Kimba the White Lion was his name!

This almost seems like a fever dream.

In the 1960’s, a Japanese animated TV show premiered in the United States, and told the serialized story of a lion cub who endured capture and escape to return to his pridelands and bring unity to the animals of his kingdom.

And not one single Hakuna Matata in the series.

First off … this show had a deep mythology. The original basis for Kimba the White Lion came from a 1950’s Japanese manga called Jungle Emperor, and was later ported into what was, at the time, Japan’s first-ever full-color animated TV series. The show ran in Japan for two years (1965-1967), and was redubbed in English for the NBC Saturday morning lineup.

Now I say this because Saturday morning cartoons were either self-contained episodes of hijinks (“Gee, Top Cat, how do we outsmart Officer Dibble today?”) or condensed battles that wrapped up before the first Apple Jacks commercial (“Tundro! Shoot the energy rocks from your horn and repel the invaders!”).

Kimba the White Lion, on the other hand, brought long-form storytelling to the Saturday morning world. Kimba’s father, the leader of his pride, was murdered by hunters for stealing cattle to feed his animal kingdom. Kimba’s mother, pregnant with him, were captured and sent to a zoo. Kimba escaped his captors, found his way back to the jungle, and tried to bring peace and democracy and kindness to his homeland – even if it meant working against prejudice and hatred and fear.

In fact – watch the premiere episode of the series. As I said before – this is some seriously heady shit for the Saturday morning crowd.

There were several follow-up programs after Kimba the White Lion ended its 52-episode run – there’s a Leo the Lion series with Kimba as a grown lion, and those was also redubbed for the American market and aired on the Christian Broadcasting Network. There have also been new Kimba movies and specials, and Kimba’s image is now the logo and mascot of the Japanese baseball team the Seibu Lions.

But I still remember watching this show – not when I lived in Albany, but when I was visiting my Grandma Betty in Boston during the summer. I believe it aired in syndication on what was then Channel 56 (yeah, I wasn’t used to this thing called independent syndicated television stations, so channels 56 and 38 and 25, with all-afternoon animated blocks, were pretty stunning for me).

And I will say that Kimba the White Lion – along with Astro Boy, Gigantor and Speed Racer – were a gateway into what could be achieved with Japanese storytelling and early anime. I mean, until I got hooked on Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers, and followed that with Bubblegum Crisis and Dirty Pair and The Big O and a few other shows.

Yeah, I feel old.

But I’m betting you’re now flipping through YouTube to watch some more Kimba the White Lion episodes, aren’t you? 😀