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Summary: Written by Fred Schodt, author of the classic Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. Dreamland Japan is a current snapshot of what's happening in the manga universe today. Here's a partial list of the artists covered: Hinako Sugiura, King Terry, Yoshikazu Ebisu, Kazuichi Hanawa, Suehiro Maruo, Akira Narita, Shungicu Uchida, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Akimi Yoshida, Reiko Okano, Milk Morizono, Fujiko Fujio, and many more. Plus, there's a full-chapter homage to Osamu Tezuka ...show more.
With over 100 black and white illustrations and 8 pages in full color, Dreamland Japan is the most up-to-the-minute guide to manga available
''Osamu Tezuka's 'Lion King'''
Editor's note: The Disney hit movie The Lion King borrowed heavily from a manga and film created by Osamu Tezuka, Japan's ''God of Comics.'' The Disney company denies any borrowing took place at all, but that defense is ridiculous. In this excerpt from Dreamland Japan, Fred Schodt looks at this controversy. The section is part of a larger chapter on Tezuka and his masterpieces, including Phoenix, Black Jack, and Tetsuwan Atom (starring a character that you may already know as Astro Boy--did you know Astro Boy was based on a Japanese manga?). Copyright restrictions prevent us from uploading Tezuka's artwork onto the Internet, but check out Dreamland Japan for a particularly stunning drawing from the original Tezuka work showing ''the lion in the clouds'' (when the lion son gains strength from seeing his dead father's shape in the clouds in the sky--does this scene sound familiar Disney fans?).
IF OSAMU TEZUKA had been alive in the summer of 1994 he would have been wickedly amused. Just as Disney's latest animated feature The Lion King was being heralded as a critical and box-office success in America, rumor exploded in the U.S. manga and anime fan community and on the Internet that Disney animators had relied upon--perhaps even plagiarized--a television animation series made by Tezuka in the 1960s known as Kimba, the White Lion, and the manga on which it is based.
The similarities were striking. Both The Lion King and Kimba, the White Lion are coming-of-age tales set in Africa starring young lions--''Simba'' in the case of The Lion King and ''Kimba'' in the English version of Tezuka's series--who have to regain their thrones after their fathers have been killed. In both works the protagonist lions are aided by comical and hysterical birds (a hornbill in Lion King and a parrot in Kimba) that act as messengers and by a wise and elderly baboon-like mentor. In both films the heroes have to confront and defeat an evil usurper lion with a scar over the left eye, who is supported by a band of comical hyena henchmen.
Furthermore, in both films there are remarkably similar scenes of lions perched on jutting outcrops of rock, and--most suspicious of all--scenes of young lions looking up at either the clouds or the starry sky and seeing images of their beloved parents.
When Charles Burress, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article on July 11, 1994, titled ''Uproar Over 'The Lion King,''' the story broke into the mainstream U.S. media, generating considerable coverage in major newspapers and on national television. The official Disney company response, as first reported in the Chronicle on July 14, was that The Lion King was an original work, and that none of the people involved in creating The Lion King ''were aware of Kimba or Tezuka.''
In Japan, understandably, the story was even bigger news, and Disney's response was like oil tossed on a fire of already inflamed national passions and wounded pride. An editorial in the prestigious Asahi newspaper on August 27 took the form of a ''letter'' to the late Walt Disney in heaven, appealing to his sense of justice. Led by manga artist Machiko Satonaka, a protest petition was signed by hundreds of Japanese fans and prominent manga artists and delivered to the Disney distribution company on Earth. In both America and Japan, emotions were exacerbated by the fact that the Disney company has often taken extremely hard-line legal positions toward what it views as infringements of its copyrights. Since Japanese have often been accused of being copycats by Americans, there was also a delicious irony in the idea that the Disney company might have copied the work of Tezuka, who is often called the ''Walt Disney of Japan.''
I was quoted in the July 14 edition of USA Today as saying that the Disney assertion was ''preposterous.'' I said this not only because of the obvious similarities in the works, but because I knew how the animation industry operates. It takes hundreds of people to make a feature-length animation, and many of Disney's animators certainly grew up watching Tezuka's work. I wasn't the only one to make this observation. As animation historian Fred Patten would document in a 1995 report titled ''Simba vs. Kimba: Parallels between Kimba, the White Lion and The Lion King,'' the Kimba animated series was syndicated by NBC in 1966 and shown widely throughout the United States until the late 1970s. Furthermore, the nature of animation is such that artists rely heavily on any visual reference materials they can get their hands on, especially when trying to depict the movements of animals such as lions. It would be hard to imagine that they did not refer to documentaries of lions, and--especially since it was one of the few animation films with a lion star--to Tezuka's Kimba, the White Lion.
Moreover, although Tezuka was virtually unknown in most circles in the United States, this was certainly not true in the animation industry. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Tezuka's short experimental films, Broken Down Film and Jumping, were widely shown at animation festivals around the U.S. Tezuka had also won awards in both the U.S. animation and comics industries. And because of Disney's huge presence in Japan (merchandise, Tokyo Disneyland), Disney company higher-ups regularly visit Tokyo, where Tezuka's legacy and his lion characters are impossible to ignore. The giant Seibu Corporation, which owns train lines, department stores, and one of Japan's most popular baseball teams (the Seibu Lions), licenses one of Tezuka's lions and plasters its image on baseball caps and advertisements throughout Japan.
Tezuka visited the United States regularly while he was alive. I personally accompanied him in the 1980s to Disney World in Florida, to the Disney animation studios in Burbank, California, and to the house of Disney animation luminary Ward Kimball. In 1964, at the New York World's Fair, Tezuka had even met Walt Disney, whom he considered his idol. As the story Tezuka loved to recount goes, he spotted Mr. Disney, ran up to him excitedly like an ordinary fan and introduced himself. To Tezuka's never-ending delight, Mr. Disney reportedly said that he was well aware of Tezuka and Astro Boy, and someday ''hoped to make something like it.''
How the late Walt Disney would have handled the 1994 ''Kimba vs. Simba'' dispute is anyone's guess, but one suspects he might have been more sensitive to the underlying emotions than was his company. When the controversy first erupted, opinion in the fan community was highly polarized between Disney loyalists who rejected outright any resemblance between the two films, and Japanimation fans who overemphasized the resemblance and hoped Tezuka Productions would ''stick it to Disney.'' Lost in the heated exchange of charges and countercharges was the fact that homages and references to other works are quite common in the animation industry. Moreover, if one accepts that Disney company animators who worked on The Lion King referred to Tezuka's creation and that the similarities in concept, character designs, and certain specific situations are more than coincidence, it must also be noted that Tezuka's Kimba and Disney's The Lion King also have fundamental differences, especially in their storylines.
Kimba, the White Lion is an English remake of the 1965 Japanese animated series Jungle Taitei, or ''Jungle Emperor,'' which is in turn based on an over-530-page manga of the same name that Tezuka serialized between 1950 and 1954 in the monthly boys' Manga Shonen. Although humans never appear in Disney's The Lion King, the original Jungle Emperor manga is a tale of three generations of lions who fight to protect the animal kingdom from humans. Leo, (who became Kimba in the English animation) is raised by humans and at one point wears pants. He learns human speech and tries to organize and civilize the animal kingdom to compete with humans. In a gripping finale, Leo dramatically sacrifices himself to save a dear human friend. As Tezuka wrote in an afterword to a 1977 edition, all in all there were eight book editions of the manga published, and for each edition there were considerable changes made to target audiences of different ages and to cater to reader expectations in different eras. Further changes were made for the animation, and for the English version of it.
Jungle Emperor became one of Japan's most beloved manga and animated works, but in both formats it displays Tezuka's weakness--an excessive desire to please his fans and to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity, the result occasionally verging on a narrative goulash. The printed manga story has gags, comedy, tragedy, allusions to ancient tectonic plates and ''supercontinents,'' and exotic medical conditions. Since the young Tezuka was a great fan of American animation, his animals look like Disney animals. His depictions of African natives, moreover, drew upon images from Tarzan movies and now politically incorrect depictions in American comic strips. As for the animation, despite Kimba's great charm, it was made as a long-running television series with 1960s technology; Disney's Lion King is clearly better crafted, with a more polished storyline.
Ultimately, the Lion King vs. Kimba controversy is a case-study in cultural attitudes toward dispute resolution. Litigation is socially frowned upon except as a last resort in Japan, and the Tezuka family, which still controls Tezuka Productions, was not interested in confronting or suing Disney. Tezuka, after all, had himself been a Disney fan. And there may also have been reluctance over giving too much exposure to the old animation series because of an ongoing lawsuit to reassert rights to the series outside of Japan (ownership of the basic story or manga books was never in dispute), and because the Tezuka people were sensitive to the previous criticism of how African natives were depicted in the manga version.
The Disney company response, on the other hand, was typical of modern American corporate culture, where denials of wrongdoing are automatically issued to stave off potential lawsuits. Ironically, the entire controversy could easily have been resolved by a simple tip of the hat to Tezuka, either in the form of a film credit or a public statement. Instead, one year later, T-shirts were still being sold at American comic conventions that showed Tezuka's Kimba in front of a mirror seeing a reflection of the face of Disney's Simba. Underneath, the caption reads, ''The Lyin' King: Mirror mirror, on the wall, who created me after all?''
''The definitive survey of the Japanese comic book mindscape and one of the great books published in 1996.''
--Alvin Lu, San Francisco Bay Guardian, March 22, 1997
Stone Bridge Press Web Site, January, 2001
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