Papuwa-kun article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 3, No. 7, June 2000
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
In 1991, Ami Shibata entered the comics scene with outrageous humor and awkward artistic style. Published by GanGan Comics, Nangoku Shonen Papuwa-kun (Southern Boy Papuwa) quickly became a cult favorite and a TV series, providing Shibata the fame to polish her talents and allow her unique vision to flourish. Many of her dozen titles are loosely connected, and all owe their existence to Papuwa, the tale of Shintaro*, whose life changes irrevocably when he finds himself stuck on the strangest island in the South Pacific.
You may never experience another story quite this bizarre.
Alone on the sea, Shintaro gloats over the stone which will make him rich. Then he can defeat the Ganma Corps and be reunited with his little brother, Kotaro! The Corps is after him, though, and a helicopter blows up his boat. He washes ashore on Papuwa Island, where he's found by Papuwa and his dog-friend, Chappy. Papuwa takes Shintaro's satchel and dances with Chappy, chanting, ‘Foooood, Food!' "Chappy, taste!" Chappy chomps onto Shintaro's head -not a good way to wake up. Shintaro is desperate to get his satchel back, but everything he tries backfires: threats cause Papuwa to question his manners; when he throws a knife, Papuwa deftly catches it and sharpens a pencil with it; Papuwa intercepts Shintaro's punch with a coconut, which he and Chappy eat. Shintaro finally asks politely, and Papuwa returns the satchel. It's empty! Papuwa has already attached the stone to a collar for Chappy. Again, Shintaro's attempts at force don't work. He tries bribery. "I don't want money," says Papuwa, "You can pay with your body." Interpret that as you will (fans have); Shintaro becomes Papuwa's servant.
Alhough Shintaro expects to kill Papuwa, get the stone, and leave the island quickly, nothing turns out quite as planned on Papuwa Island. During his stay, he meets most of the island's inhabitants. The first is Ito (long o), a giant, effeminate snail who instantly gets a crush on Shintaro. Then there's Shimizu, a colossal earthworm who taunts Tanno, a huge, uninhibited fish with hairy legs, fishnet stockings and an interest in Shintaro. There's also Kubota, an enormous flying chicken; Kaoru, a monstrous lobster who cuts hair; Grampa Kamui, the spirit of the great owl who raised Papuwa, etc., etc.
The Ganma Corps hasn't forgotten Shintaro, and his island fun is regularly interrupted by Corps agents. First comes Miyagi, who has a sword-brush which allows him to turn creatures into whatever word he writes on their chests. Shintaro gets his brush and turns him into a plant. Next is Tottori, the ninja with shoes that control weather. Chappy catches one of them, and they give Tottori a taste of his own medicine. More prefecture-named antagonists are defeated with equal humor.
During all the comedy and action, a more serious tale begins to unfold. We learn that Shintaro's father is head of the Corps, and their family makes the Parkers on The Pretender look functional. There are hints there's more to the island than gigantic, talking creatures, and somehow, the stone is at the center of it all. Shintaro's priorities gradually change as life with the natives, who accept him unconditionally, affects his perception of the world.
What is the secret behind the stone? Will Shintaro ever be reunited with his brother? Is Tanno really a guy? Pick up this off-beat, seven-volume series and find out. There's nothing to lose except your sense of reality.
*Shintaro and Kotaro's names are in katakana and have a dash at the end. I don't know if you'd want to interpret that as a long "o" or not, but I thought I'd mention it.