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Jungle Emperor Leo Anime DVD Review

8 min read
Jungle Emperor Leo continues to be a strong property in Japan and this 1997 feature highlights a lot of the reasons why.

Jungle Emperor Leo continues to be a strong property in Japan and this 1997 feature highlights a lot of the reasons why.

What They Say
Leo, King of the Jungle, lives at the foot of Moon Mountain. His family life is threatened when a group of humans come in search of Moonlight Stones. Only concerned with money, they have no regard for the jungle. Leo must fight to protect the world he loves, or lose everything!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language as well as the English language dub, both of which are stereo and unsurprising considering their age. Though a theatrical movie, the basic stereo mix but it has a number of good moments of directionality throughout and manages to give a decent bit of oomph to the big moments. Areas such as jeeps screeching across the landscape or hearing animals making sounds from one corner and moving across the other are pretty well done. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released to theaters back in 1997, the transfer here looks good but combined with the style and feel of the animation, you’d think this was something done many years prior. While there’s a certain amount of depth to the show, it feels flatter than most other anime movies do, but it works in keeping the tone of the actual show and manga. Colors look good if a bit dull in some places, cross coloration is essentially non-existent and aliasing is very minimal. If there’s anything to be upset about with this release is that they weren’t able to procure the anamorphic print for use here and we instead get a 1.85:1 letterbox print. Tezuka’s works deserve better than that.

Though minimalist, the front cover here works beautifully with a look at the landscape with its few trees and the imagery of the clouds rising up into the form of a lion while the simple line drawing of Lune is mixed into it all set against a dark background. The back cover is a bit more colorful with shots from the show mixed around, showcasing the new babies and Leo in action. There’s a small summary of the premise and a listing of the discs basic features and the usual production information. The insert provides another look at the front cover but with a listing of the chapters to the film above the clouds.

The menu layout continues the same feel as other areas to the release but using the front cover layout again but sliding the selections underneath the skyline and trees. With nothing else on the disc outside of the movie itself and some trailers, there’s not much to slow things down so access times are fast and moving about is very easy.


Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After all the years of hearing about Leo, the original TV series and the manga, as well as it’s “influences” on Disney’s Lion King movie, I still remember my first actual taste of the property and it being this film. With Jungle Emperor Leo, we’ve moved much later into Leo’s life and he’s now in his full adulthood and in love with Lyre. The opening to the movie has them celebrating the arrival of their first two children, the male Lune, and the female Lukino. In what’s likely an amusing nod the Lion King, there are many shots where the parrot goes around the jungle informing everyone of their births and showing all varied animals heading to the abandoned stone castle where Leo and Lyre live. There’s a particular fun in picking out scenes and sequences that you know were deliberately picked and lifted during this.

While all of the celebrating is going on, we spend some time in the human world, particularly with Mr. Ham-egg. Through this less than reputable person, we see that he’s come across a mysterious stone that he’s been unable to pawn off anywhere. It’s only when he reaches a science institute that he finds out that the stone is something that can help solve mankind’s energy problems. With a bit of forcefulness from others in the institute, Ham-Egg is recruited into an expedition that will return to Africa to find Mt. Moon where the stone should reside.

It’s from here that two distinct stories begin to get told, two stories which, unfortunately, in the end, don’t really converge that well at all (in fact, it’s rather creepy), yet each tale is interesting in its own right.

The first story is the one that follows Lune as he discovers an abandoned small plane in the jungle and becomes fascinated with humans. Through a small music box, he becomes intrigued at the wonders that they may have out there somewhere beyond the forest. When a massive storm comes and large chunks of the jungle are flooded, he ends up getting washed out to the ocean, only to be picked up by some fisherman who sees a white baby lion cub as big bucks. Selling him off to the circus, Lune enters the world where he at first sees it as everything he ever thought it would be, animals dancing, bright colorful outfits, all sorts of colored lights and music.

But as the reality sinks in and he befriends a young performing girl named Mary, he finds less and less to like about the world of humans but continues to see the value in befriending them. Eventually, he is given a reason to return home and ends up trying to make his way out of the situation he’s in and back to his parents to help deal with the Death Pox, a sickness spreading across the jungle.

While for the most part, Lune’s journey is a light adventure, almost what you’d get out of a Disney film but without all the bright musical numbers and at the moment humor, Leo’s adventure takes on a much darker tone. Leo finds himself contending with some serious problems in the jungle. The arrival of the scientific team has brought not only the small group of scientists but another group of humans who put themselves first over everything else. On their journey towards Mt. Moon, they cut down all the trees in their way, torching jungle lands and killing any animals they come across, all so they can proceed more easily.

Leo’s judgment in dealing with the humans causes a rift in the jungle and the elephants find themselves unable to follow his lead any longer. The humans continue to advance, though Leo ends up taking them on personally when one of the rhinos becomes trapped. These are some very tense scenes, where you have the jungle in flames and some of the men with their rifles shooting down the animals as they move about trying to find a way free. Leo loses control during part of this, but the elements of danger around them cause him to pull up short from what he may have really wanted to do.

But even though he sees all this carnage, he knows that it’s not all humans that are like this, something his son gets across to him at one point before heading off on his own journey. Leo’s journey becomes a critical one, as the Death Pox begins to spread anew, starting with Lyre first and then to others. Through some elements that are likely from the TV series that make no sense to me (was that a woolly mammoth?!), Leo ends up befriending the scientists and travels with them up Mt. Moon to try and stop what may be causing the changes in the area that have become stronger later. Their adventure is somewhat typical of any mountain climbing one in that it’s fraught with peril, cold and snow.

The two journeys eventually do come back to each other as both father and son meet up again (creepy!). But the differences in their tales really don’t mesh well in providing a cohesive overall moral or something to present at the end. Individually, they have something to offer but fall short; Lune’s journey doesn’t go far enough in establishing the outside world in how it can be good and bad as we mostly just see the bad when he doesn’t perform properly. With Leo, we get a good tale told here, but it lacks some of the real danger and tension that you’d expect with a mountain adventure like this.

In Summary: 
While I may not have cared much for how it all came together in the end, I’m continuing to find each new introduction to Tezuka material to be highly worthwhile as it shows me something new and interesting just about each and every time. Whether this falls into line with the manga or previous series I have little clue, but it does a very good job of standing on its own and telling the stories it wants to tell. The animation is quite good and it’s a treat to see an anime deal with a wide variety of creatures and do them up realistically for the most part. It almost doesn’t feel like anime at some points. There’s a lot to enjoy here and it’s nowhere near as kiddified as the Disney movies are as it holds true to telling a story without holding back any punches.

Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: Pctpber 28th, 2003
MSRP: $19.95
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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