Ryu’s Musings – The Project X Trilogy

Posted on September 18th, 2010 by Ryu Sheng |

01

Title: Project X – 240z
ISBN-13: 9781569709573
Language: English
Direction: Right to Left
Pages: 208
by: Akira Yokoyama
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Type: Series
Genre: Shonen, Slice of Life, Educational
Synopsis:

The Japanese automobile was seen as the inferior “second-class” vehicle in America during the 1960’s. During this time, there were men in Japan who dared to dream of the impossible: to build a Japanese sports car that would be popularly accepted worldwide. Through the zeal and innovation of Yutaka Katayama, now known as “Mr. K”, and the designing genius of Yoshihiko Matsuo, their dream was made real in the form of the legendary sports car, the Nissan Fairlady Z. Known as the Datsun 240Z in America, this sports car became an unprecedented success, and is still loved by fans today.

Project X is an educational series telling the success stories of three different companies which are iconic even today.

I have to admit I’ve been a bit of an idiot over this series to be honest, firstly when I saw the cover image of the 240Z volumes, I assumed it was part of Initial – D and discounted it since I’ve never read Initial – D. Then when I learned of that mistake I discounted it again because it was an ‘educational’ manga, something  I’ve never really been interested in.

Yup, idiot that’s me 😀 What we have here are three excellent stories covering the development of three industries in Japan. However rather than focusing on the actual products that were developed the manga looks at the driving forces behind the developments, the people and their motivations.

So, getting onto the first one, simply called the 240Z. This volume is devoted to the development of the Fairlady Z, made by Datsun. Ironically I had only just recently finished watching Wangan Midnight, which as a Fairlady Z as the main car so I really got into this.

The story covers how the car idea came about, and how the companies involved initially weren’t responsive to the development of a sports car. Akira really manages to pull the sense of pressure, desperation and happiness out of his art.

Over the course of the volume I found myself getting drawn more and more into the story and rooting for the leads.

Of course, since this is a success story, the out come was obvious. However this didn’t hinder the enjoyment of the reading. Following the trials of Mr K and the team in the development of the car, the problems they had breaking into the american market, to the final re-birth of the supposedly dead car. I followed all and was impressed by the depth of detail that Akira had obviously gone into.

The art isn’t that great, but only in character designs. on the cars and sceneries it looks pretty stunning, but the character designs really didn’t appeal to me. Some of them had those horrid exaggerated western look and feel to them, and others just didn’t look like the person they were supposed to be. However the story, atmosphere, feeling and power all more than make up for the arts let downs and more than carry the volume.

The volume is just crammed full of extras as well, which alone made for an interesting read, as did the included time line of events.

DMP did a almost perfect job on this release, and it would have been perfect but for one flaw. The fonts used in this volume were nice and large, easy to read and follow, even for digital reading. Rather than adding a glossary we get inline explanations for things, which really works well in this volume. Also the translation was handled well, with a good smooth flow without it getting bogged down and feeling forced. The only thing I didn’t like, was the lack of honorific’s. Yeah I can hear people screaming it’s a minor thing, but for me it’s a big thing and tells me that the publisher is keeping things pure as possible.

The lack of them in this volume was surprising, since DMP do usually leave them intact.

02 Title: Project X – Cup Noodle
ISBN-13: 9781569709597
Language: English
Direction: Right to Left
Pages: 208
by: Tadashi Katoh
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Type: Series
Genre: Shonen, Slice of Life, Educational
Synopsis:

In a time when the Japanese food industry was struggling economically, a man named Momofuku Andou sought to turn the tide. Seeking a new type of food for a new era, he ordered the development of a “cup noodle” – a revolutionary idea for a convenient instant noodle. Overcoming public skepticism as well as doubts, even from those within their own company, Andou and his staff of young developers constantly challenged convention to create this new product. Behind the now familiar cup o’ noodle, which has sold over 8.2 billion worldwide, lies a dramatic story of the struggles of the men behind its success.

Of the three stories this was the one I liked the least.

The story didn’t really have the power behind it the the 240Z one did, and on the second read through I realised why. The motivation of the cast is different, drastically different. In the 240Z story all the crew are passionate about building the car, and are devoted to the development in a big way; Akira pulls out that passion and infects the reader with it.

The motivation of the crew this time is different, with the exception of the director the rest are focused on one thing, a wage increase. So while it’s true that the story is is interesting, it lacks the passion and devotion to really draw the reader in.

This was true all the way through to the near end where they started testing the product in Ginza. It’s only then that we get to feel any real passion for the product coming from anyone other than the director. While the story was interesting, and I’m guessing there was more to the characters, Tadashi fails to bring them to life or show them as being really into things.

I also wonder about Toshiko, given the prominent placement she gets in the character profiles at the beginning of the volume I was expecting more out of her. Unfortunately we only see her briefly, and then she disappears and never returns. Why was she added at all? She wasn’t a main character but rather a supporting one with barely a page or two of appearances.

Art wise I rather liked this volume honestly. Gone are the weird western style faces and heads and we have a normal manga art. This really works well and I have to admit the character designs really worked well for me this time around.

DMP did another great job with this release, though just as with the 240Z release, there’s no honorific’s in the volume.

Overall sadly it was a disappointing read, and even with the extras we get it didn’t really grab me.

03 Title: Project X – Seven Eleven
ISBN-13: 9781569709580
Language: English
Direction: Right to Left
Pages: 192
by: Tadashi Ikuta (story), Naomi Kimura (art)
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing
Type: Series
Genre: Shonen, Slice of Life, Educational
Synopsis:

In a time when giant department stores and supermarkets dominated the Japanese retail industry, two businessmen, Toshifumi Suzuki and Hideo Shimizu, discovered a new type of small retail store flourishing in America – the Seven Eleven. Called a “convenience store,” it was a concept new to the Japanese. Intrigued by this new idea and convinced that it would succeed in Japan as well, the two men put together a project team of fifteen members, all virtual novices to the retail trade, to bring this venture to their land. Staking his entire livelihood, young storeowner Kenji Yamamoto volunteered to convert his family-owned liquor store into the first Seven Eleven in Japan. The hardship of negotiations, the oil shock, the struggle to cope with inadequate space were all met with resolve and innovation, culminating in what is now called the retail revolution!

I loved this volume!!

This volume chronicles the birth of convenience stores in Japan. Hardly a riveting story you’d think, and frankly I was expecting another dull Cup Noodle story. What we get however is a story that really caught my attention and drew me into the story.

Tadashi takes a dull story and makes it interesting, and draws the reader along on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Watching the team form, then battle the odds against the companies of both Japan and America was amazing.

Like with the 240Z volume this one chronicles the birth of the idea through to it’s winning success. We see the trials Shimizu has to go through as he gets demote, then goes to america to find a new concept.

I liked the way the story flowed, it was good and fast paced, yet didn’t rush to tell the story. Rather it allowed the story to come out naturally. The way the story comes a full circle was equally interesting, and I have to admit I had a bit of a chuckle over the way it ends up.

The down side of this single volume story was that the team, fifteen strong, doesn’t get a lot of page time. One of the characters, Tomiko, barely gets any time. Yet she’s listed as being one of the leading members of the team. Though given that they only had a single volume it’s not unexpected.

Naomi draws really well, and the art looks okay. It’s not stellar art by any means, but the style does grow on you. The character designs are likewise okay, but some of them (such as Tomiko) look really freaky at times.

DMP, like in the other two volumes, does an excellent job with the translations and font choices for the volume. Though like the previous volumes it lacks honorific’s, so minus for that.

Overall though these are a good read, despite the Cup Noodle one. While I’m not sure why they’re classed as educational, they are a fun read. In the case of the 240Z volume it’s a simple joy to read as the characters are so personable and alive. They infect you with their enthusiasm and you feel the lows and highs with them.

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