The American version of Osamu Tezuka's seminal manga JANGURU TAITEI -- known to us as Kimba the White Lion -- debuted in syndication 45 years ago this coming September. It's part of what I might call the substrata of my interest in comics and animation, a product that left an indelible impression on me during childhood, along with The Flintstones, Speed Racer, PEANUTS, and RICHIE RICH. All of my future fan-interests, including my interest in Duck comics, flowed from these early experiences. Kimba, however, was an exception in that I literally had to "rediscover" the series in adulthood.
As a long-delayed tribute to this marvelous series -- and, I'll freely admit, as a bit of a warm-up for my planned re-review of DuckTales next year, on the occasion of its silver jubilee -- I've decided to post my impressions/critiques of what I consider to be some of the best Kimba episodes. This is harder to do than it sounds, not because many of the series' 52 eps were lousy, but because the series' intended continuity -- a story line based in great part on the original manga, but which Tezuka found that he had to sort of sneak into the TV series through the back door, due to American distributor NBC Films' nervousness over any sort of continuity that could render reruns problematic -- was severely compromised by the manner in which it was redubbed for American consumption. The outstanding voice/writing crew that took on the job were fed episodes in a rather haphazard manner and, as a result, made understandable mistakes. The wonder was that the finished product turned out so well. As Fred Patten and Robin Leyden note in their authoritative article "How Kimba Came to Be" (which I highly recommend that all White Lion "Newbies" read):
["Kimba"] was created by a Japanese producer who didn't get to do the program he'd wanted to make, for an American TV distributor that didn't get the program it had expected to receive. It was adapted for American TV by a production team who often weren't sure of what they were doing. Yet what resulted was a program that was imaginative, intelligent, exciting, humorous, and charming.
To that concluding list of adjectives, I'd add "Heart-filled." "Heart" -- that undefinable but recognizable quality that makes us believe in the reality of fictional characters and care about their relationships and fates -- is present in the best Disney TV series, PEANUTS, and many other products I've enjoyed, but Kimba may be among the most "Heart-filled" series ever made.
I don't know how often I'll be posting these musings -- if I can pull off one a week during the spring semester, I'll be more than delighted -- but I do hope you enjoy them. The first episode reviewed will be the pilot, "Go, White Lion."
Episode List: 1. Go, White Lion, 2. The Wind in the Desert, 3. A Human Friend, 4. Great Caesar's Ghost, 5. Fair Game, 6. Jungle Thief, 7. Battle at Dead River, 8. The Insect Invasion, 9. The Flying Tiger, 10. Two Hearts and Two Minds, 11. Catch 'em if You Can, 12. The Hunting Ground, 13. The Trappers, 14. Journey into Time, 15. Scrambled Eggs, 16. Diamonds in the Gruff, 17. The Magic Serpent, 18. The Runaway, 19. Mystery of the Deserted Village, 20. Restaurant Trouble, 21. The Bad Baboon, 22. Dangerous Journey, 23. The Gigantic Grasshopper, 24. Gypsy's Purple Potion, 25. Too Many Elephants, 26. A Revolting Development, 27. The Chameleon Who Cried Wolf, 28. The Wild Wildcat, 29. The Nightmare Narcissus, 30. Adventure in the City, 31. City of Gold, 32. The Last Poacher, 33. Jungle Justice, 34. Jungle Fun, 35. The Pretenders, 36. Monster of Petrified Valley, 37. Legend of Hippo Valley, 38. Volcano Island, 39. Running Wild, 40. The Troublemaker, 41. Destroyers from the Desert, 42. The Balloon That Blows Up, 43. Monster of the Mountain, 44. A Friend in Deed, 45. Such Sweet Sorrow, 46. The Return of Fancy Prancy, 47. The Cobweb Caper, 48. The Red Menace, 49. The Sun Tree, 50. Soldier of Fortune, 51. The Day the Sun Went Out, 52. Silvertail the Renegade