80 Famous People – Neil Armstrong


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Neil Armstrong – First man on the moon. What else is there to say? Ignoring the conspiracy theorists, Neil was a Navy pilot during the Korean War, continued as a test pilot, got into NASA and made it into the Apollo program, and was the mission commander for Apollo 11. After leaving NASA, he taught at the University of Cincinnati, served on two NASA accident investigations, and either acted as spokesman for several companies or served on their board of directors. He also did some voice-over work for an animated film commissioned by JPL/NASA. He died on Aug. 7, 2012, during heart bypass surgery.


(Notice the line of characters under the comic about 2/3rds the way down the page. The text reads “We’ll see you again!!”)

The intro manga has Merrino preparing to return home to the Sheep Planet after having completed his stay on Earth. Youichi and Mami recall all of the problems he’s caused them (eating their snacks, scribbling in their school notebooks, filling their backpacks with shed wool) and eagerly anticipate his departure. Since this is the last time for them to watch a lesson projected by Study Bell, all three of them kick back and relax for the film. In the wrap up, the two kids are starting to feel a little lonesome, when Merrino pops up from a trapdoor in the floor, asking their mother what she’s making him for dinner – turns out that Angora has installed a wormhole between the two planets and the sheep prince can come back whenever he wants. The story finishes with the entire cast telling the readers that they hope to meet them again some day.


(Neil talks to the ghost of Ed White.)

The artist for the main manga is Kamui Fujiwara, who had drawn issue 3, on da Vinci. Unfortunately, while he’d employed some interesting visual tricks in #3, #80 is presented as a straight-forward documentary, with really weird choices for the character designs. Most blatantly, Fujiwara draws Armstrong as being at least 20 pounds overweight. His face is consistently fat, and one of the postcard images has the spacesuit looking like a clown suit… But, the backgrounds are good, and there’s lots of pictures of space and the moon. One full page displays the intended route for the Apollo rocket missions, and would make a nice wall poster.


(Textbook page.)

The manga starts out with Neil narrating an incident during the Korean War when he’d been on a flight mission over North Korea and had to limp back to safety with half a wing shot off. Back over friendly territory, he ejected from the plane and floated down by parachute. This is followed by the USSR getting a jump on the U.S. by having the first human in space (Gagarin, vol. #50). The U.S. government goes into panic mode, and Kennedy steps forward to announce that they’ll have a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s. There’s a bit where Ed White tells Armstrong that by being in NASA’s program that they’re about to fulfill mankind’s greatest dream. This is followed by a NASA tech doubting that the Lunar Landing Module is going to work right, when someone else runs up to announce that there’s been an accident over on the launch site – Apollo 1 had exploded and killed the three men aboard (Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White). Armstrong is next seen in front of Ed’s tombstone, wishing that his friend would still be around for what’s going to happen next. At one point, Neil contemplates his options if there is a failure in space; just as in North Korea, if the machine breaks down, it’d be dangerous to bail out. Two and a half years later, Apollo 11 lifts off, and the story follows the rocket to the moon and ends with an image of the footprint in the lunar soil and the Japanese translation of “One small step for man”.


(Postcards.)

The textbook section spends a little more time discussing Neil’s upbringing and his fascination with planes. His father was a state auditor and the family moved around a lot. Neil got good at making friends quickly, but he also liked to read, study and play sports. One book on airplanes triggered his lifelong affair with them. There’s some mention of his time in the Navy, and a list of his accomplishments at NASA. Sidebars talk about the U.S.-Soviet cold war, the Mercury Seven, and the post-moon landing parades in New York and Tokyo. The last two pages cover possible plans for trips to Mars, the concepts for Virgin’s reusable spacecraft and a space elevator, and what would be needed for living on the moon (basically, an underground station). A lot of this issue is taken up with talk about the Cold War.

Conclusion: Well, this is it. Last issue in the Manga Sekai no Ijin (Manga World Famous People) series. The inside back cover has all of the famous people standing around in various poses, and there’s credits for the main editorial staff. I’d say that Asahi Shimbun (Asahi newspaper) isn’t going to produce season 3. In a way, this is understandable. One of the biggest problems with having a weekly series like this is that the bookstores are running out of shelf space for them all. There are serialized collections for build-it robot kits, Japanese castles, famous Japanese historical figures, and TV series (DVDs for Galaxy Express 999, Macross, Gundam, Columbo, Gegege no Kitaro, etc.) It’s gotten to the point where each new issue is set out on the “Just Arrived” shelf for 1 day before being stuck in with all of the other back issues. Lately, there’s only been 2 or 3 copies of the newest Ijin issue on the shelf at the one bookstore I go to, and I’m thinking that the store has cut back on the numbers they buy. So, the most likely thing is that Asahi is planning on making the majority of their money by selling the magazines to elementary schools. But, I may be wrong about that. Regardless, since the Ijin series has finished now, I’m going to have to find something else to write about on this blog.

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80 Famous People – Howard Carter


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

We’re back with the 80 Famous People series, this time it’s Howard Carter, the Brit who discovered Tutankhamun’s (King Tut) burial site in 1922. According to the wiki entry, Carter was born in London in 1874, but was raised in Norfolk, probably because of ill health. His father was an artist, and he encouraged Howard to draw as well. At age 17, Howard was attached to the Egypt Exploration Fund to assist in excavations and to document the various tomb decorations (required because still film photography was an emerging and expensive technology at the time; George Eastman had just created his film process in 1888, replacing the use of glass plates). Carter worked on several sites, and was appointed as the first chief inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service in 1899. An incident involving a group of French tourists and Egyptian site guards resulted in his resigning in 1905. He was reduced to selling paintings on the street for 3 years before a friend introduced him to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert. Herbert had been an explorer and sportsman until he was severely injured in a car accident. He was sent to Egypt to recover his health and he wanted to hire someone to do some excavating for him. Carter agreed and suggested that they look for the rumored tomb of Tutankhamun. They spent 5 years looking in the Valley of Kings before Carnarvon threatened to cut the funding for the work. Carter talked him into extending the support for one more year, and finally located the tomb in 1922 (work was suspended for 3 years due to WW I). All of the royalties from the discoveries went to Herbert. Carter worked on cataloging the thousands of items found until 1932, after which he retired from archeology and became a part-time agent for collectors and museums. He died of lymphoma at age 65 in 1939.


(Finding the cursed box.)

The intro manga has Merrino discovering a strangely decorated metal tin in a park, and Daichi claims that according to one of the school legends, there’s supposed to be a haunted box nearby. Youichi hesitates to open it because he’s afraid of the curse, then he drops the box and the cover pops off to reveal a dessicated frog. In the wrap-up, Youichi’s mother arrives from shopping, and reminds the kids that they’d buried a time capsule a few years ago. Daichi and Utako are relieved to find their toys and hair accessories inside, and Youichi suddenly remembers that he’d stuck his live pet frog, Mopy, in the box. A little later, Merrino finds another box, this one dripping with evil wards and a black cloud.


(Getting permission to work the Valley of Kings, and picking the first test dig site.)

The main manga is by Konatsu Uraji (Machikou!, Momokon Teacher), who had worked on mook #5 on Mozart. The art on this mook is pretty good regarding the backgrounds and treasures. Unfortunately, Carter, who had been in his 40’s during the period portrayed in the story, is drawn as being no more than 20 here. Most of the characters look nothing like their photos.

The story starts with Carter, age 17, working for Flinders Petrie and excitedly finding a buried box that turns out to be one of the local people’s lunch. Petrie tells the boy about Tutankhamun, and reassures him that archeology is all about not giving up. We jump to 1907, when Carter is reduced to selling drawings on the street. An unnamed friend comes up and gives him the name of someone that’s looking for an archeologist. Carter jumps at the paper and ends up interviewing with the Earl of Carnarvon. They agree to look for King Tut’s tomb, but that’s believed to be located in the Valley of Kings, and at the moment, the American Theodore Davis has the contract with the Egyptian government to excavate there. Carter and Carnarvon explore elsewhere, biding their time.

Finally, after working the site for 7 years, Davis gives up and returns his contract to Egypt. The government official in charge tries to talk Carter out of looking for Tut’s tomb, citing all the previous failures, but Carter is insistent. With the new contract, Carter first tries one specific location that only yields the remains of some small building walls. They go to Davis’ site, and after 5 years, Carnarvon’s health fails and he decides to pull his funding because of the huge expenses amassed so far. Carter demands one more chance and forfeits his rights to anything they find in the future. Carnarvon agrees, and his daughter, Evelyn, pleads with Howard to find the tomb for her ailing father’s sake. That night, Carter begs Tut to give him a sign. He remembers Petrie’s words about returning to where you started and to resume digging. The next day he goes back to where he uncovered the ruined walls. Soon, he finds a sealed entrance with stairs to an underground passage. Carter wires London to have Carnarvon join him in Egypt. With the Earl and Evelyn standing with him, Carter makes a small exploratory hole in the wall at the end of the passage. Looking in the hole by candle light, he makes his famous quote when the Earl asks him what he sees, saying “Wondrous things”. The story ends with Carter finally opening Tut’s tomb and greeting the long-forgotten king.


(Textbook section.)

The textbook section focuses heavily on Carter’s time in Egypt and his work with the Egyptian Antiquities Service. There are sidebars on Petrie, Carnarvon, and the speculated reason why Tut’s name had been removed from the List of Kings. There’s a mention of the shock Carter got when Davis prematurely announced that he’d found Tut’s tomb. One article claims that the current English spelling for Tut’s name came from the romaji spelling when it was rendered into Japanese and then back to English. Another section claims that while Carter apparently was attracted to Evelyn, their differences in family positions prevented him from marrying her. The last two pages include a floor map of the tomb with descriptions of some of the items found, plus partial instructions for how to turn corpses into mummies.


(The postcards.)

Comments: Overall, this is a very informative volume, and the artwork isn’t all that distracting. The main manga is as shlocky as most of the other mooks in the series, but that’s to be expected because it’s aimed at children. The textbook section is more complete, and better than the English wiki article. Recommended.

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The 80 Famous People series seems to be winding down, and so far there’s been no announcement I’ve seen about extending it again. The remaining featured names are Robert Capa (Hungarian combat photographer), Confucius, Oscar Shindler (Shindler’s List fame), John D. Rockefeller, Hideo Noguchi (Japanese bacteriologist), Clara Schumann (Pianist) and Neil Armstrong. I intend to get the mooks for Noguchi and Armstrong, and I’m tempted to also pick up Capa and Confucius.  We’ll see.

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On the Gakken Otono no Kagaku, front, Gakken has officially announced the release date for the next adult science kit (the updated pinhole planetarium) as July 25th. Interestingly, though, it seems that they’ve taken down their Facebook page and their developer’s blog. This really limits the amount of information coming out of the company to primarily just the newsletters (which usually get released a few days before the numbered kits come out). I’m particularly annoyed by this because I was planning to post a link to my video of the Japanino + Flip Clock to their FB page after I finished it. Sigh.

80 Famous People – Heinrich Schliemann


The discovery of the City of Troy was never taught when I was in school. There was a special on the History Channel some years ago, but I didn’t watch much of it. If you’re not familiar with the story – Troy was an ancient city located in what is now modern Turkey. Little was really known about the city itself, and for a long time it was considered part of Greek mythology. Homer wrote both the Iliad and the Odyssey around the Trojan War, in which Paris of Troy steals Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, and takes her back to Troy. Troy falls when the Greek soldiers hide inside the Trojan horse and are brought inside the city walls during a night of drunken celebration. In the 1800’s, a couple archeologists came to the conclusion that Troy actually did exist historically and set out to find it. According to the wiki entry, the German Heinrich Schliemann took up excavation at a location now known as Troy II following meetings with the Brit Frank Calvert. In the entry, Calvert is credited with giving Schliemann the encouragement necessary to search for Troy on his own.

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

Heinrich Schliemann was born in 1822, in Neubukow, Germany. At age 9, his mother died and he was sent by his Protestant minister father to live with an uncle. At age 11 he started attending the gymnasium in Neustrelitz, but his father was accused of embezzling church funds and the family fell into poverty. At age 14, Heinrich began working at a grocery to raise money for the family, but his health turned bad and he burst a blood vessel at age 19. He lost his job and took a position on a steamer instead. The steamer was bound for Venezuela, but went down in a gale. Schliemann and the other survivors washed up in the Netherlands and he took a job as a messenger office attendant in Amsterdam. At age 22, he joined an import/export company, which sent him to St. Petersburg, Russia. He took the opportunity to learn Russian and Greek. His brother, Ludwig, had become a gold speculator in California. When Ludwig died, Heinrich traveled to California and started up a bank in Sacramento. He made a fortune buying and reselling gold dust, but there were complaints of short-weight consignments, so he sold his business and returned to Russia. He married Ekaterina in 1852 and they had 3 children. He cornered the market on indigo dye, then made more money as a military contractor for Russia in the Crimean War. He retired in 1858 and spent a month studying the Greek language and history at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1866. He asked Ekaterina to join him in France but she refused to move so he divorced her, then formally decided to search for the city of Troy. In 1866, he visited several Greek locations and published a paper asserting his belief that Troy was at Hissarlik in Anatolia (modern Turkey). His divorce was finalized in 1869, and he advertised for a new wife through the newspaper. He met 17-year-old Sophia Engastromenos and they married in 1869 and later had 2 children. His major find in the Troy dig was called “Priam’s Treasure”, but after writing about it publicly, the Turkish government revoked his permission to dig and sued him for a share of the gold. It was smuggled out of the country and is currently in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. He died in 1890 from complications from a chronic ear infection. Although most of his claims or discoveries have been either discounted or questioned, he’s still identified as the man that discovered Troy.

The intro manga has Youichi and gang following up a school rumor of a big stone hidden behind a Shinto shrine building near the school. Mami says that she’s heard a related story – about ghosts that haunt the area around the shrine. Now frightened, Youichi notices a button in the middle of the stone and pushes it. Everyone jumps back when the stone splits open – revealing Study Bell. The manga wraps up with Merrino’s butler, Angora, stepping out of the room behind Study Bell. The butler tells the kids that he had to return to Sheep Planet, and discovered a worm hole that connects his parent’s room on the Sheep Planet to Earth via the Shinto shrine rock. He introduces his parents to the kids, but they’re disappointed that their original discovery turned out to be a failure. The next day, Mami jolts upright in class, realizing that the existence of a worm hole is also pretty cool.

 

The main manga is by Setsuko Yoneyama (Absorb; Ability, Majyo Rin, Record of the Lodoss War: Deedlit’s Tale) this time. The images of the older Heinrich do come relatively close to existing photos, but that for him as a child, and all of those for Sophia, are pure cartoon. Setsuko does a pretty good job on the background art, though. The story is laid out a bit differently this time, in that Heinrich narrates the entire thing in first-person.

It starts out with Schliemann introducing himself and immediately going into a flashback. At age 8, he received a history book as a present from his father. Looking at the pictures, he notices that at least one of them matches up with another history book he read, and he announces that Troy is real and that he’ll find it. He’s passed on to an uncle who reads a dissertation paper he wrote, and decides to allow him to attend school. But, his father gets accused of embezzlement, the family goes broke, and he has to quit school. To raise money for the family, he starts working at age 14, but pushes himself too hard and starts coughing up blood. Unable to work, he’s fired. He finds a job on a ship heading to South America, but it sinks in a gale and he washes up in the Netherlands. There, he gets a job in a trading company. But it isn’t until about age 22 when he’s sent to St. Petersburg that he finally has time to study languages at night for his own purposes. He jumps over huge blocks of his life until deciding he has enough money to pursue his dream of finding Troy. He goes to Paris, studies at the Sorbonne, then goes to Anatolia with some history and mythology books. Based on the descriptions in Homer’s works, he settles on Hissarlik as the most obvious place for the Troy ruins. He hires some men, is joined on the dig by his new wife Sophia, has some difficulties with the Turkish government, but within a fairly short time uncovers a drinking cup that leads to the rest of the Priam Treasure lode. The story ends with Heinrich telling Sophia to wear the Priam gold headdress and jewelry, and the narration talks about his finally being able to achieve the dream that he held so close to his heart ever since childhood.

The textbook section goes into more detail regarding Schliemann’s upbringing, marriage to and divorce from Ekaterina, and his travels to India, China, Japan and the U.S. Sidebars describe his methods for learning new languages within a few months, information on Sophia, a mention of Arthur Evans’ discovery of Knossos, and the fact that Schliemann actually dug too far (to Troy 2) and overshot the section of Troy that dates to the Trojan War (Troy 7). The last 2 pages describe other famous historical ruins that maintain some level of mystery – Machu Picchu, Pompeii, Mohenjo-daro, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (which is surrounded by the Terracotta Army, Easter Island and Great Zimbabwe. Naturally, we also get the 2 postcards.

I know virtually nothing about the discovery of Troy, so I have to take both sources at face value. The Famous People mook treats Heinrich as a romantic dreamer that overcomes great odds to finally achieve on his own a dream that he’s had from childhood, and it includes the incident where a drunk sailor singing about Troy reminds him of that dream. The wiki entry pretty much rips that story apart, saying that the drunk sailor was probably something Heinrich fabricated, and that he’d gotten much of his start in finding Troy from Calvert (who’s not mentioned in the mook at all). The main manga ignores Ekaterina, and Schliemann’s semi-criminal activities in Sacramento and Turkey, although the textbook section does mention some of this in passing. As always, the primary attractions for me in the Famous People series are the photos and historical drawings in the textbook section, and this mook is no exception. I’d never heard of Mohenjo-daro or Great Zimbabe before, so reading about them now is pretty interesting. But, if you want a factual write-up on Schliemann, you’re better off finding a verified account from the library.

80 Famous People – Roald Amundsen


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Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer who came from a family of shipowners and captains. According the wiki entry his mother wanted him to become a doctor, but once she died, he changed professions at age 21. He was the first person to prove the existence of the northwest passage in Canada, and he led expeditions to both poles. While taking part in a rescue mission in 1928, the aircraft he was on crashed and his body was never found.

The intro manga has Merrino, Daichi, Youchi and Ken out grass sledding on a hill. Daichi decides to turn the day into an adventure by challenging everyone to race to a tree on another hill some distance away. His claim is that no one from their school has ever been there before, so they’d be the first. This fires the group up and they form teams of two, with Youichi and Daichi riding one sled, and Ken pulling Merrino on the other. The manga ends with both teams trudging up the hill, exhausted, side by side, when Mami and Utako pop out from behind the tree. The two girls had taken a taxi over, and walked up the stairs on the backside of the hill. Merrino saves the day by announcing that in this race, taxis are cheating, so all 4 boys win.

The main manga is by Tasuku Karasuma (Doll’s FolkloreRaideen and Shangri-la). He doesn’t really bother trying to get Roald’s features right based on existing photos. In fact, Roald often resembles a fellow Norwegian, Fridtjof Nansen more. He does a decent job on clothing, dogs and backgrounds, though.

The manga starts out with a young Roald reading the adventures of Sir John Franklin, and deciding that he’ll prepare for a life of hardship on the ice by opening his bedroom windows in the dead of winter and sleeping under his blankets. His mother opens the door the next morning to find the room filled with snow. He grows up listening to stories from sailors on the docks. One time, he and a friend try to ski through a mountain pass to get to the other side and are surprised by a freak snowstorm which almost kills the friend. Eventually he gets a job on a seal boat (clubbing seals on the ice), then buys his own boat for following the Franklin expedition to discover the northwest passage through Canada. Franklin’s mistake was to use a big boat, while Roald’s is smaller and sits higher in the water, which is imperative in some of the shallows along the way.

After the adventure is done, he’s talking to a friend back in Norway. The friend says that Roald can rest on his laurels now, when Roald suddenly races out of the room, compelled to keep traveling, this time to the North Pole. But, he’s in for a rude shock – the newspapers announce that Robert Peary has gotten there first. So, some time later, when he takes his boat and crew out on the water, the men demand to know what the point of going to the North Pole now is, and he tells them that he’s changed his plans. They’re going to the South Pole instead, and everyone cheers him. However, once they get to Antarctica, one of the men complains about Roald’s decision to sit at base camp for several months. He replies that he wants to make sure everyone is prepared before heading out so no one dies along the way. Finally, they set out, and arrive at the pristine ice field that surrounds the pole a full month before his chief rival, Robert Scott. The manga ends with a brief mention of Roald’s death in the airplane crash while trying to rescue another explorer.

The textbook section focuses heavily on Roald’s upbringing. There is a mention of his mother wanting him to study to become a doctor, but nothing about his family being in the shipping trade. Sidebars describe the impact that Franklin and Nansen had on him. There’s also sections on his exploration of the Northwest Passage, his trips to both poles, and the final airplane trip that took his life. There are a few photos from the south pole expedition, a mention of Peary, a side bar showing the differences between the Arctic and Antarctica, and a photo showing the U.S. Antarctica research building. The last two pages talk about Scott’s failed expedition and how his preparations differed from Amundsen’s (using horses instead of dogs, having too many men and not enough supplies, and using cotton clothing rather than animal furs). Plus there’s the 2 postcards.

The manga simplifies a lot of the story, which makes it less useful as a textbook biography. There’s no mention at all of how Roald’s time spent trapped on the ice during the Northwest Passage expedition, when he lived with the Inuit, helped prep him for the South Pole trip. But, that’s explained somewhat in the textbook section. And of course, there’s the issue of the manga design not looking like Amundsen. But, if you want to inspire children to be more adventurous, this mook is a decent start.

 

50 Famous People – Yuri Gagarin


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Yuri Gagarin is the focus of issue 48 of the 50 Famous People series. He was a Russian air force pilot that entered their space program and became the first human in space. He was killed at age 34 during a training flight when his plane crashed. According to the wiki entry, the details of the crash were never fully explained and theories consist of ground crew incompetence and faulty machine design. When I was growing up in the U.S., there was very little information available on Yuri, so I decided that this was a good opportunity to fill in some gaps in space exploration history.

The intro manga starts with Yuichi getting excited over a space flight program on TV. Mohea talks about what it’s like to travel between the stars and Yuichi begs to ride in her ship. Merrino nixes the idea because their ships are for royal family use only. Instead, he mocks up a ship out of an orange crate and a large PET bottle. The ship launches properly and Yuichi gets to view Earth just as Yuri Gagarin had. The story wraps up with Merrino realizing that he forgot to build in a re-entry system and Yuichi has to crash land in Alaska, where he’s rescued by Merrino’s ninja-butler, Angora.

The main manga is by Tomoyodo Kujou (pen name for Fusanosuke Inariya, artist on Me and Kitten and Everyday Kitten). The artwork’s pretty good, but as with most of the other volumes in the 50 Famous People series, the characters don’t really look like their photos. This time, Gagarin looks like a very generic manga character.

The manga starts out with Yuri marching to his Vostock rocket with military honor guard, then flashing back to when he was a small boy growing up on the Russian Steppes in a small farming village. He likes going up on the roof of the house and staring out to the distance, wondering what’s at the other end of the horizon. He starts school, and the military teacher shows him a wood and paper glider that helps inspire him to become a pilot. He enters the military and gets into the air force, where he does all the necessary studies and passes the various exams. One day, Moscow radio announces the launch of Sputnik I, which is soon followed by Sputnik II and it’s live passenger – Laika the dog. Yuri speculates that it’s only natural that humans will be next and he applies for a slot in the newly formed space program. The numbers are whittled down from 1,500 applicants to 150, then to 20. He’s selected by program director Sergei Korolev.

At this time, Yuri is big on reading the works of French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery, specifically the novel Night Flight. Along the way, he gets married, then finally is chosen to be the first cosmonaut in space. He returns to the “present”, and the rocket lifts off. The story ends with him marvelling at the blue marble hanging in inky black space.

The textbook section covers more of Yuri’s childhood in the countryside, the war interrupting his ability to go to school, and his meeting a Russian pilot that had to make an emergency landing near his house (an event that supposedly had a big influence on his wanting to fly planes himself). Sidebars discuss the “space fever” that had consumed Japan at the time of Yuri’s launch, mention of Laika, and discussions of other methods of flight imagined by earlier fiction writers. The last two pages talk about the requirements for getting into Japan’s JAXA space program, and includes photos of some of the training undergone by American and Russian astronauts.

The TCG cards are: Krushchev, Mao Zedong, Francisco Franco, Zhou Enlai. Babe Ruth, Mei Lanfang, Sukarno, Alfred Hitchcock and Hemmingway.

As with most of the issues in this series, the main manga is intended to just give an impression of the person and possibly the influences leading to whatever it is that made him or her famous. There’s usually little real science or description of the mechanics behind any discoveries made, and that’s the case here. However, the textbook section does have some nice photos of Yuri, Laika and some of the gear used by astronauts, which is a plus. Recommended if you want to learn a little more about Gagarin.

50 Famous People – Naomi Uemura


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Naomi Uemura is not a household name in the west, but he is still very famous in Japan as its first, and most successful world adventurer. He set world records as the first person to climb all 5 of the tallest peaks (conquests include McKinley, Mount Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Mount Everest) on five continents solo, the first to ride the full length of the Amazon River solo, and the first to reach the North Pole by dogsled solo. He initially planned to reach the South Pole by dogsled in 1982 with help from Argentina, but the outbreak of the Falklands War caused him to postpone that, and instead he tried climbing McKinley again during the winter for training. He was last seen around Feb. 14, 1984 during his descent from the peak. High winds and bad weather prevented an aerial rescue and he failed to reach his base camp. He’d just turned 43 (his birthday was Feb. 12.) Among his innovations, were a sail for the dogsled, and a bamboo pole rig for catching himself if he fell in a crevice.

The intro manga has all of the kids out climbing a wooded hill and they get lost. Merrino accuses Utako of leaving the trail to chase a butterfly; Utako says it’s because Daichi wanted to go to a weird cliff; Daichi blames Youichi for trying to find water, which in turn was because Mami needed a drink due to Merrino’s only bringing spicy snacks along to eat. Ken tells them to all shut up. Because of his interstellar travels, he’d gotten good at preparing for trips – he brought 3 days of snacks, bandages and solar reflective ponchos. However, his slip of the tongue almost gives him away as an alien and he shouts for Study Bell to start the next lesson. In the wrap-up, it’s getting dark and the kids are getting scared. Ken hears a wolf calling, giving him directions to the nearest highway. In the bushes, the Wolf Trio have been spying on our heroes, and the female leader was the one to help them out. Her minion asks why she didn’t take the opportunity to announce her love to him, and she gets all flustered.

The main manga (by Hiroshi Kashiwaba, who has almost no credits in the Japanese wiki) is mostly faithful to Naomi’s own accounts of his adventures, and the artwork is not that overly westernized. Naomi’s nose has again been made too thin, compared to his photos, but it’s not that distracting. The story picks up with Naomi dog sledding along the Arctic ice cap, and having to untangle some knotted harness ropes. The dogs pull free and his entire team runs off, leaving Naomi to figure out how to cover 60 km on foot. Half the team returns and he makes town safely. He considers giving up this adventuring thing, but uses the experience to strengthen his resolve. He then flashes back to when he was age 19 and participating in his university’s mountain climbing club. He grew up in the mountains, but was physically unfit. A fellow club member showed him a photo of McKinley, and Naomi was smitten by the idea of seeing glaciers. He built his body up, graduated from university, and went to the U.S., where he made money picking grapes in California.

Naomi continued on to France to try climbing Mount Blanc, but a fall through a crevice showed him how dangerous the ice could be. So, he lied about being a skier to get a job at a ski resort. Because he was such a hard worker, when the resort learned about his fib, they decided to not fire him. He then went on to summit Gojyuba Kan (ゴジュンバ・カン登頂: seems to be a smaller mountain in the Himalayas; I can’t find an entry for it) Mount Blanc, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua. While in Peru, Naomi decided that he wasn’t going to just focus on mountains, and next tackles the 6,000 km-long Amazon on a raft on his own, finishing in 2 months.  In 1970, he followed a Japanese team up Everest, separating from them to reach the peak by himself. The sight from the top of the world spurs him on to go for the south pole. He goes to Greenland and lives in an Eskimo village for several months to learn how to control a dog sled, which brings the story up to the fiasco on the Arctic ice cap. But, he makes it back safely, and gains skills in hunting with a rifle and skinning seals for food. The Falklands War prevents him from setting off from Argentina for the Antarctic in 1982, so he goes to McKinley in early 1984 for training and disappears.

The textbook section is completely focused on Uemura this time, with photos of him, his university friends, shots of him on various peaks, and one with one of the Eskimo kids he befriended. There’s a map of his various treks, pictures of him picking grapes in California and working a ski lift in France, and some of the gear he used (including his sextant and the rifle and hunting blind used to kill the polar bear that terrorized him). The text talks about his upbringing in Hyougo prefecture, the different jobs he took to raise money, his primary adventures, and the polar bear incident. One night, he awoke to find the bear in his tent. It ate all of his foot and snuffled his sleeping bag before leaving. He staked out the tent the next day, and shot it when it returned for more food.

The TCG cards this time are: Hans Christian Andersen, Disraeli, George Sand, Napoleon III, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Ferdinand de Lesseps, William Gladstone, Darwin and Lincoln.

Overall, this volume is one of the more personal, weaving Uemura’s adventures in with his own triumphs in a such a way that we can learn more about what he was good at, rather than just get a handful of vignettes to sit through. This is in contrast with, say, the Honda volume where we learn nothing about bike engine design, which was the one thing Honda himself was really good at. With Uemura, we can at least see a little about what it takes to control a dogsled. Recommended.

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…