Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, March 06, 2009
      ( 3/06/2009 09:38:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"WE WILL SEE TO IT THAT THE KINGDOM OF KOD WILL THRIVE!" The second entry in No Starch Press's series of shoujo "EduManga" devoted to math and science, Mana Takahashi and Shoko Azuma's Manga Guide to Databases takes a mildly more fanciful approach to its story framework. Where the first book, Statistics, presented its daunting concepts through dialogs between a middle-class teenaged schoolgirl and her grown-up tutor, Databases makes its student vessel the princess of a fairytale kingdom and her teacher a perky fairy named Tico.

Our heroine, Princess Ruruna, has been left in charge of the Kingdom of Kod (a.k.a. "The Country of Fruit") when her parents leave the country for a world tour. ("It is one of my important official duties to travel abroad," the bearded king vaguely explains.) With the unprepared princess in charge of managing the country's fruit production and distribution, the poor girl struggles to get a handle on things. It isn't until she receives a package from her parents containing a locked book, though, that she's provided the tools to manage things more effectively.

As Tico instructs Ruruna and her loyal aide Cain in the terminology and basics of databases, the uses of relational databases and possible applications of the tool, our heroine has to fend off the advances of a egotistical pretty boy prince from a neighboring kingdom and, of course, come to realize that her childhood friend and aide is really the one for her. This sketchy bit of romantic subplot is rather perfunctorily handled, but at least it's not as potentially squirm-inducing as the schoolgirl crush Statistics' heroine had on her adult tutor.

More amusing are the off-handed side comments made by Ruruna and Cain about Tico's teaching style and periodic wardrobe additions -- as well as the occasional bits of Topper-esque comedy revolving around our two students' conversations with a creature no one else can see. Artist Shoko Azuma isn't as far-flown with the visual flights as Iroha Inoue was in Statistics; perhaps the more fanciful story setting is meant to compensate for this, but the fact remains that when you've got panel after panel of charts and teaching heads, you still need to razzle-dazzle 'em.

Too, the presentation of databasics doesn't strike me as smoothly managed as it was in the stats volume. There's an over reliance on panels of floating tables and charts hanging in the space between our characters, and at times the effect is more crowded than it is visually welcoming. Still, I suspect that shoujo readers coming to this book for an introduction to the subject will leave with a decent grounding in it.

As with the first Manga Guide, the book interweaves comics with text and study questions designed to further explicate the material. I skimmed this material because, frankly, I was more interested in seeing how Tico's teachings would make our harried princess' life easier. "By using databases," Ruruna tells us at the end of the book, "I will build a wonderful country where everyone can enjoy a convenient way of life." Go to it, Ruruna!

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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