80 Famous People – Michelangelo

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

I think it’s a safe bet to say that most people at least know the name Michelangelo. Born in 1475, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni sculpted the two statues Pieta and David, created the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, and succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica. He and da Vinci are the two preeminent figures of the Italian Renaissance. Since da Vinci has already been covered in the Ijin series, it’s now Mikey’s turn.

The intro manga has Merrino posing in a muscle suit for a school art project Utako is trying to build in modeling clay. The rest of the group is getting bored, and when Mohea enters the room, they all suggest that she pose for Utako. Merrino gets upset at being ignored again, and is actually afraid of losing his title as Sheep-planet prince if his older sister usurps him. So, he tries getting attention by climbing up a pile of chairs, but they collapse and Mohea races forward to rescue him. When she steps out of the cloud of dust holding the limp body of her little brother, the group yells out that she looks just like Michelangelo’s Pieta, which fires up Utako. The story ends with Mami and Yuichi trying to see Utako’s finished model – it looks like an ugly lump of clay. Utako complains that what she imagined was much better than what her hands could produce, and Mohea says that’s all anyone could ask for.

The main manga is by Shinichirou Nariie, one of the artists on the Steins;Gate franchise. The character designs are overly stylized, and the expression on the Pieta doesn’t even come close to that of the real thing. But, it’s still better than some of the other artists used in the Ijin series.

The main manga starts out with people marveling over the beauty of the Pieta statue, but since it’s unsigned and no one else seems to be skilled enough to produce this level of art at the time, the audience speculates that it’s another of da Vinci’s pieces. Michelangelo is standing nearby, and the slight stings him enough that he carves his name into the statue that night. We then get a flashback to when he was a child staying at his grandmother’s hut. His father was busy with work, and he kept complaining about being bored, so his grandmother took him to a construction site when he became entranced with the stone workers. One of his uncles gives the boy a small rock carving, which inspires him to learn art. Later, he gets into an argument with his father, who wants him to start school to learn Latin to enter into the bureaucracy, while Michelangelo wants to further his art studies. The boy runs from the room, leaving his sketchbook behind. After looking at the quality of the drawings in the book, his father changes his mind.

The story returns to the present, where the Church gives him a large hunk of rock to sculpt. He agonizes over it for awhile, then produces the David statue. From here, he goes on to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He acquires an assistant who is used mainly for mixing paints. The assistant asks how Michelangelo can draw such amazingly accurate figures, and he replies that he’s not sure. He just tries to see how people move and act from the inside and then works his way out. The story ends with the completion of his “Last Judgement” fresco in the Sistine Chapel in 1541.

As always, the textbook section talks about what is known of Michelangelo’s upbringing, schooling, and relocation between cities in Italy. There are sidebars on the Medici’s, pictures of lots of his works, and a mention of the rivalry between him and da Vinci. The last 2 pages discuss other people active during the Renaissance, including Raphael, Miguel de Cervantes, Johannes Gutenberg and Martin Luther. There are two additional sidebars mentioning the three top developments of the Renaissance (discovery of gunpowder, moveable print, and the magnetic compass), and the cultural developments in Japan at the time – called the Higashiyama Culture era (which introduced asymmetrical design, ikebana, Noh drama, sumi-e painting and and the use of tatami floor mats). Plus, of course, we get the two postcards.

(The two post cards for this issue.)

The artwork for the main manga is fairly weak this time – Nariie isn’t good enough to do proper justice to Michelangelo’s art. The main attraction in this mook is the collection of photos in the textbook section. Recommended if you’re an art student.

Otona no Kagaku Flip Clock Review

If we look at all of the Gakken Otona no Kagaku kits as a whole, we can see that they start falling into specific categories. Optics and astronomy (Kaleidoscope, microscope, Galileo telescope, Newtonian telescope, planetarium), acoustics and music (Berliner and Edison gramophones, electric guitar, theremin, synthesizer), electricity and electronics (static generator, DC motor car, 4-bit microprocessor, 8-bit microcontroller), cameras (pinhole, stereo pinhole, dual reflex lens) and clocks (slow clock, Edo-era clock, flip clock). Notice how cleverly I snuck the latest kit, #38, into the list here.

The Flip Clock (3,500 yen) doesn’t really provide much in the way of new theory regarding how time pieces, or time itself, works. The kit consists of a pair of motors that slowly advance the minutes and hours sheet drums, and a circuit board that doubles as a motor driver/radio receiver. The receiver picks up a signal on a fixed frequency used for time synchronization, and uses that as a stable timing source for advancing the 2 motors. The motors are geared to the sheet drums to cause one minutes sheet to flip per minute, and one hours sheet to flip every 30 minutes (there are 2 sheets for each hour in order to make the hole spacing on the hours drum a little more like that of the minutes drum hole spacing). Two switches on the top of the case let you advance the minutes and hours to set the time (although, if you wait long enough, the clock will automatically go to the correct time for you). Power is supplied by 2 AA batteries. The fun part is watching the clock go into reset mode if the time isn’t at “00:00” when you put the batteries in. Additionally, the main motor gears have raised sections that open and close a pair of leaf switches to let the circuit board know what the drum orientations are (similar to that on the Edo-era clock).

(Notice how the one set of leaf switch wires runs under the plastic U holder, at the back of the circuit card. You can also see the DC motor connector color-coding alignment at the far end of the card.)

Gakken suggests 90 minutes for building the kit (finished size: roughly 15cm x 15cm x 10 cm), and I think I came in at about 100. You need a Philips head screwdriver, possibly one with a long shaft. Kit assembly is pretty straightforward, but there are a couple places that could be tricky. First, the “R” and “L” labeling on the gears that are used to make up the sheet drums are on the inside faces of the gears. So, when the drums are assembled, you can’t easily tell which is the left and which is the right drum. Just be sure to mark the outside face of the gear somehow before putting the drums together. Next, when you put the white side and bottom panels together, don’t tighten all the screws, and leave one corner screw off. The reason is that the drums need to be squeezed into place inside the case and you can’t do that if the case can’t flex. Also, there’s a plastic retaining “U” piece that holds the circuit board in place. One of the two pairs of motor wires is supposed to be routed under the “U” piece – you can see which wires in the assembly photos. (If you can’t read Japanese, the instructions for plugging the motors into the circuit board can be hard to figure out from the photo. Orient the two motors to match the photo, and make sure the wire colors are, from left to right, red-black, red-blue.)

(The antenna holder can rotate 360 degrees, letting you align it with the nearest radio tower to maximize signal reception.)

Most of the assembly time is taken up with punching out the number flip sheets and putting them into the retaining holes  in the drums. The sheets are made of soft vinyl and are easy to manipulate. They’re also easy to knock back out of the drum, so don’t push on them when trying to advance the drums forward. If you look at the assembly photo, you’ll see that there’s a small notch on the edge of the left and right drum gears. You need to start inserting the sheets at the first hole above the notch. Doing what I did, starting one hole below, means that you have to pull all the sheets out and start over again.

(Sheet drum mechanism close-up. The DC motor is at the bottom. It turns the next gear up, which uses a slotted rod to translate the motion up and down. The slotted rod advances the drum gear by one notch, and the stop-rod at the bottom of the drum gear  prevents the drum from rotating the wrong way when the slotted rod returns to the lower end of its stroke. You can see the raised piece on the sheet gear, which is holding the leaf switch closed.)

The radio time signal is probably on a different frequency in Japan than in the rest of the world (I haven’t checked yet), but I think the clock will work without it, just not as accurately. Be warned, though – the flipping of the clock is noisy, and you’ll either pull the batteries out at night, or move it to some other room where you’ll only see it during the day. Accuracy suffers anyway, if the batteries are not plugged in.

(Close up of the sheet drum mechanism showing the leaf switch in the open position. When the switch goes from closed to open, the circuit board knows that one of the two drums has reached the “00” point of the “00:00” reset display.)

As for the mook, the cover article features actress Maki Horikita posing with the clock. There’s 6 pages of “retro-futuristic” products like radios, clocks and telephones. This is followed by an 8-page photo manga describing how the clock works and how to align the antenna to your nearest radio tower. Tekken (who apparently goes by the name Leonardo da Tekken) is an artist working in Japan, and has created flipbooks the size of phonebooks. There’s 4 pages on him, 2 pages on augmented reality (i.e. – the Google glasses), 4 on futuristic watches and 6 pages on clock tower buildings, chronographs and old mainframe computers. Then we get 6 pages on the Doppler effect, and 2 on how GPS works. The suggestions for mods to the flip clock include giving it a lighted case; turning it into a smartphone-driven flipbook animation display; giving it a handmade bookstand; and giving it a striped plastic case.  The home hobbiest feature section introduces a woman that makes anime- and video game-inspired sculptures from used aluminum cans, and a group that has constructed a 1/50th scale model (41 feet tall) of the Tokyo Sky Tree out of bamboo poles. Then there’s an article entitled “60 years of radio hobby”, about a guy named Taro Oohashi; 8 pages on how Japanese astronomers are searching for another earth-sized planet; and, the instructions for making the kit. The mook ends with another of Yoshitoo Asari’s Manga Science manga, this one on the design principles behind knife and scissor edges.

Overall the kit is fun to make, but I live in a small apartment and the flipping sound can be heard in the bathroom with the door closed. It’s not something I want running when trying to sleep at night. I’m not sure if there are any mods I want to try making at this point. You do get about 5 blank sheets with the kit, but it’s going to be a pain having to cut out 100+ pieces from card stock by hand to make a flipbook, if you don’t want to mark up the regular number sheets. The mook’s worth getting for the retro photos, and the spotlights on the aluminum can sculptures and bamboo sky tree.

Next up: Kit #39 – An updated version of the Kit #9 pinhole planetarium.
Tentatively scheduled for late July. No price set.

[Edit: I just finished taking the kit apart and putting it back together again because the plus connector had been pushed out of the battery holder as I was removing and replacing the top battery. So, I suggest two things – first, melt the plastic of the battery connector slots to keep the connectors from accidentally sliding out. Second, before you put the kit together, drill a hole in the back of the case for a toggle switch and splice it in series with the red battery wire to give you an on-off switch when you need it.]

Gakken Update: Apr. 19

The Flip Clock is now out in stores on the main island in Japan. It may not make its way down to Kyushu for at least another day, probably Sunday my time if the bookstores follow the normal schedule. Meanwhile, although the Otona no Kagaku site hasn’t made any announcements of the new kits, there is at least some activity on the Facebook page.

Gakken has posted the official ad for the Flip Clock on youtube.

Gakken Newsletter #154

The Otona no Kagaku newsletter finally arrived in e-mail. It starts out commenting that the cherry blossom viewing season has ended in Tokyo, and then goes on to say that the long-awaited “pata pata” flip clock really lives up to its name with the pattering sound it makes. But, it’s also supposed to be a practical kit that you can keep using after it’s built.

Part 1: This section consists mainly of advertising copy that attempts to evoke the nostalgia older kit builders will feel when they have the radio flip clock in their hands. There’s also a brief description of the mook, which will include a pictorial history of clocks, a look at modern electronic timepieces, and some other art-related stuff. Apparently, the clock is well suited for use with a flipbook animation, so there’ll be a short flipbook animation in the mook. The radio clock kit price will be 3,500 yen (about $38 USD), and has an Apr. 18 release date.

Part 2: The Petite Handmade series started in April last year, and Gakken is now happy to announce kit #4 – the Cocca Hexagonal Patchwork Bag. Released Apr. 1. 1,890 yen. Comes with a 34-page A5-size booklet. Cocca website here. Examples of Ore-designed bags here.

Part 3: Announcement of the new Japanese Makers book. 224 pages, 1,365 yen. Released Mar. 39.

Part 4: Announcement of a new book series: Gakken Manga: Secrets of Adults. The manga that used to to run in the older Gakken science manga series is being collected in book form. The first book is “Secrets of the Adult Body”. A5 size, 148 pages, 1,000 yen. Scheduled for a May 21 release.

(Secret note: The Otona no Kagaku site has been updated to include a new “What’s Next” page. The next kit will be a new version of the old kit #9 pinhole planetarium. Scheduled for a late-July release.

Gakken updates, Apr. 10

Ok, we’re getting a little activity on the Gakken Facebook page.

First up is an announcement for a new book collection called “Japanese Makers”. It’s a collection of articles that used to run in “Otona no Otaku Kosaku-bu” (Adult Fan Construction Group) magazine detailing the constructions of a core group of 13 makers. The book features updated photos and editing.

The second entry is just a statement that the editor forgot to mention the name of the book.

Third is an event for the Japanese Makers new book release party, at the Daikanyama T-Site in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Thursday, Apr. 11, at 6 PM.

Finally, what I’ve been waiting for – an announcement of activity on the Otono no Kagaku designer’s blog. So, I trot over to the designer’s blog. Here, we have an announcement of a one-day open house at the Physics and Chemistry Research Institute, on April 20th. The rest of the entry mentions some of the science you can see there, including stuff on iPS cells, robots, and an introduction to the Gakken flip clock coming out on the 18th.

So, not much on the Otona no Kagaku front, yet. Still waiting for them to update the main page and the release details on the flip clock page.


Gakken update – Mar. 30

Quiet week. I bought the latest 80 Famous People mook that I wanted – Michelangelo – but I loaned it to a student before completely reading it, and I won’t get it back for at least a week. The next two issues, Ernest Seton and Chihiro Iwasaki, don’t interest me.

The only other bit of news is a small announcement on the Gakken Facebook page for an event on March 30th at Aeon Laketown Mori. It was a workshop for adults and children featuring some of the latest Otona no Kagaku kits.

Amazon still has the flip clock scheduled for Apr. 17, so I’m hoping that Gakken will make a formal announcement of the release date soon, which will probably be accompanied by a new newsletter.