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The Manga Guide To The Universe by Kenji Ishikawa and Kiyoshi Kawabata

1/10/2011. Contributed by Phil Jones

Buy The Manga Guide To The Universe in the USA - or Buy The Manga Guide To The Universe in the UK

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pub: No Starch Press 259 page paperback. Price: $19.95 (US), GBP15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-59327-267-8.

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The universe, it’s amazing. For anyone who caught the impressive series narrated by Brian Cox’s ‘Wonders Of The Universe’ or for anyone who has more than a passing interest in the universe, Milky Way or our Solar system, then this book may be for you.

So, like other Manga guides, it takes on a familiar layout of Manga followed by a more detailed series of pages with text and diagrams and some maths thrown in for good measure. We join the drama group at Kouki High School, who are rather lacking in members. There is an art festival coming up and with only two in the group they have difficulty in deciding what to put on. With only twenty days to go and the threat of the drama group being shut down, they are joined by Gloria, a new student to the school from the US. The group along with a teacher, Mr. Ishizuka. try decide what to do and the story of Kagugya-hime ( the tale of the bamboo cutter) is suggested.

The tale concerns an elderly bamboo cutter who stumbles upon a glowing bamboo stalk. On cutting it open, he finds a tiny girl. He takes the child back to his childless wife and they adopt her. She grows up incredibly quickly and turns into a beautiful young woman. So much so that word spreads to the capital and suitors arrive and she asks them to bring back an impossible treasure as a condition of marriage. Even the emperor is interested in her but even he is rejected. The girl would get pensive when she stared at the Moon and even cry sometimes at the full Moon. She revealed, on getting upset, that she was in fact from the Moon and she would soon have to return when the Moon was full once more.

The emperor on hearing this, forbade it and surrounded the girl’s house with soldiers but they were defeated by the Moon’s soldiers. Before this occurred, though, the girl had given the old bamboo cutter a letter and elixir to give to the emperor. As the girl rose back up to the Moon, she forgot all her Earthly memories. On receiving the letter, the emperor decided not to take the elixir which would make him immortal. Instead, he commanded his soldiers to bury it on the highest mountain, Mt. Fuji, the Japanese word for immortality (Fushi).

The class touches on the first Moon landing and Japan’s satellite’ Kaguya’ which orbited the Moon. So using the idea of the tale of the bamboo cutter, they explore the idea of the girl coming from further in space. There’s a rather good text section that touches on cosmic myths and the origins of the study of astronomy in China. This is followed by a rather neat method of calculating the Earth’s size by the Greek scholar Eratosthenes who live about 276 BC. The Earth and the Moon being round and the history of this is raised as both the ancient Greek and Japanese both thought of the Earth being round.

Kanna sees a mysterious light and is late to the cinema and the group suspect it is a UFO. It turns out to be Kanta and the group discuss if there is any evidence that it was a UFO. So to settle the whole matter, the group got to see Prof Sanuki at the astrophysics department. There follows a discussion of the Solar system and how through history it was debated where the Earth is in relation to the sun and other planets. The in-depth text then expands this touching on retrograde planetary orbits and the Solar system. A baseball field is used to give an idea of scale of the Solar system and it’s finally revealed what the UFO actually was. We move onto measurement techniques and heliocentric and geocentric theories and a explanation of Kelper’s laws.

The group debates the birth place of Kaguya-hime and we get a breakdown about the planets in our Solar system. The group move onto discussing the Milky Way and how vast the galaxy is. A rather interesting explanation of galaxy shape and types and how our galaxy will eventually collide with Andromeda galaxy.

We move onto the expansion of the universe and the history and science of observing the universe. A football game is used to highlight clustering of galaxies. Kanna sulks until the professor asks what’s wrong and ends up happy when her idea of the universe expanding uniformly like a balloon is actually a good analogy. After discussing the big bang and space-time finally, the play starts coming together. We touch on whether aliens are possible and what life could survive in space. The play goes on and we start discussing 2D universe models and the edge of the universe and dark matter. The book ends with some lovely colour photographs of astronomical marvels.

There are a lot of scientific ideas covered in this book. The characters producing a play and, basing it on the things they discover in the process of writing and performing it, is a good idea. There is a fair amount of text slotted in between the manga cartoons but on the whole it complements the on-going story. It’s well written and easy to follow. Anyone who is interested in space and universe or is in the process of studying it at school will probably find this entertaining and informative.

Phil Jones

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