Review: Science and Study Kit

(Image from the Otona no Kagaku site, used here for review purposes only.)

Gakken occasionally releases sideline products under the Otona no Kagaku label that are either not kits, or not mooks. Obvious examples are the Theo Jansen DVD (mook, no kit) and the SX-150 Mark II synth (kit, no mook). Others are the Rocket and Space Exploration and the Busshitsu kara Seimei e (From Material to Life) mooks. These products tend to be a bit pricey for what they contain, so I’ve held off on buying them. I’ll probably have a change of heart later on for the Jansen DVD (except that my laptop doesn’t have a DVD drive so I’d have to spring for an external drive first. So much for “pricey”).

(Top right, Toshio Iwai; Bottom left, Meiwa Denki; Bottom right, Momoko Sakura)

On April 17, 2010, Gakken came out with Kagaku to Gakushuu (Science and Study), 148 pages, for 1680 yen ($22 USD). It is a kit and mook pair, but the kit is just a simple glow in the dark skeleton. It looked fairly flimsy and trivial to build, so I passed on it at the time. Last week, though, as I was compiling the list of Gakken kits still on the shelves, I noticed that Amazon is listing a collector’s sales price of 3000 yen for it, a 2x’s mark-up, while the Junko bookstore near me still had a copy at the original cover price. Since I had reviewed all of the other kits up to this point, I guess I should at least make a stab at it for the Science and Study kit while it’s still affordable. Besides, I still didn’t know exactly what the contents of the mook were, and there could be something in it to surprise me.

(Naoki Urasawa)

First, the kit. It’s made up of 17 pieces of relatively soft plastic still attached to 7 frames. There’s no suggested assembly time, and it took me about 20 minutes (mainly because I had trouble following the instructions). You need to cut the pieces from the frame and trim off the flash. Gakken recommends using trimming scissors or a nail clipper. I used a pen knife. The two trickiest parts are the ribcage and the hip bones, which are molded flat and you have to bend them in half and mount them to the spine in a way that’s not really clear from the pictures. The shoulder blades/clavicle piece is equally confusing. But, my biggest mistake was in not realizing that the portion of the frame attached to the spine is really part of the stand. It wasn’t until after I’d cut the spine from the frame and removed the flash that I figured out that I wasn’t supposed to do that. So, after I got the rest of the thing assembled, I had to spend 15 minutes sitting and holding the frame subsection against the spine in order to get the wood glue to set (I don’t have epoxy or a hot glue gun in my tool kit, yet). In any event, I finished everything, and the glue on the spine held the frame/stand section in place ok. This skeleton kit was originally issued in 1976 along with a small science book aimed at 5th graders (“5th Year Science”), so the current kit also contains a reprint of that small book. The skeleton glows green in the dark, but only for about 5 minutes. The discarded frame pieces also produce a lot of light and it’s kind of tempting to cut them into 1″ pieces and put them in a small container as a night light.

(Example of the top 10 most popular kits – #3, the telescope.)

Next, the mook. This is a toss up. If you can’t read Japanese, then all that’s left is to look at the pictures, which are 75% nostalgia shots of 30+ year’s worth of Gakken science toys, and 25% example pages of science and science fiction manga. For just the nostalgia photos, the kit’s probably not worth the money. If you can read Japanese, or if you like manga, it’s a different matter.

(Yoshitoo Asari, and some of his sample manga.)

There’s a lot of overlap between this mook and the one for Kit #1 (the Putt Putt Boat). The first 10 pages are reminiscences by various notable people about playing with the Gakken science toys when they were kids. The difference from kit #1, though, is that this time the people interviewed include; Kenichiro Mogi (brain scientist), Naoki Urasawa (manga artist for “20th Century Boys”, “Monster” and “Billy Bat”), Toshio Iwai (video game programmer and developer of the Tenori-on), Momoko Sakura (creator of “Chibi Maruko-chan”), Junichi Watanabe (professor at Japan’s National Astronomical Observatory) and Hideaki Sena (SF writer and author of the original “Parasite Eve” novel).

(Your skeleton in motion.)

From here, we get 46 pages of pictures and descriptions of every science kit or toy Gakken produced from 1965 to 2009. There’s also a top 10 list of the most popular topics (from 1 to 10; #1 is the camera, #9 is the radio, and #10 is chemistry sets). This is followed by the history of the skeleton kit and assembly instructions; maps and castle kits; science games and early science books. (14 pages total). Then there’s 20 pages on science related manga, and 23 pages of reprints from the original Gakken science books for school children. The last 24 pages are various miscellaneous topics that didn’t fit elsewhere, including the evolution of the Otona no Kagaku mascot, named “Pippo-kun”.

Regarding the old Gakken science toys, it turns out that at least a couple of the more modern Otona no Kagaku kits are actually reworkings of things that came out from Gakken in the 60’s or 70’s, including the DC Motor Car, the Galileo telescope and (I think) the pinhole camera.


The section on manga includes sample frames and write ups on: Shoutaro Ishinomori and his “Asgard 7” comic; Mitsuru Sugaya and Shinichi Suzuki, who also assisted on “Asgard 7” as well as doing their own stuff; Kunio Nagatani, who assisted on Fujio Akatsuka’s (Tensai Bakabon) with “Genki-kun”; and Leiji Matsumoto with “Galaxy Express 999”. (Several of this group had worked with Osamu Tezuka at the Tokiwa apartment building from 1952-54, and even Tezuka is mentioned here for his science manga contributions.) Also worth mentioning are the inclusion of Shigeru Mizuki, creator of “Gegege no Kitaro”, and Yoshitoo Asari, creator of “Space Family Carlvinson”, “Wahaman” and “Lucu Lucu”. Especially worth mentioning is that while I love “Space Family Carlvinson”, I’ve never been able to get information on Asari before. Now I find out, based on his photo in this mook, that Asari was also featured in the mook for Otona no Kagaku kit #31 (the ornithopter). In that mook, he interviewed manga artist Mori Masaki, who had drawn “Homo Volant” (i.e. – “human flight”) in 1971 for the Gakken 5th Year Science booklet, based on the story of manned flight. (“Homo Volant” was rereleased in 2011 in e-book form for the iPad and iPhone. Mori also worked as an animator at Tezuka’s Mushi Pro studios, and was the director on the “Barefoot Gen” and “Time Stranger” movies.)

(The skeleton kit assembled. Note that the camera does NOT like focusing on something with so little discernible detail, even with the flash turned on. Total kit is about 3″ tall.)

Summary: The “Science and Study” kit is a nostalgic look at Gakken’s past as a publisher of children’s science books and toy kits. As such, it may have only limited interest for westerners unable to read Japanese. The supplemental skeleton kit is similar to the glow-in-the-dark toys Americans had access to in the 1960’s and 70’s, and while it may take 15-20 minutes to assemble, has limited replay value. The real attraction for me are the interviews with, and looks at, manga artists that have connections with science or SF comics. This part is a treasure trove of manga history that’s not widely known outside of Japan. And if you can still get this kit at the 1680 yen cover price, all the better.

(The front and back covers of the included 4th/5th Year science book. Lots of short manga used to illustrate the various concepts, from artists including Shoutaro Ishinomori, creator of Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider.)

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: