First there was Osamu Tezuka's manga, Jungle Emperor, which was published in serialized form beginning in 1950. In the 1960s, Tezuka moved into television, basing his first series on another of his successful mangas, AstroBoy, and the series was a huge success. This success led to demand for another TV series, this time in color, and he decided to make that series “Jungle Emperor”.
He formed a partnership with NBC Enterprises (a division of the TV network; NBCE developed shows solely for syndication sales to individual TV stations), who wanted creative input in exchange for financing the upgrade of Tezuka's animation studio to color production. The resulting series was considerably different from the original manga story. It was named 'Kimba the White Lion' in every country outside of Japan. Tezuka was said to be unhappy with NBCE's creative input, but the show has been phenomenally popular worldwide in the 40+ years since it was made.
Here are some of the titles Kimba The White Lion has been known by around the world:
In my opinion, the key to the original Kimba series comes in the “A Human Friend” episode where Kimba says, “If only I could speak their language, I could make them understand...”.
The Kimba actors were all experienced radio and dubbing actors, and they wrote their own scripts. And, with no digital synchronizing technology, they timed their words to match the characters' mouth movements, something even the original Japanese producers were totally unconcerned about. At a recent public event, Sonia Owens, voice of Kitty and others in Kimba, remarked after viewing the first Kimba episode that Billie Lou Watt had been off sync in a couple of places. It was a little jest, but it showed how hard they worked to make a convincing dub. They really were superb. I've heard the Japanese voices, and Billie Lou Watt was far better at providing a voice for Kimba than the original voice, in my opinion.
“Kimba The White Lion” created a new world, one that was a pleasure to enter. The American and Japanese production companies wanted to go in different directions, however. NBCE was constantly pushing to keep “Kimba” light and happy. Tezuka kept pushing in the other direction. The American voice cast had to push further, trying to cover up deaths in the stories as “just resting”. Tezuka loved tear-jerker stories.
But I don't think many viewers were fooled. The pictures and the music told us what the voices tried to hide.
I quickly learned to watch Kimba on two levels, using the music and pictures to piece together events that the voices didn't tell us about. Hearing the Japanese voices in the background on some songs probably contributed to that two-level approach.
However you like to watch Kimba, I'm just glad that the whole series is available on DVD.