Let's start this out with my own admission of personal bias. I took Statistics as a graduate student way too many years ago, and while I did okay in the class at the time, I must confess that a good 90% of the material fled my brain fifteen minutes after I aced my final. Stats and me are not close friends – let's just say I'm numerically challenged and leave it at that.
I thus approached Shin Takahashi's The Manga Guide to Statistics (No Starch Press) in a somewhat resistant frame of mind. "So you're gonna make Cramer's Coefficient interesting to this numbers fumbling geezer? You've got your work cut out for ya!"
The "EduManga" is told through a young girl named Rui, whose father works for a marketing firm. When Rui's dad brings home a dreamy-looking co-worker named Igarashi, the 14-year-old immediately develops a school crush on her elder. To get him to return to her home ("Thinking of him makes me happy," she says as she squeezes her teddy bear), she asks her father if she could be tutored in statistics by one of his colleagues. Dad, tearfully overjoyed to learn that his daughter is interested in his job, agrees.
The tutor that Rui receives, however, proves not to be the handsome Igarishi, but a bespectacled nerd named Mr. Yamamoto. Rui is disappointed by this seeming bait-and-switch, though most readers can immediately guess where that aspect of the storyline is headed once Yamamoto removes his Coke-bottle glasses. Still, she accepts her new tutor's teachings, which are conducted on a chapter-by-chapter basis – first in manga format then as written exercises.
The manga portions, illustrated by Iroha Inoue, are clean and cutely rendered in shoujo style. Girly Rui is your typical uniformed schoolgirl: prone to histrionic overreactions that are utilized for comic effect. Though much of the art is focused on student and teacher interacting in Rui's home, Inoue does toss in a few visual jokes: imagining a frustrated Rui as a distressed Picasso-esque figure for the space of one panel, drawing Yamamoto as a mustachioed waiter serving up a lesson's "main course" in a later panel. To my eyes, the book could've benefited from more of these moments, but perhaps the textbook's creators were concerned with visually straying too far from the task at hand.
In general, I found the manga lessons clear-cut for the first half of the volume – and less immediately readable as the subject matter grew denser and more graph-beholden. Takahashi (abetted by scripter re_akino) utilizes some clever character-driven examples to demonstrate statistical concepts. When we learn that both Rui and her teacher follow a girl's manga series entitled Melon High School Story, for instance, Yamamoto uses a reader's survey to demonstrate the difference between categorical and numerical data. Later on, we see that the teacher has won a Melon High School Story key chain for himself taking part in the survey. Just another grown-up manga freak.
Statistics proves to be the first of several translated "EduManga" being released by No Starch Press (among the upcoming titles: Guides to Databases, Calculus, Physics and Molecular Biology). The series' shoujo style and spunky schoolgirl heroines make the books a good potential fit for those manga readers who've made Fruits Basket a hit, though I can't help wondering how many male student readers will key into panels showing Rui adolescently mooning over blond-haired Igarishi. Perhaps the aim of this series is to make math friendlier to an audience that historically has been perceived as indifferent to this type of material. (Though in America, at least, recent studies have suggested that young girls are catching up to boys in the arena of math skills.) If so, who cares what the boys think?
And for the record, while I enjoyed reading this wittily constructed manga textbook, fifteen minutes after I put it down, 90% of the information fled my brain…