50 Famous People – Marco Polo

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

Marco Polo brings us to #17 of the 50 Famous People series.  This is another one where the manga character designs are overly cartoony and exaggerated to appeal to the younger target group, while the descriptions in the textbook section are written at a higher level.  Just based on the cover, I’d normally ignore this mook in the bookstore and just keep going to the regular manga section.  However, to Japanese eyes, the appearance of the young Marco is more exotic than ugly, so it’s still something of a selling point.  There are several artists working on this series, so the approaches to the character designs will vary from issue to issue.  Then again, I care less about the manga (except where there’s some details on the character that I didn’t know before) – it’s the photos and art reproductions at the back that I’m looking for.

The introductory manga starts out with Daichi Ooki, a brash, adventurous boy, showing up at a park with Mami and declaring that the island of Jipangu, with it’s attendant treasures, is located in the middle of the small lake in the park, and he asks for volunteers to join him on his journey.  Youichi appears and agrees, so the two of them get in a boat and start paddling.  Daichi explains that Jinpangu is the name suspected to have been assigned to Japan by Marco Polo, and this is a great “man’s quest” to find the gold that Marco wrote about in his book.

In the biographical manga, two boys in Venice go to the docks to listen to the stories of the old man, Big Braggart Marco.  Marco, who is at least in his 40’s now, starts out saying that he doesn’t expect anyone to believe him. He comments that he was about their age when he finally got to see his father, and we get the flashback.  His father, Niccolo, and his uncle, Maffeo, were traveling merchants who had set off for new import opportunities just before Marco was born.  His mother died when he was 14 and he was adopted by his grandmother.  When he turned 15, Niccolo and Maffeo came back with stories and treasures from the far east, including claims to have met Kublai Khan.  Almost immediately the 2 men prepare for their next trip and ask Marco to join them.  They had promised to bring with them a letter from the Church, holy oil from the grave of Christ in Jerusalem, and 100 scholars from the Church.  But, when they set out, the Church was only willing to provide 2 men, and both of those bailed when the group reached the desert northeast of Acre.  The trio continued east on donkeys and camels, stopping at various villages and oases until Marco became sick and they had to stay put in one town for a full year.  Back on the road they faced sandstorms, hostile nomads and occasionally being separated from each other in the Gobi Desert.  All along the way, Marco kept notes and made diagrams of everything he saw.  After 3 years, they reached Kublai Khan’s winter palace in China.  Marco was then age 20.  The manga wraps up back in Venice with the two boys having to return home for dinner, and Marco saying that he hasn’t yet recorded at least half of what he saw.

The textbook section gives more personal information about Marco and his family, and shows photos of the neighborhood that Marco supposedly lived at in Venice, plus the modern-day Forbidden Palace in Beijing being covered in a sandstorm.  There’s the timeline for Marco, and a description of the pass that Marco used for free access through the Mongol-controlled lands.  There are excerpts of some of the more outlandish things described in his book (griffins large enough to carry away elephants, and the “island of only men, and the island of only women and children”.  One of the stories implies that Marco had at least talked to someone that had traveled to Japan and had seen the gold-plated Chuuenji temple in Iwate.  Marco and his father and uncle weren’t allowed by Khan to return home until he was about 38.  Khan wanted one of his princesses to be escorted to present day Iran, by ship, with 600 men accompanying them.  The trip took 3 years, and only 18 of the men (plus the princess) survived it.  Marco and his father and uncle continued to Venice, where he came back home at age 41 just as Venice was going to war with Genova.  Marco joined the fighting and was captured as a prisoner of war.  He shared his cell with a romance writer, who he supposedly dictated his adventures to.  After the war, Marco was released and his travel books were best sellers, but no one was willing to believe any of it.  His books did influence later adventurers, including Columbus.  The textbook section mentions Marco’s death at age 70, but not the fact that he married and had 3 children first.

The wrap-up manga has the boat Daichi and Youichi are in springing a leak.  They’re spotted by a groundskeeper, and fall into the lake just short of the island.  The story ends with the boys getting chewed out by the groundskeeper.

The TCG cards include:  Edward 1, Boniface VIII, Guo Shoujing, Marco Polo, John of Montecorvino, Rashid al-Din, Ibn Battuta, Musa I of Mali and Dante.

Overall, the manga is ignorable if you have access to other books on Marco Polo.  But, the maps, paintings and reproductions of his book are worth the 490 yen for this mook.

I just wanted to comment on the back cover this time.  Each mook advertises a different Asahi Newspaper publication, and this one is for a “survivor” series, with what looks like a rip-off of  Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball characters.  Turns out that these books are all illustrated by South Korean artists.  Yet another reason why I dislike Korean attempts at manga, but I’m confused as to why Asahi would sink to such depths for one of their titles…

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