– There are lots of examples of comics that use references to our own Solar System, and to what we know about other stars and galaxies, says Daria Dall'Olio, PhD Student in Galactic Astrophysics at Chalmers.
Japanese manga and anime culture are now known all over the world. Many Japanese comics and animated films and tv series became popular in Europe and other parts of the world in the 1970s. Today their common imagery and language is shared by three generations of fans, and Daria Dall’Olio is one of them. The stories are often centred on fantasy and science fiction set in space, she explains.
– There are lots of examples of comics that use references to our own Solar System, and to what we know about other stars and galaxies. In our presentations we show examples of these references, and then we can explain the real physical and astronomical concepts behind them.
Using comics and animation as a educational tool is not a new concept. Walt Disney produced educational films back in the 1940s, about such diverse topics as health, economy and psychology. Manga and anime are just one of the latest examples. The characters from the popular comic series Galaxy Express 999 has even been used in special educational films, where they guide the audience through the galaxy in planetarium shows in Japan.
– The series Galaxy Express 999 revolves around an intergalactic train travelling across space and visiting many new worlds, so you can compare the way different planets are depicted to the knowledge that we have today. There are plenty of other examples. We use Sailor Moon, which is quite popular in Sweden, to illustrate the planets and other bodies of our Solar System.
The project Costellazione Manga was started by Daria Dall’Olio and Piero Ranalli after they spent two years in Japan, with Piero working as a post-doctoral researcher and Daria studying Japanese. When they returned to the University of Bologna they arranged their first public talk on manga and astronomy at the planetarium of Ravenna – and the project was born.
– I really enjoy these presentations. Each one is different! Every country – or even every city – has its own common cultural references, so when we prepare a lecture we try to find out which comics are the most popular there.
In Sweden, Sailor Moon and Starzinger are the favourites, Daria explains. But even when she can use references that people are familiar with, the differences between fact and fantasy still has to be addressed – with a generous dose of humour.
– Sometimes we have to deliver bad news! Fans of UFO Robot Grendizer might be disappointed to learn that astronomers have found no signs of planets around the star Vega, where their favourite giant robot supposedly comes from, says Daria, who is a PhD student at the Department och Space, Earth and Environment.
The project now includes several international scientists, as well as Swedish comic book artist Yvette Gustafsson. Daria and Yvette presented the project together at the Gothenburg Science Festival 2018, and now once more at the AHA Festival at Chalmers on 19-21 November
For Daria, combining her love of astronomy with her love of manga and anime is way of bridging the gap between science and the rest of society.
– The public doesn’t always understand what scientists are doing, and I think one of the reasons is that we seem to be far apart from each other. If scientists can find a common ground and find links to people and their everyday lives, we can reach into hearts and minds and start to talk the same language, says Daria.
Text: Christian Löwhagen and Robert Cumming.