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English Lit in Anime: "Mowgli Comes to the Jungle"

In this post, we’ll finally take a good look at Mowgli’s origin story and how he came to be a member of the wolf pack. I say origin story because while Shonen Mowgli is a wonderful adaptation, it starts out in a very contradictory way. It adapts, almost word for word and scene for scene, the beginning of Kipling’s story “Mowgli’s Brothers,” but adds in one very crucial piece of originality: Mowgli’s real parents.

Mowgli's parents from Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli (1989)

Mowgli's parents from Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli (1989)


EPISODE 1: Mowgli Comes to the Jungle

Rudyard Kipling makes few allusions to Mowgli’s heritage except to say his father was a woodcutter. In Shonen Mowgli, this explanation is clearly not grand enough. In the beginning, both of Mowgli’s parents are alive and well, and, apparently, environmentalists. Interesting way to start off the show, especially when they don’t make it past the first episode, but so far Shonen Mowgli is doing alright with its adaptation so we’ll let them have this one. The whole poor woodcutter trope was just way overdone, am I right?

I’m torn with my feelings on this change. On the one hand, Shonen Mowgli sets up a theme of man vs. nature which is not as prominent in Kipling as many might think, though it is a developed idea. There is much more of man’s dominance over nature and the brutality of nature vs. the refinement of man. But this is a philosophical discussion for another time and place. Shonen Mowgli takes a different approach, one which seeks to harmonize and show the beauty of nature and express sadness in the wake of its destruction. The entire opening scene with Mowgli’s parents has nothing to do with Kipling, but everything to do with making a plea for environmental well-being.

As mentioned previously in the character introductions, little Mowgli is much too curious about the world and decides to toddle off to some grand adventure elsewhere. Upon getting lost, he runs into Kaa and Baloo, and ultimately finds what will end up being his new family- but not before Kaa seeks out Bagheera's help in returning the man cub to his rightful parents. As Mowgli gets to know Baloo, Bagheera is on the hunt for his parents, who are themselves now lost in the jungle looking for Mowgli. Everyone in this scene is either hunting or being hunted, as the tiger Shere Khan is also seeking out the two humans.

In the end, it is Bagheera who finds them. Kipling's The Jungle Book mentioned that Mowgli’s father was a woodcutter who was killed by Shere Khan the night Mowgli was found in the jungle; Shonen Mowgli takes a drastically different approach. In this episode, Bagheera finds Mowgli’s parents, but in his attempt to approach them, he frightens them, and they fall off a steep cliff into a rocky stream below. In this way, the show sets up its own reasons for why Bagheera is so attached to Mowgli as the boy grows up- in Kipling, Bagheera often calls Mowgli ‘Little Brother,’ but there is otherwise no specific reason to the panther’s adoration for the man-cub. If Shonen Mowgli had to deviate, they did so in a way that made at least some sense.

"Mowgli's Brothers" from The Jungle Book

“By the Law of the Jungle he has no right to change his home without warning,” Father Wolf said.

“He has been lame since birth and only hunts the villagers’ cattle,” said Mother Wolf quietly. “Now he has come here to make our villagers angry.”

- about Shere Khan

The bushes rustled a little in the thicket, and Father Wolf prepared to leap. He made his bound, then tried to stop himself in midair, landing almost where he left the ground.

“Man!” he snapped. “A man’s cub! Look!”

Directly in front of him stood a baby who could barely walk...He looked up into Father Wolf’s face, and laughed.

“A man’s cub?” said Mother Wolf. “I have never seen one. Bring it here.”

If ever there was a perfect animated sequence for a book, this would be it. The scene is- nearly word for word in the English version of Shonen Mowgli, exactly as it is in Kipling’s story. Even to the point where Mother Wolf ushers her cubs, and Mowgli, into their den and Shere Khan appears. This entire sequence follows Kipling’s story nearly action-for-action: Shere Khan’s attempt to climb into the wolf’s den, with Mother Wolf and Father Wolf defending Mowgli as their own. Shere Khan promises the wolves he will never rest until the man-cub is his.

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With Mowgli's parents having perished and Luri becoming overly attached to the little man cub, all that is left now is for him to be accepted by the Free People, the Wolf Pack to which Alexander and Luri belong.

Father Wolf waited til his cubs could run a little, and then on the night of the Pack Meeting took them and Mowgli and Mother Wolf to the Council Rock- a hilltop covered with stones and boulders where a hundred wolves could hide. Akela, the great gray Lone Wolf, who led all the Pack...lay out at full length on his rock, and below him sat forty or more wolves of every size and color...

...Now, the Law of the Jungle lays down that if there is any dispute as to the right of a cub to be accepted by the Pack, he must be spoken for by at least two members of the Pack who are not his father and mother.

"Who speaks for this cub?" said Akela. "Among the Free People who speaks?" There was no answer and Mother Wolf got ready for what she knew would be her last fight, if things came to fighting.

Then the only other creature who is allowed at the Pack Council - Baloo, the sleepy brown bear who teaches the wolf cubs the Law of the Jungle..."I speak for the man's cub. There is no harm in a man's cub. I have no gift of words, but I speak the truth. Let him run with the Pack, and be entered with the others. I myself will teach him."

...A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the Black Panther, inky black all over..."O Akela, and ye the Free People," he purred, "I have no right in your assembly, but the Law of the Jungle says that if there is a doubt which is not a killing matter in regard to a new cub, the life of that cub may be bought at a price. And the Law does not say who may or may not pay that price. Am I right?"

..."Baloo has spoken on his behalf. Now to Baloo's word I will add one bull, and a fat one, newly killed, not half a mile from here, if ye will accept the man's cub according to the Law..."

And that is how Mowgli was entered into the Seeonee Wolf Pack for the price of a bull and on Baloo's good word.

Now you must be content to skip ten or eleven whole years, and only guess at all the wonderful life that Mowgli led among the wolves, because if it were written out it would fill ever so many books.

- "Mowgli's Brothers"

In the next section, we will analyze episode two, "Birth of the Wolf-Boy Mowgli!"

ELA Series: Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli

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