Warning: There are spoilers for Treasure Island in this post.
This week I stumbled upon the 1978 anime directed by Osamu Dezaki, Takarajima, which is from a decade of anime that I don’t find myself visiting very often. But on the few occasions that I have gone this far back in the anime timeline I have been met with nothing but quality anime and Takarajima is no exception to that.
Takarajima has a story that starts off really strong and within the first 3 episodes you should have a general idea of what you’re in for and whether or not you’ll enjoy it. From the start we’re introduced to Billy Bones, a pirate who holes up in the Benbow Inn after having taken a chest of treasure. Thing is… the guy is kind of loco and clearly disturbed in some way, which immediately made him a more interesting character than most and got me intrigued as to his history with the rest of the pirates in the show. His relationship with the main character, Jim Hawkins, is also a fun one to watch. In spite of Billy Bones’s volatile and toxic personality and his frequent alcohol binges he manages to earn the respect and trust of Jim and in doing so transforms into a more endearing character even with all of his flaws.
But as strong as these first 3 episodes are, following Billy Bones’s in episode 3 death the series begins to lose steam since Jim certainly doesn’t have a personality that could carry the show on its own nor do any of the other characters at that point. Even with Long John Silver’s introduction Treasure Island doesn’t really regain a dynamic that was as interesting and Billy Bones and Jim’s. And with no immediate conflict there had to unfortunately be a lot of downtime during the voyage to treasure island that was pretty boring, even John Silver’s charisma couldn’t really save this section of the anime for me. But the story picks back up the lost momentum from Billy Bones death and hits its stride following John Silver’s betrayal in episode 10.
Past this point Jim and John Silver’s relationship becomes a bit more complicated, since prior to this betrayal they formed a father-son like relationship similar to the one Jim had with Bones (Albeit lacking Billy Bones’s personality). But with the revelation that Silver is indeed the one legged pirate that marked Billy Bones for death and that he was scheming to cause a mutiny once they got to Treasure Island it becomes difficult for both Jim and the audience to decide how they view the man John Silver. I for one found it hard to hate Silver- after all, his charisma and swagger still shined through even as the main antagonist. But he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too, somehow attempting to juggle his pursuit for the treasure and earning Jim’s affection, and in this balancing act his actions are sometimes contradictory with moves that clearly antagonize Jim while other actions are to protect him.
Jim too ends up finding it difficult to decide on whether he should hate Silver or not for similar reasons. He knows Silver is the cause of Billy Bones’s death, and throughout the course of events on Treasure Island he sees that Silver shows no hesitation in killing off the various crew members of the Hispaniola, that is all except for Jim who he clearly views as a son. And its these two sides of Silver that Jim finds hard to reconcile, because on one hand he sees a cold hearted pirate who will kill anything for the treasure, but on the other hand he has the caring father figure that he got to make memories with on the voyage to Treasure Island. This conflict that both Jim and the audience can feel is mostly what carries Takarajima throughout the rest of its run.
One big problem I had with the show though was the juggling of its children’s Saturday morning cartoon comedy, and the seriousness of its story. I get that Treasure Island is still a kid show and book, but most of it is serious and grim which makes the elements that are a symptom of it being a kids show all the more jarring. Just look at how John Trelawney is characterized in the show.
In the anime Trelawney is a fat, idiotic and over-excitable man-child, which is weird considering that he’s a rich squire in England. His character design is intentionally goofy which is especially weird given that everyone else in the main cast, aside from Jim, has a more mature look. A lot of these choices just don’t make sense to me. Even if it is a kids show you still need to mix the serious and the humorous in a way that seems seamless, but this series just doesn’t know how to do this well. It’s a similar problem I have with anime like Fullmetal Alchemist or Your Lie in April where the slapstick comedy will interrupt serious moments. In Takarajima is not that egregious, but it’s still something that can pull you out of the experience, and Trelawney is the biggest offender of this.
The animation in Treasure Island actually looks pretty decent for what I usually expect from 70’s anime. It’s certainly not a World Masterpiece Theatre anime so a lot of the character art can look janky and the movement a little jerky, but thanks to strong shot composition and in general, great scene direction, this never really becomes a problem. Where this anime really shines though is in the background animation where they really went above and beyond the call to arms. Nowadays a lot of the shots in Treasure Island would have just been done with CGi since they often show ships moving among the detailed waves and makes heavy use of rating camera shots as well. Even back then they could have just used cheaper tricks and ended up with the same scene, albeit with less weight to those scenes. But the fact that they didn’t cheap out and even made such a constant use of background animation is very impressive to me, and in the final product their effort really shows as these scenes truly can be breathtaking. There’s also the amazing background art to look at, done by none other than Shichiro Kobayashi.
If you don’t already know who Shichiro Kobayashi is then I highly suggest checking out Digibro’s “The Master in the Background of 40 Years of Anime”. I’m happy that out of all the people they could have picked to do the background art of Treasure Island, that they chose Shichiro Kobayashi because in the end the backgrounds were arguably the most important element of the visuals for the show and I can’t think of a single person more fitting for Takarajima’s colorful tropical scenery.
Also noteworthy is the music for Takarajima. The composer for it is the same composer for the original Macross and Osamu Dezaki’s later works, “Oniisama e…” and Ashita no Joe 2. And his work on Treasure Island is just as good as I have come to expect from him, matching the atmosphere and tone of each scene very well , with a lot of the tracks heard in the show being what I could only describe as “dream-like” which is fitting overall. My biggest problem with the soundtrack though is the fact that there is so little in it that the same situations will reuse the same music over and over. So when a character dies, you get the same theme for every death. I’d also like to say that the ED is pretty great.