The Japanese original was already playful, but the English dub pushes it further, even into Gag Dub territory. First, there were the dub scripts — it's been reported that the BBC couldn't afford a full translation, so they gave scriptwriter David Weir a brief synopsis of each episode and ordered him to invent new dialogue to match the on-screen action. Then there's the acting: every single member of the cast hamming it up in their best "ah, so!" accents. (One could also mention a few odd casting decisions, but those were in the original.)
The series ran for two seasons of 26 episodes each. The BBC originally dubbed only 39 of the 52 episodes. The 13 remaining episodes were included (subtitled) in the DVD release, and the DVD publisher subsequently arranged for them to also be dubbed, using as many of the original cast and crew as possible.
A cult favourite in many countries, especially in Australia.
The Japanese version provides examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Son Goku (Sun Wukong), Cho Hakkai (Zhu Bajie), and Sa Gojo (Sha Wujing) are all strikingly ugly in the novel; not so much in the TV series. (With the partial exception of Cho Hakkai, who starts out strikingly ugly, then demonstrates an ability to appear more human, which he sticks to for the rest of the series.)
- Adaptation Species Change: In Journey to the West, Sha Wujing is a man-eating sand demon that dwells in a river. In Saiyuki (and pretty much all Japanese adaptations of Journey to the West), he's a kappa.
- Amusing Alien: In the second season, Sanzo-hoshi's (Xuanzang) horse (who, you will recall, was a dragon before he got turned into a horse) developed a tendency to transform into a human Plucky Comic Relief character.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: Goku, as befitting of his appearance.
- Casanova Wannabe: Cho Hakkai, who lusts after women but, between his ineptitude at courting, his ugliness and his silly antics (like disguising himself as Sanzo to seduce a widow who has fallen for Sanzo in episode 8), he invariably drives them away.
- Crosscast Role: Masako Natsume as Sanzo, Mieko Takamine as the Buddha, and Homare Suguro as the Boddhisatva Kanzeon (called the Fairy Of Heaven in one of the series' many tongue-in-cheek moments).
- Dark Action Girl: A number of villainesses in the series; Ginkaku, a demon who likes to Whip It Good; the daughter of a youkai in episode 9; and a vampire woman in episode 11.
- Disguised in Drag: Goku disguises himself as a girl Hakkai captured in episode 3.
- Dressing as the Enemy: In several episodes Goku will disguise himself as the enemy.
- First-Name Ultimatum: Sanzo does this when Son Goku does something that requires physical action, such as combat. "Goku... Goku!"
- Interspecies Romance: There's quite a few human/monster couples or romances that show up in the series. One episode features a demon who has a human wife and child, another has a magistrate who wed a female dog-spirit (who then tries to wed Sanzo), Cho Hakkai lusts after human women all the time, Goku falls for a human girl in episode 11, there's the human woman who loves a slug monster in episode 13...
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Goku may be abrasive, rude and mischievous, but he genuinely likes his partners, quickly becomes fond of Sanzo, and can be one of the more compassionate party members.
- Large Ham: Goku is interpreted by his actor as a screaming, brawny, raspy-voiced character.
- Mister Seahorse: Cho Hakkai and Sa Gojo end up drinking from the Well of Little Blessings in episode 23 and wind up pregnant as a result.
- No Ending: The series ends with the pilgrims still on their way to India. "The pilgrims still have as far to go as they have travelled. What end can there be to a journey as long as life?"
- Purely Aesthetic Era: One of the villains flies about on a souped-up magic cloud with an exhaust pipe sticking out the back. Another episode has a demonic party that's quite obviously a disco, complete with light ball.
- Sapient Steed: "Horse", a.k.a. Gyokuryu (Yu Long), the horse who is really a dragon.
- Scenery Porn: Filmed on location in China.
- Surprisingly Good English: The theme song by Godiego, which was kept unaltered for the English version.
- Unholy Matrimony: Kinkaku and Ginkaku, the villains of the 4th episode, deeply love each other despite being soul-stealing cannibal demons. Ginkaku is quite inconsolable after Goku ends up killing Kinkaku with his own magic melting gourd.
- Villain Ball: In Episode 4, Ginkaku traps Goku under a large rock and she just leaves him there, which allows him to free himself from beneath the rock.
The English version provides examples of:
- Asian Speekee Engrish: You can tell this is China, because everybody speaks with a dodgy oriental accent. Allegedly the accents and speech affectations were copied from the original by the voice actors, at least for the main characters.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The sequence where Monkey is given his new staff is basically one long willy joke.
- A Dog Named "Dog": "Horse"
- Dumbass Has a Point: Pigsy's something of an idiot, but he can blunder into meaningful comments or actions on occasion. For example, he's the one to speak up and find out why their hosts are sad in episode 13.
- Dub Name Change: Goku to Monkey, Hakkai to Pigsy, Gojo to Sandy and Sanzo-hoshi, of course, to Tripitaka.
- Gag Dub: It might not be a full-on one, but it's damn close.
- Ice-Cream Koan: The narrator has a fondness for proverbs, some wise and some otherwise.
- "When what is indestructible meets what is irresistible, the female all too often wins."
- The opening narration gives us this little gem: Heaven sought order, but the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown.
- Not so Above It All: Tripitaka displays some less than exemplary actions during the series. He comes pretty close to abusing Monkey's Restraining Bolt headband on more than a few occasions (like when he forces Monkey to go and fetch a pill of immortality from Lao Tzu in episode 10). In episode 13, he is so adamant about denying Monkey and Sandy's claims that Hy Min wants to stay with her slug monster husband that the two of them proceed to call him out on Fantastic Racism.
- Signature Sound Effect: Monkey's cloud-summoning call ("whisshhhh whi-whi-whi-whi-whi-whi whoof") and the piercing whine accompanying Tripitaka's headache sutra.
- Title Confusion: The show is also known as "Monkey Magic", which is the title of the extremely catchy theme song. It doesn't really help that there was a later show, also based on Journey to the West, that actually did call itself Monkey Magic.
- World of Ham