Kimba the White Lion

Osamu Tezuka
Creator of Kimba, legendary animator, Osamu Tezuka
Anime, the Japanese style of animation that has garnered a huge cult following worldwide, really took off in the 1960s with the work of a man called Osamu Tezuka. It was Tezuka who introduced the characteristic wide, expressive eyes which are such a feature of Japanese animation.

Although in Japan the term anime covers all animation, in the West it has come to represent a particular style of Japanese drawings, an early example of which is Tezuka's 1960s animation series, Jungle Emporer, known in English speaking countries as Kimba the White Lion.

A Lion King
Kimba was based on a comic (manga) Tezuka published in 1950 and had the distinction of being the first animated series in Japan to be produced in colour. It is a strange but, for children, an enthralling story, which centres around a young, morally upright, white lion, who talks to his dead father, a former king of the jungle, for guidance and reassurance. Although Kimba has some his wise friends and advisors around him- it is his dead father to whom he touchingly reaches out to the most.

Born on a boat headed for a zoo, after his father was murdered by a professional hunter hired by villagers, who were angered by the destruction to their cattle herd, through his captured mother Eliza, Kimba is indoctrinated into the ways of his father. A storm at sea gives Eliza the opportunity to push her small son through the bars of the cage - the young lion escapes into the raging sea. He is afraid but in an imaginative touch by Tezuka, an image of his mothers face appears in a transfiguration of stars to console him  and eventually he is guided by a flutter of butterflies back to the jungle. For a time he is cared for by humans and learns their culture but the jungle calls, as does a sense of duty to the animals that were under his father's care.

The young lion has a lot to live up to, as his father Panja was a legendary figure to whom the jungle animals looked to for protection and moral guidance and Kimba feels he must carry on Panja's ideals. Ring any bells? Although the storyline has some significant differences, it seems probable Disney's epic,  The Lion King, was at least in part inspired by the original Kimba.

Kimba and friends

The series was hugely popular worldwide and still fondly remembered by baby boomers who watched the series regularly in the 1960s. Unlike some of the more male-orientated anime themes of the 60s, Kimba had a strong appeal for girls as well as boys. Apart from being beautifully drawn, there was the colourful and exotic African setting, the inter-relationships and interesting social structure of the animals and not least, the mysterious and touching metaphysical connection the young lion has with his dead father. Although there is action and conflict in the jungle, there is also gentleness and sensitivity. Mawkish? Well maybe but for 60s worked.