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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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11/30/2006 Archived Entry: "Manga review: Project X Seven Eleven"

Project X Seven Eleven
by Tadashi Ikuta and Naomi Kimura
Digital Manga Publishing

Review by Tom Good

When I lived in Japan, I liked to stop by Seven Eleven and pick up a rice ball snack called onigiri. I told a Japanese friend that when I returned to America, I would suffer because the Seven Eleven stores there wouldn't carry onigiri. He laughed and shook his head. "Come on," he said, "there aren't any Seven Elevens in America. It's a Japanese company!"

Of course, my friend was mistaken: Seven Eleven began in America before crossing the Pacific to Japan. But the stores' great success in Japan convinced a native that they must have been a home-grown idea. This manga tells the story of how a few Japanese businessman discovered Seven Eleven in America, then struggled to adapt the concept to Japan.

The quest-based story line here would not be out of place in a typical swords-and-sorcery manga. The heroes journey to a distant, exotic, mysterious land (America). They discover the existence of a closely guarded book that holds secrets of great power: the twenty-volume manual detailing the operating procedures and trade secrets of the Seven Eleven chain. Realizing that this artifact could bring wealth and fame to those who possess it, they overcome many hardships to obtain it. Finally, back at home, they struggle to put this new-found knowledge into practice, and eventually they triumph.

Most of the story takes place in the 1970's, and the characters are obsessed with obtaining the special "American know-how" that will lead them to success. I find this ironic, because in the 80's a fad for Japanese management practices swept through American businesses, completely reversing this dynamic. In any case, after acquiring the manual, the heroes find it full of "blatantly obvious points" and of little practical value in Japan, so they wind up inventing their own solutions to distribution and merchandising problems.

The real "magic" here lies in the Project X manga series itself: how does it manage to make such seemingly boring topics so interesting? At heart, Project X Seven Eleven is really just a business case study. As such, I'd expect to encounter it as a short article in The Economist, not as a manga. But it actually makes for quite a good manga. I think the secret of this series is that it treats business not as a collection of dry facts and figures, but as the emotional roller-coaster that it often becomes. We see the hopes and dreams, the fears and worries, that can keep a businessperson awake at night. The ultimate threat is not a horde of monsters or a magical power, but the real possibility of bankruptcy and disgrace. And that is pretty scary.

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