In this super periodic table, every element is a unique character whose properties are represented visually: heavy elements are fat, man-made elements are robots, and noble gases sport impressive afros. Every detail is significant, from the length of an element’s beard to the clothes on its back. You’ll also learn about each element’s discovery,its common uses, and other vital stats like whether it floats–or explodes–in water.
I first learned about this title through the manga reviews column in Otaku USA. I found the visuals and concept so intriguing, that I jumped at the chance to review it myself! I’d always found Chemistry interesting, and with my oldest daughter currently taking the class, it seemed a good opportunity. Wonderful Life with the Elements didn’t disappoint. It was fun, educational, and rather thought-provoking.
What stands out first and foremost about Wonderful Life with the Elements is it isn’t a traditional manga. There’s no story to follow with the science incorporated like the Manga Guide series. It’s really more of an illustrated book, with the illustrations telling just as much, if not more, as the text. Yorifuji does incorporate a small narrative with his “atom man”, which is mostly seen on the dividing pages between sections and is rather cute. The book starts with graphs that show the elemental make up of our world, and how our use of the elements have changed and grown starting from prehistoric times to today.
The heart of the book is the periodic table. Yorifuji explains the reason for illustrating the table, so newcomers can not only know the names but also learn many of their properties at a glance. The way he does this, is to come up with a character that can be used to show the properties. First he creates the character’s face, which is based on the parts of an atom. It’s cute and clever. This “Atom man”, which is made very obvious from the anatomically correct way he is drawn, is then dressed up. Hair is used to show what family an element is from. Afros show the cool Noble gases. Spikes are for the volatile zinc family, and mohawks are for the nitrogen family where many poisons come from. Atomic weight is shown as body weight. Clothes show how the element is used, such as everyday use, specialty or industrial. When an element was discovered is shown as facial hair, and even the element’s matter state can be determined by the legs.
Each element is placed on a pedestal, which is usually some item that it plays in important role in. Indium, which is big in the production of LCD screens, stands on one. Gallium is the element that helps make blu-ray players and gaming machines, so he is standing on a Playstation 3. Along with each illustration is a blurb of text that explains a little about the element, and all around him are smaller pictures, showing several of the other uses. Some of these can be funny, such as with Neodymium, which was used to make the world’s strongest magnet, so there’s a picture of Neodymium’s face getting stuck to a metal pellet. Even though it isn’t stated, the poisonous elements are also differentiated with the eyes. Poisonous elements have big, empty eyes, like a ghost or skeleton, making their ominous intent obvious.
The last part of the book gets personal. It explores how our bodies are made up of the elements, and what happens when we have too much or too little of them. It will make reading the dietary information on the back of food packages a little more relevant. It also talks about how the elements are just that. These are the basic building blocks of life and the universe, and as such are finite. It emphasizes the importance of recycling these elements, especially the ones that make our modern technology possible, because if we don’t, we may not have them for much longer.
No Starch Press’ presentation of the book is very nicely done. It’s a hardback, but is just a couple of inches smaller that an average manga and just as much wider. It has a slipcover that has cheats for how the elements are represented; hair, clothes, matter states, etc. It’s a good reference when you need to be reminded what a hairstyle was for again. There is a nice ribbon bookmark attached, so you’ll never lose your place which also makes a good cat toy, at least our newest kitten thinks so. There is also a poster included, which is perfect for the classroom or display.
I really enjoyed reading Wonderful Life with the Elements. It was fun, and I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before. I may not have the memorized table from this one reading, but there are certainly some that stick out, like Neodymium, that I never knew about before. What really enthuses me about this book is how it has piqued the interest of my daughter. As I said, she is taking Chemistry, and when I showed her the review of the book, she loved the idea. And when I got a copy of the book, she said she wanted to read it too. And then show it to some of her geekier friends. And then give it to her Chemistry teacher, so he can hopefully use it in class. If it can engage kids, and make learning a fun experience, which it seems it does, then it’s a book that gets an A+ from me.
Review copy provided by publisher.