Original model sheet for Kimba As a supplement to this article, here is an audio file, from May 19, 1977, in which four members of Titan Productions (Ray Owens, Hal Studer, Billie Lou Watt, and Sonia Owens) recall their work on Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy, Gigantor, and many other productions. [Gilbert Mack is not present at this time; he can be heard in a separate recording made the same day.] Original recording supplied by Wendell Washer. (Many thanks!) Audio restoration and editing by White Lion Restorations.

How Kimba Came To Be

by Robin Leyden and Fred Patten

[I am most grateful to both authors of this article, Robin Leyden and Fred Patten, for granting me permission to post here this extensive article.
Obviously, the history of Kimba was a labor of love for them; the first version of this article was printed in Fanta's Zine, magazine of the C/FO, in 1981 (issue #6). They continued to work on the article, updating and correcting it, and the version presented here was published in 1991. (My deepest thanks also to Dwight Dutton, original owner of the first Kimba web site, kimba.org, for preserving this article and making it available to me.)
The information the authors dug up is invaluable. With respect to them and their work, I have continued to update the history.

The original article text appears in black, like this.
My comments, additions, and updates to the original 1991 article appear in red text, like this.]

Accompanying this article was a picture of the "only known" Kimba the White Lion merchandising item, a coloring book produced by the Saalfield Publishing Company, Akron, Ohio, copyrighted 1967 & 1968 by NBC. The title page reads, Kimba the Little White Lion Coloring Book. The pages feature the characters from the episodes "Go, White Lion!" and "Dangerous Journey". No mention is made of Kimba's parents' deaths, and Caesar is shown racing to the shore to welcome Kimba back to Africa. Pop Wooly is misidentified as "Papa Louie".

Show Credits:

Produced by Osamu Tezuka [spelled "Tezyka" in the show's credits]

Animated by Mushi Productions

music composed by Isao Tomita

Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto

Coordinated by Fred Ladd

Supervised & recorded by Titan Productions Inc.

Editorial supervision: Zavala-Riss Productions

Theme music by Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, Florence Kaye

Voices of: Billie Lou Watt, Cliff Owens, Gilbert Mack, & Hal Studer
[Sonia Owens was not listed in the show's credits, but she provided the voice of Kitty and other characters.]

An NBC Enterprises Production


The story of Kimba The White Lion is a complex one. Many unexpected factors went into making it what it was, which was not what it was originally expected to be. Has the world gained or lost from the reality that replaced the ideal? To answer that, we have to determine what it might have been if things had gone otherwise, and whether this alternate Kimba would have been an improvement or a degradation.

First there was a novel. Osamu Tezuka has produced several hundred works during his career, but three especially stand out. Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) is undoubtedly his most popular series. Phoenix is undoubtedly his most prestigious and intellectually ambitious work. And Jungulu Taitei (Jungle Emperor, or more freely, King of the Jungle) is his most popular single novel.

Jungle Emperor was begun in 1950 and was among Tezuka's first significant work. The completed novel ran to about 640 pages. Tezuka was to go back and revise sections of it several times before he was satisfied with it. A current deluxe edition reprints parts of some early versions so the reader can see how Tezuka improved it.

Jungle Emperor is a parable of civilization -- what the concept really means and what it should mean. It is told as the saga of a dynasty of intelligent white lions, as seen by following the life of one of them, Leo, who attempts to improve the lot of all animals by replacing the cruel law of survival of the fittest with an animal civilization based upon mankind's. It follows Leo from his birth aboard a ship taking his mother to a zoo; his escape and his infancy as a pet in a large human city; his return to the jungle and his assumption of his martyred father's rule; his attempts to create a human-style society with farms and schools for all animals, despite the opposition of those unwilling to accept "unnatural changes"; the birth of his children, Rune and Rukio; Rune's separate adventures as a runaway to human civilization; and finally Leo's sacrifice of his own life to save one of his dearest human friends, Higeoyagi (Mr. Pompus), and Rune's return to the jungle to carry on his father's mission.

Osamu Tezuka wrote and drew this comic-art novel, with all its revisions, throughout most of the 1950s. This was the period during which he established himself as the comic-art king of Japan. At the end of the decade he determined to create his own animation studio to make cartoons for television. Mushi Productions opened in June 1961 and spent its first year and a half setting up for production. Tezuka's first commercial animated TV series was his Tetsuwan Atom, known in America as Astro Boy, in 1963. 'Tetsuwan Atom was chosen mostly because it was Tezuka's most popular work, but also because Mushi Productions was as yet inexperienced and Tezuka wanted to gain some professional skills before animating his own preferred work. After about two years, he felt ready to attempt animating Jungle Emperor.

Mushi Productions had early established a business relationship with America's National Broadcasting Company. NBC had bought the American rights to Tetsuwan Atom in 1963 and had created a special subsidiary, NBC Films, to syndicate it throughout the English-speaking world. NBC had subcontracted to independent producer Fred Ladd to develop it for American audiences, and both NBC and Tezuka were generally pleased with Ladd's Astro Boy. NBC's payment for the English-language rights to Astro Boy was instrumental in allowing Mushi Productions to improve the technical quality of the program after its first year. For example, Tetsuwan Atom's original Japanese sponsor, the Fuji TV network, only provided enough money to make the first 52 episodes with 1,000 cels apiece. With NBC's additional money to add to its operating capital, Mushi was able to put 2,500 cels into each episode beginning with Tetsuwan Atom's second year. Usually a TV animation studio considers the sale of a program to a national TV station to be a complete transaction, and any subsequent sale to a foreign country is a nice bonus; but in this case Tezuka was strongly motivated to work with NBC much more closely than usual with a foreign customer, to get the extra money in advance that would mean the difference between making an average TV cartoon and a highly superior TV cartoon.

Toward the end of 1964 NBC felt that it had enough episodes of Tetsuwan Atom (104) to recycle them forever, and asked Tezuka if he had any new ideas? Tezuka suggested a serial about the adventures of a heroic lion, in the same production format as Astro Boy -- i.e., black-&-white;. No, NBC said, American TV will only accept color cartoons today. This flustered Tezuka, who replied that Mushi Productions had never worked with color. NBC sent a very flattering followup to the effect of: 'Don't worry about color, we like your work so much that we'll finance converting your studio to color production, just send us your proposal -- but it has to be for color cartoons!' This practically amounted to a command performance by royalty, and Tezuka did not want to pass up the opportunity even though he was not sure what he was getting into.

Three or four more bits of informal correspondence were exchanged until Tezuka felt sure what NBC wanted, then he sent NBC a formal proposal. Here is an exact facsimile of Mushi Productions' proposal to NBC:


(1) original work.

This TV film is based on a long piece of cartoon by OSAMU TEZUKA, which appeared serially in the Japanese magazine named "MANGA SHONEN" published by the GAKUDOSHA Company, and the cartoon ran through for about 7 years starting from 1951.

(2) Point of plan in TV cartoonization.

a) The TV picturization should be handled with modern senses so as to appeal the modern children and people.

b) To confine the story to a life history of Leo. Not to play about the event but to stand always in the whirlpool of the event, be influenced mentally and develop its character.

c) Make the most of those elements and develop them: the elements are; Theme of original work, impression of a grand epic, action & thrill of adventure, humor and pleasure as a cartoon, vitality to do right and to achieve the ideal, and also a pure love for all creatures.

d) All products should be in color, 4 quarters (78 pcs.) of 30-minute program.
The detailed contents are as follows:
Boyhood: 26 pcs.
Young days: 3 pcs.
Prime days: 49 pcs.
(At this Prime Days, Leo's children enter in story; named Rune and Rukio)

(3) Theme.

In light of the standpoint to admire life and to love all creatures, living things are divided into animal group and human group. Through the historical conflicts between both groups, the ideal community is sought where all will be happy, and describe efforts of it's realization and hopes toward future.

(4) Whole story.

The age is modern time. Chief stage is Africa. Especially, Uganda, Leopoldville, Congo, Central Africa, adjoining place of Sudan countries. The Mt. Moon mentioned later is an imaginary mountain, not the real Luvenzori mountain range. The hero is a white-hair lion named Leo.

Leo's ancestor, Andolocles, drank a brain-improving medicine given by a scholar named Kupton in the age of Egyptian prosperity. By this medicine, Andolocles got a remarkable wisdom. He helped the king of the time making the country rich and the people happy. Later, chance turned Andolocles into a guardian deity of a native, then the Egyptian civilization decayed down.

The civilization transferred far to Europe, Asia and America, and Africa entered a long dark age being called "Dark Continent". In recent years, however, the light of civilization has begun to shine into the Dark Continent, and a new Africa started a rapid advance. making an epoch in 1960 which was called African Year.

Turning eyes from such human prosperous world, we see that the animal world is still controlled by human race from old times to now as serving existence to mankind. For instance, human beings take life of animal by the sports so-called "hunting". They wear animal's hide and eat animal's meat.

In order to resist against this reality and to protect the happiness of animal world, Panja stirred up consciously, who was a descendant of Andolocles. Panja was a male lion of pure white hair. He was brave and wise as well as strong. He challenged at not only human race but also all creatures who disturbed happiness of jungle.

The carnivorous animals eat the herbivorous animals -- Such law of jungle was enemy to Panja. In order to keep the weak animals from being eaten, the tender-hearted Panja stole the cattle of neighboring native people and gave them to the carnivorous animals, though with a little effect. But this worsened the confrontation between human & Panja. Fight occurs. Panja's charge relying on his bravery and strength was prevented by human wisdom and scientific weapon, and Panja was killed. Eriza, Panja's wife, was caught by human, and gave birth to Leo, Panja's son, on the ship which was sending her to a zoo. Eriza, when knowing that her ship will sink, let her child leave the ship amidst the raging waves of the Atlantic ocean, telling her young child, Leo, to inherit Panja's will and return to Africa in order to fight for the sake of peace and happiness of jungle.

Leo arrives at Africa swimming through the Atlantic, but in reality it was Portugal, where Leo was picked up by Ken-ichi, a 18-year-old boy and his uncle. While raised by them, Leo deepens his right understandings about human, and human society and power.

Leo finds that it is wrong to regard human with hostility indiscriminately, that human society is in order so as to harmonize the happiness of individual and the whole, and that human is developing science and leading a happy life by means of wisdom, namely in other words, human is happy by civilization.

By chance, Leo returns to jungle which is a native place of his parents, where he only found a world of uncivilized savageness and egoism. He establishes a theory that a happy life of animals should be based on civilization. Burning with ideal of his theory, Leo starts action to lead animals. But it was a very difficult thing. Some animals persist in the old jungle law. Some agree to Panja's way, and others are indifferent. In addition, there are backward animals incapable of understanding of it. There are natural disasters. Evil people come along. The natural barrier of the eating custom that the carnivorous eat the herbivorous can't be changed. There's a mental blind side to wish for negligence. There's a hesitation about way of leadership, too.

The whole series of TV film "Jungle Emperor" will advance making these conflicts as elements of developing the story. In it, Leo loves and marries, begets two children, and further increases his life experiences, improving his character. Under a scorching sun, Leo carries out his ideal step by step displaying his unique, strong vitality of the African-born. Thus the civilization level of animals got higher and higher.

Some sensible men changed their view to animals, and gave hands to help Leo. But it is still far from human civilization. Furthermore, there were obstacles even in human prosperous civilization. One was the remedy for purpura which was spreading among animals. And the other was the exploration of Mt. Moon.

Scientists try to explore Mt. Moon looking for the Moonlight Stone which is of super energy and caused once the continent slides. This mountain, however, has a bad air current, and pre-century animals, such as dinosaur and mammoth live there, so the scientific expedition method is impossible. As Leo was familiar with OFUKUROSAN, a mammoth of Mt. Moon, he cooperated in this expedition making a connection with OFUKUROSAN and made them discover a great mineral vein of moonlight stone. He did this in return for cure of purpura by the expedition.

Through this event, Leo knew the importance of cooperation of human and animal, and that by doing so, both will be happy supplying a deficiency each other, both developing more and more in civilization.

A snowstorm visits Mt. Moon, 5000 meters above sea. The human party carrying the expedition records starts descending the mountain. But on the way, one person falls down and then another. Finally the last man is going to break down. "Bring the expedition records to human world"... Leo killed himself and gives his own body to save the hunger of the last man. Leo did not die, but lived out in ideal.

The expedition records reached human world. After death of Leo, his son Rune inherits Leo's ideal, which he will develop more.

It is expected that the cooperation between animal and human will increase and the world will prosper more and more.

(5) Division of story.

In view of the TV features and producing conditions that we should not force the TV viewers to see every time continuously, the story can't be made into such series in which the hero grows up gradually.

Therefore, we first divide the story formally into 3 steps, viz. boyhood, young days, and prime days. In the prime days, we arrange Rune, Leo's son, who is a character equal to boyhood Leo.

The rate of these 3 ages, 3 steps in quantity is as follows:
Boyhood: 26 pcs.
Young days: 3 pcs.
Prime days: 49 pcs.

According to the story nature, the telecasting order of some pieces will be obliged to be fixed.

At the beginning of boyhood, Panja's death and Leo's birth are placed, and insert Liya as Leo's friend in early time.

Marry in young days. Begets two children early in prime days. The last is Leo's death and future suggestion.

The first quarter describes the fixation of Leo as leader, and the second quarter depicts dynamic fight to realize the ideal, and the third quarter delineates a developing energy for future after breaking through the first stability for the present.

(6) Characters.

a) Leo:
Lion, male, almost white hair over the whole body.
In the first and second quarters, he corresponds to about the 3rd-grade boy in primary school. In the 3rd and 4th quarter, he grows up from youth to prime days. Establishes animal-civilization in jungle in order to build a happy animal life like human being, inheriting the will of the late Panja, his father. Though cute in appearance, he has a strong will which is inherited from father, bright brains, strength and speed, as well as vitality. The way of thinking is reasonable and scientific, while at the same time he is tender and amiable and also has sense of humor. A young noble full of sense of justice and courage.

b) Liya:
Lion, female, as nearly old as Leo. In the 1st and 2nd quarter, she lives in different jungle from Leo, but in the 3rd and 4th quarter makes Leo's wife. Her parents were killed by human and so stays with uncle lion.
Her family line is also distinguished in other jungle. Get on well with Leo, because both have no parents namely, two orphans.

c) Panja:
Lion, male. Leo's father. About 30 years old (in view of human). Devoted his life to animal world, and was killed dashing against human with all his might. Has a combination of sturdy vitality and prompt action with strength and tenderness. Wise and elegantly noble.

d) Tomy:
Thomson gazelle, male. Leo's friend. About 20 years old. A fall guy and optimist. Capable of swift running.

e) Koko:
Parrot, male. Leo's friend. About 30 years old. Though kept once by human, later settled in jungle through Panja's instruction.
Short-tempered, fast and big in motion, miscarries making a hasty conclusion. Leo tries to see and adopt the strong points of human world, while Koko is sometimes scolded by Leo teaching him a trick being too much elated because of his backside knowledge about human world. Good-natured in reality.

f) Mandy Mandrill,
male. A substitute of Leo's parents, sympathetic to Leo. well advanced in years, equivalent to senior of jungle.
Has something like direct adviser about him. Being familiar with things in jungle, he knows the difficulty of realization of Leo's ideal, but all the more covers Leo with warm heart. Kind-hearted, Loved and respected by all animals. Show strength in emergency.

g) Bubu:
Lion, male. About 35 years old.
Yellow hair, black mane. A villain's part. Filled with controlling desire, always aiming at the boss-seat in jungle, stops at nothing for the purpose. Orthodox violent lion having mighty strength and a pride as lion. Hated by animals.
Feeling inferiority complex against Panja family, of which he is not aware.

h) Tot:
Black leopard, male. About 27 or 28 years old. Clever and evil character considering himself to be a counselor of Bubu. Cunning and cold-blooded. A stranger from other place originally.

i) Dick & Bow:
Both are spotted hyena.
Followers of Bubu, so-called punk. Besides, there are many hyenas act as Bubu's followers.

j) Ken-ichi:
Human, male. A Japanese of 18 years of age. Chance makes him to be a counselor of Leo.
Humanist, kind & tender and also sympathetic to animals. Has a strong sense of justice, and likes adventure.

k) Mary:
Human, female. 18-year-old. Japanese.
Classmate of Ken-ichi.
Machine civilization produces hysteria and capitalism produces controlling desire. Fond of curious experiences, on the way of travel to Africa, she is a little beside herself by some shock. Loves Ken-ichi from the first, and becomes a happy wife through Ken-ichi's pure love. She regards animal as a natural servant.

1) Mr. Bearded:
Human, male. Ken-ichi's uncle. About 40 years old. Native Tokyoite having a clean personality, but rugged in feelings. Young-bald.

m) Hamegg:
Human, male. Englishman. World-famous hunter, but cunning.

n) Cheetah:
Cheetah, male, about 20.
Fastest runner in jungle. A rash fellow. He is on Leo's side.

o) Bacchus:
Hippo, male, about 40.
Boss of hippo group. Peace-lover who doesn't like fighting, though strong in reality. Humorous and dextrous despite the figure. Cooperative with Leo.

p) Samson:
Buffalo, male, about 35. So-called Japanese SAMURAI
(ancient soldier). Loves solitude.
Admirer of Panja's way of living, also admits Leo's way, and helps Leo in emergency. But doesn't change his own Panja-like conservative character.

q) Ofukurosan:
Mammoth, female, age unknown.
Influential animal in Mt. Moon. Friendly to Leo.

r) Pagoola:
African elephant, male.
Boss of elephants. Conservative group in jungle. Opposite to Leo, but meddle little usually due to its migrating nature. SAMURAI-like character.

s) Rhinoceros-boss:
Black rhinoceros, male. Boss of rhinoceros.
Abhors human. Absolutely fights against everyone who has a name of human or imitates human doings. Consequently, he is Leo's enemy. Simple-headed.

t) Gabuga:
Crocodile, male. Weak in brain but strong in feelings. Has heavy appetite. Evil and wicked fellow. Leo's enemy.

u) Eriza:
Lion, female. Panja's wife. Leo's mother. About 25 years old. Good wife understanding Panja. Beautiful, but strong-willed.

v) others:
Children characters and female characters. Numerous.

American Changes

NBC did like the basic idea of Jungle Emperor. But there were a number of changes that NBC felt were essential to make it acceptable for American TV. It was absolutely impossible that the star should die in the final episode! In fact, Leo shouldn't grow up at all. As a cub he was a character that children could identify with very well. As an adult with his own children, he would become a father-figure and audience identification would be lost. Therefore, NBC wanted Jungle Emperor to concentrate on Leo's boyhood adventures alone, which should be expanded to 52 episodes; a full year. (78 episodes was an odd number for American TV at this time. Programs usually ran in full year packages.)

This change emphasized another problem, but one for which NBC saw an easy solution. In Tezuka's proposal Leo spent his entire life fighting to establish his animal civilization. NBC didn't want a program that consisted primarily of long, bloody, realistic animal battles. Besides, making Leo a cub throughout would make it too improbable that he would be able to successfully fight full-grown lions, rhinos, elephants, and other large animals. NBC's solution was to make Leo into a super-lion, which would make him more popular with American children who were used to all their TV-cartoon heroes being super-heroes anyway. This would allow Leo to win all his battles easily and without the need for lots of blood, which would forestall complaints against too much violence. It would also allow more time for character development and humor, so the program would not be so heavy.

The final major change was that NBC did not want Jungle Emperor made as a serial but as a collection of independent stories. The reasons were that greater audiences (especially when dealing with children) can be won to a program where each episode is self-explanatory, rather than requiring viewers to be familiar with a continuing story; and that local TV stations (the customers for syndicated programming) object to having to show episodes in a specific order, rather than allowing their projectionists to show them randomly. (Because projectionists at small independent stations, where quality standards are not so high, will show series out of sequence whether they're instructed to be careful or not.) So Tezuka was asked not to structure any episodes as cliff-hangers, and to develop the general story in a broad manner so that it wouldn't matter if episodes got shown out of order.

Tezuka protested over some of these changes, especially the decision to keep Leo as a cub. This destroyed the whole point of Jungle Emperor as the life story of his hero, and completely eliminated the dramatic climax atop Mount Moon. NBC suggested a possible compromise: if Tezuka would make a 52-episode package the way NBC wanted it, then if it was popular enough NBC would consider a second 52-episode season in which Leo could become an adult and have children. If the first 52 episodes could build up a large enough fandom for Leo, enough of the audience would probably continue watching his adventures as an adult; but without 52 "safe" episodes NBC wasn't prepared to take a risk on what was, after all, a rather offbeat program for American tastes.

Tezuka accepted NBC's terms. However, the confusion and compromises were not over. The program was about a year in production. Again, Fuji TV underwrote the basic cost of making the series; NBC's contribution allowed especially fancy frosting on the cake, as it were. The whole of Mushi Productions was so nervous about trying to animate in color that NBC flew Tezuka to Hollywood and arranged for him to tour the animation studios there, including Walt Disney Productions, to see how color animation was done. Tezuka, despite NBC's instructions, kept trying to make Jungle Emperor as close to his original concept as possible: the drama of one individual's struggle to create civilization out of chaos. This included a lot of fudging, in which Tezuka figuratively said, "I know I'm not supposed to show the good guys killing anybody, but a rock falling on the villain should be okay", or, "... it should be okay if the gun goes off by accident and I don't show the body", or....... it's not a human; it's only one of the animals." So NBC kept sending messages to Tokyo saying, "Keep it a light, happy children's show"; while Tezuka said, "Yes, surely", and sent back episodes showing obvious death scenes -- which were still underplayed in comparison to how he would have liked to present them.

Production Begins

Due to having pre-sold Jungle Emperor in Japan, Tezuka was obligated to have it ready for delivery by October 1965. To meet this schedule, Mushi Productions was divided into two production teams. Tezuka would give each team a story outline (or would approve a story outline submitted by someone else), and that team would produce it. Thus, roughly speaking, two teams produced 26 episodes apiece. Tezuka himself approved all story developments and tried to maintain an overall story consistency, so that even if the episodes were no longer connected in a tight chronological sequence, they at least did not contradict each other.

There were some inconsistencies despite this. One team might finish an episode plot outline, making whatever minor story adjustments seemed desirable, and begin to animate it immediately without checking to see whether the other team was making any minor adjustments of its own that might be contradictory. These were allowed to pass with the rationalization that, after all, they had been instructed not to worry about keeping the episodes in any sequence, so a minor inconsistency wouldn't be noticed by the average viewer. Whenever there was a need for a specific scene that would seem to date one episode in relation to others, they tried to present it as a flashback so it was less obvious what the "now" was. In this way Tezuka got in some references to a sequence that NBC hadn't wanted at all: Leo's infancy as a pet in a human city, where he first met Ken-ichi and his uncle (Roger Ranger and Mr. Pompus), and came to appreciate the advantages of a civilization.

Tezuka Keeps True to His Concept

In spite of all the obstacles, there is a subtle but distinct chronological progression to Jungle Emperor. The farm is started; it has uncertain early days; it finally flourishes. Leo's authority as king of the jungle is at first shaky; he has self-doubts about his ability; other animals consider him an immature dreamer; gradually he becomes self-assured and all the animals accept his advice as wise and experienced. Claw's attacks diminish from battles between equals, between a strong ruler and a young pretender, to sneaky plots designed to overthrow the now-entrenched new ruler by guile. At first Leo attends the animal school and plays with the other young animals as an equal; eventually he becomes an older brother/teacher figure. In early episodes he is small and babyish; at last he is man-sized and seems practically ready to grow a mane. Tezuka watched the progress of the 52 episodes and made sure they came as close to his Jungle Emperor as NBC would permit.

Eiichi Yamamoto's Adaptations

While Tezuka was watching the development of the story, director Eiichi Yamamoto was overseeing the visual development of Jungle Emperor. Tezuka still had the final say, but Yamamoto carried out the artistic direction based upon Tezuka's established comic-art images. Yamamoto was given considerable leeway in changing the characters. Tezuka had drawn Leo throughout this period of his life as a little cub, about the equivalent of an 8-year-old human child. Yamamoto built him into a husky 12- or 13-year-old, rapidly approaching adolescence. Yamamoto made Tot (Cassius) a much more sinister villain, and gave Tot's old comedy-relief role to two new henchmen, Dick & Bow (Tab & Tom), the two laughing hyenas. (The idea was briefly considered of having Dick & Bow as lieutenants who would pass Bubu's orders down to a whole pack of hyena henchmen, but this was dropped.) Most important of all, Yamamoto created the new supporting characters who would appear around Leo: Mandy (Dan'l), Koko (Pauley), Tomy (Bucky), the animal children (Dash, Dot & Dinky; Dodie Deer, etc.), and others. He carefully established the small, almost subconscious personality traits that made each one of them a convincing and endearing individual rather than a mere live prop. Some of them, such as the hedgehog, might appear only for a few seconds once every nine or ten episodes, but when he did he was completely in character with his previous appearances. This character development -- the creation of a large cast whom the audience would come to love -was entirely to Yamamoto's credit.

Yamamoto was also completely responsible for the look of the color animation. Although Tezuka was the guiding genius behind Mushi Productions, his own experience was as a black-&-white; comic-book artist. Yamamoto, chosen by Tezuka as one of Mushi's founding animators, came from one of Japan's earliest animation studios, Otogi Productions, which had made Japan's first color cartoon in 1955. Yamamoto had directed two color cartoons for Otogi, including the feature-length A Trip Around Fairyland, before joining Mushi.

Once the decision had been made that Jungle Emperor would be in color, Tezuka assigned Yamamoto to convert Mushi for color production. Yamamoto arranged with NBC's American liaison, Fred Ladd, to send a team of Mushi's top animators to New York, where they received an intensive personal course in color animation production by veteran former Disney animator Preston Blair. The fact that the colors in Jungle Emperor were so rich and varied, instead of being in the simple, flat hues associated with most TV animation, was due to Yamamoto's training as an artist for theatrical quality animation, and his and Tezuka's determination to bring Disney-quality animation to Japanese television.

Isao Tomita Writes the Score

Jungle Emperor's music was crafted by Isao Tomita. Tomita is today a famous name in electronic music, but he had begun working at Mushi Productions as an adapter of classical music as background music for Tetsuwan Atom. For Jungle Emperor Tezuka gave him the opportunity to compose a completely original score in the classical mode. Tomita himself conducted the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in recording it. The result is so brilliant that most people who are familiar with his career consider his Jungle Emperor to be far superior to anything that he has done since in electronic music.

The Americans Begin Work

Meanwhile in America, NBC had turned Jungle Emperor over to Fred Ladd. Ladd was an independent contractor who specialized in adapting foreign movies and TV programs for American audiences. The Tezuka/NBC/Ladd connection had been established early in 1963 when a NBC representative in Tokyo had called NBC's attention to the new Tetsuwan Atom TV program that had just gone on the air there. He recommended it as a "Pinocchio 2000 A.D." NBC looked at a sample episode, agreed as to its potential, and called in Fred Ladd, who NBC's executives had immediately thought of because they knew that he was currently working on a "similar" animated cartoon in Belgium for American-European co-release, Pinocchio in Outer Space. Ladd brought the Tetsuwan Atom sample to his regular voice dubbing subcontractors in New York City, and they produced the pilot episode of Astro Boy, which everybody loved. For the next couple of years, Ladd and his voice actors -- mostly Ray Owens, Billie Lou Watt, and Gil Mack -- turned out 104 Astro Boy episodes. NBC expected Ladd and his team to do the same for Jungle Emperor.

As it happened, Fred Ladd himself did very little work on Jungle Emperor -- or Kimba, the White Lion, as we might as well start calling it now -- other than to act as liaison between NBC and Clifford Raymond Owens and his team. ("Cliff Owens" in his screen credits, "Ray Owens" to his friends.) The actual professional chain of command was extremely informal. There was a single "magic address", 1600 Broadway in New York City, an old office building that contained a number of independent but interlocked businesses. There was Fred Ladd Productions, which contracted to produce English-language editions of foreign films. There was Titan Productions, a couple of sound studios for voice dubbing. There was Zavala-Riss Productions, who did film editing. It was their boast that a foreign film could be brought into 1600 Broadway and emerge as a complete American film without ever having to leave the building, even though it would have to be worked upon by several different companies who would each handle one aspect of the conversion process. To add to the informality, most of these companies were very small and had almost no permanent staffs; they hired freelance experts when a job was brought in to be done. They tended to hire the same people, who got to know each other throughout the building; and Ray Owens and his crew were among the usual voice people who would be hired (if they weren't working elsewhere) when voices were needed. Sometimes Fred Ladd would turn a voice dubbing project over to Titan Productions, who would hire voice actors to dub it; and sometimes, if Ladd wanted to handle the whole job personally, he would hire his own voice actors and rent Titan Productions' sound stages to do it himself. Ray Owens was already working on Astro Boy for Fred Ladd's office. Ladd was confident in the team's capabilities, so it was natural that the job would be turned over to them. But Ladd wanted him to do more than just read lines. By now completely confident of his voice characterizations, he turned the total production of the new series over to Owens while he went looking for new properties to develop. (For business purposes Ladd was operating two companies simultaneously. Under the name of Delphi Productions, at the same address, he was already producing Gigantor for one of NBC's competitors.)

The Cast

Ray Owens, Gil Mack, and Billie Lou Watt were experienced radio voices who had played characters on many old radio adventures and children's programs, and who had done lots of commercials. Owens and Mack had performed most of the major male adult voices in Astro Boy. (A third partner had been Peter Fernandez, who had left Astro Boy shortly before the series' end to start his own production company. He produced Speed Racer a couple of years later.) Billie Lou Watt had been called in after the initial female performer didn't work out, and her voice is heard in Astro Boy from episode #2 on as Astro Boy himself and as most of the children's and female voices. Whenever a scene in Astro Boy had called for more voices than the four could handle alone (such as crowd noises), Owens would leave the sound stage and prowl through the building, drafting whoever was free at the moment in any of the other offices to come in and read a couple of lines. However, when the three saw the Kimba assignment, they realized that their Astro Boy routine wouldn't be good enough. Kimba had a cast of over a dozen major characters. Four or five of them might be on stage together much of the time, carrying on complex conversations.

The group clearly remembers how Kimba was cast. They had just received Mushi's "Plan of Jungle Emperor" and the pilot episode. The latter was practically useless because "Go, White Lion!" is so different from all the other episodes. An evening work session was scheduled at Billie Lou's home. After dinner, they gathered around the fireplace with glasses of brandy. The group consisted of Billie Lou Watt and her husband, Hal Studer; Ray Owens and his wife, Francine (known to her friends as Sonia); and Gil Mack and his wife, Rose. Watt, Owens, and Mack were the professional threesome, while Hal Studer and Sonia Owens had done a little voice acting including some minor work in Astro Boy. Rose Mack was uninvolved. It was understood that they were essentially working in the dark and that their plans might have to be considerably revised once they got a good look at the characters.

Kimba cast photo
Fred Ladd, Cliff (Ray) Owens, Hal Studer, Gilbert Mack
Eileen Ladd, Billie Lou Watt, Rose Mack, Francine (Sonia) Owens.
Photograph by Gilbert Mack, 15 January 1966, when the dubbing of Kimba was in progress.

The first and easiest assignment was to cast Gil Mack as the hot-tempered parrot. Mack specialized in really exaggerated character voices, and this was one he expected to have fun with. (In actuality, the others kept having to keep Mack from going too far and turning Pauley Cracker into an incomprehensibly squawky parrot-equivalent of Donald Duck.) Ray thought that a Walter Brennan voice would do well for the old-advisor baboon. It went without saying that Billie Lou would be Leo, or whatever they might rename him. (NBC had suggested through Fred Ladd that "Leo" was too unimaginative a name for a lion; like calling a dog "Rover" or "Fido". Besides, MGM's famous lion-trademark was already named Leo.) Ray and Gil were able to divide a number of other characters between themselves, but they got stuck when they came to Ken-ichi, the Boy Scout type who was the animals' human friend. This was the sort of role that Ray would usually play in his normal voice, but they had already assigned that to the off-stage narrator and they didn't want to use the same voice twice. Their solution was to bring Billie Lou's husband, Hal Studer, onto the team. Hal wasn't a "man of a thousand voices" as a good voice actor has to be, but his natural voice was excellent for Ken-ichi's and he could manage a couple of others that could be used for characters who didn't appear too often. Having made this conceptual breakthrough, it was natural to think of using Sonia Owens for some of the female and juvenile voices. Billie Lou had trouble playing really high voices without their sounding too artificial. This had worked very well for Astro Girl in Astro Boy, but it would have been out of character for the Kimba roles. Sonia was agreeable to playing Leo's girl friend and a few others as necessary (these were to include Bella Donna and the mysterious mammoth of Mt. Moon), but she was not interested in screen credit. As a result, only four voices received credit for Kimba, the White Lion although five regularly worked on the series.

Changing the Names for American Audiences

Most of the characters were renamed. Some of the original names were overly Japanese (Ken-ichi), others seemed out of character (Bubu for the most serious villain), and still others were acceptable but better names sprang easily to mind (Dan'l Baboon instead of Mandy.) Leo's name was changed to "Simba" -- short, catchy, and an in-group joke to anyone who recognized it as the Swahili word for "lion". [Note: the following anecdote is not true, but it is so much a part of legend now that I have not deleted it from this page. For the correct story, see the note that follows.] However, only a couple of days before the first episode was to be recorded, it was learned that some Black-community entrepreneur had already registered "Simba" as the name for a proposed Black-power soft drink! Nobody was sure how this might affect their right to use Simba for a cartoon character, but obviously NBC would want to sell merchandising rights if the program was a success, and they would not want a name that might lead to conflicts if they wished to go into the same areas of marketing. It was decided to play safe, and the "S" in Simba was changed to a "K" to create a name that was absolutely original. [Here is the correct story, direct from original article author Robin Leyden: "The information about the origin of the Kimba name had been given to me by Clifford Ray Owens, who was one of the writers and the voice of Daniel Baboon, as well as the Narrator in the Kimba series (he was also Dr. Elefun in Astro Boy). Years later, Fred Ladd heard this story, and told me Ray's version is incorrect. What actually happened was this: As was mentioned, the original name proposed was Simba, but NBC felt that they needed a name that was unique and could be copyrighted to ensure no one else could capitalize on it. Simba, as is mentioned in the history, means lion in Swahili, and is therefore public-domain. A man named Jacques Liebengut, who was a member of NBC's advertising team, had a daughter named Kimberly, for whom he had fondly come up with the pet name Kimba. He suggested this name as a solution to NBC's name problem, and it stuck."]

Preparing the English Scripts

The production of Kimba, the White Lion was a year-long task. Mushi Productions sent over on a weekly schedule the film for a half-hour episode, two sound tracks, and a long outline in broken English of the script. It took the American group a week to prepare each English-language episode. Most of the time was taken in writing the English script; the actual dubbing usually only took one day.

One of the reasons that Kimba worked so perfectly was that the scripts were prepared by the actors themselves. They "were" the characters, and so they knew what the characters should say and how they should say it. They would determine the exact lines after reading Mushi's summary and watching the film. The scripts were prepared in rough form by Billie Lou and Ray, usually with frequent telephone consultation with the others as to the precise inflection and emotion that would best fit the scene. As a double-check, Hal "directed" to Billie Lou's scripting and Sonia did the same to Ray's scripting. If Hal or Sonia felt that any lines were out of character, they challenged them and demanded that they be changed until they "sounded right". All of the script drafts were given to Hal Studer for final typing. It became a standard joke at the Studer-Watt household that visitors who arrived while Hal was typing furiously were warned, "Shhh! Don't disturb Mr. Studer while he's in a creative mood!", when he was just transcribing his wife's or Ray Owens' complete notes. And even the final scripts might be revised ad lib when the five got together on Titan Productions' sound stage, if anybody had a bright idea for a change that everybody liked.

Getting the Story Right

There were three recurring problems in the production of Kimba. One was that the American group never had anything more to work with than the "Plot of Jungle Emperor" and the synopsis of the episode that they were working on. They did not know that Kimba was based on a famous comic-art novel in Japan, and they had no idea what future episodes were going to be like. If they came across something that they didn't understand, or that seemed to conflict with something in a different episode, all they could do was to try to fake an explanation. When the narrator in "The Hunting Ground", in which Mt. Moon and the mammoth appear for the first time, tells the audience that Kimba is mystified but deeply impressed, he was also speaking for the entire American production crew. They didn't know what the hell was going on! When they saw James Brawn, the secret agent in "The Wind in the Desert", they thought that he was Roger Ranger; and since James Brawn very obviously dies at the end of that episode, they couldn't figure out how he could keep reappearing in future episodes.

Fortunately, they realized in time that these were two separate characters. But they never did realize another important fact in time to keep from making a major mistake. When Roger Ranger comes to the jungle in "A Human Friend" and Kimba learns to talk, Kimba and Roger are not meeting for the first time. Kimba had been Roger's pet while he was an infant (as shown in the flashbacks in "A Friend, In Deed" and "Fair Game"), and it was during this time, while he was living in the city, that Kimba developed his admiration for civilization. Roger's whole purpose in coming to the jungle was to search for Kimba. But the group didn't realize this, so instead of filling in the correct background during Roger's and Mary's dialogue early in the episode, and giving Roger an "At last I've found you!" speech when he meets Kimba, the humans' conversation gives no clue as to their real purpose for being in the jungle, and Roger's "Hello; who are you?" speech upon meeting Kimba is a denial of their former acquaintance. Months later, when the later episodes with the flashbacks arrived in New York, the voice group realized that they had made some mistake, but even then, they weren't sure what the real story should have been.

Dubbing the Music

The second problem was with the Japanese sound tracks. Today a movie or TV program is made with about a half-dozen different tracks, each with a different portion of the overall audio track. There are the voice track, the sound effects track, the background noise, the music, and so forth. But in the mid-1960s things were more primitive, especially in Japan. Mushi Productions made only two tracks, one with the voices and one with everything else. The voice track was totally in Japanese, and was discarded as soon as the Americans got it. The other track had the sound effects and the background music, and was what the team was supposed to mix with their own dialogue in creating the track to be printed onto the film for NBC. (Note: While doing restoration work on the "lost" version of the first Kimba episode, I discovered that for the storm sequence, the mix of sound effects and music is different in the two versions, American and Japanese. This strongly suggests that there were more than these two simple tracks available for the Americans to work with.) Unfortunately, the Japanese had treated the songs as part of the background music, and they were an inextricable part of the sound track -- with lyrics in Japanese. (Note: There are several instances where this is true, but several others where it obviously isn't true--the music behind the song is clear of any Japanese lyrics.) If Kimba had had a more leisurely production schedule and a considerably larger budget, they could have cut out those segments of the sound track altogether and written entirely new songs to replace them. But with shoestring budgets and only one week to produce each episode, they had to use what was on hand.

They handled this problem in three different ways, two of which essentially involved turning down the Japanese tape as low as possible and trying to drown out the Japanese lyrics with something of their own. If the song seemed to be especially poetic -- as when Kimba is swimming through the ocean at night and sees his mother's image in the stars, in "Go, White Lion!", or when Kimba is singing a lullaby to the eggs in "Scrambled Eggs" -- Billie Lou would compose a blank verse to be recited over the music. If the song was of a happy, bouncy nature, which was the type usually sung by the animal children or for peppy work scenes -- as the building of the amusement park in "Jungle Fun" -- they would make up their own songs (or just scream "LA LA LA LA LA!") and allow for the fact that the singers were supposed to be silly and discordant to cover for the fact that they were all terrible singers themselves. And in a few cases they figured out a way to present the songs in the original Japanese. In "The Gigantic Grasshopper", when a chorus of owls sang about Kimba's dilemma over whether the necessity to save the jungle from the grasshopper outweighed his reluctance to kill any living creature, Ray as the narrator said, "Kimba seems kind of sad and thoughtful tonight. His friends the owls wonder if he's thinking of anyone in particular, and ask, who could it be? Yes, who who who, indeed? Just between you and me, I think I know and they're probably singing about it. But then, who can understand owl language?"

Kimba's theme song presented a special problem. This was too important to turn the sound low on and fake their way through. A new recording would have to be made. Even using Isao Tomita's original score with American lyrics was out of the question, because Tomita's theme song had been written for a symphony orchestra, a full choir, and an operatic baritone as soloist. The idea of spending that kind of money for a children's TV theme song dazed NBC. Kimba's theme was farmed out to an entertainment-industry song writing group that specialized in composing ditties for TV commercials and the like. All that they were given to work with was a film clip of the opening credits themselves. So they composed a catchy tune whose rhythm matched the galloping tempo of Kimba's run-cycle through the jungle. It was light and gay, and if it wasn't as beautiful as Tomita's score, it also avoided the ponderous awesomeness that Tezuka associated with his Jungle Emperor saga which NBC had been trying desperately to avoid anyway. NBC could rightfully feel perfectly satisfied with the theme song that they got.

Softening the Story

The final recurring problem was with the violence in the Japanese program. Ladd's team just had to disguise it as much as possible. Often this wasn't very possible, and the censorship was so obvious that it became a running joke with Kimba's young audience. Every time that the screen showed what was clearly a corpse, the kids would chant, "I'll just lie here and rest a moment," along with the dialogue. But the American audiences never realized how much violence was toned down in Kimba's own character. In the Japanese version, Kimba was constantly struggling to maintain his ideals against his own carnivorous instincts. There were numerous incidents when it was much more obvious in the dialogue than in the action that he was on the verge of totally losing control of himself. In "Nightmare Narcissus", when Roger Ranger tries to stop Kimba from attacking Dr. Mendel Specs after Kimba realizes that Specs is responsible for the jungle's peril, Kimba says, "Don't try to stop me, Ranger, 'cause he endangered the animals with that horrible plant just for the sake of an experiment! I'm gonna see to it that he doesn't do it again!" But what Kimba really said to Roger in the original Japanese was closer to, "Get out of my way unless you want to get hurt, too! " The voice actors had to constantly disguise personality lapses such as these. Sometimes they could be written out entirely. Sometimes, when it was obvious that Kimba had lost his temper, they would substitute some much milder statement and then further downplay it by having Dan'l or someone else say, "Why, Kimba, that's not like you!"

Dubbing Begins on a Historic Night

The voice crew will never forget the evening that they went to Titan Productions to dub their first Kimba episode. They had been working a short while when the projector faltered, throwing the film out of sync with the sound track. They swore mildly and set it up to begin again. Then the whole studio went dark. They thought that something must have gone wrong with the building's electrical system, but when they groped their way outside the entire city was black. It was November 9, 1965 -- the New York power blackout.

[The original article contained a paragraph describing Peter J. Solmo working behind the scenes on Kimba. This information has been determined to be inaccurate, so the paragraph has been deleted.]

Broadcast Premiere

Jungle Emperor went on the air in Japan in October 1965. The episodes were usually completed less than a week before they were broadcast. In America, Kimba began production in November 1965, but NBC waited until all 52 episodes were nearing completion before promoting it for syndicated sales. It appeared first on Los Angeles' KHJ-TV in September 1966, and in other cities in late 1966 and early 1967.

Ad from L.A. edition of TV Guide
Greetings to Warner Vision Australia who considered this original montage of pages from a 1966 issue of the Los Angeles edition of TV Guide magazine good enough to take for their DVD releases of Kimba. Hey, guys, if you'd just ask, I have 10 more gigabytes of Kimba-related items.

Success Leads to a Sequel

Kimba, the White Lion was a hit in America and Japan alike -- so much so that Osamu Tezuka was encouraged to take a gamble. NBC had said that if the program were a success, they would consider buying a sequel in which Leo could be shown as an adult. Tezuka took the profit that he was making and immediately began working on this sequel, not submitting it to NBC so they would not have the opportunity to tamper with his work again. NBC first found out about it when Tezuka presented it to them as a fait accompli. Here it is; how do you like it?

This sequel, titled Onward, Leo!, was nominally set about five years after the events in the original series. Leo/Kimba was now a full adult and married to Liya/Kitty. In episode 5 their children were born; twins named Rune and Rukio. (The names are Japanese puns on "go to sleep" and "wake up"; Tezuka had an incurable penchant for cute names.) As the series progressed Rune, originally a creampuff next to the tomboyish Rukio, developed a fighting spirit and became comparable to the Americanized Kimba. The final episode had Rune saving Kimba's life. It closed with a symbolic scene indicating that Kimba was now ready to settle into peaceful retirement with Kitty, leaving Rune to carry on the dynasty of the white lions.

That, at least, was how Tezuka viewed the sequel. What NBC saw was not Kimba five years later, but Tezuka's original Jungle Emperor. Everything that Kimba had stood for had been lost. The jungle kingdom that had finally become a success in Kimba was reduced to a small crowd of animals, mostly herbivores, cowering under Leo's personal protection. Where Kimba had been able to beat any animal in the jungle and even leap into the air and bring down helicopters, the adult Leo had to spend almost half an episode to battle an ordinary lion or a few wolves -- and he might lose! He didn't dare go against an elephant or another major animal. Pauley Cracker appeared for less than a minute altogether in the 26 episodes; Dan'l Baboon was practically senile, and there was no sign of any of Kimba's other old friends or of any of the animal children grown up. One old character did return: in episode 17 an elderly Cassius crept back and pleaded to be allowed to spend his last days in peace. But he couldn't resist the temptation to get his vengeance against Leo by trying to kill Leo's cubs, and the infuriated Leo nearly finished him off, almost killing Dan'l who got in the way. Practically every sympathetic character who appeared in Onward, Leo! died in a lengthy tear-jerker climax. Leo was regularly involved in an endless procession of those bloody, realistic animal battles which NBC had specifically told Tezuka the previous year that they did not want. It was no sale.

The 26-episode Onward, Leo! was broadcast in Japan immediately following the last episode of Jungle Emperor. It was popular, but not as popular as the Japanese-language version of the NBC-dictated Jungle Emperor itself had been, showing that possibly NBC's advice had been sound regarding Japanese viewers as well. Nobody seems to have really considered creating more episodes of Kimba, the White Lion itself. There was unspoken agreement that everything that should be said within the Kimba story-frame had been said. More episodes would only be obvious padding. Also, Kimba had been on the verge of adolescence long enough; audiences would grow restless if he remained a pre-adolescent forever. Tezuka had accomplished as much as he could expect to in bringing his Jungle Emperor novel to the screen, and he was ready to move on to completely new projects. A Jungle Emperor theatrical feature was released in Japan in July 1966, but it consisted merely of parts of TV episodes edited together, sometimes connected with brief new scenes created for this movie. The majority of the movie comes from "Go, White Lion" and "The Destroyers from the Desert" with scenes from "The Wind in the Desert", "Great Caesar's Ghost", "The Red Menace", and "Restaurant Trouble". That accounts for the animation -- the music was obviously re-recorded, and there had to be some new dialog to accommodate the new sequence of events. The longest sequence that didn't come from the TV show is the end credits sequence, which is basically just 2 or 3 minutes of the animals walking through the jungle.

A Super Collaboration

This is how Kimba, the White Lion came to be. It was created by a Japanese producer who didn't get to do the program he'd wanted to make, for an American TV distributor that didn't get the program it had expected to receive. It was adapted for American TV by a production team who often weren't sure of what they were doing. Yet what resulted was a program that was imaginative, intelligent, exciting, humorous, and charming.

What might Kimba have been like if it had been made the way that Tezuka had wanted? Onward, Leo! provides the answer. It would have been dramatic, tense, and emotionally exhausting. It would have featured Kimba as a loner, without the warm companionship of a close-knit supporting cast. It would have been an intriguing program, certainly, but not one that the viewer could relax with.

What might Kimba have been like if it had been made the way that NBC had wanted? Well, what were American TV adventure cartoons of the day like? There was The Mighty Hercules, there was Jonny Quest, there was Space Ghost. Given Kimba's story-frame, the program might have ended up rather like The Mighty Hercules. Each week Claw and his stooges would come up with a new scheme to get rid of Kimba and take over the kingdom. Each week Kimba would easily demolish them in a brief and bloodless battle. None of the characters would have any depth; Kimba's companions would be silly without being endearing, and Kimba himself would be all-knowing and always right, never given to any self-doubts. Whether it was made the Japanese way or the American way, the result would have been considerably less than the program that actually came to be from the American and Japanese co-production. Kimba was like a choice wine: we may not understand exactly how the ingredients blended together to produce a vintage that was so highly superior to previous vintages. We may not have understood it, but we could appreciate it.

Changes Conspire Against Kimba

NBC had felt that in Kimba, the White Lion, they had a 52-episode series that could be sold for syndicated broadcasting indefinitely. For the rest of the 1960s this worked quite well. But problems developed at the beginning of the 1970s.

Government Regulations

A major problem was the federal government's anti-trust directive forbidding television companies from both broadcasting and syndicating programs to other broadcasters. NBC had to close its NBC Films subsidiary. In 1971, Kimba was sold as part of a package deal along with all of NBC's other syndicated programming to National Telefilm Associates in Los Angeles.

Worn Films and Other Pressures

NTA continued its syndication for another couple of years, but by the mid-'70s Kimba began falling victim to the increasing restrictions on television programming for children. It had originally won commendations from parental and educational groups for its lessons in building strength of character; but now it began to draw criticism for showing violence (no matter the reason). Black pressure groups objected to the way that Blacks always appeared in Kimba as grass-hut dwelling savages; the only "civilized" humans in Africa were White hunters and tourists. Also, the original 16mm film prints started to wear out, and with the falling sales, it didn't seem worth the expense to make new prints. Kimba The White Lion gradually faded away.

Mushi Productions' Bankruptcy Ends US Rights

The end came in 1978. NBC had only bought Kimba for a dozen years, until September 30, 1978, so the rights that NTA had bought from NBC expired on that date. The rights reverted to Japan. But, unnoticed by most Americans, Mushi Productions had gotten into financial difficulties in the early 1970s and went bankrupt in 1973. Mushi's assets were divided among a number of creditors. NTA's records show that they held Kimba in storage from October 1978 until May 8, 1979, when they were instructed by NBC, relaying directions from Japan, to ship all remaining 16 MM. prints and the original film negatives and other production materials back to New York City. An executive confirmed in 1991 that the Kimba production materials are still being held in storage there. But so far, no prospective new purchaser has felt that Kimba was worth the expense and trouble of sorting out the different claims to the property: one company owns the Kimba trademarked name, another owns the right to show the 52 episodes on TV, a third owns the video rights, a fourth owns the comic-book rights, a fifth owns the toy rights ... Until this is settled, Kimba will remain in limbo. [UPDATE: That was written in 1991. The original Kimba shows are available now in newly-restored versions on DVD.]

The Sequel Finally Comes to America

But this is not the end of the story. Kimba was gone, but in 1984 the Christian Broadcasting Network brought Tezuka's Onward, Leo! to American TV syndication under the name of Leo the Lion. The American version was so cheaply produced that it did not have any credits, not even a main title card. The opening credits animation was shown without any superimposed printing, while the new theme song was sung: From the zoo to the jungle, With a roar and a mighty rumble, It's Leo, Leo the Lion, And Leo has his own wacky animal kingdom. They work here, they play here, And Leo, he makes it safe here, For animals (animals) animals to raise a family. L-E-O L-I-O-N. Leo! And Leah his wife. There's Toomey the friendly gazelle. And Coco, the parrot, he's out of control. And the hyenas are nothing but trouble. (Leo the Lion....the lion...). So come on and join us, Let's have fun; Don't disappoint us. It's Leo; It's Leo, the Lion! And Leo has his own animal kingdom! The ending theme was simpler, lyrically: Leo / Leo where are you / Leo / Save the day / Leo / Come to our rescue / When we call on you... / Leo! / Here he comes now... / Leo the lion / To save the day... / Leo!

Unlike Kimba, which had been extensively revised to tailor it to American tastes, Leo was an extremely accurate translation of the Japanese script. The original names of the characters were used, such as Leo (Kimba) and Liya (Kitty). This may have been done out of respect for Tezuka's wishes, or to avoid a copyright conflict with the Kimba property. Leo did acknowledge the Kimba name by treating it as a juvenile nickname which Leo had discarded when he became an adult. For example, in the episode "The Poacher", Leo addresses an elderly elephant, "Do you remember little Kimba? That's what they used to call me."

This faithfulness to Tezuka's original conception may have been admirable, but it left Leo the Lion with all of the problems that had been built into Onward, Leo! The episodes were intellectually stimulating but emotionally grim, with little humor. There were practically no continuing characters other than Leo, Liya, and their cubs Rune and Rukio. Leo may have been respected by the inhabitants of his animal kingdom, but he seemed to have no friends. Many episodes ended with Leo morally triumphant but physically exhausted or in tears. Leo the Lion never became the beloved program that Kimba had been.

Tezuka Regroups, Reworks

Meanwhile in Japan, after Osamu Tezuka had lost control of Mushi Productions, he started a new studio: Tezuka Productions. He had lost the rights to the Tetsuwan Atom and Jungle Emperor programs that Mushi had produced, but he retained the rights to his characters including the rights to feature them in new programs. Tezuka made a new, color Tetsuwan Atom series in 1980-81, but he did not start on a new Jungle Emperor series until 1988, just before his death. Osamu Tezuka died of stomach cancer on February 9, 1989, but his staff at Tezuka Productions completed it to his design.

The new Jungle Emperor ran for 52 episodes on Japanese TV, from October 12, 1989 through Octber 11, 1990. It was different from both his original comic-art novel and the TV program that Tezuka had made at NBC's insistence. As in the original TV series, the story did not carry Leo and Liya beyond their pre-adolescence. But as in the novel and in Onward, Leo!, the stories and mood were more dramatic and somber. Tomy (Bucky Deer) and Koko (Pauley Cracker) were present, but many of the supporting characters who had been created for the first TV version were missing. Many friendly animal characters met tragic deaths. Hamegg (Viper Snakely), who had been a ruthlessly mercenary hunter in the original, became so frenzied that he looked more like a homicidal maniac than a hunter. Once again, it was a well-written adventure drama, but without the American touch it was not another Kimba The White Lion. (Although, to get cynically sarcastic, it was as much Kimba as Frank Miller's or Tim Burton's Batman were the original Batman, or John Byrne's Superman was Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman, or Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse was Paul Terry's Mighty Mouse, or ...)

Watching Kimba Today

Getting the Episodes Back into Their Proper Order

Due to NBC's insistence that Kimba should consist of separate episodes that could be shown in any order, episode numbers were assigned without regard to story continuity. Thus, Kimba is helped by Dan'l, Pauley & Bucky in NBC's episode #4 but he doesn't meet them until #8; Kimba is almost as big as a full-grown human in #17 but still a small cub in #47 in the NBC order. Here is a list of the intended chronological order of the series...
[With all due respect to Robin Leyden and Wendell Washer for their list originally included with this article, and I do have a great deal of respect for their research [listen here for an idea of what they had to do in the absence of any official information, and a bit more here], long after this article was written the Tezuka Company web site published the episode order as the shows were first broadcast in Japan, and so this must now be considered authoritative. This same order of episodes has been adopted in the US for the DVD releases. This ordering of the episodes allows you to see continuing story elements and subtle things like Kimba's physical growth in their correct sequence.]

The following list presents the episode titles in the sequence originally broadcast and presumably intended by Tezuka. The original NBC episode numbers are given in parentheses. The NBC numbers are the same numbers used by The Right Stuf in making their VHS tapes, so Right Stuf's "Volume" numbers are given as well, to make it easy for you to locate each episode if you have them on tape.

I also have an illustrated and annotated guide to these episodes here.

1. GO, WHITE LION! Death of Caesar; Kimba's birth. (NBC #1; VHS Vol.1)

2. THE WIND IN THE DESERT. Kimba returns to jungle, meets other animals, learns to fight via adventure with secret agent. (NBC #8; VHS Vol.2)

3. A HUMAN FRIEND. Roger Ranger comes to the jungle and the animals learn to talk. (NBC #14; VHS Vol.4)

4. GREAT CAESAR'S GHOST. Samson Buffalo challenges authority. (NBC #4; VHS Vol.1)

5. FAIR GAME. Speedy's grandpa Quasimoto; flashback to Kimba with Roger & Mr. Pompus in Paris. (NBC #46; VHS Vol.12)

6. JUNGLE THIEF. Starting the farm; Henrietta River-hog. (NBC #2; VHS Vol.1)

7. BATTLE AT DEAD RIVER. meets Kitty; beats Claw. (NBC #10; VHS Vol.3)

8. THE INSECT INVASION. Farm begins to grow; grasshoppers become food for carnivores. (NBC #9; VHS Vol.3)

9. THE FLYING TIGER. Clutch Eagle; Prof. Madcap & the Flyger. (NBC #23; VHS Vol.6)

10. TWO HEARTS AND TWO MINDS. Pauley & Pauline; Kimba gets strong feelings for Kitty. (NBC #39; VHS Vol.10)

11. CATCH 'EM IF YOU CAN. Tonga's hunting contest. (NBC #52; VHS Vol.13)

12. THE HUNTING GROUND. Tonga & hunters' compound; introducing Mt. Moon & mammoth. (NBC #19; VHS Vol.5)

13. THE TRAPPERS. Viper Snakely returns; jungle serenade. (NBC #18; VHS Vol.5)

14. JOURNEY INTO TIME. SpeckleRex & Lion Convention; history of white lions. (NBC #5; VHS Vol.2)

15. SCRAMBLED EGGS. Spring cleaning. (NBC #11; VHS Vol.3)

16. DIAMONDS IN THE GRUFF. Diamonds & alligators; Roger helps save youngsters. (NBC #34; VHS Vol.9)

17. THE MAGIC SERPENT. Rancid Reekybird; Puffy Adder & the evil eye. (NBC #21; VHS Vol.6)

18. THE RUNAWAY. Gargoyle G. Warthog; Animal of the Year Award. (NBC #35; VHS Vol.9)

19. THE MYSTERY OF THE DESERTED VILLAGE. Claw tries ruse; introduction of Leona. (NBC #28; VHS Vol.7)

20. RESTAURANT TROUBLE. Starting the restaurant; opposition to Kimba's ideas. (NBC #6; VHS Vol.2)

21. THE BAD BABOON. Big-0; Kimba protects Dan'l. (NBC #7; VHS Vol.2)

22. DANGEROUS JOURNEY. Pop Wooly & Stony Mountain Speckled Fever epidemic. (NBC #3; VHS Vol.1)

23. THE GIGANTIC GRASSHOPPER. Kimba forced to kill; learns it's sometimes necessary. (NBC #27; VHS Vol.7)

24. GYPSY'S PURPLE POTION. Gypsy Owl; Tower of Honor. (NBC #13; VHS Vol.4)

25. TOO MANY ELEPHANTS. Mr. Pompus attempts to get Roger to leave jungle. (NBC #30; VHS Vol.8)

26. THE REVOLTING DEVELOPMENT. Meat substitute; food for carnivores solved. (NBC #36; VHS Vol.9)

27. CHAMELEON WHO CRIED WOLF. Newton the liar. (NBC #12; VHS Vol.3)

28. THE WILD WILDCAT. Intro. Wiley Wildcat. (NBC #15; VHS Vol.4)

29. THE NIGHTMARE NARCISSUS. Mad scientist and plant with psychoactive power. (NBC #31; VHS Vol.8)

30. ADVENTURE IN THE CITY. Kitty & Uncle SpeckleRex; Scott Free; Mr. Trailer. (NBC #32; VHS Vol.8)

31. CITY OF GOLD. Goldopolis; Granddaddy Turtle. (NBC #16; VHS Vol.4)

32. THE LAST POACHER. Seymour Hart; Kimba battles the Devil Man poacher. (NBC #17; VHS Vol.5)

33. JUNGLE JUSTICE. Clunker Hippo's trial. (NBC #29; VHS Vol.8)

34. JUNGLE FUN. Starting amusement park. (NBC #43; VHS Vol.11)

35. THE PRETENDERS. Finishing the amusement park; Claw attempts takeover. (NBC #44; VHS Vol.11)

36. MONSTER OF PETRIFIED VALLEY. Colosso Brodo bird. (NBC #45; VHS Vol.12)

37. LEGEND OF HIPPO VALLEY. Another Claw ruse; irrigating the farm; Boss Hippo. (NBC #20; VHS Vol.5)

38. VOLCANO ISLAND. Aiding newborn rhino. (NBC #22; VHS Vol.6)

39. RUNNING WILD. Antelope stampede; saving the farm. (NBC #24; VHS Vol.6)

40. THE TROUBLEMAKER. Benny Ostrich. (NBC #26; VHS Vol.7)

41. DESTROYERS FROM THE DESERT. The 3 destroyers. (NBC #25; VHS Vol.7)

42. THE BALLOON THAT BLOWS UP. Runaway balloon with Kimba and others. (NBC #47; VHS Vol.12)

43. MONSTER OF THE MOUNTAIN. Bears; Kimba called for aid outside his kingdom. (NBC #48; VHS Vol.12)

44. A FRIEND IN DEED. Kelly Funt gives trouble; Kimba tells how he first met Roger. (NBC #38; VHS Vol.10)

45. SUCH SWEET SORROW. Tonga's end; 2nd mammoth appearance; Roger leaves jungle. (NBC #33; VHS Vol.9)

46. THE RETURN OF FANCY PRANCY. Speedy Cheetah's sister is returned to her home. (NBC #51; VHS Vol.13)

47. THE COBWEB CAPER. Giant spider. (NBC #50; VHS Vol.13)

48. THE RED MENACE. Forest fire; Peewee Elephant; Kelly Funt becomes friend. (NBC #42; VHS Vol.11)

49. THE SUN TREE. Uncle Scratch Baboon & Muffy. (NBC #49; VHS Vol.13)

50. SOLDIER OF FORTUNE. Floppo the seal. (NBC #40; VHS Vol.10)

51. THE DAY THE SUN WENT OUT. Leona and the hides. (NBC #41; VHS Vol.11)

52. SILVERTAIL THE RENEGADE. Kimba's jungle as refuge from human hunters. (NBC #37; VHS Vol.10)


from the original magazine publication of this article:

Each of us has our favorite Americanized Japanese cartoon among those that introduced us to this wonderful art form. For some it was Astro Boy; for others it was Eighth Man or Marine Boy or Speed Racer. Kimba, the White Lion seems to be the favorite of the majority of us, however. It also holds a special meaning for us because it was at a screening of Kimba tapes at a s-f convention that the idea for the C/FO was conceived. Kimba thus stands as a godfather to the C/FO itself.

The response to this theme issue shows how devoted to Kimba many of us are. All these contributions can stand on their own, but some notes on Robin Leyden's in particular are called for. Leyden considers himself the world's foremost Kimba fan. while some of us Kimba-lovers (or "Kim's" as Billie Lou Watt calls us -- "mad about Kimba") might want to challenge him for that honor, it's undeniable that Leyden has had opportunities that the rest of us haven't to learn about Kimba, and he has taken advantage of them.

Leyden's love affair with Kimba began as soon as it appeared on American TV in 1966. He immediately wrote to NBC to request information & material about the program. NBC hadn't prepared any fan publicity, but Leyden was so persistent that NBC sent him a for-studio-use-only Story Lines guide, and a photocopy of the original proposal from Mushi Productions in Tokyo that led to the creation of Kimba! Today NBC's rights to Kimba have expired and its files have long ago been thrown out. Mushi Productions went bankrupt in 1973 and its files have also been lost. Leyden's copies of these documents may be the only ones remaining in existence -- until now, since he has provided them to be published in this issue of FANTA'S ZINE.

During two business trips to Japan in 1973 & 1980, Leyden took time to look up people who had worked on the animation of Kimba. He has had long conversations with Osamu Tezuka about the character, the book, and the TV program. Leyden also once flew from Los Angeles to New York City just to attend a party where the American production crew of Kimba were gathered. He got a lot of otherwise-unobtainable information from them, including the last available copy of the publicity photo, and the hand-written voice assignment sheet reprinted here.

As if this weren't enough, Leyden has built up a video-tape collection of 50 of the 52 Kimba episodes. He personally carried out the taping of a complete set of the 26-episode Kimba sequel, Onward, Leo!, in its French-dubbed version just before this unique set of the 16-mm. prints was returned from French Canada to Japan. This has permitted him and other Kimba fans in Southern California to study the episodes at length. Eventually the C/FO Library should have copies of all of them. Therefore, while many of us may be devoted Kimba fans and capable of analyzing the series in depth, Leyden has had the advantage of learning directly from the people who created Kimba why things were done this way and not that way. This means that even those of us who think that we know Kimba by heart should be able to learn something new from this issue.

A few words on the presentation of the Kimba documents here: the "Plan of Jungle Emperor" and the typed copy of the hand-written Kimba cast sheet are as close to the original documents as possible. NBC's Story Lines is textually complete, but missing the cover illustration [the cover is included in the version reproduced here]. The double-spaced, wide-margined 28-page document (two episodes per page) has been compressed into 18 pages here. Spelling errors have been corrected but discrepancies have been allowed to stand (cf. the title listed as "The Volcanic Island" on pg. 10 and as "'Volcano Island" on pg. 19). With one exception: Mr. Pompus' name is spelled variously throughout these Story Lines as Pompus, Pompos, and Pompous. Since I don't know which if any of these spellings is more official than the others, I have taken the liberty of standardizing the name as "Pompus".

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This page was updated February 29, 2012.