Honda has re-released its full six-part cartoon history video series, told with manga panels. The series is based on the m the Shogakukan manga series about company founder Soichiro Honda. Though Honda has released the videos piecemeal before, the old ones have all been taken down. Now, you can binge-watch all six at once.
Part 01 tells the story of the creation that would launch Honda as we know it today. In post-war Japan, where resources were scarce, Soichiro Honda began strapping surplus radio generators to bicycles, creating the first Honda-built motorcycles. The story kind of jumps around, and you get the sense that many parts are skipped over, but the chapter introduces Kiyoshi Kawashima, who would become President of Honda during the key years of 1973-83. It also establishes just how much of a mad scientist Old Man Honda was, and how it difficult it could have been to work for him.
Soihciro Honda was a mad scientist, in fact, that he wasn’t very good at marketing or selling his products. His forte was in the workshop, devising engines and getting his hands dirty. It wasn’t until Honda met Takeo Fujisawa, the genius salesman who would become Managing Director. Fujisawa was the yin to Honda’s yang, someone with the gift of gab and the desire to nurture the growth of something great. The two became the best of friends, some would say they were like brothers. Fujisawa’s arrival allowed Honda to concentrate on what he did best, and together they took Honda from a small motorcycle mill in rural Japan to a globally respected manufacturer.
Part 03 details the challenges faced by Honda and Fujisawa during the tumultuous year of 1954. Japan was in a recession, and it was at that exact time that several of Honda’s products were facing quality issues and bad press. With bill collectors knocking on their doors, both Honda and Fujisawa handled the problem in their own respective ways. However, it was also at this time that the two set their sights on the Isle of Man TT, the toughest motorcycle race in the world. Honda entered its first bike at the Grand Prix race in 1959, and by 1961, took home the checkered flag, establishing Honda as a name to be reckoned with on the world stage.
With Honda having taken some confident steps overseas, North America was the next big market. American Honda was established and the Super Cub became Honda’s first big hit in the US. Surprisingly, the segment doesn’t dwell too much on what make the Super Cub a success. Instead, it ends on the Super Cub’s fade from popularity and the shift towards sportier bikes.
The longest episode covers Honda’s expansion from a motorcycle manufactruer to a carmaker. It begins with a somewhat abridged version of Soihciro Honda’s fight with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which wanted to limit the number of auto companies in Japan. Honda, who had not yet established itself as a carmaker, was in danger of being forbidden from making cars, leading Old Man Honda to take one of his many battles with MITI. Little time is spent on Honda’s first cars, the S-series roadster and T-series truck, instead delving into their epic quest to take the highest echelons of motorsport in the world, Formula One.
The final episode functions as an epilogue, taking place after Soichro Honda’s retirement in 1973. From there, he went on a thank you tour to factories, dealerships, and service centers around Japan and the world that lasted three years. Honda-san visits the US factory in Ohio, and reminisces about just how far he’s come.
There’s a scene in the flashback, in which, as a boy, Soichiro Honda chases after a car that happens to drive through his village. Taken by the machine, young Honda chases it down the road enthusiastically, and when the car is gone, he stops to smell the oil that it has left. For some reason this scene, which is in the manga, is taken out of the videos, but it’s key to understanding the final scene. While that last moment is almost certainly made up, and throughout the episodes there’s some artistic license with history, in that tearjerker of a finale, we can forgive the author for penning such a wonderful end to Soichiro Honda’s story.