Thursday, March 1, 2012

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 52, "Silvertail the Renegade"

"Silvertail the Renegade" is yet another episode that really should have been shoved back a few places in the chronological episode queue. This doesn't come across at all in the manga, in which Kimba is a leading "adult player" from the very beginning. On TV, by contrast, Kimba starts off by engaging in kiddie hijinks with pals Dot, Dash, Dinky, and Dodie, which lead to (1) the first, brief encounter with the titular Silvertail and (2) an unpleasant rendezvous with a hive of "bees" (or, perhaps, of spider wasps left over from the aftermath of "The Cobweb Caper"). Fearing "punishment" from Dan'l, the badly-stung Kimba literally hides under the bed -- in his case, a pile of leaves -- and is only rousted out when Dan'l comes to tell him that Silvertail has arrived in search of assistance. Assuming that Kimba has "been up to mischief," Dan'l gives him a sound thrashing, not even stopping to listen to Kimba's explanation. This is even more painful to watch than it must have been for Kimba to experience.

Even after recovering from his embarrassment (and his variegated sores), Kimba is strangely passive and lets other animals take the initiative in the fierce debate over whether or not to protect Silvertail (Gilbert Mack), an aging lion who has sought refuge in the jungle after raiding a village and incurring the wrath of its inhabitants. The affronted villagers promptly form a posse that displays all the legendary persistence of the "guys" who chased Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As Pauley Cracker argues that Silvertail should be turned over to the humans for his crimes and Dan'l Baboon counters that the old lion deserves protection, Kimba just sort of fades into the background. Not until near the end will the jungle prince leap into the fray, fighting the posse's hounds and borrowing a strategem from Macbeth, of all places, to get close to the unwelcome visitors and stage a counterattack. In the meantime, it's Dan'l who is the prime mover, stashing Silvertail in a cave with a sulphur spring that's supposed to keep the dogs from picking up the lion's scent.

Whereas the TV Silvertail is a rather generic, somewhat whiny lion with Gil Mack's standard old-guy voice, the Silvertail of the manga looks a lot more feral, hungry, and desperate. To extend the Shakespeare parallels, the fact that the unknown manga artist draws Silvertail with his mane askew may signify that the lion is at least partially insane, much as Ophelia's loosening of her hair in Hamlet indicated that she was going round the bend. For sure, Silvertail's attack on Dodie in the TV episode is much less frightening than this one.

Kimba does fight Silvertail briefly on TV during this first encounter, but Silvertail turns and vanishes rather quickly, not showing up again until he arrives at the animals' jungle-clearing meeting place. In the manga, once Kimba pitches into Silvertail for the first time, the latter stays on the scene for the rest of the story. Notice, as well, that Silvertail appears a bit more willing to stand up for himself (at least verbally) during this initial scene. The TV version of the character, by contrast, displays no apparent free will of his own, allowing himself to be directed by Dan'l and others at all times.

Pauley's point about the entire jungle being put in danger by the presence of the renegade is certainly well taken, but it's hard not to regard his negative attitude here as being the "dark side" of his loyalty to Kimba in such episodes as "Destroyers from the Desert" and "Jungle Thief." It's probably easier to imagine Dan'l having this opinion, especially in light of his appeals to "The Law of the Jungle." Perhaps Dan'l saw something of himself in the over-the-hill lion, a "there but for the grace of Kimba go I" vision? Or perhaps he remembered that Kimba's father Caesar was also in the habit of raiding human villages for his own purposes? The jungle animals ultimately divide over the dilemma, and we even get the standard "quarreling" scene that featured so prominently in eps like "Battle at Dead River" and "The Return of Fancy Prancy." Unfortunately, the scene is given a semi-comical tone that really doesn't fit the mood of this episode, with Pauley and his allies literally walking all over Dan'l on their way to lynch, er, serve walking papers on Silvertail. (Since Pauley neglected to consider that he doesn't know where Dan'l hid Silvertail, the march turns out to be a very short one.)

Kimba finally gets involved as it becomes more and more obvious that, despite Dan'l's best efforts, the posse is willing to go to any length -- including attacking any other animals that get in its way -- to hunt down Silvertail. After Kimba's attack on the dogs fails to convince the interlopers to leave, Kimba hatches the scheme of having the animals disguise themselves as trees and bushes and sneak up on the bivouacked posse, the better to catch its members by surprise. This is pretty ingenious, I guess, though it relies heavily on the posse simply staring in slack-jawed puzzlement as the animals perform their Birnam Wood act, as opposed to figuring that something is amiss and firing into the foliage. After Kimba and his subjects overpower the posse, Kimba launches into "improbable" speech and scares the group's imperious leader (Ray Owens) into agreeing to leave on the condition that Silvertail never raid the humans' village again.

The standard-issue "departure while Kimba and his subjects stand watching on a cliff" ending scene is given a little extra twist by the brief sight of Silvertail, the "redeemed" renegade, bowing his head and shedding a tear. The extra helping of pathos makes one wonder: to what extent has Silvertail's spirit been broken by his crimes? Will he be able to fit into Kimba's civilization as easily as some other newcomers have?

I'll be back this weekend, or early next week, with some final thoughts.

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