The Euphrates Tree by Osamu Tezuka
The Euphrates Tree is written and drawn by the great Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “God of Comics.” Tezuka warns us in the postscript not to take this story too seriously; however, I am afraid I will have to go against his advice, because I believe this volume of manga deals with serious topics of great importance. It is about three high school students who visit Jova Island and discover the mysterious Euphrates tree. The tree bears fruit that, if eaten, will give the person or animal great powers and heightened intelligence, but the one aspect of a person that is not changed is their sense of morality.
The three children — Oya, Kama, and Shiko — go to the island for their biology class to study a primitive forest. Tezuka suggests that the island has religious associations for us since at times, he hints that it shares qualities in common with the Garden of Eden. But the main association, of course, is the tree of knowledge whose fruit no one should eat. As Adam and Even were cast out of the Garden, so too are the three children. Much is lost as they gain intelligence and superpowers.
Oya becomes a great concert pianist, Kama becomes a great scientist, and Shiko develops his powers for the primary purpose of being able to kill others just by thinking it. Oya, the young woman, primarily avoids ethical dilemmas by focusing on her piano playing. Kama, however, develops science that immediately shows promise as a weapon of mass destruction. Thus, Tezuka shows in one person his view of science’s history in humankind: We start out with plans to use science and knowledge for good, but the end result is often destructive of human beings, animals, and the planet. Shiko, however, becomes the most morally corrupt even though he says he wants to use his powers for good, to use them to gain power only so that he can become a benevolent dictator. But Tezuka shows that even though he uses them for good once or twice, for the most part he is taking unethical steps towards his ultimate goal, even if he thinks his ultimate goal is for the benefit of everyone.
I really enjoyed this story and the religious and ethical implications. One of my favorite parts of the story is that all three of the teenagers see a vision of a snake at times, a vision that frightens and paralyzes them. The reason they see a large snake is too complicated to explain, but the fact that their experience with the tree leads them to see a threatening snake again reminds us of popular depictions of the Tree of Knowledge.
I continue to be pleased with the translations put out by Digital Manga, Inc., who are providing a great service to those of us who want to read and study the mature manga of Tezuka. These first-time translations into English make it possible for us not only to read Tezuka’s later works for the first time, but also to see that not all manga published in Japan is like the majority of manga and anime we see in the United States. The Euphrates Tree, written in 1973 and translated in 2017 by Adam Seacord, shows that not all manga that is published and read in Japan is aimed at young kids and features Lolita-like young girls. I highly recommend The Euphrates Tree, which at the moment is available in digital format from Digital Manga, Inc.