Friday, December 23, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 45, "Such Sweet Sorrow"

"Such Sweet Sorrow" ranks as one of the best Kimba episodes in terms of sheer level of accomplishment alone. Somehow, the intertwined stories of Roger Ranger, Mr. Pompus, and Mary/Captain Tonga are disentangled and neatly retied in a way that, if it doesn't make entirely coherent sense in terms of what has gone before, at least presents the viewer with a reasonable approximation of a thematically consistent denouement. The "retconning" comes at a fast and furious pace, to be sure, but it seems almost low-key compared with what Marvel and DC comics fans have had to endure over the years.

The episode's script borrows liberally from a similar sequence in JUNGLE EMPEROR, albeit one that takes place considerably later in the narrative, at a time when Kimba is a grown lion and Kitty is his mate. In both the manga and animated versions, we see the "reunion" of Roger and Mr. Pompus, an attack on Kimba's kingdom led by Mary (who is the queen of a jungle tribe in JUNGLE EMPEROR, as opposed to the head of a hunting ground), the second appearance of the Mammoth of Mt. Moon, the "final dispensation" of Mary's jungle m.o., and the permanent departure of Roger and Mary from the jungle. Numerous individual moments, both dramatic and humorous, are transferred intact or quasi-intact from page to screen. Perhaps the most significant change -- one that was initiated by Mushi Studios, it must be noted, rather than the Titan dubbing crew -- concerns the whole matter of how Mary turned into Captain Tonga. In Tezuka, Mary, who's already been established as being an even bigger bitch than she seemed to be in the animated series' "A Human Friend" and "Fair Game," steals a page from Sean Connery and Michael Caine and uses "incomprehensible technology" (to wit: a fountain pen!) to manipulate the gullible primitives into thinking that she is some sort of goddess:

A real charmer, eh? By contrast, Kimba's Mary turns out to have literally lost her memory from grief after Rainbow Bridge collapsed in "A Human Friend" and she thought that she had "lost" her beloved Roger for good. Belated sympathy for the ruthless Tonga -- who'da thunk it? But it still works, provided that you're willing to accept one of the hoariest fictional tropes known to man or beast. Given that the Mary of JUNGLE EMPEROR doesn't appear to face any future legal or moral consequences for her consciously ruthless treatment of natives and jungle animals, I actually prefer the fictionally cruder, yet more emotionally satisfying, demise of Kimba's Tonga.

That l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g opening camera pan is nothing if not langorous. It's evidently meant to pump up the idea of this episode being a meaningful epic, but it's the content that makes the ep special, not the presentation.

In leading the hippo-tank invasion of Kimba's kingdom -- a much lower-tech incursion in the manga, BTW -- Tonga initially doesn't mention any particular interest in Kimba. What would be the purpose of "occupying" the entire jungle? Is the hunting ground that hard up for firearm fodder? Tonga will change her tune to an obsessive quest for the white lion soon enough, but only after the initial invasion is defeated. It might have been a better idea to have snuck in a reference to Tonga's longstanding hatred of Kimba right at the start, in order to reorient the audience to the status quo ante of "Catch 'Em If You Can" and "The Hunting Ground" (not to mention write right over the top of the later "Too Many Elephants," in which Tonga didn't appear to recognize Kimba).

The Titan crew wisely seized upon Tonga's meeting with Mr. Pompus on the riverbank as an ideal place to let the "retconned" backstory begin to flow. I'm not going to try to piece it all together just yet, since some additional backstory is coming, but it's immediately clear that Roger, Mr.P., and the newly-acquired Kimba must have picked up Mary after the hotel bill had been settled ("A Friend in Deed") and before they headed for Paris as part of their round-the-world trip. (Presumably, Roger and Mr.P. stopped going to "girlie shows" after Mary joined the party. At least, I would hope so.) Mary's belated participation in the trip may explain why she seemed so resentful in "Fair Game." Having just acquired Kimba, Roger was naturally devoting a good deal of attention to his new pet, and Mary didn't appreciate it. So far, so good.

Methusaleh makes a much better impression here than he did in "Running Wild"; he seems to be legitimately concerned about Kimba's ability to protect the jungle by himself once Roger is no longer on hand to help (can't you just smell the foreshadowing here?). Of course, he's neglecting to mention the large number of eps in which Kimba has shown such leadership qualities in Roger's absence. Even in the case of Tonga's tank attack, the animals were performing reasonably well with their defensive measures before Roger showed up; Roger's advice about attacking the tanks from underneath was more of the "tipping point" of the encounter, and it was Kimba who dreamed up the actual plan of counterattack that put Roger's brainstorm to use.

Mr. Pompus' escape from the hunting ground, and his and Roger's subsequent battles with the alligators, are "inspired" by events in JUNGLE EMPEROR more than they are direct copies of those events. The only direct swipe is Roger's "twirl-a-thon" when he's fighting the gator underwater. The animated version slathers on a much heavier layer of slapstick; Mr.P. may have fought the gators rather ineptly in the manga, but he certainly wasn't knocked koo-koo by falling logs at the time. Gil Mack makes the most of the opportunity for wackiness with his funny riff on the Popeye theme song. Was he inspired by memories of his turn as "The Hungry Goat" when he did so?

First a Maginot Line of defenses (as seen in "Catch 'Em If You Can"), now a ring of bulldog-shaped defensive structures (which later turn out to be mobile)?! Between her apparently unrestricted power to detain "suspects" and the arsenal of weaponry at her command, one has to wonder why Tonga stopped at "merely" running a hunting compound. There must have been at least one "Unsteadystan"-ish country in the vicinity that she could have taken over...

Tonga's origin story, as related by Tonga's hirsute adjutant (Ray Owens this time), ties in quite nicely with what we learned about Tonga's "Daddy," Mr. Triggerman, in "Too Many Elephants." The picture-book-like stills used to illustrate the story give the fanciful encounter a mock-legendary feel. I wonder what happened to "the former boss." Did he die and will the hunting ground to Tonga? (I didn't know that such government positions were hereditary.) Or did she *ahem* "get rid of" him at some point? Given the adjutant's claim that Mr. Triggerman "was very impressed [*cough cough*]" with Tonga "but [knew] that he was old enough to be her father," I can think of some very unsavory scenarios that might have led to Triggerman getting a "one-way ride" into the jungle, or into some hungry animal's cage.

Note below that Mary appears to have changed her wardrobe after the events at Rainbow Bridge; she was wearing a worn brown hunting outfit in the Bridge scene. She may have lost her mind, but she apparently didn't lose her fashion sense.

More "retcons" incoming! Based on Roger's brief flashback to the Rainbow Bridge collapse, we must now wipe the events of large portions of "A Human Friend" and "Too Many Elephants" from our memory banks. If Roger and Mary's trip to the jungle in "A Human Friend" was to deliver Kimba, then, obviously, we have to ignore Kimba's saving them from the snake, Roger and Kimba's meeting at the Bridge being a "reunion," etc., and limit the "real" events of "A Human Friend" to (1) Roger and Mary's delivering Kimba, (2) the Bridge disaster, (3) Mary's crack-up, and (4) the stranded Roger's deciding to stay and teach the animals to speak human language. Likewise, Mr. Pompus' first attempt to get Roger to leave the jungle in "Elephants" never took place; only Kimba's meeting with Pee-Wee, and Kimba's attempts to save Packer Dermus and his elephant herd from being exterminated, did. Got it. Considering how mucked up the storyline had gotten, I don't think that these sacrifices are too much to accept.

Having tidied up the narrative, we now get a beautiful scene that is drawn straight from JUNGLE EMPEROR. Well, that's not strictly true; Mr. Pompus does the piping in Tezuka, and he's not in a cage at the time. But the sentiments and emotions involved are identical.

I prefer the shot of Tonga silhouetted against the starry night sky, myself. But it's strictly a personal choice.

On to the Big Battle sequence! But where would Tonga have gotten a giant flag with Kimba's face on it? Must we now posit the existence of an Omniscient Portrait-Maker Guy, as well?

Relative to JUNGLE EMPEROR, the second invasion, like the hippo-tank attack, involves the use of heavier-duty technology (those bizarre-looking bulldog attack... thingies; given the presence of hound-dog-shaped police cars in Astro Boy, perhaps Tezuka had some sort of bizarre fetish for canine-shaped conveyances). But the participation of Tonga's animal minions is an exact replica of what is seen in Tezuka, right down to the "Noah's Ark in reverse" scenes of identical animals fighting one another and the violent collision, followed by a dizzy Alphonse and Gaston routine, between Pauley Cracker and a much larger beastie. So, too, does Tezuka include the dramatic scene in which Kimba's defeated legions are forced to take shelter on the island in the midst of a rainstorm:

But here is where Kimba actually gives its title character more credit for leadership than does Tezuka. Kimba's vocal lead-in to "Sing a Happy Song" may be feeble (though I do accept that Billie Lou was trying to get across Kimba's depressed mental state by making him sound pathetic), but the manga featured nothing like Kimba's determined dash for the shoreline following the reappearance of Mt. Moon and the Mammoth. In Tezuka, at the animals' moment of deepest despair, the Mammoth appears and starts fighting back against the natives -- a far cry from simply "taking a little stroll," as she does here. Rather than simply pitching in to help the Mammoth fight, Kimba draws strength from the simple fact of his "guardian"'s return and takes it upon himself to lead the counterattack. Need I say that I vastly prefer Kimba's version of these events? The use of the ethereal "Mt. Moon music" in the absence of any additional sound effects gives the whole sequence a dream-like, quasi-mythological feel.

The sphere of Mt. Moon's influence appears to have expanded considerably since the events of "The Hunting Ground." It now includes the hunting ground itself, leading to another adaptation of a scene from Tezuka, that of the bonfire and the rebellion of Mary's long-put-upon animal charges. The animated scene is toned down in one important respect; in JUNGLE EMPEROR, before Mary is subdued, she engages Roger in a vicious knife fight. Plus, of course, Mary breaks down and drops the "Queen of the Natives" facade, as opposed to simply striking her head against a rock and regaining her memory.

The Mary-Roger reunion is almost, but not quite, ruined by the cheesy, tinkly piano-lounge music in the background. For a moment, I thought that a soap opera had suddenly broken out. Perhaps Mr. Pompus' sneeze was meant as a subtle meta-comment on the tackiness of the presentation. Or, perhaps he really was just cold.

The admirably underplayed grand departure scene -- the "ultimate" version of a very familiar Kimba narrative trope -- includes one unusual moment. What does Roger referring to when he "thanks" Kimba for everything the latter has taught him? It seems to me that Kimba should have immediately said the same thing, if not actually spoken the words first. Perhaps Roger is referring to the fact that Kimba has shown how one creature can literally make a world of difference, and that, therefore, the same may be true of the human world. That's a sentiment in which Dr. Tezuka -- and the Muse of History -- would have heartily concurred.

Up next: Episode 46, "The Return of Fancy Prancy."

No comments: