Reviews

The Manga Guide Series (2004)

Commentary

Informal textbooks in narrativized sequential art form. There is a shell of fiction, but I’m classifying the series as non-fiction.

Japanese production non-fiction sequential art series

Entry:

The Manga Guide to Databases (2004)

Creators

Azuma Shōko (artist), Takahashi Mana (writer).

Extent

Read in 2020.

Subject

Relational databases and SQL.

Commentary

As a comic, this is the most facile entry in the series. It’s set in a pseudo-medieval pseudo-European fantasy kingdom, an idyllic monarchy with 19th-century maids and laptop computers: A completely untenable JRPG-style world unsuited to the topic. There is no story to speak of and the art is unimpressive.

The subject matter has aged poorly. It is a breezy introduction and a few of its key concepts are still relevant in 2020, but it looks as if it was written for the 1990s. The most recent credited source is a 2002 JIS standard. There is absolutely nothing about ORMs, document-based databases or cloud-based containers, XML is mentioned as an up-and-coming trend (it wasn’t at the time of translation to English, in 2009), and more object-oriented models get only one page in the closing remarks. At the same time, nothing at all is said about specific database technologies or how to get a database running, and yet there are quiz sections as in a textbook, which is not typical of the series. Admittedly I am a professional, but I would not recommend this even as a starter. I suppose the medium of sequential art makes it especially difficult to update a “textbook”.

Japanese production non-fiction programming sequential art

Entry:

The Manga Guide to Statistics (2004)

Creators

Inoue Iroha (artist), Takahashi Shin (writer).

Extent

Read in 2020.

Subject

Hypothesis testing with P values.

Commentary

A fine entry: The subject matter is reasonably advanced, the academic presentation is decent despite glossing over a number of points in the interest of practicality, and the art, characterization and plotting (by scenario writer re_akino) are all above average for the series, though not so complex as to get in the way. Student protagonist Rui strikes a good balance between interest and disinterest, having an ulterior motive. The non-comic portions are brief and relatively good, and the author is appropriately careful with the epistemology, noting why he insists on “failed to reject the null hypothesis” etc.

Japanese production non-fiction sequential art

Entry:

The Manga Guide to Calculus (2005)

Creators

Togami Shin (artist), Kojima Hiroyuki (writer).

Commentary

Inadequately adapted to the medium. I can see the need for teaching the clunky traditional notation, but sequential art provides larger opportunities than are used here.

Japanese production non-fiction sequential art

Entry:

The Manga Guide to Physics (2006)

Creators

Takatsu Keita (artist), Nitta Hideo (writer).

Extent

Read in 2020.

Subject

Newtonian mechanics via an athletic high-schooler’s interest in tennis.

Commentary

Relatively basic stuff for the series. My high-school physics class covered all of it, including the calculus, which is reduced here to fairly long text-only intermissions with clear warning labels. The medium is used fairly well and the story is kept appropriately simple, but despite Nitta’s ambitious preface, most of the visual aids are the kinds of easily portable props a teacher would use in a classroom, rather than the larger means at the artist’s disposal.

Japanese production non-fiction sequential art

Entry:

The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra (2008)

Creators

Inoue Iroha (artist), Takahashi Shin (writer).

Extent

Read in 2020.

Commentary

The integration of the mathematical subject matter with the narrative is simple but smooth, a sign of the series’ maturity. The ending is somewhat surprising and the text-only intermissions are relatively brief, except the last one. However, the characterizations are weak.

Japanese production non-fiction sequential art

Entry:

The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology (2008)

Creators

Sakura (artist), Takemaru Masaharu (writer).

Extent

Read in 2019.

Commentary

A lot of the illustrations are clearly lifted out of traditional textbooks. The narrativization is a curious balance between anthropomorphization (“Enzyme Man!”), the conceit of VR for viewing realistic cell internals up close, and the outer, human-level story of Professor Moro teaching two near-dropouts for the selfish purpose of curing his own disease. It works surprisingly well, concluding with discussions of the 2006 and 2007 Nobel prizes in Physiology or Medicine.

References here: The Manga Guide to Biochemistry (2009).

Japanese production non-fiction sequential art

Entry:

The Manga Guide to Biochemistry (2009)

Creators

Kikuyaro (artist), Takemaru Masaharu (writer).

Extent

Read in 2019.

Subject

A high-school studient learns about biochemistry until she can penetrate the bullshit of dieting fads.

Commentary

As a comic, it’s significantly better than The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology (2008), being less contrived. Instead of VR on a desert island, there’s just an appropriately marginal endoscopic robot premise. The non-comic portions between chapters are thinner and flow better. The science content itself seems more appropriately apportioned. It ranges, amusingly, to the topic of mochi springiness. The previous book’s discussion of a couple of Nobel prizes is replaced by nine pages of the author’s personal reflections on the differences between the two disciplines, via what appears to be his thesis project.

The main character of the narrative, Kumi, is driven by a desire to lose weight, but there is no sign that she is overweight. If any manga should have an overweight and adult protagonist, surely it’s this one, given the purely pro-science, incidentally anti-Banting message and college-age target audience. And yet, even here, the protagonist is a high-school girl on the slim side. More surprisingly, all three characters in the book are diligent and enthusiastic from the start, even if Kumi is a bit of a ditz for comic relief.

Japanese production non-fiction sequential art