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Manga Finds Pirate Gold: The Case of New Treasure Island

New Treasure Island
is typically seen as a merging of Stevenson’s original novel, the most superficial features of Robinson Crusoe, and the Tarzan movies. One could add to this Edogawa Ranpo’s “Youth Detective League” series, begun in Shōnen Club in 1936, as the story stars an adventuresome, acrobatic, and apparently wealthy boy named Pete, whose dead father left a treasure map amongst his papers.

He takes the map to his friend, a ship captain, cast in a version of Tezuka’s favorite Mustachioed Man (Hige oyaji). Their exchanges are overheard by one of the crew, who sends a signal to his pirate friends to take over the ship. Led by the one-legged Bowarl, obviously a close relative of Long John Silver, the pirates procure the map, bind little Pete and his uncle in rope, and stick them in the hold of the ship.

A night storm frees them. The horizon line pitches back and forth violently with the waves, throwing the protagonists about, their bindings loosened. Pete sneaks into the captain’s room and regains the map. Bowarl catches on, and attacks them with a knife. The blade is about to descend when friend and foe alike are thrown overboard and into the sea.



Pete, Captain, and the boy’s dog spend days on a raft, molested by gulls and sharks before finally arriving at a tropical island. There, they build a house. Eat coconuts. Hunt game. And after this Crusoe-type interlude, head off into the depths of thickest jungle in search of buried treasure.



Meanwhile, Bowarl and his buccaneers have come ashore. They have been following Pete and company in their march through the jungle. They abduct the Captain and with him the treasure map. They send Pete tumbling into a cataract. The current sweeps him away swiftly and toward the precipice of a waterfall. Puppy jumps in after him, but alas is too weak to drag the boy to shore.



At this point, American pop culture arrives to save the day. He is named Baron in the manga, but he is clearly Tarzan, popular in Japan since the 30s and soon to become even more famous, appearing repeatedly in manga and emonogatari of the late 40s and 50s. Spotting the endangered Pete, Tarzan dives into the water and drags him and his pup to safety. He disappears just as quickly, catapulting himself by branch and vine back into the trees, unknowingly leaving Pete to another danger: black cannibals. They surround boy and dog with spears, lash them to logs, and carry them into village for a feast. This certain-death is also averted, again thanks to Tarzan, who charges in like he does in the original Weissmuller film with a pack of wild animals to save the pale-skinned trekkers from trouble.


Meanwhile, elsewhere on the island, the pirates pursue the jewels and gold. With map in hand, they push through the jungle, scale a hawk-shaped mountain, finally locating the skull-faced cave in which the treasure is supposed to be buried. A chest is found. But when opened, it is empty. A little later we learn that Tarzan, like Ben Gunn in the original Stevenson novel, had stashed the treasure elsewhere, in this case in a cave at the bottom of the earlier waterfall. Bowarl and his men are cornered by Tarzan’s lions and jungle cats, while Pete dreams about what he is going to do with his wealth: he is going to transport all the island’s animals and build a splendid children’s zoo, where the animals are allowed to roam free and Tarzan serves as head zookeeper.

The story ends with all the heroes aboard a ship that Pete and the Captain summoned with smoke signals from a high peak. They wave, “Farewell Treasure Island!!”



2 Responses to Manga Finds Pirate Gold: The Case of New Treasure Island

  1. Pingback: MangaBlog — Let’s read manga!

  2. KUMI Kaoru says:

    I’m impressed with your insightful argument. Why not try to write a book on this subject? When you decide to do it, e-mail me. — a Japanese translator/anime historian.

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