Today’s Horse of the Year is a look back to the 70s, when every day after school, our family sat down to watch the Japanese TV series Monkey Magic. We loved that show – we adored Masaaki Sakai as the Monkey King (“And the nature of Monkey was – irrepressible!”); Toshiyuda Nishida as Pigsy (the first one); Shiro Kishibi as Sandy; and the adorable Masako Natsume as Tripitaka.
Monkey Magic told the story of the journey to India made by Tripitaka, a Buddhist monk, and his followers, to bring holy writings back to China. On the way they fight demons and temptation, and the irrepressible monkey gets into lots of trouble.
At the beginning of the journey, when the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin was organizing the group, she also freed a dragon called Yu Lung, who promptly ate Tripitaka’s horse. In remorse, the dragon transformed itself into a white horse to carry the monk.
He’s a talking horse, of course, and occasionally assumes human form, but by Season Three, he had become wholly human, in the form of Shunji Fujimura. Always a loved character, Horse (or Gyokoryu) was even more delightful in Fujimura’s casting. He more than made up for the new Pigsy, who just failed to be quite as funny as the original.
As a steed, Gyokuryu was no Black Wind. He was probably better at breaking wind. He tended to run and hide when danger and demons loomed, and he looked kind of broken down and spindle shanked, but then he was a dragon pretending to be a horse pretending to be a human.
Shunji Fujimura is still a highly respected working actor in Japan. You will know him if you are a Death Note fan – he plays L’s mentor, Watari.