Sunday, February 20, 2011

THE BEST OF KIMBA: Episode 3, "A Human Friend"

There are several plots sloshing about in this important episode, including the notorious "first meeting" (which really wasn't) of Kimba and Roger Ranger. A close viewing, however, relieves the Titan dubbing crew of at least some of the blame for making the continuity mistake. Just as the crew had a hard time making sense of the dialogue between Kimba and James Brawn in "The Wind in the Desert," here they were handed several scenarios that literally wouldn't make sense UNLESS Kimba and Roger were strangers to one another...

A most evocative, plaintive opening scene, with the tone set nicely by Roger's eerie flute-tune. At this early stage, as can be seen by the "morph" scene involving Kimba and Caesar -- a "morph" that would be repeated later in the episode -- Kimba is still regarded primarily as "Caesar's son," as opposed to Caesar being remembered as "Kimba's father." Kimba may already have the respect of (most of) his subjects, but his dialectical skills still need some sharpening. Why doesn't he counter reactionary Boss Rhino's (Ray Owens) anti-human statements with a few choice anecdotes pulled from his own experiences in the human world? "I don't think that's a fair thing to say about 'em" sounds like the sort of argument an adolescent would use. Later in the series, Kimba would get better at this kind of give-and-take... not least because he could point to the benevolent Roger as an illustration of humans at their best. And speaking of which...

The first scene involving Kimba, Roger (Hal Studer), and Mary (Sonia Owens) must really have given the Titaneers pause. The "true story" about Roger and Mary's presence in the jungle was supposedly that Roger was trying to find his former pet. That would explain his persistence (judging by their ragged clothes, they've been searching for a while) and Mary's jitteriness and bad temper (and, as we'll see, she wasn't that crazy about Kimba in the "old days," either). So why, then, don't Roger and Kimba recognize one another from the off when Mary has her close encounter with the snake? Apart from Kimba's animal ability to "scent out" his old master, wouldn't Roger get at least half a clue from the mere presence of a young white lion? Roger knows (cf. Episode 5, "Fair Game") that white lions are rare, so wouldn't it at least cross his mind that this MIGHT be Kimba? I'm not privy to the specific advance information that the Titan crew had about this ep, but I don't feel quite as badly about the continuity lapse as I used to.

It's quite believable that the animals would think that "The Law of the Jungle" still applies at this early stage, but they're fatalistic almost to a fault. If Tom and Tab attacked Geraldine (Sonia Owens), would everyone just sit there, grieving?

Kimba's first potential "big fight" with a challenger to his authority (Boss Rhino) being broken up by a hedgehog with a goofy voice (Watt) and a clown nose who arrives to the sound of a wind-up toy is just too funny for words. This is very much in the tradition of Tezuka, who frequently resorted to zany humor even when it seemed to clash with the surroundings.

The Rainbow Bridge sequence is suitably dramatic even if you live in happy ignorance that Roger's "Liiiight Bulb!" moment was his recognition of Kimba, rather than his excitement that an animal can talk. Sonia Owens' "crying" sounds more like hysterical laughter here -- as a number of YouTube commenters have pointed out, some in less than charitable fashion -- but this strange bit actually fulfills a purpose by hinting that the shocked Mary has just gone quite creepily insane. (The malady would linger on, as we'll see when next we meet her in "real time.") The "OMG, a talking animal!" business was, of course, seriously undercut by Kimba's lengthy conversations with James Brawn in "The Wind in the Desert," not to mention Kimba's earlier cries of "Mr. Human!" when he's trying to get help for Geraldine. I wonder whether "The Young Lion King's Speech" in the original was Kimba saying Roger's name, as opposed to merely warning him about the bridge. That would do the double duty of opening Roger's eyes as to Kimba's presence and stunning him with Kimba's newly acquired power of speech.

I confess to a "friendly disagreement" with Billie Lou Watt during our brief exchange of correspondence regarding the Titan gang's ability to sing "in character." In a couple of instances, the gang actually performed reasonably well. This "Sing a Human Song" scene was not one of those instances. The fact that the singing was supposed to be loud enough to drown out Japanese lyrics that were "embedded" in the background music didn't help the cause.

The flip side of the animals' rigid belief in the continuing "Law of the Jungle" is their charmingly naive idea about combining "seven sleeping times" to help Geraldine heal faster. Bucky's use of the owls is fully worthy of Bullwinkle at his most infuriatingly clueless.

Taking up from the brains-over-brawn victory over Boss Claw in "The Wind in the Desert," Kimba doesn't overpower the menacing Boss Rhino in the climactic fight so much as wear him down, in the manner of a bronco buster taming a wild mustang. The time was not yet (though it would come) when Kimba could battle the hard-headed rhino nose-to-horn and hold his own.

In the end, I think it was wise that Mushi refrained from using Roger as a supporting character in every single episode. "Running to Roger" when every spot of trouble developed would have made Kimba seem more like a ward of humans than an admirer of human ways who adapts said ways to the animals' needs only when necessary.

Up next: Episode 4, "Great Caesar's Ghost".

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