Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Manga Review: Shin Takarajima


(New Treasure Island" cover, with updated artwork.)

I've made a big deal about "Shin Takarajima" ("New Treasure Island"), and how Tezuka's debut with it did, or did not, have the impact on the manga world as many people have claimed. It's only fair to give the book a little more exposure, even if it does mean spending $17 for something I wasn't initially planning on reading. Then again, it's hard to discuss something if I haven't actually seen it.


(Page 1)

A little background: The Japan Times newspaper ran an article a little over a year ago (Nov. 19, 2008) talking about a new reprint of the original version of "Shin Takarajima". In the story, Tezuka was said to have been very unhappy with the original version because the artist who had come up with the story idea, Shichima Sakai, had demanded that Tezuka redraw some of the faces and throw out dozens of pages from his drafts. Tezuka disliked the final results so much that he refused to allow the original version to be reprinted later, and ended up redrawing it for subsequent compilations. Meaning that while Tezuka was able to eventually control what his fans could see, anyone that wanted the original work in 2008 had to buy it from collectors at $10,000 to $60,000 USD per copy, according to a Mandarake used bookstore rep. Tezuka's estate finally decided to allow Shogakukan Creative, Inc., to reprint the original in November, 2008. And that's the version I decided to pick up (from Mandarake, coincidentally).


(Page 2)

Shin Takarajima, by Osamu Tezuka, Grade: C
Ok, to be fair, I shouldn't give this work a grade, and just let you make your own decisions based on the scans. But that would mean scanning the entire book, because as with everything, some pages are better than others, and it's too easy to warp your opinion by cherry picking pages like I'm doing here. Anyway, the western and Japanese press have made a big deal about the dynamic framing and pacing that Tezuka evinced in STJ, always picking page 2 to highlight. Unfortunately, that's the one page in the entire book that uses Hollywood-style camera action. All the others are just as static as that of the contemporary artists that Tezuka is supposed to stand out from.


(Page 3)

The reissue set consists of a box holder, a 46-page pamphlet and the soft-cover manga itself. The pamphlet has recollections from Fujiko A Fujio, Fujiko F Fujio, manga researcher Osamu Takeuchi and some others. FAF includes a short comic showing how he and a friend first discovered STJ when they were about 9 years old. The STJ manga is about the size of an American paperback, and is 191 pages long. The story is an updated version of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel, "Treasure Island".


(Page 4)

Shin Takarajima starts out with Pete, a young Japanese boy whose father had died and left him a treasure map, racing to catch up to the ship owned by a friend of his father's, with the intent of asking for help in finding the treasure. The friend, referred to as "Captain", agrees that the map is authentic, at the time that one of his crew approaches the room. The crew member turns out to be a pirate spy, and he signals to pirate captain Boaru (not sure how to romanize this) to come board the ship. Boaru and his crew arrive and capture the Captain, Pete and everyone else, but during a storm the ship sinks and Pete, Captain, a stray dog they pick up, and the pirates drift to the island shown on the map. After a series of adventures and mishaps, Boaru and crew find the chest only to learn that it's empty. Pete, Captain and the dog, meanwhile, are rescued by a Tarzan-like character named Baron. Baron, it turns out, had moved the treasure to another location long ago, and he turns it over to Pete. Initially, Captain only wants to take a couple of necklaces to cover their expenses, but the boy wants to claim the entire chest of jewelry and gems in order to open up a petting zoo where the world's children can mingle with Baron's wild friends (consisting of a boa constrictor, some lions, apes and an elephant). Eventually, Captain's crew arrives on another ship and picks up our heroes and the animals. Presumably, the pirates were left stranded on the island in the pit containing the empty chest.


(Page 172; long shot, zoom in, zoom out - this pattern is used throughout the book.)

As can be seen from the scans, the artwork is often primitive and it's hard to tell what kind of animal the dog is (page 173, below). The camera angle does change at times, but there's no where near the sense of action and pacing that's seen in the one sequence in pages 1-4. This is a children's story, created when Tezuka (born in 1928) was still learning to draw manga at age 19. The reason it had such a big impact is because the Japanese people were still trying to recover from the war, which had ended only 2 years earlier, and they were starved for entertainment. There's no hard numbers for sales of the book at the time, with speculation holding that it was between 400,000 and 800,000 copies. What made STJ stand out, more than anything else, was that it was a story-driven adventure, rather than just a collection of short gags. The lack of competition, and the fact that people like Katsudi and Suiho Tagawa had been prevented from writing during the war, gave Tezuka the opportunity he needed to break into the manga industry and thus establish himself as an artist.


(Page 173, note the cop-out, where Tezuka doesn't show Captain jumping down onto the elephant.)

There's no question that Tezuka influenced the way that manga grew and took shape subsequent to 1947. He earned the titles of "father of modern manga" and "god of manga". But it wasn't something that happened overnight. He had to work hard to reach that point, and he was learning from other teachers as he went. I just wish that media reporters understood this and spread the credit around to everyone that deserved it.

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A note on Shichima Sakai (1905-1969), the artist that Tezuka briefly worked under. Shichima is listed in the Japanese wiki as a manga artist, animator, anime producer, kamishibai (paper theater) artist, illustrator and editor. He took on different pen names for each activity. Along with his work helping manga artists in Osaka, he came up the idea for "Shin Takarajima" that Tezuka turned into a rental book (AKA: red book) in 1947. After this, he disappeared into obscurity, but still helped guide new artists.

After leaving middle school in 1920, he got a part-time job drawing manga. In 1923, Shichima apprenticed under 小寺鳩甫 (Possibly read as Kyuho Kodera, I can't verify this) at Osaka Puck. In 1929, he started working as a manga reporter for the Osaka Shimbun newspaper. He took classes in animation in 1935, and helped work on several films in the anime club at that time, including "Ninja Fireball in Edo". When the film club broke up in June, 1935, he returned to Osaka Puck and Osaka Shimbun. During the war, he drew manga for the soldiers to read in the field, and helped form a manga artists' support group. Following the war, and recognizing the start of the age of TV, he went to Tokyo where he eventually worked on "Obake Q-tarou" and "Robotan" as a storyboard artist in 1965. In '67, he edited the primers "How to Draw Manga" and "How to Draw Story Manga". In '68, he planned on creating a new group to support up-and-coming manga artists, to be called "June", but before he could complete the first issue, he succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosis and died in an Osaka hospital on Jan. 23, 1969, at age 63. After his death, Tezuka wrote "Boku wa Manga-ka", (I am a Manga Artist, 1969) where he mentioned that Sakai had had a tendency to exaggerate how poor he'd become after the war.

Within our current framework, Sakai's biggest contribution was to help give Tezuka his start in rental books in '47. A few manga researchers have bemoaned the fact that Sakai's other contributions haven't been given fair recognition, so more may be written about him in the future.

12 comments:

A.B. said...

I had a lot of the same feelings when I picked up the reissue of the book this summer, and I think your post does a great job of providing some much needed revision to the hyperbole that surrounds it.

I'm curious what your take is on the place of Sugiura Shigeru in the history of manga. I know that he was oft cited by the those associated with Garo as an example of an alternative to the Tezuka mode.

TSOTE said...

Thanks for the comments, I appreciate it.

To be honest, I haven't really seen Sugiura's name surface much so far. Granted, I haven't been looking for him, though. Turns out that he was the topic of an exhibition at the Kyoto Manga Museum last spring; I'd seen his illustrations on the ad posters back then, and wasn't impressed enough to ask about him. By accident, I found an interview by Tatsumi Yoshihiro that described his process for coming up with the word "gekiga", and in it he says he was a big fan of Tezuka. But, there didn't seem to be a mention of Sugiura. I'll need to check on this. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

A.B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A.B. said...

I think that Sugiura was important in preserving the aesthetics and storytelling methods of an earlier incarnation of manga (the same mode in which Tagawa operated) that largely disappeared with the field's widespread adoption of cinematic techniques. Despite the relative crudity of his work, he is wonderfully imaginative, both visually and in terms of his narratives, with his work frequently being described by critics as, "不思議."
He's also important for his distinctive use of vernacular Japanese, and Miyazaki Hayao applauds him for this in the catalog to the exhibition you mentioned.
I'm starting a new blog soon, and I plan to do a post on him with scans of his early work

A.B. said...

And it's up: http://nanjarahoi.blogspot.com

I forgot to mention last time that the staging in Sugiura's comics provided the foundation for most of the gag manga that followed him. I know for certain that Akatsuka Fujio was influenced by Sugiura, and his comics like Bakabon exhibit this influence.

I'm going to do a post on Tagawa soon, would it be okay if I linked to your biographical post as background?

TSOTE said...

Thanks for the link to the Sugiura Shigeru post. I checked it out and it looks good. I need to spend more time checking out his artwork - it's very active.

Sure, go ahead and link to the Tagawa entry. Thanks.

actionist said...

A correction- Tezuka was born in 1928, not 1922, as written in the post. Nov.3.

TSOTE said...

actionist - You're right. Thanks the catching that.

The Passenger said...

I am seacrhing as a fool the 2009 reprint edition....can anyone help me please? passenger72@gmail.com

TSOTE said...

Hi Passenger. Sorry about not getting back to you right away. I visited two of the bookstores near me, and I can't find the 2009 reprint on the shelves. I'll try getting to the remaining store this week and see if they have it. Do you want to buy this as a new copy?

The Passenger said...

please write me at passenger72@gmail.com
you are really kind
thanx soooo much

The Passenger said...

ps it could be also an used one. let's talk via mail