80 Famous People – Isaac Newton

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

Isaac Newton was born small, reportedly able to fit in a quart mug at age three. His father died before he was born and his mother remarried when he was three, passing Isaac on to his grandmother to care for him. He was an introvert and was bullied at school. Although there is an indication that he was engaged at one point, the wiki entry provides no details as to who his partner was. The only things he enjoyed as a child were studying and doing woodworking.

Oh yeah, and he did some science stuff, or something.

The intro story has Youchi quarreling with Mami. Mohea asks why, and Merrino explains that Mami had been making a bead necklace for him when Youichi ran into the room and accidentally destroyed it. He refuses to apologize, so the fighting escalates. Mohea suggests using a Sheep Planet device, which Merrino interprets to be the planet-destroying bomb. Mohea corrects her little brother, pulling out the anti-gravity machine and turning it on. Everything starts to float, and gravitate to whatever is closest to it, so that Mami and Youichi are stuck against each other. Angrily, Youchi grabs the machine and tries to find the off button, but manages to break the thing and everything in the room starts getting pulled into a small ball. In the wrap-up, the butler, Angora, throws the emergency off switch, and Mami falls to the floor from a great height. Youichi reacts by throwing a pillow under her to break the impact. They apologize to each other, and Merrino asks them to get off him – he’d been attached to the pillow when Youichi threw it.

This time, the main artist is Nodoka Kiyose (Final Fantasy VII dj – Future, Final Fantasy XI: Lands End, Koukaku no Regios: Missing Mail). The main manga is pure shlock. It’s historical fiction told as a school-girl romance. The lead character is a girl named Ann Story, age 10 (loosely based on Isaac’s niece Catherine Barton?) Ann’s mother tells her that the son of her friend wants to study at the school in Grantham, and will be staying in their house during that time. Ann fantasizes about falling in love with a big stud, and is disappointed in seeing the dark, brooding 12-year-old wimp that arrives at the door. However, Newton perks up when alone in his room, plotting out the path of the sunlight on the wall to make a big sun dial. Ann finds herself attracted to this side of the inquisitive boy, and he responds by building jewelry boxes and a self-powered wooden car for her. When the local gang of bullies picks on him and destroys his inventions, Ann vows to protect him for life and they promise to get married when the time is right. Unfortunately, he withdraws again and Ann is afraid of losing him. She tries to confront the bullies, unsuccessfully, but Isaac sees this and develops a backbone – beating up all three boys at once. Eventually, though, Ann realizes that there’s no room for her in Newton’s rarefied world of pure thought, as he watches an apple fall from a tree, leading to the theory of gravitation, and when he uses a prism in college to determine that sun light is made up of individual beams of 7 colors. Finally, she decides to get married to someone else, but she’s so thrilled at reading about his discoveries that she promises to keep writing Isaac lots of letters.

The textbook section spends some time describing Newton’s upbringing and education, emphasizing his small stature and introverted nature. There’s no mention of “Ann Story”, but the book does say that he was living in the home of a pharmacist in Grantham from age 12, and that he spent a lot of time learning how to measure out the different medicines as a part-time job. There are various paintings of Newton and his inventions (primarily his telescope and a wooden bridge made entirely without nails or bolts), discussions of his Principia Mathematica and his work on optics, a sidebar on Edmond Halley and his comet, and mentions of some of the people Newton had feuds with. The last 2 pages provide overviews of four of the forces Newton tried to tackle – the Coriolis effect, buoyancy, centrifugal force, and tidal forces caused by the moon’s pull on the earth’s bodies of water. Plus, there’s the two postcards.

From a historical viewpoint, the creation of “Ann Story” to introduce an observer to be present at several of Newton’s discoveries is pure fabrication. Newton was apparently engaged when he was younger, but the few references I looked at don’t mention a name. He never married, but was reported by Voltaire to have had a favorite niece – Catherine Barton – who supposedly was the source of the “apple falling from the tree story”. The artwork in this mook is squarely in the shojo (flowery girl’s comics) manga camp and doesn’t come close to resembling Newton or anyone else. If you want a romantic historical fiction romp, this mook is fine. But if you want to learn more about Newton the man and/or his discoveries, keep looking. I do like the textbook part, but the science descriptions are very superficial. Not really recommended.


50 Famous People – Alfred Nobel

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

Ok, this one’s going to be easy. Alfred Nobel grew up in a family of inventors and explosives manufacturers. Initially, his father, Immanuel, was in construction, but he liked tinkering with things. Unfortunately, he had bad luck with money and the family was poor for the first 4 years of Alfred’s life. Immanuel went to Russia looking for work. 5 years later, he’d established himself as a black gunpowder manufacturer making water mines (early torpedoes) for the Russian government. The rest of the family joined him in Saint Petersburg. During the Crimean War, the factory swelled to about 1000 employees. However, Russia lost the war, couldn’t make its payments on the services provided, and Immanuel went bankrupt again. Immanuel, his wife and his youngest son, Emil, returned to Sweden, while Alfred and his two older brothers (Ludvig and Robert) stayed in St. Petersburg. Alfred found a way to make nitroglycerin semi-safe and the three of them started up a new factory. In 1864, Emil was killed in an accident at the Stockholm factory and Alfred was spurred on to discover a way to make nitro truly safe to handle. In 1867, he developed dynamite (from the Greek word for “power”). This was followed by gelignite and smokeless black powder. Along with the social benefits of dynamite (being able to quickly make tunnels and canalways), Alfred earned the nickname “merchant of death” due to sales of the product as a weapon on the battlefield. To counter this image, he wrote his will such that his money would be handed out as awards for the peaceful advancement of science; AKA – the Nobel Prizes.

The intro manga has Merrino wanting to create the first “Merrino Fun Awards” to whoever makes people laugh. Yuichi and Daichi get into a tussle insulting each other, and Merrino joins in. To add to the fun, Mohea grabs some fireworks, which turn out to be “Sheep Planet explosives”. She blows up the house. The story wraps up with Mohea explaining that unlike Earth bombs, Sheep planet dynamite is not dangerous. Merrino tries to think of a way to win his own prize and establish his place in history, but Mohea blurts out that the Fun Award should be for future peace, and the rest of the group installs her as the new Sheep ruler.

The main manga is by Akiko Tomita (Kime-Oh, Re:Life and Shiroinu/Kuroneko) this time. The backgrounds and factory drawings are good, but the character designs look like something out of Full Metal Alchemist. There’s no real resemblance to Alfred from his photos. Anyway… The story starts out with Alfred at age 4, sick in bed. He was a weak child and it didn’t help that the family was poor. His two older brothers sell matches on the streets to make ends meet.  Their father leaves for Russia and 5 years later writes a letter telling the family to join him in St. Petersburg. Along with helping in the factory making water mines for the Russian government, the boys study at night. 9 years later, the Crimea War breaks out and orders for black powder go through the roof. One day, a stranger arrives with a vial of liquid that he tries to get the factory to reverse engineer. It doesn’t burn much, but explodes when given a sharp impact. The family loves this new nitroglycerin but is too busy to do anything with it. Then the war ends, Russia loses and the factory goes bankrupt. Immanuel, his wife and Emil return to Sweden, while the other three brothers try their separate hands at their own fates. Alfred develops a way to package nitro in a jar with a black powder detonator, and he opens a factory for the new explosive. Emil also performs research in Stockholm, but some nitro stored in a shed suddenly goes off, killing him and several others. Alfred curses his work with nitro, but the ghost of Emil urges him to find a way to make the stuff safer to handle. The Swedish government bans explosives factories from being in residential areas following this incident, so Alfred sets up his research lab on a boat in the harbor. After trying various fillers, he settles on diatomaceous earth, and creates a new kind of blasting cap. He names the new product “dynamite” and eventually has factories in 10 different countries producing it. He continues researching explosives, and creates gelignite in 1875 and smokeless powder in 1887.  Along with canals and tunnels, mankind also develops bigger war machines and battleships that also use his products. In 1888, Ludvig dies at 57, and a newspaper blowing through the cemetery includes the headline “The Merchant of Death has Died”. Alfred says that if anyone is a merchant of death, it’s him, so he works with some friends to lay the ground work for the Nobel Prize to try to promote the peaceful advancement of science and the arts. He passed away peacefully in his home in Italy in 1896, and the first Nobel Prize was announced 5 years later in 1901.

The textbook section goes into some detail of Immanuel’s bad luck in investments and the family’s early state of poverty. As a child, Alfred wanted to be a writer, but was pushed into studying chemistry by his father. Growing up studying with his brothers, Alfred became fluent in 5 languages, and as a young man traveled to Europe and the U.S. to meet with and interview various elite chemists. The rest of this section is the same as described above. However, there is a mention of his attempts to get married, which all failed for various reasons. One sidebar hints that he decided to include a Peace Prize after his time spent with Bertha von Suttner. AKA – Sophie, Suttner worked briefly for Nobel as a private secretary and maid, before marrying Arthur von Suttner, an engineer and novelist. Alfred and Bertha remained in contact, and she established herself as a pacifist, writer and editor. She was the first woman to win the Peace Prize, in 1905.  The last 2 pages describe the Nobel Prize process.

The TCG cards are: Helen Keller, Trotsky, Albert Einstein, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Lu Xun, Anna Pavlova, Coco Chanel, Benito Mussolini and Franklin Roosevelt.

This isn’t one of the stronger entries in the 50 Famous People series, but interestingly there is some info on how to make black powder. Recommended if you want to learn a little more about Alfred Nobel.

50 Famous People – Eiji Tsuburaya

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

Finally, a volume of the 50 Famous People that I really enjoyed reading. Eiji Tsuburaya was the special effects expert (later, SFX director) at Toho Studios, responsible for creating Godzilla and Ultraman for films and TV. According to the wiki film credits, he also handled SFX for Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. Born in 1901 in Fukushima (the prefecture with the nuclear reactor that melted down following the big quake in 2011), Eiji’s mother died when he was 3 and his father abandoned the family soon after (the mook doesn’t give further details; the wiki entry claims he went to China to take over the family business). He was raised by his uncle and his grandmother. At age 9, he became enamored with airplanes (the Wright Brothers had completed their first flight only 4 years earlier) and started making his own models out of wood with only photos to guide him. He was good enough at it to attract local news reporters. At 14, he graduated school and went to Tokyo on his own to learn to become a pilot. However, the school he enrolled in only had one plane and one instructor, and in less than one year the instructor died in a crash and the school closed. Instead, Eiji moved to Kanda (near Akihabara) to enter an electronics school there. To raise money for tuition, he started working part time at a toy company, and his design for a kick scooter turned out to be fairly popular. Then, during a company hanami (Spring cherry blossom viewing) drinking party, the toy company set up near the party site for a film company and the two groups almost got into a fight. Eiji intervened, and the second group offered him a job. He trained as a cameraman, and earned a living that way from age 18 to 32. In 1933, he saw King Kong, and vowed to become a movie special effects master. This led to his working on Hawai Mare oki Kaisen, a war movie featuring aerial battles Eiji staged using miniatures. This was followed in 1954 by Godzilla, and Ultraman Q (the predecessor to the Ultraman franchise, which he has sole credit for creating). He died in 1970 at age 68 of heart failure. As well as having won numerous awards for his special effects, he’s named as an influence on Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, as well as having invented the “Toho Versatile System” optical printer for widescreen pictures.

The intro manga has Mohea being chased by two monsters and saved by Merrino, Mami and Utako. Turns out she’s just acting in Youichi’s and Daichi’s reenactment of an Ultra Seven movie scene, and is scarily realistic in pretending to be frightened. When told of the movie’s background, Mohea summons her spaceship to fly out to planet M-78 to thank Ultraman in person, as Youichi and Daichi shout out that this is just fiction. Merrino is so frustrated at being ignored (wanting to be a hero himself) that he orders Study Bell to start the lesson. In the end, Merrino, Youichi and Daichi prepare to face off in a rubber suit battle, but Mohea intervenes and tells them to play nice together – doing cat’s cradles with yarn (not an easy task if you have crab’s claws for hands).

The main manga is by Daisuke Higuchi, a female artist known for Go Ahead and Dokushi (which is still on-going in Comic Birz magazine). The artwork is very good, and Eiji almost looks like his photos (he’s not too westernized). The story is a bit preachy and shojo-ish, but not overwhelmingly so. It starts out in 1954, with Eiji, age 53, on the set with a miniature version of Tokyo, blocking out the shot for a scene for his new Godzilla movie. He’s describing how he wants the power towers to look, and gets into an argument with a young effects technician that claims that none of these things are possible. (I’m not sure if the tech is made up for the story, but a sidebar states that Eiji had nicknamed him “Denchi”, using the kanji for “electricity”). “Den” storms off, and Eiji is called over to the camera because the closeup of the Godzilla hand puppet isn’t convincing enough. Eiji asks for a pane of glass, draws some lines on it, puts it in front of the camera and voila – instant perspective with the puppet behind some power wires. Den meets up with another tech working on an outdoor set in a different sound stage, where the group is ridiculed by workers from Toho’s samurai drama division (at the time, Toho specialized in period dramas, and the special effects division was looked down on as “boys playing with toys”). Den is insulted and his partner tells him he sounds just like Eiji. The two go to the screening room, where Den gets to see “Hawai Mare” for the first time, with the realistic-looking aerial battles. The friend explains that scenes with one plane were shot with an operator holding a model suspended by piano wire from a bamboo pole. In squadron shots, the planes were suspended by fixed wires and the background set moved behind them, pushed along tracks by two technicians. Excited, Den returns to work on his power tower. Eiji had a practice of buying coffee for anyone he had a fight with, and the two of them sit down to discuss how to pull off the sequence where the tower melts from Godzilla’s breath attack.  When the final film is screened, the two guys that had scoffed earlier are scared out of their pants, which is the reaction Eiji had been striving for. The narrator comments that Eiji paved the way for the generations of SFX masters that came after him.

The textbook section details Eiji’s upbringing and career path given above. The last two pages are a listing of his most famous scenes (the power tower melting in Godzilla, the cocoon opening sequence on Tokyo Tower in Mothra, the volcano scene in Rodan, among others) plus brief descriptions of the monsters he made for his Ultraman franchise. Explanations of some of the effects tricks include shooting flying planes with the set upside down so the wires holding the planes from the bottom won’t be seen, shooting volcanoes upside down so the “billowing” smoke will hit the floor and spread out, and spreading gelatin along the pool floor to simulate the sea’s surface for ocean battles.

TCG cards include: I. H. N. Evans, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Alexander Graham Bell, Rama V, Van Gogh, Antoni Gaudi, Kang Youwei, Woodrow Wilson and Robert Edwin Peary.

Tsuburaya was a very talented man, with a non-linear job history. He deserves wider exposure to western audiences. This mook is highly recommended.

50 Famous People – Momofuku Ando

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that Asahi Shimbun Publishing would shake up their 50 Famous People list a little. After all, they printed all fifty names in volume 1, and we’re now up to #41, 10 months later – there’s got to be some re-think along the way. Actually, the Martin Luther King, Jr. issue, which was supposed to be #41, came out as #21, which was supposed to be the Charlie Chaplin issue. Momofuku Ando moved from #46 to #41, and the new #46 is now slated to be Alfred Nobel. There’s no explanation for the changes, but I’m guessing that there were copyright issues for the photos Asahi wanted to use (or permission to profit off of Chaplin’s likeness.)

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

Momofuku Ando is the inventor of cup noodles, and founder of the Nisshin Foods conglomerate. The wiki entry is completely at odds with the biography details presented in the mook manga. The manga makes no mention of the deaths of his parents, or his belonging to a family-run textiles firm in Taiwan. According to the wiki, Ando moved to Osaka, gave loans to the students there, and was caught up in tax evasion charges, serving a 2-year sentence as a result. The article also states that he was making money selling salt at the time he began working on noodle production (supposedly in reaction to the Japanese government’s decision to focus on bread sales during the years immediately following WW II). Granted, the mook is aimed at children, and wiki has a reputation for containing more “opinion” than facts. But, the discrepancies between the two this time are huge.

The intro manga starts with Yoichi’s and Mami’s mother finishing up work on the family photo album. She gets ready to make dinner, only to discover that since Yoichi and Merrino were hungry, Mami and Mohea had destroyed ALL of the food in the house in an attempt to make some kind of a snack. Mom then resorts to “that” – her stock of cup noodle packages. Unfortunately, the kids like the cup ramen more than her regular cooking and she goes into a blue funk at the end.

The main manga is by Wataru Ofuji (Mini Pato! and Archeologic). The artwork’s not bad, but again, the faces have been westernized excessively, and Ando’s nose is maybe half the size shown in his photos. Anyway… The first page announces that cup noodle is one of the best known food products world-wide, having sold hundreds of millions of packages since its first appearance in the early ’70s. So, who created it? The story flashes back to the end of WW II, when Ando was a returning soldier. He notices that people have already started opening up small shops to revive a cash-based society. The city also has small cart vendors, and one particular cart has a very long line. Wondering why so many people would wait out in the cold like this, he discovers that they’re eating hot ramen (according to a sidebar, ramen was actually a Japanese dish, and didn’t come from China like is commonly believed). At the time, he’s struck by how happy the destitute people are while eating warm food.  A few years go by and Ando is approached by someone representing a “neighborhood trade association”, who proposes to use Ando’s name and reputation while handling the actual money management for a group of merchants. The association folds and Ando is suddenly bankrupt. His wife tells him to not worry about having lost everything except their house and a small table. She serves dinner to him and their young son and daughter, and again Ando notices how happy they look while eating. So, he goes out to gather supplies to build a small research kitchen in a shed next to their garden and begins work on making his own easy-serve noodles. He places a list of 5 requirements on the wall as a incentive – delicious, easy to prepare, long shelf-life, can be enjoyed anywhere, inexpensive.

Over the next few months, he discovers how hard it is to hand-make soba noodles, and his family rejects the results when he taste tests it on them. Eventually he improves, and reaches stage 1 – tastes good. But the noodles go bad too quickly and he hits a wall until he sees his wife making tempura. The hot oil seals the surface of the tempura batter while creating little holes for water to enter through, and this leads him to experiment with flash frying. In 1958, a year after building the kitchen, Ando brings his dried “chicken ramen” noodles to market. Instructions include putting the noodles in a bowl, placing a raw egg on top, adding boiling water and waiting 3 minutes. The mook claims that the noodles are an immediate big hit, while the wiki article says that at 35 yen a package, they were resisted as unnecessary luxury goods. Ando creates Nisshin foods to meet demand for the product. In 1966, he prepares to market the noodles world-wide, and is told that people want something that comes in its own bowl. This results in Ando’s development of “cup ramen” in 1971. The mook skips ahead to January 17, 1995 and the Great Hanshin earthquake in the Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe region. Being located in Osaka, Ando is quick to dispatch food trucks throughout the disaster areas, where he again gets to see people in need enjoying warm food in the middle of the cold and snow.  The story closes with his motto “Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat.”

The textbook section does get into more detail regarding Ando’s childhood. Born in Japan-controlled Taiwan roughly 100 years ago, his parents died early and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather had a textiles shop, and Momofuku liked spending time there. At age 14, he graduated from what was called an elementary school at the time, and started working in the shop himself, selling wool products. At age 22 he graduated from university and planned to focus on business. But, the war broke out and when it ended he moved to Osaka and got involved with the neighborhood association. (The thing about giving out student loans isn’t mentioned outside of the main manga, but apparently it was done to avoid paying taxes on the money.) After going bankrupt, he did make money producing salt, which helped finance his research kitchen. The government was promoting bread sales using U.S. wheat, and Ando felt that the Japanese would be happier eating their familiar noodles, which was one of the incentives for his research. After perfecting his flash fried chicken noodles, sales were slow because the price was higher than what people were paying for similar products for home and restaurant use. Eventually, though, it did catch on.  In the 60’s, while researching the American market, he saw someone put the chicken noodles in a cup and eat them while working. This inspired Ando to develop cup ramen. One of the sidebar articles describes the innovations for cup ramen: the ingredients other than noodles are anything that freeze-dries well; the cup was styrofoam (now paper) that protected people from the boiling water inside; the lid was an aluminum-on-paper product inspired by the packaging for macadamia nuts served on airplanes; and the noodles are cooked upsidedown, making it easier to slide the cup on from the top, and then turned over.  The last 2 pages are dedicated to the history of preserved Japanese foods, from smoked fish (2000 years ago) to sushi (raw fish was originally packed in discarded cooked rice as a preservative, 200 years ago). The idea of putting a fried pork cutlet on top of curry rice came from a Tokyo Giants baseball player 60 years ago, who was hungry and short on time before a big game. He ran into a restaurant, yelled out for a cutlet and a plate of curry, and he liked the result so much that he continued ordering it when he returned to the shop, so the restaurant put it on the regular menu.

TCG cards this time are for: Tchaikovsky, Cezanne, Liliuokalani, Renoir, Sir Henry Stanley, Auguste Rodan, Thomas Edison, Wilhelm Rontgen and Nietzsche.

Overall, there’s enough misdirection in this manga as to call into question its accuracy as a representation of Momofuku Ando as a person. Still, it is interesting to learn about the creator of something that is so commonly accepted in households worldwide. Recommended.

50 Famous People – Souichirou Honda

The 50 Famous People series doesn’t dwell much on Japan’s scientific community. 10 of the 50 are Japanese, and of those, 3 are writers or artists, 2 are warlords or statesmen, 3 are inventor/scientist businessmen, 1 is a solo explorer and the last is the director of the Godzilla movies.  Because I started this blog initially as a review site for the Gakken science kits (and I have an interest in various business practices), I wish that the Famous People series would spend more time on their scientific “local heroes”. We can see a little of them in the textbook sections of these mooks, but not enough to really learn anything about their accomplishments.  And somehow, I’m not expecting a whole lot of scientific theory in the book on Andou Momofuku, inventor of cup ramen.

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

Souichirou Honda is the founder of Honda Motors, makers of motorcycles, cars, jets and robots. Born in 1906 in Shizuoka (about 100 miles southwest from Tokyo), Soichiro grew up helping his blacksmith father. After finishing school, he went to Tokyo and got an apprenticeship at a garage repairing cars. After a few years, he returned to Shizuoka and opened his own branch of the repair chain, establishing a reputation for being able to repair anything and getting the name “the Edison of Shizuoka”.  He continued working during WW II, but an earthquake destroyed one parts plant and a second was bombed. After the war, the American GHQ had a proscription against Japanese companies making cars, and Honda refused to do work that anyone else could do just as well. After a year, he started making gas engines for powering bicycles. After saturating the market, he and his group, now with 50 people, created Japan’s first real motorcycle. Unfortunately, Honda had no head for business and the company was losing money.  He was introduced to Takeo Fujisawa, who then went on to handle the financial side of Honda Technical Research Institute. Eventually, Honda got to the “big fish in a small pond” stage and wanted to be known as the maker of the world’s fastest bikes. He set his sights on the Isle of Man TT, taking first place in its weightclass after a few years. Afterward, he moved into the automobile and airplane industries (he and his wife both owned pilot’s licenses). He died in 1991 at age 84 from liver disease.

The intro manga starts with Yoichiro, Mami and Merrino visiting Yutako’s family’s go cart track. Daichi is preparing for a race at the track, but he’s so nervous he throws up. Yoichi attempts to enter the race as well, but his bicycle doesn’t qualify as a go cart. Merrino breaks out his giant ladybug, but it’s disqualified for not having tires. Suddenly Yoichi and Daichi get inspired and start welding parts together. In the wrap-up, the ladybug now has a steering bar and a tire on the bottom. The race begins and Yochi is off to a flying start. Literally. Later, when the ladybug lands, Yoichi returns home to discover that Mami and Merrino are watching TV and eating snacks without him.

The main manga is unusual in that there are no flashbacks this time. Drawn by Kusa Shirotsume (Tears to Tiara), the artwork is simple yet detailed. Again, though, the faces have been westernized, with thinner noses, larger eyes and square chins.  It’s not as bad as the Galileo mook, but Honda doesn’t look much like the photos at the time.  The story picks up with Soichiro at age 40, talking to a friend just after WW II. He hasn’t decided what to do next, since his factories were destroyed and the U.S. Army won’t let the Japanese make their own cars again. He flat-out refuses to get back into machine repair because anyone can do that. He spies a piece of metal on the floor of the guy’s house – it’s a heat sink from an American wireless radio and looks like part of a motorcycle engine. This inspires him to start making engines for powering bicycles. A few months later, he’s founded Honda Technical Research and hired a few extra hands. When one of the men states that there aren’t any new customers and suggests making a new product copying the designs of the current one, Honda yells at him. Instead, he draws the design for a new engine on the floor and they go to work on making their first real motorcycle. Soon after, though, yet another customer goes belly up and is unable to pay for their order. Soichiro is in danger of going out of business as well, but a friend introduces him to Fujisawa and the two hit it off immediately. Honda decides that he’s going to put a bike in the Isle of Man TT, but once he’s actually at the race he gets cold feet because of the level of the competition.  This does inspires him, though, and the team spends a few years testing designs on the track. After they do win, Soichiro tries to do the same thing for Formula 1, except that the Japanese government is about to pass a law protecting its existing car manufacturers by preventing any new entrants to the market. Honda goes into a rage and the company works to get a car on the streets before the law takes effect. The manga ends with Honda triumphant with a series of successful products behind him.

The textbook section focuses mainly on Soichiro’s upbringing, work experience, and his teaming up with Fujisawa to make Honda Motors one of the most profitable car companies in the world. There are pictures of old bikes and stills from various races, a photo of Ayrton Senna after winning a race, and shots of Honda at different ages.  Sidebars describe the scars on Soichiro’s hand (from smashing it with a hammer or gouging it with a chisel), his friendship with Fujisawa, and some of Honda Motor’s other products such as a private jet and the Asimo robot. The last 2 pages highlight some of Japan’s other technological achievements, including a new process for making carbon tubes, the first realistic-looking female robot (HRP-4C), an anti-earthquake design where the house rides on an air cushion, the world’s smallest single-person helicopter and Hayabusa.

The TCG cards this time are for: Edmund Cartwright, Thomas Jefferson, Yemelyan Pugachev, Jeremy Bentham, Francisco Goya, Antoine Lavoisier, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Edward Jenner.

Summary: This mook for Souichirou Honda is a fairly well-drawn, simple overview of his life and the beginnings of Honda Motors. It doesn’t get into any of the details of his engine designs, and definitely ignores his personal and family life. The main impression I get is that he gets angry easily, yelling at people that don’t immediately see things from his point of view. The mook does repeat a couple of his more famous mottos, but there’s no description of his business philosophy (which may be for the best, since he was a better engineer than a businessman). If you’re not familiar with the person, this is as good a way as any to learn a little about him.

There’ll be a break until the next mook I want comes out in October.  There are 18 issues left in the series, but I only care about 6 of them. In the meantime, I hope to get more information to write about regarding the Gakken kits (the Edison wax recorder comes out on the 25th, and I may get it in my hands by the 28th).

50 Famous People – Kounosuke Matsushita

Kounosuke Matsushita founded a little electrical supplies company in 1918, called Matsushita Denki (Matsushita Electric).  At first, it just sold dual light bulb sockets. Eventually, the company expanded and changed its name to Panasonic.  Matsushita died at age 94, in 1989, but along the way he became well-known in Japan as a writer on business philosophy, and for his insistence on not laying off employees during economic downturns.

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

The manga this time is not too objectionable, although again, the artist (Bonko Abisaya, creator of Time Slip Stray Cats) has chosen to westernize the faces too much, this time by drawing the noses way too thin.  In fact, Bonko seems to have a lot of trouble with Kounosuke’s nose.  Otherwise, the faces aren’t that far off from existing photos.

The intro manga has Merrino learning about grilled mochi (pounded rice cake) and he insists on making more himself so that he can keep eating.  Angora shows up and the sheep prince orders him to get a mochi cooker “any way possible”.  In the wrap up section, Mao, Youichi and Mami’s mother, comments on how good the mochi is, until Youichi enters the room and asks why the clothes drier is in the dining room.  Angora replies “you did say ‘any way’…”

(Success in selling fan base plates.)

The main manga starts with Kounosuke quitting the Osaka Electric utility company to start up his own little shop for making electric light socket extenders.  He’d grown up learning business from a young age, having been forced to apprentice at a bicycle shop from age 9 to raise money for his family.  His father had had money, but lost it through bad investments.  Around age 15, he’d seen his first electric train, and realized that electricity was the wave of the future.  He quit the bike shop to work at the utility company until age 22, working his way up to become an electrician.  At the time, light bulb sockets were difficult to use and the shock hazard was very high, so he felt that his socket extender was a surefire best seller.  Except that none of the little supply shops were willing to give it a chance.  His company consisted of himself, his wife, his wife’s little brother, and two assistants.  As time passed, the assistants quit, and Kounosuke was left as the only salesman.  One day, one of the shopkeepers mentioned that there was a possible opportunity – a major manufacturer of electric fans had a quality control problem, the base plates broke too easily.  Since the plates were made of the same material as Kounosuke’s socket extender, if Kounosuke could turn out good replacement parts, he’d buy 1000 of the plates by the end of 2 weeks.  Matsushita jumped at the chance, and he, his wife and his brother-in-law worked overtime to meet the order.  This was followed by the development of a dual bulb socket, and an adapter for allowing people to plug appliances into the second socket.  He kept his prices down by recycling the screw ends of broken bulbs.  Kounosuke expanded into other appliances, adding an electric clothes iron, and a battery-powered headlamp for bicycles.  His motto was “inexpensive products for everyone”.  In the 1920’s, the Great Depression had reached Japan, and sales nosedived.  This was the point where Matsushita claimed that his employees were like his family and neighbors, and you can’t lay off family.  So, the company scaled back its hours, and kept everyone on payroll at reduced salaries.  This cemented his reputation as a benevolent leader, and helped him keep his company when GHQ required that all CEOs step down if their companies had aided in the war effort during WW II.  The story ends with a picture of Matsushita’s statue in front of Panasonic’s main building.

The textbook section details Kounosuke’s childhood and family life, and includes photos of him with his wife’s family (younger brother and 3 sisters), plus pictures of early products his company produced.  There are other photos of Japan in the early 1900’s, stories of his visit to the U.S., and explanations of his quotes on business philosophy.

The TCG cards include: Magellan, Thomas More, Pope Leo X, Martin Luther, Raphael, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur, Ignatius Loyola, Henry 8th and Hernan Cortes.

Summary: While there’s not really a lot of science or invention in this issue, vol. #22 is a good introduction to one of Japan’s biggest business leaders, if you have any interest in Japanese business practices or market opportunities.

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.)