Wednesday, June 29, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 19, "Mystery of the Deserted Village"

For the balance of the Summer, I'm going to try my level (or slightly lopsided, even) best to review at least two Kimba episodes per week. "Deserted Village" closes, in a manner of speaking, the loop that was opened at the end of the flashback sequence in "Journey into Time." Last millennium, as you recall, the adult Ur-Kimba was taken by the Kickapeel natives to the village near what would ultimately become Caesar's, and then Kimba's, kingdom. So how did the white lions actually come to "make the break" with the human world and settle in the jungle? And whatever became of those carefully preserved hides of generations of Kimba's ancestors?

We learn here that the hides have been zealously guarded for an undetermined period of time by Kimba's sister Leona (Sonia Owens). This is a radical simplification of the much gnarlier scenario presented in JUNGLE EMPEROR. Tezuka introduced Leona as Kimba's aunt, who had decided to stay behind in the native village after Caesar had acceded to the wishes of the local animals and became their ruler. Among the natives, Leona functioned as a cult leader/idol (albeit a more benign one than, say, Puffy Adder), complete with eager acolytes... including Kitty. (Kitty's original role will seem ironic indeed when you learn what transpires during the females' first meeting here.) In JUNGLE EMPEROR, Leona tried without success to convince Kimba to rule alongside her, and the two parted on somewhat less than amicable terms. Such is not the case in "Deserted Village," largely because the village in which Leona resides is now, well, deserted, and Leona, fixated on preserving the tangible evidence of the white lions' past, is perfectly willing to let Kimba leave to fulfill Caesar's dream. Indeed, Leona seems remarkably indifferent to anything going on outside her own tightly circumscribed universe -- rather the opposite of Kimba's expansive intention of civilizing the jungle, but certainly a reflection of the determined single-mindedness that seems to characterize the entire white-lion line. This obsession doesn't really cause problems here, but it certainly will during Leona's second appearance in "The Day the Sun Went Out." That episode is an absolute classic; this one doesn't quite rise to that level, but it's solid enough, despite a few continuity-related hiccups.

Many Kimba eps mix serious doings with slapstick, but the "cocktail" is particularly cockeyed here, thanks to the appearance of the strangest group of humans ever to impose themselves on Kimba's kingdom. No doubt, these folks were introduced to leach some of the starch out of a plotline that was already fairly well stiffened with exposition and the nastiest Kimba-Claw fight to date, but it would have been nice had the Snobbishes of Boston been able to contribute something to the party aside from making general nuisances of themselves (with one notable exception).

For the first time, Claw uses pure guile to try to get the best of Kimba -- and Kimba, bless his trusting heart, gives Claw's gang a clear shot at him, only escaping immediate harm thanks to Speedy Cheetah's disobedience. Then, completely out of "left jungle," in rolls the 1966 version of Pete's Mammoth RV with the exquisitely named Vera Snobbish (Billie Lou Watt), Ignatzo Snobbish (Gilbert Mack), and Ninnie (Sonia Owens) in imperious tow. Usually, Kimba one-shotters with "character-defining" names promise more than they can deliver, but (Ig) not so these Snobbishes; they are a hoot. Even their hapless retainers Rocky (Ray Owens) and Rollie (Mack) and the incongruously Southern-accented Chef D'Oeuvre (Ray Owens) are cleverly and humorously characterized, in both voice and dialogue. And, wonder of wonders, Ninnie appears to recognize that Western pop music has progressed well beyond the Twist by this time!

We once again get mixed signals regarding Kimba and friends' ability to converse with humans. Rocky and Rollie appear to have a delayed reaction to Kimba's verbalization (perhaps their brief, unexplained dance lifted them to a "higher state of consciousness" or something?), while Vera doesn't appear to regard her talk with Kimba as being unusual at all ("This lion can talk to me... but of course, I'm so well bred!"). Generally speaking, the Snobbishes aren't actually as haughty as their name would seem to imply, but perhaps Vera's failure to invite the "common" Speedy inside the RV reflects a certain class bias. Ignatzo bridges the gap nicely as he displays his kindly nature for the first time, unwittingly foiling his mother's plan to bring Kimba home with her...

...and then the drugs kick in. After the brief celebration of Frug-ality, Leona makes her memorable first appearance. The dramatic meeting of brother and sister might have taken place a lot sooner had it occurred to Kimba -- as it apparently did not -- that the Kickapeel village discovered by Livingstone and described by Roger Ranger in "Journey into Time" was the very same "deserted village" seen here. Even if Kimba had no way of knowing that a relative of his still lived there, wouldn't he have been just a bit curious as to the location of those hides? For her part, Leona seems to be completely unaware of her brother's activities taking place right next door. Unless she has been living as a complete hermit, I should think that she would have learned something by this time, if only by a chance encounter with one of Kimba's subjects. Or perhaps the animals in Kimba's kingdom have maintained some sort of long-standing taboo against going to the village; I don't know.

Eeeeeerowwww! Sexual tension rears its ugly maned head, and I'm not talking "palpitations of the heart"! But why was Kitty in the village in the first place?

There is a certain poignancy to Leona's tale of how Caesar left the village and took up the mantle of jungle lord. Recall that the descendants of Ur-Kimba had been in that village and protecting the natives for literally thousands of years. While it's certainly understandable that Caesar might feel the need (and responsibility) to rejoin the animal kingdom, I certainly don't get the impression that the natives "moved away to the city." More than likely, they were forced to become nomads, leading to the extinction of their way of life. There is a definite "Trail of Tears" vibe to that scene of the long line of natives stretching into an indefinable distance.

Leona says that she "stayed on" after Caesar left in order to care for the hides. Um, I thought that Caesar met Snowene after he had established his kingdom? Perhaps Leona is actually Kimba's step-sister. Leona seems to be considerably older than Kimba, so this is definitely a possibility, though it raises the question of what happened to the putative "first" Mrs. Caesar.

So what "plan" of Claw's did the humans disturb? The one that Kimba already knows about?
After Rocky and Rollie's attempt to capture Kimba leads to them earning another "daze" pay, the drugs kick in again... and they're heavy-duty ones, this time. The Snobbishes' RV suddenly becomes the inverse of a Gabriel's Horn; though it has finite surface area, it apparently has infinite interior volume, or at least volume enough to accommodate several different "Revolutions in Home Appliances" (thanks to conveniently looped animation cycles). I've heard of air conditioners going on the fritz, but never causing the floor to suddenly turn into a sheet of ice! Between the crazy cold snap, the Frugging furniture, and the sudden barrage of lame puns, this definitely qualifies as one of the series' weirdest scenes.

The Kimba-Claw battle that we have been expecting from the beginning of the episode turns out to be the duo's first really brutal one -- a clinch that Kimba only wins by "Samsonizing" his opponent and knocking over a bunch of presumably valuable native artifacts. (Cue Launchpad: "It coulda been worse... it coulda been somethin' new!") The ep glides to Earth with Leona remaining at her lonesome last. I wonder whether the folks who criticize Kimba for "talking to his dead father's hide" are quite as hard on Leona, who has merely dedicated her entire life to watching over a pile of pelts? Even Kimba seems to be a bit distressed at the thought of the life that Leona has to look forward to. Still, as I noted above, the siblings' fates are all of a piece with the white lions' historical sense of dedication to a mission... whether it be externally or internally directed.

Up next: Episode 20, "Restaurant Trouble".

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