by Hideo Nitta and Keita Takatsu
published by No Starch Press; $19.95 US
I wasn’t all that impressed by an earlier book in this series, The Manga Guide to Statistics, but I found this volume a big improvement.
Like all the books in this series, the material is written by an expert; in this case, a physics professor from Tokyo Gakugei University who is also a member of the International Commission on Physics Education. That means the explanations of mechanics are right on, as well as ideally suited for a visual medium, as movement is used to explore the lessons.
Megumi is distracted from her tennis match because she didn’t do well on her physics test (which coincidentally had a question about the forces involved when hitting a ball with a racket). Ryota, a fellow student who won a silver medal in the International Physics Olympic Games (?), offers to help her understand the material better.
Major sections cover Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, including equilibrium and gravity; force, acceleration, motion, and velocity; momentum; and work and energy. There’s a lot covered in about 250 pages, and for the most part, smoothly and with verve. I really appreciated seeing, for example, action and reaction via kids on rollerblades. In keeping with classical physics, there are also some thought experiments, drawn as people in space or superhero-like musclemen.
Physics is described as aiming “to predict the motion of an object”, so the recurring lesson of tennis is well-chosen to tie the educational and entertainment aspects of the book together. Each illustrated chapter concludes with text pages that elaborate on the concepts covered, with necessary equations, terminology, and definitions. (These get longer as the book progresses.) Some chapters also include text laboratory sections, done in dialog form between the two characters, with little head shots that change expression as they “talk” about calculation methods. (I was pleased to note that I remembered the basic calculus they use! It’s also neat to be reminded how much of physics is derived from just a few basic principles.)
The art is really the strength here, as nothing substitutes for diagrams and images in discussing vectors and movement. The kids are also cute and expressive, which involves me in Megumi’s journey of learning. Of course, the book has lots of text, as Ryota explains things to Megumi, but the art is not irrelevant. Plus, there’s a concluding tennis match in which Megumi puts her lessons to practical use.
As always, this is not sufficient as a primary text, but I don’t think it’s intended to be. As a reminder of something I’d learned using drier books, it was a wonderful refresher. In his preface, the author mentions having to omit, for space reasons, a chapter in which the characters visit an amusement park to understand circular movement. What a flashback! We did the same thing in high school, riding rides with tennis balls on strings tied to our arms to estimate the angles involved in inertial calculations. I’m sorry that section was cut.
I’m now much more interested and impressed by this series, although I’d still to like to see one of the books feature a smart, slightly nerdy girl helping an energetic boy instead of always the other way around.
Sample pages are available at the publisher’s website. Also available in this series are The Manga Guide to Databases and The Manga Guide to Electricity. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)