| Bôkensha-tachi is one of the first full-length Japanese animal adventure stories written by Saitô Atsuo (1940- ). It was made into animation and achieved great popularity.|
A city mouse Gamba is living safely in his lair. One day, he goes to a harbor mouse’s party with his friend Mampuku. There, he meets a mouse named Chûta who has come from a nearby island to ask for help. His fellows on the island have been attacked by weasels and are in danger of extinction. Gamba and fifteen other mice go to the island to save Chûta and his fellows. They hide themselves between the rocks on the shore together with Chûta’s family and other mice and wait for the weasels. Noroi, the leader of the weasels, tries to lure them out with songs, dances, and food. With the help of seabirds, Gamba beats the weasels and leads the mice safely to a neighboring small island.
Saitô’s first work was Grikku no Bôken [The Adventures of Grikku] which received the Japanese Association of Writers for Children Prize in 1971. Bôkensha-tachi is a sequel to it. Later he wrote Gamba to Kawauso no Bôken [The Adventures of Gamba and Otter] to form a trilogy.
Saitô admits that he is influenced by fantasy stories such as W. H. Hudson’s A Little Boy Lost, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The way animals are described and the description of the scene where Noroi appears have something in common with Wind in the Willows. The island in the story is based upon Hachijojima. Illustrations are done by Yabuuchi Masayuki, whose powerful drawings of animals are true to life with characters full of expression, which increases the appeal of the story.
The plot follows the pattern of “there and back again” (going on a journey and coming home). While its tight structure is praised, it has been criticized as stereotypical. It has also been pointed out that characters are conveniently made to fit the plot. Nevertheless, Bôkensha-tachi is a compelling story.
A Kodansha Pocket Book edition was published in 1978. Iwanami Shoten published an edition with new cover illustration in 1982. Bôkensha-tachi was made into a serial television animation under the title of Gamba no Bôken [The Adventures of Gamba] in 1975, which was remade as a movie in 1984 with the title of Bôkensha-tachi, Gamba to Nanahiki no Nakama [The Adventurers: Gamba and the Seven Mice].