50 Famous People – da Vinci

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Strictly from just looking at the main manga character designs, issue 3 of the 50 Famous People series is one of the best of the collection.  There aren’t that many pictures of the young Leonardo da Vinci to work from, so the artist this time (Kamui Fujiwara, character designer on a couple of the Dragon Quest games) has a certain amount of leeway.  However, Leonardo doesn’t look overly cartoony or stylized, either.

The intro manga starts with Merrino attempting to paint Mami’s and Youichi’s mother, Mao, and failing miserably. Mami suggests that he try copying da Vinci, and the sheep prince attempts to read a book on him before giving up.  Merrino claims to be forced to break out the terrifying robot, Study Bell, to help him.  Study Bell looks cute and harmless, and happily projects the subsequent main manga.  When it’s done, Mami asks why Merrino had it locked in a chest, and Study Bell grows a pair of large arms for spanking Merrino in “punishment mode” for having done poorly on his last test.

(Notice Fujiwara’s trick of using human musculature in the lackey’s arm.)

The main manga starts with Leonardo turning 14 and setting out from his home to the nearby big city of Milan where he entered Verrocchio’s studio as an assistant.  At age 30, he approached iL Moro with the plans for building a large statue of a rider on horseback.  In the conversation, Leonardo says that he can work as a strategist, defense planner, scientist or artist, but his real motivation is finding the financial backing for proving that his approach to making the statue look realistic is feasible.  iL Moro takes him on, and some years later, the statue is completed.  Time passes and il Moro talks to a lackey, who describes Leonardo as an eccentric unwilling to listen to the demands of his clients.

While the Milanese Renaissance was at full-bloom at this point, much of the art produced was still under the thumb of the Church, and certain rules had to be respected.  Leonardo was commissioned for a painting, and his Virgin of the Rocks offended the church on several levels.  First, none of the holy figures had halos, and the angels didn’t have wings.  Leonardo’s reply was that just because an angel doesn’t have wings doesn’t mean that it’s not an angel.  The lackey can’t understand why a painter on commission can’t follow the orders of his clients.  iL Moro shrugs this off and just asks if the painting looked beautiful.  The lackey also mentions da Vinci’s habit of studying corpses, and Kamui takes this opportunity to throw in examples of human anatomy in the panel.  Finally, when looking at “the Last Supper”, iL Moro asks why no one else can paint this well.  Leonardo says that he doesn’t see God the same way as everyone else.  He doesn’t need things like halos and wings to evidence God’s miracles.  He can find those things everywhere around him in nature.  Thus, to understand reality, you must study and learn from nature, which wasn’t really happening up to that point.  The scene jumps to when da Vinci was living in France and is now on his deathbed.  A student is looking at the last three paintings still somewhat unfinished, and complaining that he can’t understand how Leonardo was able to get those effects of light, life and perspective.

The textbook section describes da Vinci’s growing up (his father had an affair with a peasant woman, and he was raised without a mother and unable to go to school).  A lot of what he learned as an adult came from personal study and observation of the world around him, and most of his inventions were drawn from nature.  He was a true jack of all trades, studying medicine, astronomy, warfare, and art.  His inventions were often predictive and well ahead of their time, including the helicopter, water meters, gliders and crayons.  There’s an examination of The Last Supper, particularly from the point of view of perspective, and how certain visual cues point to one specific person at the table as being Judas.  With the Mona Lisa, the mook describes da Vinci’s use of his fingers to get certain smoothing effects, and how atmospheric scattering causes the mountains in the distance to blur and turn bluish. Naturally, there’s a brief mention of his notebooks and his tendency to mirror-write.

The TCG cards include: Confucius, Buddha, Lao Zi, Darius I, Themistocles, Sun Zu, Bokushi, Herodotus and Pericles.

Overall, the focus in this issue is on da Vinci as an artist, but there are some scientific highlights as well.  The manga is interesting, and there’s some good photos and paintings at the back.  Recommended.  Interestingly, the “further reading” section suggests the “da Vinci inventions” kits, one of which (the catapult) I actually bought 2 years ago.  They’re fun to build, and some of them have moving parts.

50 Famous People – Edison

Here’s the first of the Famous 50 People series.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

#1 – Edison
Page one starts out introducing the series, with a mass group painting of about 35 of the featured names. Then there’s the full list of all 50 people and a brief mention of what they’re famous for. The next 4 pages are the intro manga to set up the main premise. A newscaster announces that something has just smashed into Earth and created a crater. Nearby, 5th grader Youichi Makiba comes home with a box that contains what he thinks is a rare horned cat. His younger sister, Mami, discovers that it’s actually a sheep dressed up in fancy clothes. This is Merrino do Panpeipu, the Prince of the Sheep planet. He’d escaped from home in a rocket to search for excitement on various planets. He asks if there are any famous people on Earth, and Youichi tries to show off as a tour guide by saying he’ll talk about the great inventor “Esojin”.

(Merrino, Mami and Youichi)

The “biographical” manga is very simplified and takes its material from the regular sources. The character designs don’t even try to come close to the real thing. Edison starts out trying to make another kid fly by feeding him baking powder. He quits school, gets home-tutored by his mother, works by starting up his own newspaper and selling that and candies on the train to Detroit, fails at marketing his first invention, and learns the lesson that he should only invent things people want to buy. The manga indicates that his staff was just a group of helpless followers and that Edison himself was the only reason the inventions eventually worked. Interestingly, while one village in Japan was the sole source of the bamboo used for the light bulb filaments in the Edison bulbs, it’s not mentioned at all in the mook. There is a mention of the voice recorder wax cylinder, but the main invention is the long-life electric bulb, and this is where the manga ends.

(The section on Henry Ford.)

The textbook section includes descriptions of Edison’s friendship with Henry Ford, and a short background on Ford himself. In the list of contemporary inventors, there are short blurbs on Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, and Loius Braille. Featured inventions include instant coffee, sticky notes, the first Japanese TV, velcro and blue jeans. Finally, the last manga has Merrino deciding to stay on Earth with the 2 kids as his subjects, so they put him in a box to donate to someone else. There’s then a list of recommended reading if you want to know more about Edison, and a 3-page write up on how to understand the trading cards and use them in a kind of Pokemon-style card game. The full set of cards covers 450 people. The first 9 in this book includes Khufu, Moses, Ramesses II and Hammurabi. The artwork in this set makes the characters look like manga-tized versions of baseball cards. Nothing that bad, but not particularly inspired.

(Sheet one of the trading cards.)

These are inexpensive mooks, albeit all written in Japanese. The photos are good, and there may be stuff about certain people that I didn’t know about before. Fortunately, the Japanese is geared towards kids, so it’s easy for me to read. Next up – Mother Teresa (which I didn’t buy. I got Gaudi instead.)

50 Famous People – Index

Asahi Shimbun (Asahi Newspaper Publishing) has several sets of manga-based magazine-books (i.e. – mooks) currently on the shelves at bookstores around the country. There’s one set specifically focused on Japanese History. A few weeks ago, I noticed the 50 Famous People set at the bookstore in Maruya Gardens, in the section dedicated to collector’s packages. Because the mooks come out roughly one a week, the store removed issues 2-8 on me, which was unfortunate because they included da Vinci and Einstein. Anyway, I went back to the store, grabbed a few of the issues that really appealed to me, and I’ll talk about those over the next few posts while we wait for the next Otona no Kagaku kit.

The 50 Famous People set started running on Jan. 29, 2012, and is up to #16 as I write this. The first one, Edison, was 180 yen, although the rest are 490 yen apiece. Edison is 52 pages. Personally, I really only care about the scientists, although there are a few others that I’ll pick up when they come out, including Tezuka, Momofuku Ando (cup noodles) and Edogawa Ranpo (Japan’s first real mystery writer). The guest writer in volume 1, Ikegami Akira, is an NHK writer and presenter. He has a little section on the inside front cover where he states that Japanese school children don’t really know about the majority of the people described in this set, which is why it was put together.

Each mook follows the same basic pattern. There’s a manga to set the tone of the story, followed by a second manga that is more or less a fictionalized biography of the main character. Then, there’s a more textbook-style section giving the main character’s timeline, major accomplishments, the backgrounds of other major contemporary figures, and maybe inventions or products from the era. There’s a wrap-up manga, a group of 9 trading cards, and a “Next Up” page. The artwork in the manga varies wildly from issue to issue, with some of the artists shooting for a semi-realistic style, and others going purely cartoony. If you’re getting these mooks for the manga, be prepared to be disappointed occasionally. It’s not like you’re getting photo-quality images. Then again, some of the actual photos are pretty good and you may not have seen them before.

The publishers thoughtfully provided the full list of subjects in volume 1 and I figured that I might as well include that here to start out with, in case anyone is interested. As mentioned above, I missed DaVinci and Einstein, but if I can get them as back issues, I will. Along with Edison, I also grabbed Gaudi and Galileo. My next guaranteed choices are Tezuka, Konosuke Matsushita and Steve Jobs; although I may want Marco Polo for the artwork and Kenji Miyazawa for his connection to Night on the Galactic Railroad anime. At 490 yen each, these mooks are cheap, so grabbing the 8 or 10 I want over the course of the year will be a good bargain.

1 Edison

2 Mother Theresa

3 Leonardo DaVinci

4 Sakamoto Ryoma

5 Mozart

6 Cleopatra

7 Einstein

8 Michael Jackson

9 Oda Nobunaga

10 Columbus

11 Gaudi

12 Nightengale

13 Miyazawa Kenji

14 Christ

15 Shokatsu Koumei

16 Galileo

17 Marco Polo

18 Tezuka Osamu

19 Napoleon

20 Picasso

21 Chaplin

22 Matsushita Konosuke

23 Anna Pavlova

24 Steve Jobs

25 Beethoven

26 Edogawa Rampo

27 Helen Keller

28 Buddha

29 Darwin

30 Shakespeare

31 Joan of Arc

32 Souichirou Honda

33 Ghengis Khan

34 Lincoln

35 Agatha Christie

36 Naomi Uemura

37 Marie Curie

38 Elizabeth 1st

39 Ayrton Senna

40 Wright Brothers

41 “Martin Luther King

42 Eiji Tsuburaya

43 Jean-Henri Fabre

44 Grimm Brothers

45 Alexander the Great

46 Andou Momofuku

47 Ghandi

48 Yuri Gagarin

49 Anne Frank

50 Che Guevara

An early look at Kit #35

Gakken’s Otona no Kagaku Facebook page has two new videos of the 2-cylinder steam engine. I put the first video in the What’s New Page. I’ll put the second one here. The key points for this engine are that the pistons are movable, so you can position them as you like to see how well they work; and it’s a bit messy. The kit needs a mat right now to collect the water that drips out. Maybe they’ll fix that in the final release. Still, it runs fast and it looks cool. I’m waiting to see what Gakken plans on hooking up to it.

Yoshitoo Asari’s early Science Manga

Yoshitoo Asari, as I’ve mentioned a few times, is the manga artist responsible for bringing us Space Family Carlvinson, and Lucu Lucu.  He got his start in the 1970’s working for Gakken Publishing, producing the Manga Science series for their school children science publication.  As part of the Otona no Kagaku Delta Twister, kit #34 mook, Gakken reprinted one of Asari’s Manga Science chapters – Air Resistance: Friend or Foe. After posting the review of the kit on my Otona no Kagaku review blog, I decided to attack this manga to understand the story.  Check out the link to Pages on the right.