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English Lit in Anime: Introduction to Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli

Updated on November 9, 2019

Poll: Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book

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Poll: Shonen Mowgli

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TRIVIA: True or false?

The Jungle Book is a collection of disconnected and self-contained short stories with different characters.

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Most people grew up knowing about Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; most of those same people also grew up with Disney’s animated adaptation. Fewer people knew of The Second Jungle Book, I think, because I was one of those children who read The Jungle Book, Just So Stories, and random assortments of poetry, but somehow missed The Second Jungle Book. I think it’s important to note a very specific distinction: when most people think about The Jungle Book, what they are really imagining are the “Mowgli Stories.” This is a critical piece of information, because only about half of the stories in either collections has to do with Mowgli. Both The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book are not novels so much as short story collections, written out of chronological order, interspersed with poetry, and sometimes taken far away from the Indian jungle most of us know so well from the films.

The Jungle Book, which was published in 1894, and The Second Jungle Book, published a year later, contain a total of about nine separate stories. In the first book, only the first three stories are Mowgli Stories. The last four, including Kipling’s most famous "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," have nothing to do with Mowgli though three of them do still take place in India. "The White Seal," which happens to be the story accompanying one of my favorite poems of all time, has nothing to do with neither Mowgli nor the jungle, and there are no wolves or elephants to be found (except a rather grumpy elephant seal, but my knowledge of mammal physiology, however limited, doubts there is any real connection there). The Second Jungle Book is much more sporadic with its Mowgli Stories. It contains five Mowgli Stories out of eight, and two of the remaining three are jungle stories. Kipling could not help himself interjecting another arctic story.

Even once all the Mowgli Stories are identified, placing them in chronological order is difficult, but not necessary to enjoying the books. Incidentally, the firsts US edition of All the Mowgli Stories was published in 1936, which places each story in chronological order and includes Kipling’s short story “In the Rukh,” featuring an adult Mowgli. For a fun personal project, I attempted to place the Mowgli Stories in order and compared them to the official published order. I was a little off, but pleasantly surprised to find not by much. The stores in The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book are listed below, with the Mowgli Stories order listed in parentheses, and jungle stories are marked with an asterisk:

The Jungle Book and Second Jungle Book stories

The Jungle Book

  1. (1) “Mowgli’s Brothers”

  2. (2) “Kaa’s Hunting”

  3. (4) “Tiger! Tiger!”

  4. “The White Seal”

  5. * “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”

  6. * “Toomai of the Elephants”

  7. * “Her Majesty’s Elephants”

The Second Jungle Book

  1. (3) “How Fear Came”

  2. * “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat”

  3. (5) “Letting in the Jungle”

  4. * “The Undertakers”

  5. (6) “The King’s Ankus”

  6. “Quiquern”

  7. (7) “Red Dog”

  8. (8) “The Spring Running”

Understanding the stories in both these books, as well as the chronological order of the Mowgli Stories is crucial to our reading and subsequent watching of the show which forms the core of this exploration: the 1989 Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli. Raise your hands- how many of you actually knew this anime existed? Now keep your hands raised if you remember watching it.

If you never knew this show existed, I can’t blame you. It was vastly overshadowed by other 80s and 90s anime, specifically shows most of us knew were anime. Think back to the glory days of 80s and 90s anime. No, Shonen Mowgli was not at the top of that list. But for a young lover of books and all things animal-characters, I ate it up.

Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli, if I’m to be honest, did not really withstand the test of time. Unlike other shows of its decade, it did not age terribly well. Kind of like, if you think about it, Kipling’s book. A great read, but very dated. If you watched this as a child, or even as an adult, many of the stories would be familiar to you if you’d read The Jungle Book, or even watched the Disney film. However, you would likely not recognize several of the stories, or wonder why the stories are so vastly different than the tales told by Disney. The reason is simple. Shonen Mowgli is perhaps the most thorough retelling of Kipling’s stories that has ever been made. Don’t misunderstand, the show takes a lot of liberties, but then again any film or television adaptation is bound to do so. In no way is Shonen Mowgli perfect. A few of the character names are changed for no apparent reason when others remain the same, characters are added or deleted haphazardly, and Mowgli’s origin story is even heavily altered.

For all the show’s faults, however, its general loyalty to the source material is refreshing. The Disney film, both animated and CGI, only adapted the first three stories of The Jungle Book, to say nothing of the absence of the tales in The Second Jungle Book.

Before you ask, Disney’s The Jungle Book 2 is not simply a haphazard adaptation of the second book. It’s more like a very bad fanfiction, but on screen and with music and John Goodman. And Phil Collins, who unfortunately did not do the music. For that you’ll have to turn to another man-in-the-jungle movie, which was much better than the film currently in question.

Speaking of music, let's take our first look at Shonen Mowgli, with the opening and ending theme songs (which remained the same throughout the series):

The Jungle Book Shonen Mowgli opening, English

The song is “Wake Up” by Suzi Marsh (alternately called “Look Up” in some places). It is a very sweet, upbeat song which absolutely does not fit with the theme of the show, or the books. Nor is it, sadly, composed or sung by Phil Collins (let’s see how many of these I can toss into this read-watch). Still, it’s quite the catchy tune and I highly recommend hopping over to your favorite local video-viewing website and look it up. It’s really adorable.

Unfortunately, adorable does not exactly apply to The Jungle Book most of the time. That’s a minor oversight. There is plenty of cuteness overload in this show. Just not as much as the opening theme would have you believe. Shonen Mowgli is, like Kipling’s books, a coming of age story, full of life lessons and adversity of all kinds, as we’ll address in later episodes.

Is the theme song stuck in your head yet? Good, then the first stage of my mission is complete! I don't have a video for the English ending, but it is called "A Child is Learning," by the same lovely singer, and can be watched at the end of almost any episode (all available via YouTube and Amazon Prime).

Next time, we'll take a close look at all the characters!

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