Reviewby Patrick King,
Kimba the White Lion
Dub.DVD: Ultra DVD Box Set
This is the classic tale of Kimba, the white lion, destined to be the King of the African jungle. Orphaned shortly after his birth, Kimba quickly shows his potential to be one of the greatest leaders the jungle has ever seen. Striving to accomplish the goals of his great father, Caesar, he dreams of convincing the animal kingdom to become just as civilized as the human world. Ultimately, he desires to bring the two cultures together in peace.
Kimba the White Lion, known as Jungle Emperor to some, as Jungle Taitei to others, and to pretty much everyone in Japan whatever its name may be, is a milestone in animation on both sides of the Pacific. Sometimes referred to as Osamu Tezuka's Bambi, it tells a very different tale than Disney's classic animated feature.
Based on Tezuka's timeless manga, Kimba is one of the earliest attempts to bring Japanese animation into American households. Funded partially by Fuji TV and NBC, Kimba blends the modern traits of animated productions of both cultures into something altogether different.
Though it is a series clearly intended for a younger audience, Kimba is filled with weighty philosophical insight, mature themes, and contains scenes of thinly veiled bloodless violence. On the surface, it easily satisfies the stereotypical expectations of anime – though those expectations had not yet solidified in 1965, when the series was created.
At the same time, Kimba is not without humor, sidekicks, and its titular optimistic protagonist. There is slapstick comedy, there is singing, there are quick flashbacks recapping events that transpired barely five minutes prior – all staples of children's programming. Though there is violence (fighting and guns are both common in the series) it is never glorified, but instead is presented as the last possible course of action. Most of the fight scenes are filled with two characters rolling around back and forth. All of it stays easily within the boundary of acceptability for kids.
It is easy for a series attempting to bridge such gaps to make the mistake of appealing to neither target audiences. If the show didn't have a serious side, then it certainly wouldn't have captured the attention of any adults. More importantly, without the softening of events from the original manga, children might not have embraced the series as much as they did. Many of the children who grew up watching Kimba are now key players in today's anime industry. In fact, there probably wouldn't be too much of a modern domestic anime industry were it not for the adventures of this fuzzy white lion.
Instead of repelling potential viewers, Kimba turned out to be a cartoon that is funny and endearing yet laced with a welcome tinge of reality. This realism can be at times painful, as major characters die tragic deaths, at times enlightening, as the topics of slavery and equality for all living things are explored, but for the most part, it add a very satisfying dimension to what may otherwise have been a flat show.
That said, Kimba might not please the typical anime fan. At least, it may not be appreciable for the modern anime fan. The animation might have been impressive in the 60's, but even with an excellent job of restoring the cels to their original quality, budget constraints were considerable, and they kept the framerate to the absolute minimum. There's no multichannel sound, no techno music - though the score is well-written, and while merchandising was strong in its heyday, more current anime fans probably own a Menchi plushie than a Kimba toy.
Kimba lacks the style of Cowboy Bebop, the visual splendor of the latest Miyazaki film, and this release commits the sin (for some of us) of being only in English. For those fans who have been spoiled by the gigantic technical leaps made in the past 40 years, it may be hard to sit down and watch a show that is visually outdated.
At times, the show's pacing is awkward, most likely because there simply wasn't enough time in the production schedule to perfect an episode before shipping it off. Other issues caused by the environment of Kimba's production include discontinuity between some of the episodes, as well. For example, characters who should know each other need to be reintroduced in later episodes, stories that have been told already are repeated as if they're new, and details of certain events shift slightly throughout the show's 52 episode run.
Part of this problem comes from the fact that the American voice actors were making up most of the story as they went along. With only a skeletal framework on which to base their scripts and no knowledge of the original manga which was the foundation of the tale, they never knew what was coming next.
There are a few DVD-related gripes, as well. Even if the show can't be presented in Japanese (something I would truly enjoy seeing one day), there is no subtitle track. This is fine for most viewers, but it would have been nice to see a hearing-impaired text stream included in the release.
Also, while it may be an issue that is limited only to my version of the bundled booklet, there is a list of the episodes (in original American broadcast order) near the end of it (that's not the issue). Immediately following are synopses of each of the American broadcast shows. This is also nice. What's odd is the fact that the two don't sync up. They're both numbered, but the synopses don't match the order of the episodes of the first list (or the order of the episodes on the DVDs, for that matter). It's a small issue, but it's an odd error that stands out in a package of otherwise stellar quality.
Somehow, with the show's aged production quality, questionable authenticity to the source material, and English-only voice actors building a story as they saw the episodes, Kimba is amazingly enjoyable. The key is the plot of the series. Kimba boasts a strong philosophical core covered with a wide cast of truly likable characters. Furthermore, it is topped off by enough humor, drama, and action to keep its viewers entertained. It is very much a modern-day Aesop's Fable. Anthropomorphic creatures have been teaching lessons about life for a long time; Kimba merely carries on that tradition.
While there may not be a Japanese language track, the voice actors for the show were veterans of radio dramas. Their knowledge of Japanese notwithstanding, this is one of the finest dubs I've ever heard. They all did an excellent job of staying in character, and of breathing life into even the smallest members of the supporting cast. There isn't much lip movement in Kimba, which allowed the actors to record more natural-sounding phrases than the dialogue that most people in the sub-preferring crowd have grown to loathe.
Though it may be an old show, it has been packaged as well as the newest high-profile series. Spanning 11 discs in an attractive box, extras include the original Japanese episode one (subtitled in English), a thick color booklet written by Fred Patten (if you're not familiar with him, check out some of his books – he's the man if you want to read some scholarly works on anime in North America) and Robin Leyden, an interview with Fred Ladd (one of the men responsible for the creation of the animated Kimba), deleted scenes, a textless English opening, the original English closing, an original Character art gallery, character profiles, and a merchandise gallery.
Clearly the guys at The Right Stuf have a soft spot for Kimba.
Some may claim that if you're a true fan of anime, you need to watch this show - if only for the sake of knowing your roots. However, this series is more than just a fossil to be examined and then put on display in a museum with a paragraph-long summary of its significance. Kimba is a series that is truly worth watching. Seeing this will help you understand exactly not only why Osamu Tezuka was so influential, but also why his works were so beloved.
Overall (dub) : B
Story : A
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B
+ + Distinctly cute characters, story with considerable redeeming value, a near-perfect blend of humor and drama, morality and playfulness.
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