Sunday, April 24, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 11, "Catch 'Em If You Can"

We return to Kimba with... sigh... the first episode of the series that I honestly, truly don't much like at all. Not that I'm minimizing its importance -- it is here that we finally learn what happened to Roger's girlfriend Mary after "A Human Friend," thereby accreting an important subplot (based on Tezuka's manga, though with a few cosmetic differences) that will sustain all the way through Episode 45, "Such Sweet Sorrow." Indeed, most of the episodes that contribute to the subplot are adapted fairly directly from incidents in Tezuka and, as such, work quite well. Our very next episode, "The Hunting Ground," is one such. But this is the first time that we get to see Mary in her new, amnesiac guise as the blood-lusty Captain Tonga, matriarch of the killing fields, er, Hunting Ground. We should have gotten much better than the irrational, patchy mess we're handed here. (At least we can't blame the manga for any of this; this was a made-for-TV plot.)

Rebecca Cunningham could take lessons from THIS "Boss Lady."

In "Such Sweet Sorrow," we learn that Tonga was adopted by the former head of the Hunting Ground located near Kimba's jungle kingdom. In the manga, Mary became the head of a tribe of natives, so I get the "retrofit." What is much less clear is Tonga's actual role. Sometimes, she acts like the boss of a giant chunk of African real estate; at other times, she seems to be an employee, albeit a key one. In this very episode, Tonga is definitely in "Boss Lady" mode; she already has sufficient "pull" and "name recognition" to confiscate free lands willy-nilly, put up fences, and organize a hunting contest that attracts hunters from all over the world. That must have been one speedy adoption process. More infuriatingly, Tonga seems to already know all about Kimba BY NAME here, although her stubble-bearded adjutant (Gilbert Mack) doesn't do the formal intro until early in "The Hunting Ground" (which leads me to believe that this episode actually should have postdated "Ground" in the current "official" Kimba continuity). Far MORE infuriatingly, Tonga (along with one other human character, as we'll see) can HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH KIMBA and doesn't even appear to take notice of how bizarre that is. Irrational, did I say? Hang on, it gets better (or worse)...

Link to episode at Hulu

It does take a while to complete, but I do admit that the opening sequence that introduces the three hunters -- Dr. Bazooka (Ray Owens), Billy Bully (Mack), and The Great Gusto (R.O. -- hopefully, Allen Saunders and Elmer Woggon weren't too offended) is cleverly done. As Narrator, Ray rarely got the chance to employ outright sarcasm, and he seems to relish the opportunity here. The twangy "secret agent" music in the Dr. Bazooka scene and the presence of Tezuka in the circus crowd (look for the big-nosed guy in the beret) are also nice touches. It seems like carping to point out that these three guys are not exactly created in the classic image of a "hunter." Strange, too, that Billy appears to be the only one who was told about Kimba beforehand (unless he's referring to a generic lion). If Tonga really wanted Kimba to be captured, then she probably should have briefed all three hunters in advance of their trip.

Gil Mack makes rather a meal of his brief appearance as Pauley Cracker, perhaps to make up for the fact that no other regular cast member appears in the episode.  Gazello (R.O.) and Sandy (Mack), the two main Hunting Ground refugees to appear, are suitably pathetic that they make Kimba's single-minded, solo-flight determination to stop Tonga's encroachment seem all the more heroic and admirable... but who the heck gave Tonga the AUTHORITY to indulge in such barbaric actions? It can't possibly be that easy to snaffle up unclaimed jungle land, can it?

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the strange-looking things that buried the guy at Gusto's circus... I'm not even going to try to explain that myself. Just read this.

"Great" Gusto, my bobble-topped red mob cap. It took... yes, I checked... exactly 40 seconds for Kimba to go from meeting Gusto to knocking the big bruiser out by hoisting him on the petard of his own "magic knife." It's hard not to feel cheated by this. Kimba actually impressed me far more by performing that straight-up-in-the-air leap into the tree when he was about to be run over by the Samson clones. Eat your heart out, Herr Director!

Maybe the "magic" part of Gusto's knife was its ability to convince
Kimba to do a take like this.

Right after the non-confrontation with Gusto, we get another tooth-grinding moment when Tonga (1) declares that she "wants to bag [Kimba] all by myself" and then turns right around and (2) orders her adjutant to "march forward and get that lion!" Isn't that just like a woman, as men used to say. What makes this worse is that Sonia Owens, bless her, roars out her lines like a drill sergeant. Again, Sonia almost did her job too well with both Mary and Tonga.

Kimba and Sandy's conversation seems to be taking place in the middle of the Maginot Line, or something. Why all the "traps" if the whole purpose of the Hunting Ground is to allow visiting hunters the chance to bag wild beasts on their own? And then one of the guns renders Kimba "The Lion in the Plastic Bubble." Makes perfect sense... provides just the right setting for Tonga and Kimba to have their first, wholly illogical conversation.

The idea that Tonga has a group of cowed animals ready to do her bidding is canonical; the jungle-princess Mary had the same menagerie in JUNGLE EMPEROR. Indeed, one of these semi-slaves, the lioness Bella Donna, will play a key role in "The Hunting Ground," just as she did in the manga. This sequence wastes some screen time, but there's nothing egregiously wrong with it. But then, Billy Bully's ego takes over, he frees Kimba with the promise of letting the lion go permanently free if he can win the mano-a-pawo that Billy's been itching to have from the start, and the duo mosey on off to...

... the CONVENIENTLY AVAILABLE WILD WEST AFRICAN SALOON, COMPLETE WITH SWINGING DOORS, GAUDY CHANDELIER, AND BAR. And so a Kimba episode irretrievably "jumps the shark" for the first time. Even the Titan crew must have thought this business absurd, else Kimba wouldn't have tried to paper over the implausibility, however feebly, by calling the place a "house." The delayed-reaction nature of Billy's demise is funny, I must admit. And after two episodes full of humans who give the entire race a bad name, Billy's acceptance of defeat and encouragement of Kimba are refreshing. But BOY, did this scene cause the old eyes to roll when I first saw the episode.

The confrontation with Dr. Bazooka is better than the one with Gusto, but that's about all it has going for it... that, and the saw-blade attachment on Bazooka's hover-car that serves as a neat call-forward to one of the more memorable accouterments of Speed Racer's Mach 5. If Dr. B. isn't smart enough to recognize that the barrel of the vacuum gun is pointed away from him when Sandy threatens him, then he can't be much of a real threat, can he?

... And the remaining two minutes (again, I counted) of the episode is basically filler of the freed denizens of the Hunting Ground returning to Kimba's kingdom. Tonga supposedly was going to pursue Kimba after he escaped, correct? Yet she does not appear again after the confrontation with Kimba and Billy (the silhouette doesn't count). The ending scene of Kimba et al. running at the camera even reuses the animation that was seen immediately after that earlier confrontation scene. It's almost as if the animators realized that this ep was beyond saving and threw in the towel. Thankfully, it wouldn't take Tonga very long to at least partially redeem this dreadful "first impression."

Up next: Episode 12, "The Hunting Ground."

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