Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, July 17, 2009
      ( 7/17/2009 09:38:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"IT'S A LITTLE CONFUSING IN TEXT." To begin, the focus of No Starch Press' newest translated EduManga, The Manga Guide to Physics, is on Newtonian physics: movement and energy as it's explained to us and the book's schoolgirl heroine Megumi Ninomiya.

As set up by physics prof Hideo Nitta and abetted by scripter re_akino and illustrator Keito Takatsu, our shojo heroine is a high school tennis player struggling to beat her snotty green-haired rival Sayaka. Megumi needs some schooling in classical mechanics to help her with her game, so she enlists the tutelage of the bookish Ryota to instruct her in Newton's Three Laws of Motion. (He "won a silver metal in the International Physics Olympic Games," Megumi tells us, a fact you can't imagine an American girl jock knowing about a fellow classmate.) In so doing, she's able to transfer her newfound knowledge onto the tennis courts.

As with the other Manga Guides, the creators utilize their slight storytelling premise as a hook on which to hang their lessons. Every once in a while, we're reminded of the reason our athletic young heroine is studying with Ryota through a few panels of her rival spying on the two, though we never doubt that Megumi won't whup her ass once they return to the tennis courts. The prime focus remains on the manga-sized lessons, though, with sections of text in between the "story" elaborating on the concepts being explicated.

The text sections crop more frequently than they did in earlier entries, resulting in shorter, somewhat choppier story chapters. While the comic panels suit the demonstration of objects in motion, they're less effective when the book gets down to discussing the specific formula applying to each. This particular physics bonehead didn't find the lessons as clear-cut as they were in Statistics and Databases, at least.

Still, the EduManga comics remain amusing. As with Statistics, the creators derive some small character comedy from the heroine's observations about their instructor's boyish geekiness. "He has so many toys," Megumi notes after Ryota pulls out a slingshot to demonstrate the principle of potential energy. At least in this book, the schoolgirl's kiddish tutor is the same age as her.

Takatsu's art is well suited to the story segments. Solidly cartoonish, with plenty of broadly and physically expressed emotions, it comically fits the book's considerations of energy, momentum and impact. To add to Ryota's explanations, the manga regularly features a muscular figure with a head that changes to match whatever object in motion they're supposed to be symbolizing. When Ryota describes a 500 and 100 yen coin ricocheting off each other, for instance, the panels feature two spandexed figures chest bumping. At times, reading these cartoony demonstrations, I found myself thinking of the old Ludwig Von Drake educational 'toons that used to run on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. Stellar company to keep.


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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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