Kimba, the White Lion Box Set 1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: C

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  • Audio Rating: C
  • Video Rating: D+
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 3 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
  • MSRP: 59.95
  • Running time: 350
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Kimba The White Lion

Kimba, the White Lion Box Set 1

By Paul Grisham     May 06, 2003
Release Date: February 25, 2003

Kimba, the White Lion Box Set 1
© Nozomi Entertainment

What They Say
From the creator of Astroboy comes Kimba, one of the "first-generation anime classics" from Japan, and the first to be broadcast in color, in 1965.

Featuring spectacular designs and trailblazing animation techniques, gentle stories, and a catchy theme song, Kimba's adventures are enchanting tales of jungle survival and social reform. With his pals Pauly the Parrot, Daniel Baboon, and a charming assortment of loveable characters, Kimba follows in the footsteps of his late father, the great lion king, but he leaves his own trail, making the jungle a safer, better place to live for everyone.

This DVD boxed contains 26 color episodes on four discs! The episodes are in the order according to Osamu Tezuka's original storyline.

The Review!
Kimba, the White Lion is a Saturday morning cartoon classic from the days of yore, though tracking down the entire series on home video in the past has been a challenge, with its shuffled episode order, and the long line of knock-offs, sequels, and remakes. This box set brings together the first half of the series in reconstructed story order, and should have been something for Kimba fans to treasure. Unfortunately, neither the show nor its masters have aged well at all. Longtime fans looking for a comprehensive Kimba set will probably not be satisfied with the poor video quality, and those discovering the series for the first time may find themselves turned off by the campy dialogue and confused moralizing.

The series is presented in the monaural form as it was originally broadcast back in 1965. The episodes themselves are mostly clear and suitably loud, but the OP and ED sound positively awful. They sound like sixth generation copies and are identically bad on every episode. Some of the episodes do have more serious problems, though. Episode 21 (Bad Baboon) has hissing and a low frequency thumping throughout. For the most part, after a few minutes, your ears will adjust to the tinny sound.

While the audio quality is serviceable, the video ranges from damaged to outright unwatchable. There is no single frame of animation on the entire set that does not exhibit some sort of dirt or damage. In addition to film damage several of the episodes, especially episode 1 (Go, White Lion!) have analogue tape tracking errors, which suggest that the masters used for the episodes on this set are several generations old. Every episode is murky-looking, with muted colors and poor contrast, with the entire image looking very dark. Worst of all is episode 7 (Battle at Dead River), which is so dark that the white lion, Kimba, frequently appears to be talking to himself amidst the shadows, even though other characters are standing around him.

The set comes in a rather handsome digipack with a semi-transparent slipcase. Overall, the set is bright and vibrant (more so than the actual program) with the whole design providing a bucolic scene of the jungle animals. There are a few problems with the design, however, as the digipack is constructed book-like, rather than the fold-out design which is typical for digipack-style collections. The set does include a booklet that provides some historical context for the series, as well as an episode listing. Most of the content of the book is lifted from Fred Patten’s discussion in the supplemental area of the fourth disc.

The menus are attractive and responsive, with transitions zooming through the jungle. Standard for non-anime TV series, selecting an episode from the main menu takes the user to a chapter selection menu, which means that watching an individual episode requires an extra selection. Also, there is no “Play All” feature – at the end of each episode, the viewer is returned to the Main Menu.

My main complaint with the disc design is that chapter stops seem to be inconsistent. Early episodes have OP-1, part A-2, part B-3, ED-4, but then later episodes seem to have chapter 4 selected during the episode, with no chapter stop for the ED. It’s not really critical, though, since after watching the OP/ED animation a couple of times, you’ll be skipping past it anyway.

There are two main issues with Kimba, the White Lion that make the extras included here essential viewing: the creative control of the series by its American producers, and the 1994 controversy surrounding the Lion King. Interviews with the series production coordinator, Fred Ladd, and anime historian, Fred Patten, provide illuminating insights into why Kimba is the way it is.

The interview with Fred Ladd is less directly informative, resorting mainly to production anecdotes, though he often inadvertently reveals how much he really doesn't get Tezuka’s original vision, seeming to take a fair amount of creative credit for the final version. The interview with Fred Patten is far more informative, running for nearly 40 minutes, and providing a good overview of the original manga series, its influences, the economic situation of the production, social issues, the logistics behind its irregular production schedule, and more. At first, watching some guy talk about anime seemed dull, but as I got into the groove of what he was saying, the 40-minute run-time flew by.

The extras are rounded out with a transcription of the original series marketing pitch, which hewed closer to Tezuka’s original manga stories. Although the American television landscape in the mid-60s would not have supported a long-form serial cartoon, you really get a sense of loss at looking at the classic that was never meant to be. Subsequent animated versions of Jungle Emperor Leo lacked a certain spark. There was a right time, a right mindset, and a right crew to make it all work, and it hasn’t ever come around again.

(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)

Rhino, in association with Right Stuf International, brings us a collection of one of the most important and influential cartoons ever to be released on either side of the Pacific Ocean. Kimba, the White Lion is the American version of Jungle Emperor Leo, based on Osamu Tezuka’s manga, and produced by his animation studio. The series is fondly remembered by many in the over-30 crowd, though it is perhaps best known today for its controversial association with Disney’s blockbuster, The Lion King.

This set brings together half of the series, reconstructed for the first time into a rough chronological order, which tells the story of how Kimba works to establish a peaceful kingdom for the animals in the memory of his murdered father. Though the story was originally conceived as a fairly serious take on how the law of the jungle could be repealed and replaced with a more compassionate society, the series became the victim of a set of necessary, but infuriating compromises.

The episodes here cover something like a complete story arc. In the first episode, we are introduced to Caesar, a white lion who has established himself as the king of the jungle. Over the years, Caesar has been a thorn in the side of the human establishment, farmers, ranchers, game wardens, and even some of the local tribesmen, to the point that capturing and killing Caesar has become an obsession of the local hunters. When Caesar is finally killed, his mate, Snowene, is captured, to be an exhibit in a foreign zoo. Snowene gives birth to Caesar’s final legacy, Kimba, another white lion. Snowene encourages Kimba to escape, return to the African jungle, and live on in the memory of his father.

Subsequent episodes show Kimba establishing himself as the reigning ruler and instituting his own brand of pacifistic jungle law. From the very beginning, Kimba has a strong set of core supporters, most notably Dan’l Baboon, Caesar’s wise advisor, and village idiots Pauley Cracker and Bucky who hang around for comic relief (though I frequently found myself wanting relief from their brand of comedy.) Along the way, he will befriend others sympathetic to his cause, potential love interest Kitty, and humans Roger Ranger and Mr. Pompous. There are villains who desire Kimba’s power for themselves, including the oafish lion, Claw, and sinister manipulator, Cassius, the panther. Kimba must also persuade the traditionalists, those with power of strength who would be forced to take a diminished role in the egalitarian new order.

Within this framework, there are plenty of story ideas that are nothing short of fascinating, especially the ongoing problem of how to bring the carnivorous animals in line. The story ultimately resolves itself through a tricky bit of Deus Ex Machina, but the questions it raises along the way are interesting and intelligently posed. Although the American producers tried to ensure that the series could be aired in any arbitrary order, reconstructed into chronological order, this particular arc hints at the original vision behind the series.

Unfortunately, while there are many very good ideas, there is also a lot of wrongheaded logic behind the series, much of it the fault of the otherwise estimable Dr. Tezuka. Children will probably not question Kimba’s authority, pulling for the plucky youngster out of empathy, but the very nature of Kimba’s rule seems misguided to modern sensibilities. That Kimba should rule because he is a lion and his father’s son is never really questioned. The other animals seem content to live under Kimba’s benevolent hereditary monarchy, never challenging the notion that other species might be fit to lead or that a representative democratic council should replace Kimba’s tyrannical rule. Kimba’s thinking is frequently muddled, and his solution to any problem is usually violent combat against the dissidents. Moreover, Kimba’s adoption of farming ignores the fact that agriculture is the root cause of destruction of jungles and worldwide extinction and suggests a social structure built around socialist collective labor, like that of Maoist China. It was frequently hard for me to view Kimba as the hero of his own story.

Also, the portrayal of human characters is deeply flawed as well. The original manga was roundly (and deservedly) criticized for its portrayal of the African people as nothing more than superstitious Bushmen – blackface caricatures, if you will. Kimba solves the problem by ridding itself of African characters entirely, a different, and more insidious form of racial inequity. From viewing Kimba you might be led to believe that Africa is populated only by animals and white men. Kimba’s portrayal of women is equally offensive. Female characters are portrayed as vacuous and self-absorbed. Even Tonga, the regional game warden, whose character is noticeably richer than most on the show, still has scenes where she stomps her foot and threatens to “tell Daddy!” Kitty, the most thoughtful and intelligent female character in the show, serves little purpose other than love interest and frequent kidnappee. While there are plenty of oafish male characters, it should be noted that the only admirable characters in the story so far are male.

This box set includes only the edited and English dubbed version that was shown on American TV. Those looking for the Japanese version will have to look elsewhere. The American version was produced for NBC by Fred Ladd, whose unsubtle touch is visible in English versions of many Japanese animated classics. The most immediately obvious evidence of this is in the character’s names. Every character gets a jokey name, some of which work (Dan’l Baboon and Old King Specklerex, for instance), and some of which are just awful (Viper Snakely and Speedy Cheetah.) I’m sure that Mr. Ladd was pleased with his names, but it’s tough to believe even the most naïve youngster would buy into some of these. Also, most of the more dramatic elements, death and sexual love, have been written out of the stories in which they appear.

The dubbing is equally inconsistent. Billie Lou Watt delivers a rare and satisfying performance as Kimba, and Cliff Owen’s turn as Dan’l Baboon is inspired. Hal Studer’s Roger Ranger is appropriately noble. Unfortunately, the rest of the show isn’t as great, with every other character given some sort of goofy voice, even when it isn’t entirely appropriate. A small group of actors provided the voices for the dozens of characters on the show, leading to the unfortunate situation where some characters appear to be talking to themselves.

Also, even with the acting is good, the dialogue is often wretched. According to the production notes, the original Japanese scripts were not translated. Instead an episode synopsis was provided to the actors, who were responsible for writing their own lines. The end result is that much of the subtlety that must have been present in the original version is lost. Scenes where Kimba struggles with self-doubt and his own animal instincts are simply written away with the stock phrase, “What’s wrong with you, Kimba? You’re not acting like yourself today.” There are more than a few situations where characters’ physical reactions are not at all appropriate with what had previously been said, suggesting the Japanese scripts were much stronger and perhaps more adult in nature.

Overall, though, there are many moments in Kimba that are a pure joy to behold. The animation, even though it is nearly 40 years old, is still fluid and alive. The level of detail in the character animation surpasses many of today’s busier, but more budget conscious, shows. Isao Tomita’s sweeping symphonic score is grand and moving. It’s cliché to say it, but they just don’t make them like that anymore. And amidst the political flaws and hit-or-miss performances, there are a few episodes that sparkle and pop with wonder and drama. Episode 25 (Too Many Elephants) is the only A+ episode on the set, a straightforward tragedy about what happens to the animals that cannot adapt to Kimba’s new society. Although other episodes rewrite the more serious elements of death and violence, this episode plays things straight, shocking even me with its final scene. I also enjoyed any episode featuring Tonga and Kitty as well as Dan’l Baboon’s confrontation with his old nemesis Big-O.

Kimba, the White Lion is one of those series that grows fondly in memory. Even though I remember struggling to keep watching the episodes on this set, once I was finished and had some time to think about it, the good parts kept resonating. Even the act of writing this review stirred up feelings of nostalgia and appreciation that watching the show never could. For those who remember watching the show as children, I fear that watching it now, you might discover that it really isn’t as good as you remember.

So, if you’re the kind of person who eats up the campy classics from the 1960s, who can sing the Gigantor theme song, and knows what each of the buttons on the Mach 5 are for, jack up the content grade by a letter, and enjoy. This release doesn’t look or sound as good as it should, but it’s pretty complete, in order, and still has a lot of heart.

English Language,Interview with anime historian Fred Patten,Interview with Kimba program production coordinator Fred Ladd,Creator Osamu Tezuka's production company's original proposal to NBC

Review Equipment
Panasonic Panablack TV, Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)


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