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English Lit in Anime: The Characters of Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli

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Welcome back to our Shonen Mowgli read-watch! In this bit, we’ll take a look at the characters of the show, beginning with the baddest of the bad: Shere Khan and Tabaqui.


Let’s raise our hands again- how many of you remember Tabaqui, “dish-licker of the Gidur-log” or Jackal-People? Chances are, if you are relying solely on your memory of the Disney films, not at all. I have heard tales of Tabaqui making an appearance in Netflix’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, but as of this writing I have yet to see it, though the reviews leave much to be desired. Tabaqui is a prominent character in Kipling’s tales, and is in fact one of the first introduced. He is the one who brings news of Shere Khan’s reappearance in the jungle and sets up the story- how the tiger is hunting man nearby. The wolves let him eat their scraps and send him on his way, much preferring to let him be content than to start a fight.

Then, Shere Khan; as bitter and full of anger as the Disney version. Kipling calls Shere Khan “Lungri” or “Lame One” in reference specifically to the twisted and lame leg with which Shere Khan suffers. In Shonen Mowgli, this one aspect of Shere Khan is glossed over, but brought back on occasion when the story needs it. It’s a rather poor example of the storytelling, but considering it is not necessarily central to any of the later tales in Kipling (the lameness of Shere Khan is only needed to understand his hatred for man), this is an easy change for viewers to allow, I think. Shonen Mowgli also downplays Shere Khan’s evilness. In Kipling, as in the anime adaptation, Shere Khan is shown as a man-eater who disregards the Law of the Jungle; however he is not so evil as I think Disney portrays him. Menacing, certainly, but not really evil.

Tabaqui, dish-liker of the Gidur-log, or Jackal People

Tabaqui, dish-liker of the Gidur-log, or Jackal People

Shere Khan, Big One, Lungri or Lame One, striped cattle-killer, frog-eater

Shere Khan, Big One, Lungri or Lame One, striped cattle-killer, frog-eater

Mowgli is shown first as a child whose parents are alive, and one happy family, until an overly curious Mowgli decides to do what toddlers do best- toddle off and get into trouble. As he follows his path into the jungle, he stumbles over something thick lying in the middle of the forest floor. This thick obstruction happens to be Kaa, and in the midst of this annoyingly deviant scene, we are also treated to one of the more significant aspects of the show’s loyalty to Kipling’s characters. I’m talking specifically about Kaa, the rock python.


Disclaimer: I love snakes. It would not be a stretch to say I have always held a deep admiration for these scaly creatures. If for no other reason, my love for this show comes from Kaa, and my distaste for Disney also is due to how they portrayed him. Kaa in the books is epic. Disney’s Kaa is a joke (literally, because most of the time Kaa serves as comic relief). Not so with Shonen Mowgli. In the anime, Kaa is portrayed as Kipling describes him: wise and kind but quick to temper. Kipling does describe Kaa as “night-thief” and “with most wicked eyes” which is where Disney pulled its hypnotic little character from, but Kaa is really a very serious character.

Kaa, the Rock Snake, footless, night-thief, “With most evil eyes”

Kaa, the Rock Snake, footless, night-thief, “With most evil eyes”

Upon meeting the infant Mowgli, Kaa wraps him up in coils and inspects him: “Well, well, a little mancub!” he exclaims, then asks where he came from, calls him a nuisance, and releases Mowgli, telling him to “run along home.” When Mowgli begins to cry, Kaa entertains him for a moment, saying, “You’re very lucky I’m a good python, or you wouldn’t be here right now!” Which then prompts a response from another beloved character.

TRIVIA

This same scene brings Baloo into the picture, another reason why Shonen Mowgli is so perfect an adaptation. Baloo is also wise and old, and does enjoy his jokes. When greeting Kaa, he says, “There’s no such thing as good pythons and bad pythons, it depends on whether your stomach is empty or full.” In Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Baloo is “Old Iron-Feet” and the “Teacher of the Law.” He is one of the most respected animals in all the jungle. Does that ring a bell? Probably not, if you’re thinking of the bouncing bear singing and dancing and leading an all-around hakuna matata sort of life. Baloo is often described as lazy and in all the Disney adaptations is the jokester who never takes things seriously. The opposite could not be more true in Shonen Mowgli.

Now Bagheera, bless him, retains his stoic ‘I don’t have time for this,’ mentality. Second only to Kaa, Bagheera is hands down the best character in this show and in the books. As an earlier Tor writer eloquently argued, and with whom I wholeheartedly agree, Bagheera is the pragmatic one. What is wonderful about this anime is the Bagheera portrayed in Shonen Mowgli is much the same as in Disney. The big difference- others actually listen to him and respect him. Sure he’s occasionally called a grumpy old stick-in-the-mud, but it’s done so usually in jest, not because they actually think he’s a cantankerous fun-hater. Which he’s totally not (most of the time).

The audience is introduced to Bagheera in the middle of a hunt where he brings down a water buffalo. The scene is not actually written in Kipling, but the author does acknowledge the event having happened just prior to Mowgli’s arrival. In this scene in Shonen Mowgli, Bagheera brings down the bull as Kaa approaches, beseeching Bagheera’s help in getting Mowgli out of the Jungle. As they talk, they sense the presence of the biggest danger to little Mowgli’s life: Shere Khan. Bagheera tells Kaa to find Mowgli’s parents before Shere Khan does, then runs off on his own. Unfortunately, in Bagheera’s own haste to try and help, he causes a tragedy which would affect Mowgli’s life.

Bagheera

Bagheera

A few other of the animal characters will be introduced before we get to the Wolves.

Chil the Kite is a major, recurring character in both the Mowgli stories and in Shonen Mowgli. Hathi the Wild Elephant is also significant and plays a great role in both the anime and the source material. Each of these characters will be described in greater detail throughout this article series, so for now we will say hello and goodbye to them fairly quickly.

Lastly, the Monkey-People. In Shonen Mowgli, they are shown with a leader named Alba, though he doesn't seem to appear until halfway through the series. Presumably this was because such a big deal was made of the monkeys having a king in the Disney films, but in Kipling's stories, the whole point of the "people without a Law" was that there was no leader. Again, Shonen Mowgli reaches a decent compromise.

Hathi the Wild Elephant

Hathi the Wild Elephant

Chil the Kite

Chil the Kite

Bandar-log, or Monkey-People; the people without a Law, eaters of everything, outcasts, nut-stealers, pickers of palm-leaves

Bandar-log, or Monkey-People; the people without a Law, eaters of everything, outcasts, nut-stealers, pickers of palm-leaves

Mowgli and the Wolves

The last of the source material animal protagonists we will introduce here are, of course, the Wolves. In Kipling’s The Jungle Book three wolves are given names- Raksha (Mother Wolf), Rama (Father Wolf), and Akela (The Lone Wolf). In The Second Jungle Book, the wolf Leela appears as Akela’s granddaughter. The only other wolf of the pack given any sort of proper name is Grey Brother, the oldest of the four wolf cubs of Mowgli’s adopted family.

Now, here is where the third and final major deviation hits- the names of the wolves. Father Wolf is no longer Rama, but rather… Alexander. And Mother Wolf, or Raksha, is now Luri. There are no four wolf cubs with the eldest named Grey Brother, rather there are two wolf cubs named Akru and Sura. Akela, alone, remains the same, and his granddaughter is Lalah (not much of a difference there).

Mother Wolf (Luri) and Father Wolf (Alexander) with Mowgli and Mowgli's brothers (Akru and Sura)

Mother Wolf (Luri) and Father Wolf (Alexander) with Mowgli and Mowgli's brothers (Akru and Sura)

Akela (the Grey Wolf) and Lalah.

Akela (the Grey Wolf) and Lalah.

And the rest...

There are a handful of other characters; they are either human characters or anime-only characters. Because I want to refrain from overloading my readers, and because it will be a few episodes before they become important, I will wait to introduce them in later hubs.

Next time, we’ll get a closer look at the two-part episodes of “Mowgli Comes to the Jungle” in Shonen Mowgli. This second part was much longer than I had intended, but the characters in this anime are so perfectly rendered from Kipling, I could not gloss over them, and they will be revisited in even greater depth as each episode summary calls for it. With the main characters established, we can move on to the full read-watch of The Jungle Book in later posts!

ELA Series: Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli