Project X Challengers: Seven Eleven
Writer: Tadashi ikuta Artist: Naomi Kimura
Age Rating: All Ages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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 store owner 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 call the retail revolution!
Project X Challengers: Seven Eleven is not your typical manga. There are no powered up heroes, or pretty boys, or magical girls. Instead, it’s about real people facing real life challenges. While the average teen might find these stories boring, adults with an interest in business, history, or just a good story of a team of underdogs struggling against all odds, will enjoy this title.
In fact, I’m one of those people that enjoys stories with a historical bent, and I also enjoy learning about how things started. Whether it’s the English language, the universe, or the dollar bill, seeing all the elements that had to come together to get where we are today fascinates me. So, this title about the beginnings of the “retail revolution” in Japan intrigued me, and for the most part I enjoyed it.
This title reads a lot like a documentary. It begins by introducing the leads, Toshifumi and Hideo, giving their background and how they met. Then the problem is introduced; finding a new retail model to help their company reach beyond the current supermarket model. The narrative alternates between narration in the panels, and dramatizing important scenes such as Toshifumi and Hideo first discovering the Seven Eleven on a bus stop, or the negotiations to get a franchise in Japan. The heart of the story though is the building the team and their efforts to bend the convenience store model to fit in Japanese conventions.
The story really starts to pick up after the Seven Eleven franchise has been settled and the pilot store is chosen. There seem to be obstacles at every turn, but the team faces them head on and work long nights to make the venture a success. They’re determination leads to many innovations such as redesigning the refrigerator units for smaller Japanese aisles to convincing distributors to change their method of delivering goods. Long days and night of tracking individual item sales lead not only to finding a trend in sales, but to the creation of a tracking system that became the basis for all future stores. The team’s determination and hard work is inspiring, and you’ll find yourself cheering them on all the way.
The art is a realistic but simple style. There are little of the cartoonish manga conventions, except when portraying the American executives who came to first see the Japanese supermarket industry before the franchise, and when they came to see the chosen site. They were portrayed in a sort of buffoonish style that reminded me a lot of Osamu Tezuka. The portrayals of the actual team members is done well enough, making them recognizable to actual photos found in the back of the volume.
Project X Challengers: Seven Eleven is an informative and compelling read. Even though it’s rated for all ages, kids and teens probably won’t find anything interesting in the title. This is definitely a title more for the older teen or adult with an interest in business or history, but its themes of determination and drive to succeed is one anyone can enjoy.