Kimba the White Lion

Kimba the White Lion is an anime series
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Panja (Caesar), the white lion king of the jungle, is killed by the human hunter Hamegg (Viper Snakely), who captures his mate Eliza (Snowene) alive. Caged on a ship en route to an overseas zoo, Eliza gives birth to their son Leo (Kimba), who escapes by jumping overboard. Eventually returning to the jungle, Leo befriends Mandy (Dan'l Baboon), a wise mandrill counselor, Coco (Pauley Cracker) the parrot, and Tommy (Bucky) the chronically shy deer. They revere him as Panja II, and Leo resolves to keep the jungle forever peaceful by ridding it of Bubu (Claw), his evil, scarred lion adversary, and bumbling hyena minions.

Paid for in part with money from American network NBC, Kimba was made with the demands of the foreign market in mind. Hence, Astro Boy-creator Osamu Tezuka was forced to make the story in bite-sized chunks that could be screened out of order without overreaching story arcs.  On the bonus side, NBC money secured a high enough budget to leave monochrome behind, and Kimba became the first full-color anime TV series. Several episodes were cut together to make the movie Jungle Emperor (1966, Jungle Taitei), which was nominated for a Golden Lion for animation at the Venice Film Festival. The name Leo was regarded as unacceptable in the American market, where it was the name of the famous MGM lion; instead, the translators originally intended to name their hero Simba, Swahili for "lion." However, this was also rejected on account of a number of African-American trademark applications using the Simba name, which the producers could not be bothered to sort through in search of loopholes and potential infringements. The coincidence would return to haunt the franchise in the 1990s.

Tezuka's original 1950 manga Jungle Emperor, serialized in Manga Shonen, took the story of Leo much further along, with the white lion growing up, siring his own heir, and eventually laying down his life to save his realm. However, the concept of characters aging was another casualty of the stand-alone episode structure, and the anime Kimba remained permanently a cub. Tezuka redressed this balance with New Jungle Emperor: Onward, Leo! (1966, Shin Jungle Taitei, Susumu Leo!), a second series that took Leo to adulthood, which was initially intended solely for the Japanese audience. Onward, Leo! featured character designs from a young Rintaro and an involving subplot about Mount Moon and a fabled gem-a plot that would later be copied for episode six of Pokémon. The adult Kimba/Leo was popular enough to become the mascot of the Seibu Lions baseball team in Japan (see Go for It, Tabuchi!), and eventually made it to the States on the Christian Broadcasting Network under the title Leo the Lion (1984). By that time, however, Tezuka's studio Mushi Production had filed for bankruptcy, and a litigation tangle had taken the original Kimba series off the air.

The series was remade by Tezuka Productions as New Adventures of Kimba the White Lion (1989, Shinsaku Jungle Taitei), directed by Takashi Ui, taking Leo from his birth up to the moment when he brings some semblance of order to the jungle. This version was also eventually released in the U.S., but not until after an unexpected brush with controversy in the mid-1990s.

The series had slowly faded from public perception until the release of Disney's The Lion King (1994), the tale of a lion called Simba, whose father dies, who just can't wait to be king, who has a mandrill for a counselor, an argumentative parrot-like bird (a hornbill) for a friend, and an evil, scarred lion adversary (plus bumbling hyena minions). Like Kimba, Disney's Simba is also haunted by his father's face in the clouds, a fact lampooned in an episode of The Simpsons, when the ghostly apparition of Disney's Mufasa appears to Lisa and mixes up the Simba-Kimba names. Disney representatives made the unlikely assertion that the entire production staff of The Lion King was unaware of the Tezuka original (including codirector Roger Allers, who, by Disney's own admission, had spent two years in Tokyo working on Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland). The controversy was given further fuel when Fumio Suzuki, a creditor who claimed partial ownership of the original 1965 series, authorized the rerelease of eight episodes on video as Kimba the Lion Prince (1996), with a new dub that seemed deliberately calculated to imply further, previously nonexistent parallels with the hapless Disney production.

Ironically, the controversy over the Disney film may have pushed Tezuka Productions into making yet another version of its own work, the movie Kimba the White Lion (1997, aka, much to the annoyance of encyclopedia compilers, Jungle Emperor Leo), released just a little too late to warrant the filmmakers' claims that it was in honor of the original's 30th anniversary. This time directed by Toshio Takeuchi and with character designs by Akio Sugino, the big-budget Kimba anime is the last incarnation of the series to date. Disney would inadvertently antagonize the anime audience again with Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)-see Secret of Blue Water.
Series Credits
Person Name Episode Count
Osamu Tezuka

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Original US Poster Art

General Information Edit
Name Kimba the White Lion
Name: ジャングル大帝
Romaji: Jungle Taitei
Publisher ?
Start Year 1965
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Aliases Jungle Emperor
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