Review: Manga Guide to Elementary Particle Physics

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

Let’s get the boring personal details out of the way quickly. I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1983, with a BS in electrical engineering. I like physics, but it was one of the worst subjects for me in the entire 4-year program (astrophysics was completely over my head). I started out professionally as a quality engineer at an electronics manufacturer, but the company was dissolved as part of an M&A and I found better work as a software programmer. Most of my recent experience in electronics has been through the Gakken Otona no Kagaku line, and now the Fatman and Rockit kits. So, I’ve been feeling kind of nostalgic, as well as out of the loop, regarding anything involving integrals or differentials. I tried reading up on superstring theory on the net, but as long as it remains an unsupported theory, I don’t see the point in going into any detail on it. This kind of leaves me stuck, since I’m in a technological backwater in Kyushu and all the books I can find on most subjects are in Japanese. I’d love to get into American-style community college courses of some kind, but they don’t have those here.

Enter the recent announcement from Gakken, in email magazine #156 stating that they were publishing a new book, entitled The Manga Guide to Elementary Particle Physics, by Takuya Uruno. Yes, it’s in Japanese, but I figured that if there were lots of pictures, I’d have less kanji to wade through and whatever Japanese there was would be easier to understand. I picked up a copy for 1,155 yen ($12 USD) at the local bookstore, but the character designs of the adults and kids created to hang a story on to the science didn’t look all that good to me. The artist bio on the back page talked about Uruno being an established artist but didn’t list specific past titles. Doing a net search brought up a page on the Symmetry Magazine website, in English, with sample pages from Kasoku Kids, in English. Turns out that the communications director of the KEK accelerator approached Uruno to develop a manga series (Kasoku Kids) to teach particle physics to children, and those pages are what have been collected in the new book from Gakken. The article on the Symmetry Magazine website came out back in August, 2009, and the book covers the KEK website manga from 2008 to 2010, plus a special chapter on the Higgs Boson.

(The first few pages in the book are color photos of KEK. Here, we have an aerial view of the labs in Ibaraki Prefecture. This is followed by an overlay with the KEK accelerator, and several pictures of sections of the accelerator itself.)

I can’t find any additional hits on Kasoku Kids in English, beyond the Symmetry Magazine article, so I’m thinking that maybe only a few of the pages were translated specifically for that article. If you can prove me wrong, please send me a link so I can include it here.

The manga is essentially set up as an adventure series, with 4 school kids – Jin, Mega, Poni and Tama – visiting the KEK labs with two teachers – Takahashi and Fujimoto. Jin in particular is played for laughs, as the over-the-top gung-ho boy that understands nothing that the teachers tell him. Mega (short for Megane, or “eyeglasses”) likes SF, and can at least follow some of the explanations. Tama and Poni are along to flesh the group out. Maybe half of the book is just set-up for each new chapter, with the characters sitting around in a classroom arguing, setting out for the swimming pool, or joking with each other. Even so, that leaves about 100 pages for actual physics.

Here we have a sample page with the group at the pool, being told about gluons. There’s a lot of explanation, and none of the kanji has furigana (Japanese letters used to show how to pronounce the kanji). It’s pretty dense stuff for elementary school students, and may be targeted more toward a junior or senior high level audience. So, yeah, it’s harder for me to get through than I wanted. I’ve got to pretty much go through each sentence word by word to decipher the kanji before tackling the content of the sentences themselves. Meaning that I can’t give a full review of the science-side of the manga right now. Let’s just say that if you can find an English version of Kasoku Kids on the internet, I’d love to know about it.

But, the general pattern of each chapter is: The kids start out in some funny situation and start arguing with each other over a specific point that leads into that chapter’s topic. One of them (usually Jin) says something that triggers Prof. Fujimoto into giving a really dense explanation of the topic using technical terms which is all over the kids’ heads. Then, Prof. Takahashi steps in and rescues them by explaining each point in easier terms, with examples. So far, the only math is for the proof that E=mc^2. Everything else is just theory.

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1 Comment

  1. A second look at Kasoku Kids | threestepsoverjapan

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