Sunday, February 27, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 4, "Great Caesar's Ghost"

In large part due to the very positive feedback I've gotten thus far, I've decided to go "the full Kimba" and review all 52 episodes, as opposed to merely focusing in on the ones I like. It's been surprisingly easy to find legitimately meaningful things to say about these episodes, even those bits and pieces that I don't particularly care for. Take this ep, for instance; it's at once (1) marred by a bad continuity gaffe and some atypically substandard voice acting and (2) lifted to a higher plane of importance by the first real internal challenge to Kimba's authority and Kimba's literal and symbolic recovery of the legendary father that he never knew.

The opening battle with the python doesn't have much to do with the balance of the episode... or does it? Kimba uses brains more than sheer animal brawn to dispose of the sinister snake -- an approach that will ultimately be directly questioned by Samson, the Texas-accented (I suppose that Ray Owens was making an LBJ reference here of some sort) water buffalo who wants Kimba to show his mettle by "getting rid of" the mules that the big buff has brought as a gift. The irony is that Samson originally overflows with praise for Kimba's feat before turning around and dunning Kimba for being a "sissy."

"Do away with," "get rid of"... gotta love those euphemisms. I almost regret that Kimba didn't jump on Samson's indirect speech and use it as an excuse to allow the mules to leave: "You said get rid of them! You didn't say how."

It's not entirely surprising that the young lion prince, challenged on the grounds of not only his own authority but also his father's vision, folds like an accordion. Not that he hasn't previously faced adversity, but he isn't yet equipped to handle this confrontation, especially not without strong backing from his subjects... several of whom decide on an unorthodox, but ultimately successful, way of making up for their earlier reticence and reconnecting Kimba with the legacy of Caesar.

Hotshot Hopper (Owens), of course, did not kill -- er, "get rid of" Caesar -- Viper Snakely did -- and I can't see how the Titan crew could possibly have overlooked the obvious physical difference between the two hunters. Perhaps they were misled by Hopper's sweeping of his gun towards Caesar's hide. In any event, Hopper appears to be such an incurable braggart that he may actually believe that he did the deed, in his bubbly little world at least.

Animals dressing up in Caesar's hide and attempting to influence Kimba was also a key scene in Tezuka's manga, but the psychological dynamics were totally different. In the first place, Kimba himself spirited the hide away from a native chieftain's hut, so he was, in a sense, in control of the situation from the off. Secondly, the animals used the hide to convince the pampered, unwilling Kimba to stay in the jungle and take over for his father (and since Kimba reacted to the original suggestion by tweaking Bucky's nose, he kinda was asking for it), which strikes me as akin to blackmail (or, in this case, whitemail). Kimba may initially have thought that Pauley, Bucky, and Dan'l "played a dumb trick," but the trio's hearts were unquestionably in the right place, and Kimba, to his credit, quickly realizes that fact. But the way in which Kimba does so... well, it sounds like a line reading from a badly dubbed Japanese monster movie. "YOU... really ARE... MY FRIENDS!" Not one of Billie Lou Watt's finest moments. Had that reading been even close to natural, this sequence would have been practically perfect. There's even a clever bit of humor injected when Gilbert Mack, speaking as Caesar, rattles off the Boy Scouts' laundry list of virtues.

A couple of spots during this part strike me as a bit... well, squirm-inducing for modern sensibilities. When Hopper fires the guns to rouse the locals to go after the "thieving animals," we see a bunch of heads popping out of huts. The faces are white, but this almost seems like an impromptu corvee. Later, Caesar's claim that "the white lion is born to lead!" sounds like something out of Kipling: "Take up the white lion's burden!" Actually, as we'll see in the important later episode "Journey into Time," "chemical additives" had as much to do with creating white lions' "leadership qualities" as any supposed genetic superiority.

Dan'l's momentary lapse into "Law of the Jungle" mode -- "let the hunters kill -- er, 'get rid of' -- Samson" reflects just how far Kimba's subjects still have to go to fully appreciate his ideas. Of course, Hopper's hunting party doesn't exactly stand for humanity at its finest, and Kimba et al.'s beating them off with a "baobab bath" both confirms the wisdom of the indirect approach and provides a thoroughly satisfactory "cleansing" of the infiltrating despoilers. Apparently, baobabs do serve as natural water storage facilities, including large deposits of water's being stored in their roots, so this scheme served a didactic purpose in addition to providing a good visual climax. Nice musical accompaniment, too.

I'd like to report that Samson became a staunch ally of Kimba after this "meaningful confrontation," but, in fact, he would have just as nasty an attitude (not to mention a completely different voice) in his putative next appearance (Episode 6, "Jungle Thief") and would pretty much fade away after that. That seems a shame, even for a character who supposedly lived at a distance and could only appear on occasion as a result.

Up next: Episode 5, "Fair Game".

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