Monday, May 25, 2009

The Sound Warriors - Part 1

Every time I review one of the Gakken "Adult Science" build-it kits, I mention the mooks (magazine books) that come with them. Of the mooks that I've seen so far (15 of the 23 on the market), volume 1 is the only one that has a really good manga in it. There are a number of manga in the other mooks, but those either aren't drawn well or don't cover a subject I'm interested in. One fairly decent manga from the creator of Cyborg 009 was included once, but that seems to have just been a reprint of an earlier story that had nothing to do with the mook itself.

The one manga that I do like, though, ran in kit 1 (the putt putt boat kit). However, oddly enough, the story had nothing to do with the boat or with steam engines in general. "音の戦士たち" (The Sound Warriors) was written and drawn by Maki Nishida (西田真基, assuming that I have the reading for "Maki" right; this is not a common kanji for a name.) There's not a lot of information on Maki on the net. It looks like he's worked on Doraemon for a few weeks, as well as contributing to NHK's "その時歴史が動いた" ("History at that time moved", which could probably be treated as "Living History"). I haven't been able to find a complete bibliography for him yet.

The Sound Warriors tells of the development of the record player at the end of the 1800's. The three key players (as portrayed in this story) were Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone), Thomas Edison (inventor in general) and Emile Berliner. When I grew up, school textbooks never mentioned Edison's conflicts with other inventors, such as Berliner and Tesla (regarding whether to wire New York City for AC or DC power; Edison wanted DC and lost out to Tesla's superior designs). Also completely ignored was the fact that Edison and Bell worked at the same time, building up and running rival labs.

While Edison is known for the "Mary had a little lamb" recording on the first tin foil cylinder voice recorder, he didn't actually create the record industry. His design was fragile, the sound produced was too weak to be heard in a crowded room, and it was nearly impossible to reproduce his cylinders on a mass scale. Berliner, an engineer working for Bell, is actually the one credited for taking the first step to a wax cylinder with better sound quality, and then the major leap to the modern-day flat LP record. He then went on to create stores that sold both the players and the records, and this is what the record industry was built on. In contrast, Edison's machines went down a historical dead end as dictation machines.

Maki's manga attempts to correct the oversight in the school textbooks by telling Berliner's story (albeit in a short 8-page summary). Because the language used here is fairly advanced with LOTS of kanji, and because translating this manga could be a first step to getting into patent translation, I'm going to tackle "The Sound Warriors" for this "Learning Japanese" blog series.

Note: Wikipedia gives a slightly different account of Edison's and Berliner's achievements, putting more of the emphasis on Edison. I'm willing to believe that this is inherent in the bias that Edison was the better inventor, rather than being based on the facts.

As always, the manga here is reprinted for educational purposes only. BUY THE BOOK (Kit #1 of the Gakken series) IF YOU LIKE THIS STORY!!!

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