by Akira Yokoyama
published by Digital Manga; $12.95 US
While the Cup Noodle volume captured the imagination of bloggers, this earlier book in the series, Project X – The Challengers – 240Z The Fated Z Plan – Fairlady Z/240Z – The Legend of the Most Successful Sport Car in the World, hasn’t been as talked about (possibly because of the incredibly unwieldy subtitles, but more likely because cars aren’t as exotic or odd as noodles are as the subject of a comic).
Like the other book, this volume has plenty of extra material, including an introduction explaining the importance of the car, character profiles, a text piece by the chief designer, photos of the project team and versions of the car, and a timeline of key events.
The Datsun 240Z is credited as the car that broke open the American market for Japanese cars with its elegant design, reasonable cost, and high-speed performance, destroying their reputation as “second-rate”. More, it’s significant as a symbol of the survival of the Japanese economy. During its years of economic downturn, the auto industry was one of the bright spots, and exports drove that.
The car’s history is traced back to post-war international road rallies, the rise of public relations as a field, and one particular executive’s demotion. It seems, although he got good results, he was too much of a non-conformist, so he was sent to America to open that territory (and get him out of the way). Meanwhile, an outspoken young designer was similarly shunted aside into a nearly non-existent sports car division.
The project team is seen as succeeding based on their belief in themselves and their thinking that what they wanted would be shared by others, qualities that mesh better with American culture than Japanese. The cars are beautifully drawn, although usually not in motion. Instead, they’re presented to be admired. That’s not a bad choice, since I’d rather linger on a detailed portrait than see speed lines as they try to cpature the sense of open-road motion.
Both of the Project X books emphasize product design, an area where I think Japan has had significant and deserved worldwide impact. The products don’t just fulfill an unexpected need or break new ground, they do so in the best package possible, one that considers function, utility, and elegance. Even this book demonstrates those principles, as the manga format drove graphic novels into American bookstores and attracted brand-new audiences.
The artist has a website.