Animation News Archive
Leo the Lion - Interview with Craig Andersen
Recently the much beloved and long-unavailable 1965 series Kimba the White Lion was released in its original English language form in the USA. Keyframe's Tim Gadd (Lupercal) talks to Craig Andersen, the man behind the release of its sequel series Leo the Lion.
TG: Ok, Well, for newcomers, could you explain the chronology of the Kimba/Leo saga? I mean, on video at least, there were at least two series, with different dubs, a motion picture, and a 'symphonic poem'.
CA: First there was the manga, Jungle Emperor, which was published in serialized form beginning in 1950. Tezuka moved into television basing a series on his other successful manga, AstroBoy, which was a huge success. This success led to demand for another 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 that developed shows solely for syndication sales) who wanted creative input in exchange for financing. The resulting series was considerably different from the 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.
The Kimba series was such a hit in Japan, he started work on a sequel without a contract with NBCE. This was Susume Leo, or 'Leo the Lion' in English. The word is that Tezuka made Leo the Lion HIS way. The resulting show had a lot of violence and death, and when he showed it to NBCE, they didn't want it.
So... The second TV series ended in March of 1967, but the characters maintained a strong popularity in Japan: In 1978 the adult Leo character became the mascot for the Japanese baseball team the Seibu Lions.
In 1989, Tezuka decided to remake the Jungle Emperor story as a new 52-episode TV series. But he died when episode 6 was in production, so it's hard to know how much input he had into any of this series. I've seen parts of it translated into English, and parts in Japanese only (and I don't understand more than a few words of Japanese) and while I like bits of it, the series goes off in directions that make no sense to me. It's another disjointed, death-filled mess.
Maybe the problem is me. Maybe I just don't get the anime mindset, if there is one. But the 1989-90 series is nothing at all remotely like the original Kimba. Portions were heavily edited and translated into English for home video a few years ago; these tapes were soundly panned by every critic that wrote about it. (Maybe the problem isn't me.)
Shortly after this series ended, Tezuka Productions created a 50-minute animated feature based on a "symphonic poem" Isao Tomita created in 1966 from his music for the original TV series. Kind of an upside-down project: the music was meant to accompany the action on screen, then was reworked into a symphonic poem for records. Then this reworked music had new animation created for it! It's kinda cool--I always liked Tomita's music--but it definitely moves slower than any other animated work I can think of.
Then we come to 1993, when the original Jungle Emperor/Kimba series was re-dubbed into English, by a new production company. This version is the only version to appear on home video in Australia until the current DVD box appeared, and fans' reactions there ranged from horribly disappointed to enraged. And I fully understand. But this version is currently in syndication in the US and Europe, and people that don't know the original version are seeing it and liking it. There's something about the original stories and animation that can transcend the voice acting and music tracks.
Then in 1997 Tezuka Productions released a theatrical feature, 'Jungle Emperor Leo', based on the second half of Dr. Tezuka's original manga story. Like any movie, certain key plot points of the original manga were changed for the movie, but they kept the basic story--even though Tezuka himself changed the outcomes of the story for his Leo The Lion TV series. I guess it was a creative decision to revert to the older story of the manga, but a lot of people were severely traumatized by the movie. I show them Tezuka's revised story from the last two episodes of Leo The Lion and they're happy again.
TG: My impression is that 'Kimba' was unusually popular in Australia. Would that be accurate?
CA: I would say, based on the letters I get, that there are more Kimba fans in Australia per capita than anywhere else. The show is really big in Italy and Germany, too, and the language difference may account for lack of letters.... But definitely there is a huge fan base in Australia. For one thing, the show was on later (i.e. longer) in Australia than anywhere else. All sorts of contractural things conspired to keep Kimba off the air for a long time, not the least of which was the bankruptcy of Tezuka's production company. But Kimba ended broadcasts in 1978 in the US; it continued into the 80s in Australia.
TG: I remember it from the late 60's
CA: I first saw it in 1976.
TG: Weird thing is 'Astroboy' was nowhere near as popular. The 80's series was pretty big, but not the 60's. Anyway... So, are you attracted to Tezuka's other works, or mainly just the Kimba/Leo cycle?
CA: Because of Kimba, I have sought out some of Tezuka's other works. I read his Adolf manga, which was very interesting but not compelling for me. I am interested in Amazing 3 (Wonder 3), but it looks like it could be a bit silly. It is next to impossible to find in English. He did a couple of one-offs, Pictures at an Exhibition, Legend of the Forest, Jumping, and the Broken Down Film that are all worth seeing, although Pictures will probably be the hardest for most people to like.
TG: So, if I can ask... what got you into Kimba?
CA: Heh... That's a funny story.
I was trying to make a safe hookup from my TV to my stereo system. Back in the 70s, if you did that kind of thing wrong, you could get electrocuted. So I wired up a thing, and turned on the TV to try it out. The TV was still on the station I watched the night before, and this morning they were showing Kimba. It was the scene from the "A Human Friend" episode where Kimba says, "If only I could speak their language, I could make them understand...". That line just grabbed me. Understanding between animals and humans is a very important thing to me. And, I was hooked.
TG: That was a very major theme in Kimba. Did it differ in Leo?
CA: In the Leo series, Kimba/Leo is very much an isolationist. He yells at any human intruders to get out of his jungle. He practically has to be forced to help a person on several occasions.
TG: Now, Kimba was about 1965 and Leo 1966, right?
CA: Those are the original broadcasts, yes. Leo didn't get dubbed into English until 1984, whereas Kimba was dubbed very soon after it was produced. US broadcasts began right when the series ended in Japan.
TG: So, the harsher aspect of Leo was due to it not having the same cross-fertilisation with the American voice cast? Is that fair?
CA: For the most part, I think so. NBCE was constantly pushing to keep it light and happy. Tezuka kept pushing in the other direction. The voice cast had to push further, trying to cover up deaths as "resting". Tezuka loved tear-jerker stories. I never got into AstroBoy, but I'm told the last ep of the first series was the death of AstroBoy and nearly the whole ep was mourning.
TG: Even the original Kimba was 'watered down'. I remember you showing me two episodes back to back... years ago. The original version and the US version. Deaths were passed off as... characters falling asleep or something.
CA: Yeah, but I don't think any viewers were fooled. The pictures and the music told us what the voices tried to hide.
TG: I was fooled!
CA: 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.
TG: Ok, so.... gradually you became maybe North America's biggest Kimba/Leo Authority. You were involved with the huge boxed DVD set of Kimba that came out in Australia, then the US. How did that work?
CA: I don't know about being the biggest authority... but anyway, I was asked to become involved after the project was well under way, so unfortunately I didn't get to participate in any of the restoration of the episodes themselves. And here I've got original soundtrack tapes sitting in my closet...
TG: Was that from the US or the Australian distributors?
CA: I got an email from Ben Clay of Madman Anime (Australia), asking me for some supplemental materials for the box set--pictures of Kimba collectibles and character profiles.
TG: Ok - So that material of yours is in the US boxed set, too?
CA: Yes, the two sets are virtually identical. The book for the US set also includes the story synopses written back in 1966 by NBCE. The DVDs are identical except for the PAL/NTSC difference.
TG: Just so long as you didn't design the damn box. Everything falls out...
CA: Oh, yeah, the US set has a much nicer box, too. And no, I didn't design either one.
TG: What? How is the US Box nicer?
CA: Right Stuf, the US company, calls it a "telescoping" box. It's basically a slip case, like used on most DVD sets, that inserts into another slipcase. The Australian box is like a jewelry box where you have to removed the lid and removed the discs one at a time until you get to the one you want.
TG: You mean you can open it without all 11 DVDs spewing out onto the floor?
CA: Yes. I believe it was Madman Anime that provided the impetus for the Kimba DVD project, so tons of kudos to them, but Right Stuf definitely has a better box designer.
TG: Ha ha! Anyway, what made you want to release a definitive Leo?
CA: The Leo series is interesting simply because it's the sequel to Kimba. The show has gone into the Public Domain, at least in the US, and all that anyone has seen of it since the brief appearance on cable TV in 1984--on a channel few people would watch, at a time when few people had cable TV--has
been severely shortened episodes haphazardly released on video. In a similar manner that led me to the original Kimba soundtracks that I have, I came into possession of the complete, uncut Leo series. Some of these episodes originally ran more than 5 minutes longer that what we had been getting!
TG: What was cut?
CA: Often, they just sliced off the first 4 or 5 minutes of the episode. Sometimes they were more discerning, cutting 2 minutes here, another minute there...
TG: But with no attention to plot?
CA: It's like any other TV show that gets cut for more commercial time. The atmospheric stuff, the character-defining stuff and other parts considered non-essential get chopped out. But these were on home video, and the entire show was dubbed in every case, so these shortened episodes made no sense.
TG: So, modesty aside, would you say that your editions of Leo are the closest to what they were supposed to be?
CA: They are the closest to what was produced in English in 1984 that anyone has ever seen, that I know of. Presumably, the cut versions were made for broadcast, so it may be that the full-length shows have never been seen. I did some fancy editing to correct a few glaring mistakes made by the
TG: Do you mean the voice cast?
CA: I mean things like letting the sound effects go out of sync.
TG: Ok, the producers.
CA: As to being what the series is supposed to be, that would take an entirely new production. There are many things in the English script that could not possibly be part of the original stories, most notably anything having to do with the main character changing his name from Kimba to Leo. His name was always Leo in Japan.
TG: Wasn't there an episode in Leo where he refers to his former name as meaning 'coward'?
CA: Yeah. I have no idea why anyone thought THAT was a good idea.
TG: Ok, so how did you put the definitive Leo together? What sort of problems did you have to overcome?
CA: Mostly it involved piecing together various materials to get absolutely complete episodes, and editing techniques to make sure none of the seams showed. I'm afraid that if I go into too many of the problems, they will become the focus, and the magic is making it all seem that there were no problems. But I did have to lift a couple of lines of dialog out of the noise where the source was defective, stuff like that.
TG: And you did this how... on home PC software?
CA: Yep. There is amazing software available for the PC now. On average, each episode took an absolute minimum of 3 hours, which is pretty fast when you consider it. I am just amazed with what I can do with an inexpensive audio editor like GoldWave, for example. It has noise reduction capabilities, for one example, that surpass what is still being used on some commercial CDs. It takes a careful ear to set it right, but it's still the closest thing to magic I know of.
TG: (Goldwave was freeware last time I looked, folks)
CA: Trialware. Or some may call it nagware. It is fully functional without paying for it, but it's definitely worth the small price asked.
TG: How does the new voice cast difer from the original US Kimba with Billy Lou Watt? The process?
CA: The Leo actors remain anonymous, at least to me. So I can't say what their process was. 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. The first thing people comment on in the Leo series is the voices. They lack that spark of life the Kimba voices had.
TG: The original Kimba voice actiors were just superb.
CA: They really were. 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.
TG: Ok, so, if I haven't asked this already, how would you characterise Leo vs Kimba?
CA: Kimba is at the top of my list of all-time great TV shows, cartoons, whatever category you want to put it in. Leo The Lion is not nearly as great. I would call 3 of the series' 26 episodes "essential viewing for the Kimba fan", with perhaps 6 more worthwhile viewing.
TG: We ARE trying to sell your stuff here...
CA: I know, but I have to be honest. Kimba The White Lion created a new world, one that was a pleasure to enter. Leo The Lion is a disjointed series, with a lot of stories that just don't make sense. But I have heard from one fan who absolutely LOVES the Leo series, so maybe there's something there that just didn't connect with me.
TG: Maybe Leo is Kimba for Goths.
CA: I can't say I know "Goth" well enough to say yes or no. Leo the Lion is designed to be depressing. Nearly every episode introduces a new character that will die before the episode is over. Tezuka and his tear-jerker stories is my best explanation.
I suspect that the Leo series did not go over as well as the first series in Japan, either. Toward the end there is a marked change in the stories. They become more cohesive and they have happy endings. This could have been a reaction to public opinion, since the series was in production as it was being aired. But that's just my guess.
TG: Alright, I have to ask you this. Are there any other lions in animation that come close:? That you particularly like/hate:?
CA: Well, you can't avoid The Lion King. But I found no depth to those characters, and I don't like the way the faces are drawn. They look like they have too much makeup on. Of course any makeup on a lion is too much, but anyway... I'm having a lot of trouble thinking of other animated lions, so I guess the answer is no others particularly impressed me. The lion in Madagascar was ok, but that whole movie wasn't any deeper than a Looney Tune, so I don't think much about it.
TG: But you love 'Father of the Pride'....
CA: Oh, god, FotP revolted me. First there was that rubber-doll-like CG animation. I am SO sick of that, lions or not. And the writing was just puerile. (Is that the word I want? Junior-high-school smut.) And not funny in the least. Even Cartoon Network pointed out how trite and tired the writing was.
TG: Do you remember Clarence the cross-eyed Lion from 'Daktari'?
CA: I never watched Daktari much, because it featured the chimp too much. I don't care for monkeys. But I did see Clarence's feature movie, and it seemed like he deserved his reputation for being a gentle sweet lion. But the 60s weren't real big for realistic portrayal of animals in TV or movies. Born Free aside.
TG: Ok, mate. Time to sign off, I guess. Craig - thanks for talking with us.
CA: My pleasure.