Wednesday, March 16, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 7, "Battle at Dead River"

Let's do a mind exercise: Carefully fillet the memory of Kimba's first encounter with rival lion Claw and his minions in "The Wind in the Desert" out of your cranium. Store it in whatever recess in which you imagine the abandoned "super miniature bomb" of that episode currently resides. Now, you're ready to watch a brand new (and, aesthetically, far more pleasing) "Claw origin episode." The ep's title is a bit deceiving: the headline "Battle" is little more than a speedy skirmish, and most of the real "action" centers around Claw's puppet-master Cassius' sneaky efforts to sow discord among the animals in Kimba's kingdom. The real headline here concerns the debut of Kimba's future girlfriend and (in later Tezuka JUNGLE EMPEROR continuity) mate/queen Kitty (Sonia Owens), who starts off in full-fledged Perils of Pauline mode before showing some spunk down the stretch, a hint as to the rather formidable character she will eventually become.

From Pauley Cracker's comments, it would seem as though animals developed the idea of having "human-like weddings" independently of any input from Kimba. You'd expect Kimba to be playing a "justice of the peace"-style role here, but he appears to be a mere spectator and good-will-wisher. That is, until Tom and Tab show up and Kimba shifts into the "jungle protector" setting. Compared to Kimba's first tussle with Claw et Cie. in "The Wind in the Desert," this "revised standard version" has some definite advantages. In "Wind," Claw has supposedly taken over the jungle in Caesar's absence (need I mention the similarity to Scar's assumption of command once Mufasa is killed and Simba decamps in The Lion King?) with what would appear to be little or no resistance. This gives Kimba the chance to literally "replace his father" by ejecting the usurper, but, in order for it to work, you have to be willing to accept that the other animals were too cowardly to try to protect what Caesar had built. I greatly prefer the idea that Claw is an interloper who wants to horn in on what Kimba has already begun to construct. This gives Kimba's subjects a chance to prove that they're on Kimba's side by fighting against Claw, as they do on several occasions in this episode.

Claw's "attentions" towards Kitty in their first meeting are patently creepy, and made doubly so by Kitty's almost painful naivete ("I really don't understand what's going on"? REALLY?). With airborne assistance, Kimba stops the assault, shows his first sign of affection for Kitty (licking her wounded paw), and, once you learn that they are both orphans, you just KNOW that they are fated to be together. If my copy of JUNGLE EMPEROR is complete, then this was far more of a formal "first meeting" between Kimba and Kitty than Tezuka ever envisioned in print. There, you suddenly find the two lions conversing at the side of a river (remember that imagery) without any explicit "introduction scene." After this elaborate, pleasing set-up, it's a little surprising that Kitty drops completely out of the ep for a while, as villain-seeded "inter-jungle conflict" comes to the fore.

Kudos to Kimba for that lightning-quick deduction that the spreading of Orchid's (Billie Lou Watt) scent was a red (or black-and-white-striped) herring, but I think Sherlock Holmes himself would have been at least a bit reluctant to jump to that conclusion quite so rapidly. No doubt Kimba knows something personal about Orchid, who must be a voluntary immigrant to the jungle, since skunks aren't native to Africa. Or perhaps Orchid's a strange African mutant of some sort, since, in one scene, he appears to be as large as Kimba.

As serious as the animals' internal dissension becomes, you have to admit that it's pretty funny to watch and listen to ("You'reafatlittletunnelfiller!"). Even Pauley starts a fight with Bucky for no apparent reason other than it's "the thing to do" at the present time.

After Kimba catches Cassius, Tom, and Tab doing their dirty work, the white lion reveals his unfortunate penchant for standing on the edges of cliffs when villains are in the vicinity. The flaw would be even more cruelly exposed in "The Hunting Ground," but the goof is egregious enough here, because Cassius has already revealed himself to be untrustworthy. This leads to the "overlapping-dialogue-animal-circle" scene, which is, like the earlier conflict scenes, both disturbing and funny. It's also distressing in that Kimba has already proven his bona fides on a couple of occasions; why is everyone so quick to think that Kimba has wrecked homes, especially since Kimba himself had already suggested that the earlier vandalism was faked? Even Dan'l Baboon, who really should know better, gets sucked into doubting Kimba. The dumb comments about Kimba doing the deed because he "has no family" points up how absurd this whole debate really is. After that performance, I'd have scattered, too, when Claw arrived, out of sheer embarrassment if nothing else.

Kimba takes cares a' Claw wit' his patenked twisker sock. Arf, Arf, Arf, Arf!

Thanks to Orchid's remarkable ability to locate Kimba at just the right moment, we finally head for the promised "Battle." We never do learn what Claw's "demonstration of power" was, but Kitty's self-sacrificing decision to yield to Claw's wishes for the sake of the other animals is (ironically) her first real show of strong character, showing the qualities that will ultimately make her an ideal mate for Kimba. Funny how, when sex is at stake, Claw suddenly decides to defy Cassius' advice.
Ray Owens' Narrator makes Dead River, "where Claw's power is at its greatest," sound like Sauron's Mordor. In truth, despite the physical prowess Kimba shows in his chop-socky, Astro Boy-flavored bout with Claw, Kitty strikes the key blow of the battle by attacking Claw "from the flank" in true "Law of the Jungle" style. Like DuckTales' Webby, Kitty suffers some from having a high-pitched, overly "sweet" voice -- had Watt done the voice and (presumably) made Kitty sound like Astro Girl, the problem would have been even more acute -- so I really appreciated a good, savage moment like this.

The episode's coda is "time-filling" with a definite purpose -- in this case, giving Kimba and Kitty a further chance to "bond," providing psychological table-setting for the lions' next encounter, and rubbing away the episode's sharper edges, as we see animals who had earlier been involved in conflict now living in peace. (Was that monkey fight actually a family squabble between husband and wife?) The scene with Caesar, Kimba, and Snowene is clearly Kimba's idealized dream of what his life should have been like, but that didn't prevent some YouTube commenters from zapping the show for committing a continuity violation. I will admit that Kimba's specific comments are a little squirrelly (how could he say "They were so good" if he never knew his father, except by reputation?), but I'm willing to give both Mushi and the Titan crew a pass on this one. The dreamy theme music employed here, which will also be used in the future (unfortunately, with vocal accompaniment on at least one occasion), allows us to float out of the episode with a sense of contentment -- not to mention anticipation for Kitty's inevitable return.

Remember that "side of the river" comment? This is a scene from the coda.

Next up: Episode 8, "The Insect Invasion"

No comments: