Comic Title: The Manga Guide to Statistics
Author: Text and artwork by Shin Takahashi
Format: Trade paperback
Reviewed by: Elena
Math is hard – especially for dumb girls! Thankfully, lovable but socially awkward nerd Mamoru is hired to teach cute-but-moronic young Rui all about statistics… So that Rui can, in turn, impress her father’s extremely handsome (and much, much older) co-worker, who does marketing research for a living. Ouch. If you can get past the migraine-inducing gender stereotypes saturating this educational manga, you will actually learn a lot of very useful math lessons, and relatively painlessly at that. But. That’s a pretty big “if”.
Impressions and Opinions:
All right, so. I started banging my head against my desk with frustration, after only reading the first two pages of this book. No, not because the math was hard. (We haven’t even gotten to the math yet.) But because of the “story.” Rui’s father brings home his handsome co-worker, Mr. Igarashi, for a quick visit. Rui, immediately smitten by this hottie old enough to be her father, falls all over herself offering Mr. Igarashi a cushion to sit on and a cup of coffee. She asks Mr. Igarashi what he does at work. “I do marketing,” Mr. Igarashi answers. Rui’s like, “Derrrrrrr, marketing, what’s that?! (*cute smile*).”
Yes, this is only the second page of the book.
I mean, wow. What kind of teenage girl has never heard of marketing before?! Has Rui been living under a rock?!
Apparently yes. On the third page, Rui explains, “Sorry, I have never heard of it before!”
Mr. Igarashi explains what marketing is, then asks, “Do you know what statistics is?” Nope, Rui has never heard of that before, either!
I need a drink.
Mr. Igarashi tries to explain what statistics is, but it’s too difficult for Rui, who ends up being punched in the head by Mr. Igarashi’s word bubble*, starts crying, and then collapses, banging her face into a coffee table.
Like me, the way that I’m banging my face against my desk right now!
* Okay, I’ll admit, I do give the book points for the rather hilarious image of Mr. Igarashi’s long-winded word bubble punching Rui in the head.
Anyway, yep, that’s the end of the third page.
I’m going to stop doing this play-by-play now, because three pages basically tells you everything that you need to know about this book: RUI IS UNBELIEVABLY DUMB. And the key word here is unbelievably. I understand that an educational comic needs a somewhat clueless lead character who is going to be the one to, you know, actually learn things as the story progresses. But THIS level of cluelessness? It’s unbelievable. When mixed with Rui’s supposedly “cute” antics and “funny” statements of sheer jaw-dropping stupidity, it just comes off as squicky. That, and the fact that Rui’s entire motivation for wanting to learn more about statistics is that she has a drooling crush on Mr. Igarashi. (Yes, drooling. Yes, she literally drools when she thinks of him.)
Dumb and shallow. Nope, no sexist stereotypes here!
So now we have our premise: Rui is unbelievably dumb. But she is determined to get into the pants of her father’s hottie co-worker. Rui comes up with an INGENIOUS PLAN to get closer to Mr. Igarashi! To wit, she asks her father to find her a statistics tutor. She assumes, of course, that her father is going to ask Mr. Igarashi to tutor her. Because apparently her father knows no other single human being on the planet who could possibly know anything whatsoever about statistics.
See, I told you that Rui was dumb.
Unfortunately, Rui’s plan backfires. Rather than hiring hottie Mr. Igarashi, Rui’s father instead taps his nerdy employee Mamoru to be Rui’s tutor. Rui’s initial reaction is ewwwwww, nerd cooties! But she convinces herself that if she learns about statistics, she’ll at least be able to impress Mr. Igarashi with her newfound math knowledge. With this as her motivation, Rui begins her lessons with Mamoru.
Because heaven forbid that a girl should ever want to learn math for any reason other than impressing a hot guy. A hot guy old enough to be her father. Er.
So how goes the rest of the book? Migraine-inducing sexism aside, it’s pretty good, actually. The math is clearly explained. The examples that Mamoru uses to teach basic mathematical concepts are often creative, and therefore quite memorable. (My favorite is toward the end, where the mystery of a stolen pudding is used to explain the concepts of the null hypothesis, alternative hypothesis, and Cramer’s coefficient.) There are a couple of pages of straight-up math exercises following each chapter of the manga, with detailed, step-by-step answers included. The artwork is really appealing. The banter between Rui and Mamoru would be charming and funny, if their relationship wasn’t just another tired re-tread of the “cute hawt teen girl falls for geeky nerd guy” fantasy. Which, I admit, is a perfectly fine fantasy – unless you’re a girl like me, and you can’t identify with either of the protagonists, and you’re sick and tired of the sexism informing this type of romance.
Did I mention that the cuteness of Rui’s school uniform is a repeated plot thread in this book?
Did I mention that whenever Rui finally demonstrates that she understands something, Mamoru pets her on the head like a puppy?!
By the way, have I mentioned how awkwardly some of the dialogue in the book is written? The characters almost never use contractions when they speak. Most the dialogue reads as though it’s been poorly translated from Japanese. (“Weight? That is something you should never ask a lady!” and “You flatter me! But I do not deny it!”) Which is strange, because this book was apparently written in English to begin with. There’s no translator credited anywhere in the book, and it’s published by a San Francisco publishing house, so… what’s with the weirdness of the dialogue? Edited later: Oops, my mistake. As was pointed out in the comments, this book was indeed written in Japanese and translated into English, although the lack of credit given to any translator still makes me raise my eyebrows.
Here, let me give away the ending for you (because I assume that most people won’t be picking up this book for the plot anyway): When Rui discovers that Mr. Igarashi is married, she wails in frustration, “I have been studying statistics all this time in vain?!” (Right, because once again, there’s no reason for a cute girl to ever learn math, other than to impress a hot guy…) In a tearful rage, Rui starts flailing around, and somehow manages to crash into Mamoru and knock him to the ground. Mamoru’s nerd-glasses fall off his face, revealing his handsome, hitherto -unseen bishounen visage underneath.
Sproing! Hearts pop into Rui’s eyes, and she starts drooling instantly. “I didn’t know you were so handsome!”
The book ends with Rui tackling suddenly-a-hottie Mamoru and begging him to teach her more of “this and that.” I think we’re supposed to read that as a double-entendre. Hrm.
Unbelievably dumb and unbelievably shallow to the bitter end. That’s our Rui! Honestly, I think that Rui isn’t a cipher character that we readers are supposed to identify with, which is usually the case for the Clueless Lead Characters in educational books and manga. Rather, Rui is a cute, dumb object of lust who’s there to capture and maintain male readers’ interest. But where does that leave any potential girl readers of this book? With nothing, really. Except a whole lot of squick.
Have you used this comic in your classroom, or in any sort of educational capacity?
No. I must confess, I actually bought this book for myself. It’s been a good six years since I took a stats course in college, and I knew that I needed a refresher, for my own personal reasons. Because hey, statistics are inescapable. You don’t have to be a mathematician, computer programmer, or marketing researcher in order to encounter statistics in your daily life. We consume media that loves to inundate us with statistics, especially when it comes to political polls, mainstream reporting on actual scientific studies, opinion surveys, and statistical claims made in advertising. So I think that this book is full of valuable information that most of us adults can use every day. And it’s presented in an easy-to-understand, logical, and (most importantly) memorable manner to boot.
But would this book be useful in a classroom, particularly a senior high classroom? I have my doubts. Personally I found the gender stereotyping to be extremely off-putting at best, and downright rage-inducing at worst. I wouldn’t want to hand this book to any teen girls to read, honestly. It just sends too many discouraging, negative messages. Frankly I’m not too keen on the idea of teen boys diving into this book either, as it reinforces all sorts of sexist stereotypes about girls.
Yes, I find the “shallow girl falls for nerdy guy” romance tiring. Other readers may not. But it is undeniably a very, very male romantic fantasy, especially the way that it’s presented in this book. But why is that very, very male romantic fantasy mixed in with this supposedly all-about-math comic textbook? It just makes the book off-putting to female readers. Which is a shame, because a comic book – especially a manga – should, theoretically, provide an accessible and appealing way for teen girls to learn more about math, especially teen girls who may be discouraged or put down by sexist treatment in their regular classrooms. If such a manga exists, however, The Manga Guide to Statistics is not it. This is a book written for boys and men, not girls and women. And again, it’s a shame that the target demographic of this book is so blindingly, squeamishly obvious. “Squeamishly” for the unfortunate girl readers, that is.
Maybe this book would make a nice addition to any school’s library. But again, I would personally hesitate to use this book in the classroom, especially if said use involved inflicting the book upon girls.
Is there anything else you feel that teachers should know about this comic?
No Starch Press has a whole line of educational manga guides, including guides to databases, calculus, physics (dynamics), molecular biology, and electricity. You can find out more about these titles at http://www.nostarch.com/manga/ . I have no idea if any of the other manga guides in this line replicate the off-putting sexism, or awkward approach to faux-translated dialogue, that The Manga Guide to Statistics unfortunately has. But again, if you can get past those things (and this is going to be a different threshold-of-squick for every reader), there IS a lot of genuinely educational value in these books.