February 11, 2004

New poll. Do you read the VR story?

[Jungle Emperor Leo screenshot]

I watched Jungle Emperor Leo last night, which is a brilliant film with a tortured history.

After kicking off the anime genre with Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka created the first color anime series, Jungle Emperor (known as Kimba the White Lion in America). In 1966, they even retold several major events of the series in a feature film, Jungle Emperor Leo.

A few years after Tezuka’s death, Disney released The Lion King, which is suspiciously similar to Jungle Emperor (even the titles). I say Disney lifted the characters almost whole, and about half the plot.

A few years after The Lion King was released, Tezuka Productions released a big-budget remake of Jungle Emperor, which clearly reflects certain aspects of The Lion King while telling a different part of the Jungle Emperor story. For example, the opening sequence — while apparently remaining true to the manga — is visually reminiscent of the “Circle of Life” sequence from The Lion King. In a later sequence, when a human doctor is innoculating a number of animals, the last two that he innoculates are a meerkat and a warthog (hinting at Timon and Pumbaa).

I feel like the Tezuka team decided to respond to The Lion King with animation rather than litigation. They could’ve sued Disney, and probably would have won. Instead, they competed on an animation level. And, frankly, Jungle Emperor Leo gives The Lion King a run for its money in terms of visual beauty and powerful storytelling.

Thomas closed his eyes and popped off his visor, then kept his eyes closed as he stripped off the rest of his VR gear. He opened his eyes slowly, to adjust to the harsh flourescent light of his room.

He sighed and tossed his two hundred-pound frame onto the frayed sheets of the metal bed that was shoved up against one wall of this fifteen-by-fifteen foot room. Three of the four walls were papered with posters for various singing idols—some of them real, some CG—in various stages of dress. He liked the CG idols for their sheer kitsch. The fourth wall was plain white. Stacks of magazines and papers created a miniature cityscape on the floor, with one wide boulevard leading from the front door to the bathroom, and a large space cleared in the corner where his VR gear was now laying. He sighed again, deeper and with more force this time, and stared up at the square of flourescent light beaming down from slightly off the center of the ceiling.

This was bad. It was so bad, it had never happened to him before. Then again, he had always been careful before. Nothing illegal. Well, nothing against which there was a specific law. He may’ve taken a few liberties with his access to peek around a few times, but never anything like this. Never anything that might put him in jail.

He swore to himself that this was definitely not worth ten thousand dollars.

A blue light began to pulse insistently on the two-foot cylindrical compuer that was standing at attention near the middle of the room. He frowned at it for a moment, as if blaming it for his recent troubles, then heaved himself out of bed and brushed a hand over the top of the cylinder. Infinitesimal beams of light glittered onto the white wall, creating a small window near the bottom, which read:

Pending Instant Message from (Unknown)

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