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Manga / Kimba the White Lion

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Who lives down in deepest, darkest Africa?
Who's the one who brought the jungle fame?
Who's the king of animals in Africa?
Kimba the White Lion is his name!
He's the greatest leader, there's no doubt of it,
He's the one we count on night and day.
When there's danger he can get us out of it,
Kimba the White Lion leads the way!

Kimba the White Lion is a 1965 television series based on Osamu Tezuka's manga "Jungle Taitei" (1950-1954), directed by Tezuka himself. The series follows a white lion named Kimba (Leo in the Japanese version) who, due to the death of his father, is forced to become the King of the Jungle. With the help of a cranky old baboon who occasionally attempts to offer advice, a short-tempered parrot, and a dopey antelope, he must attempt to hold peace in the jungle in order to achieve his and his father's ideal of all animals living in harmony without needing to eat each other to survive. His solution to this is to force all the carnivores to become vegetarian... somehow.

In some versions of the story, this really doesn't end well. However, since this particular series was a collaboration between Tezuka's Mushi Productions studio and NBC, it remains on the more upbeat side of the scale.

Other anime and remakes of the series include (English name used unless stated):

  • Leo the Lion, a.k.a. Shin Janguru Taitei: Susume Reo!translation (1966): Sequel Series unrelated to the manga focusing both on the now-adult Kimba as well as his cub, Rune. An English dub aired on the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1984.
  • Jungle Emperor (1966): Feature movie telling the same story as the 1965 series, borrowing a lot of its animation from it. Never dubbed.
  • Jungle Emperor (1967): A symphonic poem by Isao Tomita based on the series.
  • The New Adventures of Kimba the White Lion (1989): A Darker and Edgier remake of the original series.
  • Jungle Emperor Leo (1997): Another feature movie adapting the second half of the manga with the adult Kimba.
  • Jungle Emperor Leo: Hon-o-ji (2000): A 9 minute Short Film which was originally shown exclusively at the Tezuka Osamu World in Kyoto.
  • Jungle Emperor: The Brave Can Change the Future (2009): A Made-for-TV Movie with an brand new story and different setting from the manga. Taking place in an After the End 'Neo-Jungle'. An English dub was produced in 2019 by the Japan Foundation and as of July 2020 is available to watch on RetroCrush.

Of course, if someone in the western world knows of this franchise, it's likely because of its similarities to Disney's The Lion King (1994), leading to Kimba essentially becoming known as "That Japanese thing that The Lion King plagiarized." (In reality, the similarities don't go beyond the surface level, and the story, characters, and overall themes are very different.) note  And in any case: Osamu Tezuka was a huge admirer of Walt Disney, and he admitted that his work was strongly influenced by early Disney animation—so he'd probably find the similarities flattering.

As an additional note, the original series was the first Japanese animated television series produced in color.

Tropes used by the series based on the manga:

  • Abusive Parents: Kimba/Leo in the sequel series, at least where Rune is concerned. Leo pushes him hard and routinely shames his efforts — eventually abandoning him in the cliffs far from home and forcing him to make it back himself. It should be noted this was never the case in the manga, where Leo actually treated Rune with kindness and respect.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Revised by Osamu Tezuka himself for the 60's TV series (in-comparison to the original manga and 1997 movie adaptation): Rune safely drags Leo/Kimba and Dr. Moustache/Mr. Pompous from the snowy mountains to the jungle. Thus, Leo's family and friends stay alive and safe.
  • Albinos Are Freaks: In one episode of the 1965 series, Kimba is outright bullied by other lions for having white fur. However, real white lions have leucism instead of albinism.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife:
    • Dash/Joey is a cheetah/leopard cub with blue fur.
    • In the sequel series, there is Zamba, who is like the name of the episode he debuted in, is a blue lion.
    • Also in the sequel series, a Smilodon with blue fur was the main villain of an episode known as "The Saber-Tooth Tiger".
  • Anachronism Stew: The earliest recorded sighting of a white lion was in 1938. Kimba/Leo's ancestor in Ancient Egypt, itself a geographic error as the white mutation never occurred in the Barbary lion period let alone the Barbary lions of Egypt, is portrayed as being the same color as his descendants Panja/Caesar, Kimba/Leo and Rune. A woolly mammoth, a Smilodon and even dinosaurs are amongst the inhabitants of Mount Moon.
  • Artistic License – Biology: In one episode of the 1965 series, gorillas are shown eying hungrily at a piece of meat along with carnivorous animals. Gorillas are herbivores (although they do eat insects occasionally). Chimpanzees, which are omnivorous great apes, would be a more accurate choice.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: "The Gigantic Grasshopper" courtesy to radiation.
  • Balloon Belly: Kimba, Dot, Dash and Dinky each get one in episode 42.
  • Beware the Skull Base: The episode, "City of Gold" from the 1965 series features Kimba and his friends travelling to Dead Man's Cave, called Twin Skull Cave in the English Dub, where Kimba gets trapped with Tom and Tab and forced to explore the cave on his own. In the 1989 series, the 7th episode "Courage" features Skull Rock which is inhabited by the appropriately named Skull Rock Tribe and the plot revolves around one of the animals getting nearly sacrificed by the tribes people.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The original manga and 1997 movie adaptation have this: In spite of the high kill count, the near collapse of the animal's utopia when the humans' interest in their area is piqued, and Leo/Kimba's decision and ultimate fate... the last major threat to said kingdom has been removed, Rune has learned that there is good and evil in animals AND in humans finally understanding his father's balanced perspective on the issue, and through the actions of both father and son, it's hinted that the animals are on the fast track to being considered sentient by humanity.
  • Bubble Gun: The Hunting Grounds has turrets that shoot out bubbles that trap its target inside a giant bubble.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Depends on the version.
    • In the manga and the 2009 special, they do hunt animals to eat their meat, but only in order to survive. Near the end of the manga, however, one of the human characters tells Kimba he's inventing a fake meat substitute so the animals can stop killing each other. In the 1997 movie, the subject is never touched upon, but since it was heavily based on the manga, it's safe to assume they eat meat as well.
    • In the 1965 anime, all of the carnivores, including the titular character, weren't allowed to eat one another under Kimba's new rule. It doesn't end as expected as animals start dying because veggies don't have as much protein as real meat, Kimba himself falls sick, goes mad and starts having nightmares where he ends up eating his friends. Eventually, they switch to bugs after their farm is attacked, but even that turns out to be conflicting as the other animals still prefer real meat and Kimba doesn't want any living thing to die, including the bugs. The conflict is finally solved when a fake meat substitute is invented, courtesy of one of Kimba's human friends.
    • In the 1989 series, Kimba makes it so animals can't kill one another in order to eat their meat, but it is never really explained what exactly are they eating instead.
  • Cats Are Mean: Played straight with Claw and some antagonists, averted by Kimba and the majority of the cast.
  • Cerebus Rollercoaster: As typical of Tezuka, the manga is filled with both idealism and humor while still pulling no punches when it comes to showing kids how cruel and uncompromising the world can be and as well as the cost, but also necessity, of self-sacrifice. The anime series? Not so much (due to Executive Meddling), but it still managed to sneak in a serious moment from time to time.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The 1989 series starts as a lighthearted (albeit less cartoony than its predecessor) show about animals wanting peace and coexistence, but around the second half, descends into a full-blown war story where countless animals die every single episode because of human interference.
  • Cruel Elephant: Elephants in general are depicted as this the Kimba universe.
    • This is invoked in-universe in the episode "Too Many Elephants" from the 1965 TV adaptation, where the nature reserve declares that there are too many elephants, who are said to be "bad" animals, and they all need to go away to make room for the "good" animals, with the plan being to murder every last one of them with literal tanks, bombs, and machine guns. Kimba goes to warn the elephants of the impending Final Solution, but they all rudely blow him off and even physically beat him up badly. Only one baby elephant, Peewee, is nice to Kimba, so Peewee is the only one who ends up following his advice to hide, while the rest of the elephants with the sole exception of Peewee's mother are all brutally slaughtered onscreen with military-grade ordinance.
      Kimba: Why couldn't all the elephants be nice like Peewee? Then they wouldn't have to be exterminated...
    • Pagoola and Bizo are fit this trope to a T. Pagoola is a giant bully who hates humanity, abuses and throws his weight around smaller animals, gets offended at the smallest insult and demands respect from everyone around him even when he's trying to kill them. And his son, Bizo, uses his father's influence to get away with bullying smaller animals, running away crying to his father whenever someone stands up to him. Whenever one or the other gets upset, Pagoola commands a flock of elephants to destroy everything and everyone that did it. In episode 25 of Leo the Lion, Bizo basically tries to get away with letting Leo's wife die just for the fun of it, and when Rune and his human friends stop him, Pagoola orders a flock of elephants to kill the humans.
  • Darker and Edgier: The 1980's remake series. This is probably because Osamu Tezuka – gravely ill even during preproduction – had almost no input into the remake, dying after the sixth episode was completed. In the final episode of the Japanese version, half of the main cast, including those that didn't even die in the manga, just got shot after a whole freaking 52 episodes of them appearing regularly.
  • Darkest Africa: Both Played straight and subverted. The main chunk of story takes place in the last bit of frontier of an Africa on the fast track to becoming a world power. Kimba himself joins in by reorganizing the jungle along the lines of human civilization. In fact, a running theme of the story is the battle between this modernization and nature itself. It's a tie.
  • Demoted to Extra: Rune's a crybaby and kind of a jerk. Now Rukio? Rukio's awesome! I can't wait to see more of... uh... why are you shifting to Rune's perspective? The ending doesn't even treat her fairly. We don't see her as an adult and she's given a one liner mentioning how she's married off to another pride. Her main purpose is to give us a glimmer of hope that things might end well. Depending on what version you are watching, they don't.
  • Didn't Think This Through: In episode 42, Kimba, Dot, Dash and Dinky become stuck in a hot air balloon when Dinky sees a bag of food. Dinky suggests eating its entire contents, thinking they can send the balloon down if they gain enough weight. While it does make them heavier, they don't succeed in making the balloon descend. Kimba then realizes that they didn't add weight to the basket; they just moved it around.
  • Digital Destruction: Some official DVD releases of the '66 English dub of the original series have screwed-up brightness so they are incredibly dark, and they have the audio quality of a broken speaker. You can find the exact same episodes from Youtube without either issue. These episodes were ripped from fan DVD’s that one used to be able to purchase off Craig G. Andersen’s Kimba fan website before he passed away in 2012.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: While not a musical number, the 1997 movie has a short animated sequence of Rune's imagination of the human world.
  • Double Aesop: Humans and animals should love one another, and foster feelings of peace and understanding... because nature is trying to kill everyone.
  • Downer Beginning: The series starts off with Kimba's mother being captured and his father being killed in the rescue attempt. Snowene lives long enough to give birth to her cub – but soon as he's old enough and been told about his father and heritage, the ship gets caught in a nasty storm, Kimba is urged to escape before it hits. He's swept away and wakes up among the debris of the ship. Kimba quickly realizes his mother did not survive the storm.
  • Dub Name Change: At least 90% of the characters.
    • This caused some confusion when the localizers of the sequel series learned NBC's trademarks had lapsed, and attempted to go back to using the Japanese names. To try and justify it, they hinted that 'Kimba' may have been Leo's nickname when he was younger. This may have worked had a few characters not pronounced it 'Kye-mba'. It also would have helped if dub Leo hadn't said that "Kimba" translated to "coward" in the language of animals, and was apparently called that when the other animals didn't trust him as a king. But to someone who has seen the original series and knows that his father chose that name, that makes no sense... ah screw it, it was the best the dubbers could come up with.
    • The dub also played a bit with Theme Naming, with a certain Shakespeare play as an inspiration. This is arguably an improvement, as one of the villains went from the rather laughable "Toto" to Cassius, better reflecting the nature of his character and his past with Panja/Caesar.
    • Another improvement would be "Bubu", the most serious villain, to "Claw".
      • In Germany, on the other hand, the protagonist Kimba/Leo was temporarily known as Boubou.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The 1965 dub of the original series remains the only case in the franchise where Panja does not keep his original name in English and is instead called "Caesar." Likewise, this is the only dub where Lyra's name doesn't remain the same or is a variation on the name, the character being renamed "Kitty", which is as far away from "Lyra" as one can get.
    • Bucky/Tommy/Tumy lacks his pith helmet in the two 1960's series.
  • Fantastic Racism: Specklerex had an issue with white lions during his debut episode.
  • Gold Fish Poop Gang: Tom and Tab
  • The Good King: Kimba and his father.
    • Downplayed in the case of Caesar in the Manga and original Japanese: while Caesar was a good king to his loyal subjects, he had little mercy for animals in captivity. Believing that in fact, animals that served humans were unfit to live and fair game for good eatin' – however in the dub this particular detail was generally omitted, and it was instead implied that Caesar was as progressive as his son. Though that makes some episodes somewhat awkward (like Sampson's return, who offers some former pack-mules to Kimba as an offering for a celebratory meal).
  • Gratuitous Japanese: The Owls' Lullaby was left undubbed in the English version, the narrator tries to give it away by calling it "owl language".
  • Great White Feline: The titular character is a white lion.
  • The Hero Dies: Kimba in the manga and in the 1997 movie, averted in every single other adaptation.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Hamegg's near insane; Being left on her own in darkest Africa causes Merry to fall apart into a dominatrix leading a bloodthirsty tribe; and Lamp? Lamp is a bad man. There are several exceptions as seen with Kimba's human friends though, and ultimately Kimba's sacrifice in the manga and movie is hinted to have bridged a very large gap between man and animal.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Discussed a lot in the 1989 remake. At first, Leo refuses to kill anyone and lets them go once they're too hurt to fight. As the series moves forward, he becomes more aggressive and willing to kill those who threaten his jungle. Liya and the other animals all view this as though he's crossed the line.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Unless a named character is called Caesar, odds are that he or she will dodge any bullet that comes his or her way.
  • King of Beasts
  • Laser-Guided Karma: A huge pack of elephants in Episode 25 of both Kimba the White Lion and its sequel Leo the Lion. They spend these two episodes being complete homicidal assholes, guess what happens to them in the end?
    Kimba: Why couldn't all the elephants be nice like Pee Wee? Then, they wouldn't have to be exterminated.
  • Lighter and Softer: The original manga was filled with some heartbreaking scenes, horrible events happening for no reason, and one of the most infamous endings to a shonen manga ever. As for the anime series? It still edges into some pretty sad territory, but things don't self-destruct this time around.
  • Mighty Whitey: Kimba's white fur is described as a symbol that he comes from a great line of leaders. The English dub also features pro-colonial narration, stating that Africa must abandon their original culture of "voodoo masks and bongo drums" in favor of modern European ideals.note 
  • Misplaced Wildlife: You'd think Kimba would be the king of a savanna...
    • It turns out to be a plot point involving the heritage of the White Lions to begin with. The unusual background also let NBC give Kimba super strength and vitality.
    • The main reason why the Neo-Jungle isn't working in the TV special. Mixing species together turns out to be a bad idea. Turns out this was intentional. The Director had planned to use the mixed jungle to weed out the weaker animals and create new species. He kind of let this get to his head.
    • Kimba and Caesar are white East African Lions, which are native to Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Claw is a Babary Lion, which was native to North Africa until becoming extinct in the wild. There is no way in real life the two subspecies could have come into contact with one another.
    • In the episode "Diamonds in a Gruff", alligators are the main source of conflict, even though the species doesn't thrive in Africa. They might be misnamed Nile crocodiles, which do thrive and bear the most resemblance.
      • From the same episode, a giant anteater is seen among the crowd of animals that are mourning silently for they're offspring's imprisonment.
    • The manga, as shown by the bilingual edition of the first volume, addresses the fact that lions do not live in the jungle but states that Panja/Caesar is an exception, thus extending it to Leo/Kimba.
    • Piranhas were depicted living in Africa, specifically, the Atlas Mountains of Northern Africa.
    • A woolly mammoth, a Smilodon and even dinosaurs are inhabitants of Mount Moon.
  • Mood Whiplash: The first episode. It literally goes from tragedy to comedy and back every minute or so.
  • Never Say "Die": The 60's dub. "I'm just going to lie down for a minute..."
  • Nuclear Mutant: The Gigantic Grasshopper.
  • Official Couple: Kimba and Kitty.
  • Panthera Awesome: Many characters are big cats.
  • Papa Wolf: Leo doesn't care that Toto (Cassius/Slikar) used to try to kill him in the past, he even helps him recover. But once Toto tries to lay a claw on his cubs, Leo's rage is so powerful he very nearly kills Mandy (Dan'l).
  • Pretty Butterflies: Kimba followed a swarm of migrating butterflies to get to land when he was lost at the ocean during the first episode.
  • Punny Name: The dub has its fun with Paulie Cracker, Speedy the Cheetah and the like. Kimba/Leo's kids are given this treatment in the manga... thanks to Paulie/Coco remembering the names mean to 'sleep' and to 'wake up'.
    Tommy: You swindler!
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Kimba's family.
  • She's a Man in Japan: The young blue cheetah in the 1965 series is female and named Taruchi in Japanese, but male in both English dubs and called Dash (1966) or Joey (1993).
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Inverted, Bucky and Pauly are present as Kitty's dying of an unnamed plague. The duo alongside Dan'l Babboon can only watch on and sadly bow their heads. In general, Bucky and Pauly's comedic nature gets toned down as the manga and 1997 movie gets darker and sadder.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Episode 39 of the 1989 series, appropriately called "Nightmare". In it, an atomic satellite crashes near Kimba's jungle and all the animals nearby slowly die via radiation poisoning or being shot in the head one by one by human cleanup crews. The main plot of the episode involves Kimba and Laiya helping a Gorilla mother find her baby. They do, just in time for the baby to see its mother shot by humans. The episode ends with said baby dropping dead from the radiation.
  • Shout-Out: Astro Boy appears in a display line-up of robots in one episode.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Leo does this to Rune in the 5th episode of the sequel series at the suggestion of Coco (Pauley), who also had his parents teach him how to fly this way.
  • Sky Face: Kimba sees the stars in the night sky form the image of his dead mother, who speaks encouragement to him.
  • Sliding Scale of Animal Communication: The anime is at Level 8. The manga is at Level 4.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Claw and Hamegg in almost every adaption. Kimba in the 1966/1984 series.
  • Talking Animal: Make a guess.
  • Terra Deforming: In episode 5, Kimba visits the World's Fair and sees, among other things, plans to melt the frozen polar regions so the space will be habitable.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Averted, just like many of Tezuka's other works. There's this one pink baby alligator named Ali who has a yellow bow, but it's a boy.
  • Unusual Animal Alliance
  • Vibroweapon: "AAAHHH, it's a saw shark!"
  • Villain Song: The Black Four has one. It was considered creepy enough that NBC had it excised from the dub.
  • Would Hit a Girl: In Gypsy's Purple Potion:
    Gypsy: You wouldn't hit an old lady -
    Cassius: WOULD I!?

Jungle Emperor (2009) TV Special Provides Examples of:

Alternative Title(s): Kimba The White Lion