This Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ) has possibly the best topic yet – Japan’s karakuri, which encompasses mechanical devices including mechanical dolls/automatons and what I’d describe as Rube Goldberg machines (though people in Britain would no doubt refer to as Heath Robinson affairs). I think we’re going to see some neat stuff, and Aiba-kun’s going to have the delighted eyes of a kid in a toy shop.

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Oh, and for those who don’t know what a Rube Goldberg machine is, it’s one of these complicated things that ends up performing a simple task:

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Everyone probably wanted to get in on this episode, so Aiba-kun’s had three helpers instead of the more common two – Sawabe-san, Cunning Takeyama-san, and Bibiru Oki-san. It was raining out when they started, just as it was in the last episode, but that’s all right because they’re going to be indoors anyway.

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The cue card says they’ll first learn about the history about the mechanisms, which is great because it means we’ll see some Edo period stuff (1603-1868). But after that they’re going to put together their own mechanism – even better!

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The first specialist for the episode still makes mechanical dolls with the tradition methods of the Edo period, and he even looks like he’d fit right in if transported back to the early 19th century (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). Hilariously, though, he makes the same mistake as Bibiru-san did – saying karaoke instead of karakuri.

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The automata are . . . well, they’re beautiful works of art, to put it simply. This one serves tea:

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We get a look at the inner workings of the device and, as expected, Aiba-kun is getting that kid-with-toys enthusiasm.

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The stop is critical – it’s easy to create a device that moves mindlessly, so the trick is to get the mechanism to start and stop so that it seems to have a life of its own.

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But just stopping isn’t the limit of the tea-serving dolls’ brilliance – it executes a u-turn just short of the table corner after Takeyama-san returns his cup to it.

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Gymnastics automata are always good fun:

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There’s that look:

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And the trick here is revealed when you turn the wooden figure around and hear a liquid pouring. It’s not water – it’s mercury.

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The clock, fundamental to the refinement of mechanisms in Europe, was imported to Japan when the missionaries came:

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The development of karakuri in Japan was spurred by the reverse-engineering of the clock:

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And the fascination with automata has never ceased in Japan, as we see from the developments in Japanese robotics today.

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Cue the VTR of all sorts of neat mechanisms.

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But enough history, it’s time for Aiba-kun and his team to take a look at some Rube Goldberg machines with an eye to making their own.

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Really, every piece of this sort of setup has to be amusing, from the little foam human figure . . .

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. . . to the tape-measure car . . .

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. . . to the plastic bottle rocket . . .

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. . . with a cartoon mallet.

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Aiba-kun has a whole studio filled with elements like that – it’s up to his imagination what they’re going to use and how they’re going to put it all together.

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The key is originality . . .

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. . . and sometimes that means creating custom parts:

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The whole second half was devoted to Aiba-kun and his pals playing around like this, and totally reminded me of some of the tasks in Johnny’s Junior Land.

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They really devote a lot of time to get this right, but they also have a time limit. Without that limit, there’s no telling how long they would have kept at it.

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They’re driven because they have a vision of what they want to create.

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Somehow, they also worked food into the episode, and Takeyama-san and Bibiru-san went to a grocery store to pick it up:

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So, in the end, what did they make? Did it work, or was it a truly epic fail?

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As you can probably tell already, I think this was an excellent episode. In fact, I’d go further than that and say it was the best episode of Aiba Manabu so far.

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Aiba-kun and his pals had a real challenge and were thoroughly engaged throughout. It wasn’t just the normal good chemistry – they were working together on a level so far not seen on the show, and to great effect. As Aiba-kun himself said, the results were genuinely moving.

Of course, I have a great love for machines and the way things work so this was all right up my alley, but I think the thrill of putting something together that works is something that is broadly shared. I think that the fact that Aiba-kun and the other three were so focused and involved will help to keep any viewer interested. The language level necessary was higher early on, but the second half was pretty easy to understand without knowledge of Japanese. Fans of Aiba-kun in particular will definitely love seeing him at work.

Aiba Manabu earned a lot of credit with me from this episode – I’ll be in a forgiving mood for the next month or so if they do topics I’m not as impressed by.