emperor, who suggests that he go back to Tripitaka, rather than abandoning enlightenment and true immortality over a single argument. Wukong zips back westward, blowing past Kuanyin in the process, who’s flown over in order to convince him of that very course of action. So Wukong warps back to Tripitaka, who offers him the clothes. Wukong, always a sucker for a new wardrobe, throws them on, finding that they fit him perfectly. He’s rather less thrilled to discover that the hat is cursed, and when Tripitaka recites the spell Kuanyin taught him, it shrinks and gives him a splitting headache. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a cursed artifact if he could take it off, so it’s also spot-welded to his head. After a few very entertaining minutes of Wukong trying furiously to escape the hat by any means necessary, he eventually resigns himself to the fact that he won’t be able to get up to his usual hijinks anymore. So the dynamic duo continue onwards, with the balance of power now tilted slightly more evenly. It doesn’t take long before they arrive at a nice, calm stream that happens to be home to an enormous, f*ck you dragon! Wukong nopes the hell out of there with Tripitaka in tow, and the dragon takes the opportunity to eat Tripitaka’s horse. So Tripitaka freaks out, since without a ride, he’s stranded, but he’s also too scared to let Wukong leave him alone. But a bit of timely divine intervention arrives to protect Tripitaka, leaving Monkey free to confront the dragon. So they fight it out for a bit, but the dragon’s like, “screw it”, and dives to the riverbottom and refuses to come out. Wukong does some magic shenanigans and draws the dragon out again, only for the dragon to turn into a water snake and run away. At this point, Wukong is done, but the local mountain spirits tell him that this dragon is actually under orders by Kuanyin to help them. So one of the heavenly spirits goes and gets her, and after a brief digression where Wukong vents at her about the cursed hat thing, she draws out the dragon, and Wukong picks a fight with him too. Look, he’s had a trying day, alright? Anyway, Kuanyin gets the dragon to turn into a horse for Tripitaka to replace the one he ate, and then, to make Wukong stop sulking, she gives him three get-out-of-danger-free magical leaves. So now, with the matter having been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, our dynamic trio continue westward. So anyway, they continue on and arrive at still yet another monastery, run by a sketchy old monk. Long story short, the monk lays eyes on that really fancy monk robe Tripitaka got way back when- it’s called a cassock, by the way -and takes it into his head to steal it. And to that end, he decides the best way to go about it is to burn down his own monastery. Well that’s not very zen of him. So Wukong smells the smoke, weighs his options, and decides the best way to solve the situation without pissing off Tripitaka is to let the monks burn their monastery to the ground. But first he borrows a fireproof cloak from one of his heavenly buddies to make sure Tripitaka and the horse don’t burn with it. Is it just me, or is Monkey on shockingly good terms with all the people he beat the hell out of in the last video? The fire eventually burns itself out, and Tripitaka finally wakes up, only for them to find out that during all the confusion, a mountain demon came by and stole the cassock. Also the patriarch monk killed himself. So anyway, Wukong zips on over to the demon’s mountain, and they fight, but the demon calls a lunch break and locks himself in his mountain. So Wukong zips back to the ruined monastery for snacks, then returns to the mountain to sneak in. So Wukong disguises himself as the old monk and has a little tea party with the mountain demon, and then they fight more, but then the demon runs away again and Wukong decides to call in the cavalry. He goes to Kuanyin, and together they find another way to sneak in and get the cassock back Kuanyin disguises herself as a Daoist friend of the demon’s, and Monkey King disguises himself as a present from that friend: a pill of immortality. Long story short, Wukong beats up the demon from the inside- eeeewww -Kuanyin retrieves the cassock, and Wukong returns to Tripitaka and they continue on their merry way. Will Sun Wukong learn to value friendship over his impulsive desires? Will Tripitaka succeed in his quest to the Thunderclap Monastery? Will that stupid horse ever remember he can fly? Find out next time, on Journey to the West!