Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Jungle Emperor Leo (1989) TV Series Review: Part 3

 The Bad & the Confusing

The Pessimistic Second Half of the Series

Unfortunately for all of the praise I give this show, it is far from being perfect. From about episode 35 onwards, the series becomes obsessed with being as dark and edgy as possible which undermines much of its core meanings and values. Threats begin to show up more and more frequently and death becomes common place. This wouldn't be too big of an issue if Jungle Emperor 1989 balanced out some of its darker elements with more comic relief or signs of progression/hope, but the later episodes rarely do so. (This is something that almost all of Tezuka's manga always managed to do, despite that he had a fondness for semi-tragic and bittersweet endings.)

Jungle Emperor Leo is supposed to represent the complex relationship between humans and animals and how they must put aside their differences in order to understand each other. This is the 1989 version's main flaw. The early episodes do a decent job showing that 'not all humans are bad' and a certain number of them even featured the protagonists being saved by humans that they saw as potentially threatening. But then the humans start to become villainized a bit too much. For instance, in Episode 40, Leona's hunters return to the jungle to search for precious metals in Marody's mountain. This sets the series's final arc into motion, in which the animals proceed to battle the invaders, many of them fighting to the death...Episode 48 is not much better. Leo is tranquilized and is nearly captured by hunters, after wandering around for hours on end in a confused daze. (This could be used as a minor plot element, but stretching it out for a whole episode seems a bit excessive.)

However, the 39th episode is, by far, the most infamous. It opens with a falling satellite triggering a nuclear explosion. The explosion kills off many of the animals living outside of Panja's Jungle. Many of them attempt to journey to the safety of the jungle, only to die from radiation poisoning on the way. To make matters worse, several humans begin to arrive and shoot and gas the animals, in order to try to reduce the spread of contamination. Leo and Lyra attempt to help a mother gorilla and her baby, but the mother is shot and the baby later dies from the radiation. The end. (No, I am not exaggerating anything or making anything up.)

What?! You expected a kiddie show about talking animals?! Pfft…just to prove how hardcore we are let's throw in a nuclear holocaust episode

Ok, that was a bit harsh of us. Here, watch these cute cubs at the end credits…just stop crying dammit.

The Quality Control Slips

The writing on Jungle Emperor Leo also begins to deteriorate rapidly. Early on, there are a few consistency errors (such as Leo suddenly not being able to defend himself well or having a hard time recalling his past encounter with Kenji), but they are relatively minor and are generally done for the 'sake of the plot'. Unfortunately, the second half of the show tends to either retread old plotlines (and stock footage) or just delves into strange plot twists or bad writing. (Lyra also begins to take less of an active role in these later episodes, despite that she was previously shown as being a more capable character than in former incarnations of Jungle Emperor.)

The 'Magical Karabos Tree' is the worst offender. It first appears in episode 34 and continues to appear frequently up until the end of the series. The luminescent tree somehow protects the animals of Panja's Jungle as long as the forest is healthy…by creating forcefields, allowing the animals to talk with the humans telepathically and occasionally transporting threats to other areas…(This is my best guess anyway, as the tree's 'powers' are never clearly defined.) This is one of the laziest pieces of writing that I have ever witnessed in an anime. The fact that the tree can protect the jungle with its great powers really undermines the message of the series, as it suggests that nature can defend itself via a mere plot trinket. If the writers were having such a hard time coming up with new ideas or hooks to keep their audience watching, the series should have run for about 35 episodes rather than 55.

Behold the magical, all-powerful, shiny tree of the forest! (AKA we gave up on writing the plot.)

Unfortunate Implications

Another issue with this series is its use of African native stereotypes. To be fair, this problem originated from the manga itself, which was written between 1950-1954. However, the designs are really jarring when they appear in late '80s-early '90s show. (Interestingly, neither the '60s show or any other animated media based on Kimba contains such stereotypes.) Fortunately, most of the Africans in the show do not appear in blackface, and a few are actually portrayed as well rounded characters. But, the obviously 'bad' characters and indigenous tribesmen are drawn in a stereotypical manner. This is especially obvious with the buffoonish-looking tribe lead by the warrior-woman, Konga (who is also noticeably lighter skinned the rest of the tribe). Again, the motives and actions of the tribe are relatable. In fact, the show is even sympathetic towards Konga and Leo befriends her. Still, the image of a bunch of Africans worshipping a white lion really rubs off the wrong way...

This is why the manga was never published in English.