80 Famous People – Isaac Newton

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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.

80 Famous People – Louis Pasteur

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Louis Pasteur is a household name. Or, at least, he used to be. During the 60’s and 70’s, pasteurized milk was still something of a novelty and dairy companies would make a big deal out of advertising it. Now, not so much. But, he was responsible for more than just simply making his name into a brand label. Born in 1822 in Dole, in southern France, he showed amazing talent as an artist, painting portraits of his parents at age 15. He went to University in Paris, where he obtained degrees in chemistry. He later served as a chemistry professor in Strasbourg, where he married the rector’s daughter. According to the wiki entry, three of their 5 children died of typhoid, causing Louis to start work researching bacteria. He was approached by French vintners to determine why wine goes bad, which led to the discovery of yeast, the idea of pasteurization and the confirmation that some diseases are related to bacteria. He then went on to demonstrate the concept of using dead bacteria to inoculate patients against diseases like polio and cholera. He received France’s highest civilian honors, and died at age 70 from complications following a series of strokes.

The intro manga starts with Yuichi and Mami trying to psyche themselves up for an upcoming challenge, and Merrino wanting to join in. Yuichi’s mother enters the room and asks if the kids are ready for their vaccine shots. Mohea chimes in with the declaration that Sheep people have their own medicines – and that although the needles look big and scary, they don’t hurt. Merrino tries to beg off, saying that he’s going to study famous vaccine researchers, safe in the conviction that Earth doesn’t have any. That’s when Study Bell announces the start of the Louis Pasteur lesson. In the wrap-up, Merrino outruns Mohea, and she gives up, panting out of breath. Mami and her mother suggest luring Merrino out by making him cookies, but when he pauses to say that he’d like some, Mohea jumps out and stabs him with the needle in his posterior, incapacitating him. (Yes, Sheep Planet needles hurt.)

(The reporter gets a letter detailing Pasteur’s challenge.)

The main manga is drawn by Teruko Arai, artist on DEATH:topia, and main illustrator for the Psychic Hearts webgame. The majority of the characters are manga-stylized, although Pasteur comes kind of close to looking like his photos. Kind of.

The story starts with a young boy on a farm with his parents. A veterinarian has just diagnosed a sick cow as having anthrax and the entire herd is going to need to be destroyed. The parents are devastated, and the boy shouts out “what kind of an animal doctor are you?” The vet just shrugs and says that’s the way it is. Fast forward to 1873. Pasteur is about to go on stage in front of an auditorium filled with doctors to announce that the root cause of many diseases is germs. He’s met with jeers and catcalls as someone who’s never practiced medicine before. In the face of such rejection, he’s surprised to be greeted by a young doctor that asks to join him as a research assistant. They work together on chicken cholera, and one day they discover that one of the test subjects didn’t die as expected. Pasteur asks if the assistant had injected the cholera sample correctly, and is told that he’d screwed up and used an old sample. This happy accident leads Pasteur to prove that dead or weakened bacteria can be used to inoculate the patient against the real thing.

Soon after, a French newspaper reporter writes an article calling Pasteur a fake. Louis sees this as an opportunity to publicly demonstrate his theories. He sends detailed letters to the reporter and his critics spelling out the conditions of a showdown. Take two groups of sheep. Inoculate one with his medicine, and then both groups with anthrax. If even one of his inoculated sheep dies, he’ll concede defeat. The contest is held, and it will take at least 2 days for the results to be announced. After the first day, one of the test sheep develops a fever. The assistant can’t sleep and is a ragged mess the next day due to the stress. Pasteur refuses to treat the fevered sheep because that would undermine the test, but he’s plagued by doubts himself. Finally, the second day dawns, and Pasteur and his assistant ride out to the farm, where a crowd is gathered in front of a pile of dead bodies. Pasteur is frozen in his tracks, until a spectator yells and points at the second group of sheep, healthy and happy. Even the one with the fever had gotten better. The reporter arrives to apologize, and offers to spread the word of Pasteur’s discoveries around the world. Some of the doctors, who had earlier scoffed at Pasteur now try to brown-nose him into becoming his assistants and are chased off. The manga ends with a list of Pasteur’s other discoveries and how they have led up to our modern medicines.

The textbook section has great photos of Pasteur, and a short, but good, biography. The last two pages describe various microbes, both good and bad, including the ones used for making natto.

Things wrap up with two more postcards.

Overall, this is a good mook for learning more about Pasteur and bacteria as a whole. Recommended.

50 Famous People – Jean-Henri Fabre

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Growing up in Minnesota, I wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of insects. We had a couple kinds of butterflies, some grasshoppers and dragonflies, and that was about it. (We didn’t have much in the way of birds, either.) Since I lived in the city, I didn’t have many opportunities for bird watching or insect collecting. The local library had a few books on North American birds, but I don’t remember seeing anything on insects. So, I had no idea who the subject of this mook was.

Jean-Henri Fabre was a primarily-self-taught French entomologist, living from 1823 to 1915. His father attempted to run restaurants in several cities in France, and failed with all of them. Fabre grew up with relatives in the countryside, where he developed an interest in plants and animals from an early age. He attended school for a while but started working from around age 14 to help raise money for the family, selling lemons or working construction sites. He attended school in order to gain a teaching certificate, and then taught physics and chemistry at several schools while attempting to conduct his own studies on the side. He discovered the works of Leon Dufour and decided to focus on insect studies. Eventually, he quit teaching to concentrate on work in his own lab, and wrote 10 volumes based on his observations. He’s very well-known in Japan, in part because of his humorous writing style (which was unlike the tedious pedantry common at the time).

The intro manga has Merrino trying to come up with a new insect-based machine to play with, and Daichi pulls out a stack of books from under his shirt. He gets into a dispute with Utako, who thinks insects are creepy, while Daichi himself feels that bug collecting is a “real man’s game”. Studybell appears in an attempt to cure Utako of her phobia. At the end of the lesson, she still dislikes bugs, but not quite as much as before. Merrino announces that he’s found a bug not detailed in Daichi’s books, so he’s chosen it for the basis of his new machine – a giant cockroach.

The artist for the main manga this time is Yayoi Furudori, creator of Fuku Fuku and Library Wars – Spitfire. There’s a decided shojo feel for the character designs, but the backgrounds and detail work on the insects are very good. Overall, the “westernization”  of the characters isn’t as distracting as normal. The story picks up with Fabre, age 32, bringing home a beetle that was just stung by a wasp. He shows it to his wife and demonstrates that it’s not actually dead, just paralyzed. The insects are similar to the ones Dufour wrote about in his research papers, but there’s a puzzle that hasn’t been answered yet. Mainly, how did the wasp deliver the venom to the beetle through its hard upper shell? There’s no puncture wound. After long study, Fabre tried stealing a beetle from one of the wasps, substituting it for one that he’d brought with him. Thinking that it had failed to subdue the beetle the first time, the wasp struck again, and Fabre could see that the stinger was curled under the beetle where it could reach the more vulnerable abdomen area. Fabre writes up his findings, which eventually make their way to Dufour. He writes a letter to Fabre, but rather than being angry at having been proven wrong, he commends the younger man for his work and encourages him to keep doing insect research.

Time passes, and Fabre is still poor. Teaching doesn’t pay well and he doesn’t like the work. He and his family move to different schools in different cities, but his heart’s not in it. One day, as he’s trying to write the first volume of his collection, he decides to ask his second oldest son, Jules, to help him with his research. Of all the children he’s had, only Jules and one of his daughters shares his interest in insects. One of the other daughters has finished making dinner and she calls to Jules and her father to come eat, but they’re engrossed in looking at a caterpillar and ignore her. But, before volume 1 can be finished, Jules falls ill and dies at age 16. Fabre himself collapses from grief and sees a vision of the boy eagerly waiting to read his father’s books. When he recovers, Fabre completes book 1, then tries to get a publisher for it. (A sidebar mentions that Fabre discovered a new insect while researching the first volume, and named it after Jules.) He moves the family to a new home a few miles away, in a section of undeveloped land that his christens “Arumus” (Japanese spelling, means “wilderness”). He then welcomes the insects there into his household. He stays there until his death at age 91, completing all 10 volumes on insects, as well as observations on other plants and animals. (Note that I can’t find information on Fabre’s children, such as names and how many he had. The Japanese pronunciation of Jules is “Jule”, so I’m guessing at how it’s spelled.)

The textbook section describes pretty much the same information given above, but with more detail on his father’s financial failings, and listings of the schools he taught at. Pictures include shots of Fabre, his wife and older son (Paul, who became an insect photographer), pictures of his insect collections and his lab. There’s also some excerpts of his observations (the Aesop story of the ant and grasshopper got it wrong. Outside of the original story being about an ant and cicada, the cicada is the one that does all the work in pulling sap from trees, and the ants steal it away. So, the cicada is the forthright worker, and the ants are just lazy thieves.) The last two pages have illustrations by Chikaba Kumada (1911-2009), an illustrator known as “the petit Fabre”, due to the detailed work he did on insects and plants for textbooks.

The TCG cards are for Ernest Seton, Yuan Shikai, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sven Hedin, Henry Ford, Pierre de Coubertin, Sun Yat-sen, Ramsay MacDonald and Anne Sullivan.

If you want to know what western textbooks don’t teach you about insect history, this mook is for you. (Side note: Asahi Shimbun has included an ad on the back page of this mook announcing that the second series of illustrated famous people will start up at the end of January, 2013. It will feature 30 more names, such as Hans Andersen, Caesar, Newton and Tolstoy.)

50 Famous People – Marie Curie

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The mook on Marie Curie is both good and bad this time. It’s bad in that the artwork is overly stylized (none of the characters look like their photos and Marie was never that attractive) and Marie’s personality is extremely softened to make her fit partially into the stereotype of “the good wife” (partially, in that she’s still portrayed as a dedicated researcher). It’s good in that there’s actual scientific theory and an explanation of how she achieved her early discoveries. When I was growing up, my textbooks made almost no mention of Curie, outside of just her name as one of the early researchers into the science of radioactivity. Which is a shame because she not only developed a way to extract radium from pitch blende, but she discovered both radium and polonium, was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize (in physics, 1903, shared with her husband Pierre, and fellow researcher Henri Becquerel), received a second in 1911 (solo this time, for chemistry), helped establish a scientific explanation of radiation (a term that she herself coined), raised two daughters on her own after Pierre was killed in a road accident, was the first female professor at La Sorbonne, and had driven one of the world’s first mobile x-ray labs through Paris in order to assist the injured during WW I (she was the director of the Red Cross Radiological Service, with 20 vehicles and 200 radiological units throughout France). Her oldest daughter, Irene, assisted with the mobile units, and along with her own husband  (Frederic Joliot-Curie) received a shared Nobel in 1935 in chemistry for their work on artificial radioactivity. (Making the Curie family the first to have 5 Nobel medals.) Marie died at age 66 from aplastic anemia caused by prolonged radiation exposure.

The intro manga for mook #37 has Merrino’s older sister, Mohea, receiving a diary from Mami’s mother. Mohea then proceeds to run around the house to document their behavior (Mami is a late riser and doesn’t notice when Mohea gives her shaving cream instead of toothpaste. Mami’s mother is a great cook. Youichi and Merrino always fight over who gets the last snack, which Mami usually takes and splits with Mohea. Mami’s father leaves for work before everyone else wakes up, and returns when they’re all asleep). She tries staying up one night until the father comes back from work, and the family finds her passed out in the hallway (mimicking a famous incident in Curie’s past), and the mother says that this is one time when he wasn’t scheduled to come home. The wrap-up has Merrino sending her report to the Sheep planet and winning the “No-baahh” Prize. There’s no cash award or medal, so Mami’s mother bakes her a cake with Mohea’s likeness drawn on top in frosting. Merrino vows to win the No-baahh prize himself, by gorging on every single kind of snack on Earth.

The main manga is by TOBI (Rooftop Princess, Girl With Glasses. There’s nothing on TOBI in English, and the Japanese wiki article only lists 4 titles, although Girl With Glasses was turned into an OAV by Media Factory.) If treated as a generic manga, it’s ok. The artwork isn’t very inspired, but it’s not really horrible. It’s that this time this is just a manga-ized version of western characters that have been drastically prettied-up so that they don’t look anything like their photos.  Marie starts out as a precocious bookworm that turns into a devoted wife and mother. This is very much in keeping with the Japanese notion of a “good girl”, and may not come close to reality. Anyway, the story begins with two of Maria Sklodowska’s older sisters stacking chairs up behind her as she reads a book. Maria knocks the chairs down when she stretches after finishing reading, and doesn’t really notice the noise. The older one,  Bronislawa, is jealous because Maria is reading and writing at a higher level than her, even though she’s 4 years younger. The family lives in the Kingdom of Poland, with both parents, 4 girls and a boy. When she was 9, her oldest sister died, followed by their mother 2 years later. At the time, Poland’s universities didn’t admit female students, so Bronislawa vows to go to France to study medicine to help protect the rest of the family. Maria takes a job as a private tutor to help raise money for Bronislawa’s education. In the story, Maria falls in love with one of the boys her age that she’s tutoring, but overhears his father forbidding his son from marrying “a peasant teacher”. Crushed, she concentrates more on her own studies and work. Bronislawa gets married to a doctor, and is in a position to give money to Maria to come to France and study as well. Maria moves in with her sister and brother-in-law, then gets her own apartment. She studies so hard that she forgets to eat and passes out. She’s discovered lying on the floor by her sister the next day. Maria ignores the other students that make passes at her, but attracts the attention of Pierre Curie, one of the professors at La Sorbonne, and he proposes to her when she nears graduation. They get married, with Maria wearing a black lab coat as a wedding dress, and settle down in Paris. She changes her name to Marie, the closest French pronunciation.

Pierre sets up his own lab, and Marie splits her time between raising their first daughter, Irene, housekeeping, and their research. At the time, Henri Becquerel had reported finding a strange energy coming from pitch blende, which was known to contain uranium. No one knew how uranium worked, so Marie and Pierre decide to study this energy. Marie developed a process of melting pitch blende and removing the crystallized metals that formed afterward, with the result being that the crystals put out more energy than an equal weight of uranium did. Through further study, Marie showed that pitch blende also contained other radioactive materials, leading to the discovery of polonium (named after the Kingdom of Poland, which had been carved up into 3 separate countries by that time). Pierre asks her at one point if the work load is too great for her, and she says she doesn’t mind, since she loves her husband and daughter so much (a scene taken out of any shojo manga). The announcement that they’ve won the 1903 Nobel for physics, shared with Becquerel, takes them by surprise. As does the letter from America offering to buy the patent on distilling polonium from pitch blend. The family could use the massive sum of cash offered, but Marie instead states that scientific discoveries belong to everyone and makes the process public for free. Their second daughter, Eve, was born in 1904, and Pierre was struck by a horse-drawn cart and killed in a street accident in 1906. The last page shows Marie conquering her grief, and going on to teach at La Sorbonne, and operating one of her mobile x-ray units along with Irene during WW I. Interspersed with the biography are science sidebars discussing radiation, radium, Henri Becquerel, and how radiation can be used to identify fake diamonds.

The textbook section contains photos of Marie, her family and her lab, pictures of the Nobel certificates, and shots of their old home and La Sorbonne. The text describes her upbringing, the research into Polonium and Radium, and her marriage with Pierre (when they got married, instead of the usual elaborate honeymoon and expensive presents, they bought themselves 2 bicycles and toured Europe). The last 2 pages highlight other scientific breakthrough moments, since Marie’s discovery of radiation occurred accidentally when walking into the lab with the lights off and seeing the beaker of crystals glowing blue. Examples include Archimedes leaping out of his tub, Newton and the falling apple, Fleming sneezing on a culture sample, Roentgen seeing a special photographic film glowing in the dark, and Kouichi Tanaka‘s discovery of a way to perform mass spectrometric analysis of biological macromolecules.

The TCG cards this are:

Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Count of Cavour, Chopin, Wagner, David Livingstone, Zeng Guofan. Otto von Bismarck, Jean-Francois Millet and Hong Xiuquan.

Overall, ignoring the artistic licenses taken in this mook, #37 does a decent job in presenting a brief pictorial overview of Marie Curie’s life and accomplishments, while adding just enough science as to be educational without being obtrusive. There are notable omissions, such as her connection to the Red Cross, the vilification she received from the French right-wing press for being a foreign-born woman in France, as well as the fall-out from a year-long affair in 1911 with physicist Paul Langevin, who had been separated from his wife at the time. So, if you want a deeper understanding of Marie Curie the person, I suggest getting a good biography on her.

50 Famous People – Darwin

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Arguably, no one scientist has been quite as divisive, in terms of the results of their research, as Charles Darwin. Just about everyone at least knows of his work, while not necessarily understanding it, much less agreeing with his conclusions. Regardless, he did contribute to our understanding of the wildlife in South America, and the Galapagos Archipelago with the drawings and observations he made while on his 5 year journey with the Beagle.

The intro manga starts out with Merrino bringing home one of his game machines from the Sheep planet. With this machine, you can insert two things, at least one of which has to be organic, and it will create a battle monster out of the combination. His banana-fly loses to Mami’s squash-doll.  Yoichi crams an armful of stuff, including his Darwin textbook, into the machine and the resulting 20′-tall beansprout creature threatens to destroy them all.  In the wrap-up, the creature disappears and Merrino states that the game only has a 3-minute lifespan, while Yoichi and Mami claim credit for defeating the thing. Soon after, their mother comes into the house carrying some cute little bean creatures she bought while out shopping.

In the main manga, by Naoto Satta (Miko to Kagaku no Uso Happyakuman), an elderly Darwin attempts to tell his contemporaries about his ideas regarding evolution and is met with derision by those Christians that believe all life was created as-is by god.  He comments to a student that the idea is easy to believe if you see enough life from around the world. This takes him into a reverie about when he first boarded the Beagle 20+ years earlier. The story then shifts to the point of view of a young sailor named “Conbinton” who resents being assigned as Darwin’s assistant by the ship’s captain, FitzRoy. Conbinton doesn’t understand why someone so ill-suited to sea life would be on their ship, while the narrator tells us that ships were getting one scientist each for assisting in the travels while also providing someone the captain can talk to. Darwin appears to be a complete clutz, falling off cliffs and throwing up over the railings, but he takes a massive amount of notes. At one point, the captain also asks what the point is of all this work, and Darwin simply replies that if life wasn’t created by god as-is, he wants to know how it started and where it’s headed. After 5 years, the trip ends and Darwin starts teaching at Cambridge. But it takes him 20 years to get up the nerve to publish “On the Origin of Species”. Naturally, the Church rejects the idea of evolution and fights to have him removed from his post.  However, getting the support of Thomas Huxley helped him keep his job. The narrator ends by saying that the children of today have inherited Darwin’s mantle.

The majority of the first 4 pages of the the textbook section are spent describing Darwin’s birth and upbringing in England and the events leading up to his being assigned to the Beagle for documenting the discoveries made while charting the seas around South America. His father was a famous surgeon, and his mother was from the Wedgewood pottery company (her father founded Wedgewood). Darwin was expected to follow his father’s footsteps as a doctor, but in college discovered an interest in life studies. There are sidebars on botany professor John Stevens Henslow, Captain Robert FitzRoy (a devote Christian, FitzRoy disagreed with Darwin’s conclusions), Alfred Wallace, and a quick peek at how the pressures for survival drive the selection of species. Photos and paintings include illustrations of Wedgewood’s pottery, Darwin’s childhood insect collection, the Beagle, a sample of an animal fossil and the map of the Beagle’s 5-year route. The last 2 pages discuss the concepts of human evolution, how we’re not directly descended from apes, and models demonstrating examples of Lucy, Neanderthal man, and homo sapiens. (What I find interesting in this section is that the Neanderthal is a hairy, barbaric-looking European, while homo sapiens is a clean-shaved, well-groomed modern-day Japanese.)

The TCG cards this time are for: Bach, Robert Walpole, Peter the Great, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Baldassare Castiglione, Ben Franklin, John Kay and Anne Bonny.

Overall, the manga for this issue isn’t too bad. Darwin looks somewhat like his photos, although his later appearance is greatly simplified. FitzRoy doesn’t look anything like his portrait and I expect that “Conbinton” was created solely for narrative purposes. The main focus of the story is just on some of the animals that he studied and his unsuitedness for being at sea.  The real discussion of his ideas and their implications takes place in the textbook section.  If you’re interested in learning more about Darwin, you’re better off getting one of his English biographies.

50 Famous People – Galileo

There’s bad character designs, and there’s bad character designs.  While most of the artwork in the 50 Famous People series is only loosely based on existing photos or paintings, at best, Galileo doesn’t even bother to come close.  Sure, these mooks are aimed at young school kids, but the topics are pretty advanced, and the designs in this issue are kind of insulting, even compared with, say, the Einstein volume.  But I guess there is a reason for it.

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

Issue 16, Galileo Galilei, starts out with Mami asking Merrino about the shape of the planet, and the Sheep Prince states that it is a flat half-shell held up by 4 elephants standing on the back of a big turtle.  There’s a knock on the door – it’s the landlord.  He’s about to berate Mami for keeping pets in the building when Merrino’s butler – a goat in a suit – abducts him and erases his memory.  The goat explains that Merrino slept both during the trip to Earth, and through all of his science classes.  On the other hand, Mami doesn’t know about the heliocentric system, so the goat calls on Study Bell to start the lesson.

(Landlord gets carried away.)

I would assume that the reason for the childish manga designs is that the story is told from the point of view of Galileo’s 9-year-old daughter, Victoria, when Galileo himself was 45.  One day, her father reminisces about growing up.  His father had wanted him to be a doctor, but after entering Pisa University, he noticed that the chandeliers in the great hallways tended to sway in fixed arcs.  He started concentrating more on math than biology.  Additionally, at the time, professors would follow the Aristotelian method of repeating lectures that were handed down through the generations as “truth” with the students simply writing down what they were told.  Galileo felt that learning should follow experiments, and through his own tests discovered the principles of fixed weight pendulums.  After switching majors and graduating as a mathematician, he taught at Pisa before chafing at the restrictive nature of the school and moving to Padua.  At Pisa, he conducted the famous demonstration of 2 unequal weights dropped from the Tower of Pisa and landing at the same time, to a group of students.  Again, disproving Aristotle.

(Experimenting to understand the theory of fixed weight pendulums.)

Victoria is shown as trying to spend time with her father, but being constantly interrupted by assistants, visiting professors and leading townspeople.  He obtains a high-quality Venetian glass sample, which he hand polishes to create lenses for his first telescope.  His first discovery is that again Aristotle is wrong – instead of the moon being a perfectly smooth, clean ball, it’s pocked with mountains and craters.  Additionally, Jupiter is shown to have four satellites, and Venus has phases just like the Earth’s moon.  Putting all of this together along with the writings of Copernicus 50 years earlier, he realizes that instead of the Earth being the center of the universe, the Earth and other planets must be revolving around the Sun. However, his elation is short-lived. If he publishes his findings, he’ll be burned at the stake by the Church, just as Giordano Bruno had been.  Realizing that he has no choice, he sends Victoria to a monastery, publishes his findings, and gets called in front of the tribunal.  He escapes immediate punishment as a heretic as long as he teaches both the Church’s views of the universe alongside his own.  But, when Dialogue was published, with Victoria’s help, the Church felt Galileo was mocking them and the Earth-based system, so he was placed under house arrest, and his views as a scientist were at war internally with his desire to stay alive. As given in the manga, a letter from Victoria, telling him that his friends and former students were continuing to conduct experiments with his telescopes helped buoy his spirits at the end.

(Textbook section with samples of Galileo’s notes.)

The textbook section focuses heavily on his time at Pisa and Padua, as well as discussing the backgrounds of his parents.  There are pictures of the Pisa chandeliers, the Tower of Pisa, and the house where he was imprisoned, along with a brief timeline.  There’s a section showing his notes, a painting of the trial in front of the Church, and a short biography for Virgina.  Probably the most visually exciting part is the 2-page spread of satellite photos of the sun and planets.  The wrap-up manga shows that Merrino has learned nothing from this lesson.  Then there’s the three books for recommended reading.

The TCG cards are for; Genghis Khan, Pope Innocent III, Richard the 1st, Simon de Montfort, Yaritsu Sozai (耶律楚材, associate of Genghis Khan), King John, Thomas Aquinas, Kublai Khan and Roger Bacon.

Like I mentioned above, I think the manga this time is particularly weak, even if it is aimed at children.  The biography is sketchy and leaves out the fact that all three of Galileo’s children were illegitimate and the two daughters were probably sent to the monastery because they were considered unmarriable.  Galileo’s “inner torment” at having to decide between holding on to the idea of an orbiting Earth and being branded a heretic is probably overblown as well.  But the photos at the back are worth the $6 cover price.


50 Famous People – Einstein

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

Mook #7 brings us to Albert Einstein.  For those of you with a public school education, he’s that old guy that did that stuff a long time ago.  For the rest of the world, he’s that theoretical physicist that everyone seems desperate to refute.  This mook takes something of a biographical approach in trying to explain how he came to develop the formula that energy = mass times the speed of light squared (E = mc^2).  Otherwise, the bulk of the science stuff is more-or-less glossed over, with just some brief mentions of what the theory of general relativity means to us in daily life terms.  The main manga isn’t particularly bad, but the character designs are overly stylized again and seem intent on portraying Einstein as being years younger than whatever age he was at the time for the given scene.  His hair color also goes from red to black to yellow before finally getting to white.  Since the photos from that time are all B&W, there seems to be some artistic license being taken here.

The intro manga starts with Merrino and gang watching a drama featuring a prince.  Mami asks why Merrino doesn’t act like a real prince, and he answers that he doesn’t have to.  He adds that he has a butler that is always around to serve him, and suddenly Angora, the ninja butler materializes.  He points out that he’s been in the background no matter what the others are doing, and this segues to Einstein’s formula, followed by Angora’s attempts to lecture them about relativity.  Merrino desperately asks Study Bell to start the main manga to save them.  In the wrap-up, Merrino says that Angora only has one flaw – he likes to eat paper.  This explains why the toilet paper disappears so fast, and why all of Mami’s homework has been devoured.

According to to the main manga, Albert was slow to start speaking as a child, then suddenly at age 5 he started talking like an adult. He was given a compass as a present from his father, and he spent hours trying to understand how to measure something invisible to the eye. When he was close to graduating from a German middle school, his family moved to Italy for work, leaving Albert to live on his own for a year.  However, the teachers at his school would slap his hands with a ruler for studying physics and math during the boring classes, and he didn’t like seeing other students marching in rank and file for military training. So he dropped out without telling anyone, got accepted to a university in Switzerland, and enrolled in a prep school to get the necessary pre-reqs.  The Swiss school was much more accommodating, and he eventually graduated and got a job at the patent office.  He’d developed an interest in the study of light, and at night would pour over formulas trying to figure it out.  He’d be so focused that when his wife laid out breakfast, he’d eat a boiled eat without realizing the shell was still on.  Finally, one morning he woke up, grabbed his notebook, and wrote down “E=mc^2”.  Everything else from there is history.  Some time later, he’s approached by a reporter trying to needle him about not being associated with a famous research lab.  Einstein pulls out his notebook and says, “with this, my pencil and my brain, I have all the laboratory I need”.

The textbook section talks more about how Albert grew up somewhat unattended, and how he flourished in the Swiss school system.  There’s mentions of his playing violin, traveling to Japan, and apologizing to the Japanese people for how the results of his work had culminated in the deaths of so many civilians.  What interests me the most in this section are reproductions of three of Ippei Okamoto’s cartoons featuring Einstein (Ippei was an early editorial newspaper manga artist, and father of surrealist artist Taro Okamoto).  The last 2 pages contain short write-ups of the 7 Japanese researchers that have received Nobel Prizes so far: Makoto Kobayashi, Toshihide Masukawa, Youichiro Nanbu, Hideki Yukawa, Reona Esaki, Masatoshi Koshiba and Shinichio Tomonaka.

The TCG cards this time are: Emperor Guangwu, Augustus Caesar, Cleopatra, Saint Peter, Christ, The Trung Sisters, Ban Zhao, Ban Chao and Pliny the Elder.  Overall, this mook is a nice introduction to Einstein as a person, and there are a couple good photos of an cyclotron and a neutrino detector. Recommended also if you want to learn more about Japanese researchers.


50 Famous People – da Vinci

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

Strictly from just looking at the main manga character designs, issue 3 of the 50 Famous People series is one of the best of the collection.  There aren’t that many pictures of the young Leonardo da Vinci to work from, so the artist this time (Kamui Fujiwara, character designer on a couple of the Dragon Quest games) has a certain amount of leeway.  However, Leonardo doesn’t look overly cartoony or stylized, either.

The intro manga starts with Merrino attempting to paint Mami’s and Youichi’s mother, Mao, and failing miserably. Mami suggests that he try copying da Vinci, and the sheep prince attempts to read a book on him before giving up.  Merrino claims to be forced to break out the terrifying robot, Study Bell, to help him.  Study Bell looks cute and harmless, and happily projects the subsequent main manga.  When it’s done, Mami asks why Merrino had it locked in a chest, and Study Bell grows a pair of large arms for spanking Merrino in “punishment mode” for having done poorly on his last test.

(Notice Fujiwara’s trick of using human musculature in the lackey’s arm.)

The main manga starts with Leonardo turning 14 and setting out from his home to the nearby big city of Milan where he entered Verrocchio’s studio as an assistant.  At age 30, he approached iL Moro with the plans for building a large statue of a rider on horseback.  In the conversation, Leonardo says that he can work as a strategist, defense planner, scientist or artist, but his real motivation is finding the financial backing for proving that his approach to making the statue look realistic is feasible.  iL Moro takes him on, and some years later, the statue is completed.  Time passes and il Moro talks to a lackey, who describes Leonardo as an eccentric unwilling to listen to the demands of his clients.

While the Milanese Renaissance was at full-bloom at this point, much of the art produced was still under the thumb of the Church, and certain rules had to be respected.  Leonardo was commissioned for a painting, and his Virgin of the Rocks offended the church on several levels.  First, none of the holy figures had halos, and the angels didn’t have wings.  Leonardo’s reply was that just because an angel doesn’t have wings doesn’t mean that it’s not an angel.  The lackey can’t understand why a painter on commission can’t follow the orders of his clients.  iL Moro shrugs this off and just asks if the painting looked beautiful.  The lackey also mentions da Vinci’s habit of studying corpses, and Kamui takes this opportunity to throw in examples of human anatomy in the panel.  Finally, when looking at “the Last Supper”, iL Moro asks why no one else can paint this well.  Leonardo says that he doesn’t see God the same way as everyone else.  He doesn’t need things like halos and wings to evidence God’s miracles.  He can find those things everywhere around him in nature.  Thus, to understand reality, you must study and learn from nature, which wasn’t really happening up to that point.  The scene jumps to when da Vinci was living in France and is now on his deathbed.  A student is looking at the last three paintings still somewhat unfinished, and complaining that he can’t understand how Leonardo was able to get those effects of light, life and perspective.

The textbook section describes da Vinci’s growing up (his father had an affair with a peasant woman, and he was raised without a mother and unable to go to school).  A lot of what he learned as an adult came from personal study and observation of the world around him, and most of his inventions were drawn from nature.  He was a true jack of all trades, studying medicine, astronomy, warfare, and art.  His inventions were often predictive and well ahead of their time, including the helicopter, water meters, gliders and crayons.  There’s an examination of The Last Supper, particularly from the point of view of perspective, and how certain visual cues point to one specific person at the table as being Judas.  With the Mona Lisa, the mook describes da Vinci’s use of his fingers to get certain smoothing effects, and how atmospheric scattering causes the mountains in the distance to blur and turn bluish. Naturally, there’s a brief mention of his notebooks and his tendency to mirror-write.

The TCG cards include: Confucius, Buddha, Lao Zi, Darius I, Themistocles, Sun Zu, Bokushi, Herodotus and Pericles.

Overall, the focus in this issue is on da Vinci as an artist, but there are some scientific highlights as well.  The manga is interesting, and there’s some good photos and paintings at the back.  Recommended.  Interestingly, the “further reading” section suggests the “da Vinci inventions” kits, one of which (the catapult) I actually bought 2 years ago.  They’re fun to build, and some of them have moving parts.

50 Famous People – Index

Asahi Shimbun (Asahi Newspaper Publishing) has several sets of manga-based magazine-books (i.e. – mooks) currently on the shelves at bookstores around the country. There’s one set specifically focused on Japanese History. A few weeks ago, I noticed the 50 Famous People set at the bookstore in Maruya Gardens, in the section dedicated to collector’s packages. Because the mooks come out roughly one a week, the store removed issues 2-8 on me, which was unfortunate because they included da Vinci and Einstein. Anyway, I went back to the store, grabbed a few of the issues that really appealed to me, and I’ll talk about those over the next few posts while we wait for the next Otona no Kagaku kit.

The 50 Famous People set started running on Jan. 29, 2012, and is up to #16 as I write this. The first one, Edison, was 180 yen, although the rest are 490 yen apiece. Edison is 52 pages. Personally, I really only care about the scientists, although there are a few others that I’ll pick up when they come out, including Tezuka, Momofuku Ando (cup noodles) and Edogawa Ranpo (Japan’s first real mystery writer). The guest writer in volume 1, Ikegami Akira, is an NHK writer and presenter. He has a little section on the inside front cover where he states that Japanese school children don’t really know about the majority of the people described in this set, which is why it was put together.

Each mook follows the same basic pattern. There’s a manga to set the tone of the story, followed by a second manga that is more or less a fictionalized biography of the main character. Then, there’s a more textbook-style section giving the main character’s timeline, major accomplishments, the backgrounds of other major contemporary figures, and maybe inventions or products from the era. There’s a wrap-up manga, a group of 9 trading cards, and a “Next Up” page. The artwork in the manga varies wildly from issue to issue, with some of the artists shooting for a semi-realistic style, and others going purely cartoony. If you’re getting these mooks for the manga, be prepared to be disappointed occasionally. It’s not like you’re getting photo-quality images. Then again, some of the actual photos are pretty good and you may not have seen them before.

The publishers thoughtfully provided the full list of subjects in volume 1 and I figured that I might as well include that here to start out with, in case anyone is interested. As mentioned above, I missed DaVinci and Einstein, but if I can get them as back issues, I will. Along with Edison, I also grabbed Gaudi and Galileo. My next guaranteed choices are Tezuka, Konosuke Matsushita and Steve Jobs; although I may want Marco Polo for the artwork and Kenji Miyazawa for his connection to Night on the Galactic Railroad anime. At 490 yen each, these mooks are cheap, so grabbing the 8 or 10 I want over the course of the year will be a good bargain.

1 Edison

2 Mother Theresa

3 Leonardo DaVinci

4 Sakamoto Ryoma

5 Mozart

6 Cleopatra

7 Einstein

8 Michael Jackson

9 Oda Nobunaga

10 Columbus

11 Gaudi

12 Nightengale

13 Miyazawa Kenji

14 Christ

15 Shokatsu Koumei

16 Galileo

17 Marco Polo

18 Tezuka Osamu

19 Napoleon

20 Picasso

21 Chaplin

22 Matsushita Konosuke

23 Anna Pavlova

24 Steve Jobs

25 Beethoven

26 Edogawa Rampo

27 Helen Keller

28 Buddha

29 Darwin

30 Shakespeare

31 Joan of Arc

32 Souichirou Honda

33 Ghengis Khan

34 Lincoln

35 Agatha Christie

36 Naomi Uemura

37 Marie Curie

38 Elizabeth 1st

39 Ayrton Senna

40 Wright Brothers

41 “Martin Luther King

42 Eiji Tsuburaya

43 Jean-Henri Fabre

44 Grimm Brothers

45 Alexander the Great

46 Andou Momofuku

47 Ghandi

48 Yuri Gagarin

49 Anne Frank

50 Che Guevara