written by Masaharu Takemura; art by Kikuyaro
published by No Starch Press; $24.95 US
The author of The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology returns with another volume in the popular true-science comic series. (Note that with this book, the series pricing goes from $19.95 a book to $24.95, but Amazon has substantial discounts available, and other vendors might as well.)
Writer Masaharu Takemura explains in the preface what biochemistry is:
the study of the molecules that constitute our bodies … and
the chemical reactions that occur within cells.
While the science itself is full of special names and structures, making for lots of intimidating jargon, Takemura has framed the overall study in a way that makes it immediately approachable. Kumi thinks she’s overweight, so she’s determined to drop some pounds. Her neighbor Nemoto overhears her plans to stop eating and points out that she’ll be able to lose weight more sensibly if she better understands the chemistry of her body.
Kumi isn’t convinced of the value of studying biochemistry, though, until she sees that Nemoto’s instructor is also quite attractive. Professor Kurosaka promises Kumi that understanding how her body works will help her understand healthy eating.
That brings us into the first chapter, “What Happens Inside Your Body?”, which covers cell structure and process, including the chemical reactions of metabolism and (for plants) photosynthesis. The art is helpful both in presenting diagrams of the structures under discussion and in illustrating metaphors to make the material more memorable. Plus, Professor Kurosaka is amusing in her determination to bring Nemoto and Kumi together, since he clearly has a crush on her. As with the other books in the series, text pages elaborate on the material covered.
Chapter 2, “Photosynthesis and Respiration”, goes into more detail on those two processes in light of needing to understand the carbon cycle and protect the ecosystem. It’s not until chapter 3, “Biochemistry in Our Everyday Lives”, that we get back to the promise of the premise, as Kumi learns more about cholesterol, lipids, fatty acids, obesity, and gaining weight. The explanation of blood type is also thrown in, because it turns out that those are based on sugar chains on the surface of our blood cells.
Chapter 4 tackles enzymes, “The Keys to Chemical Reactions”, and proteins, the third major type of nutrient (with lipids and saccharides). There are also sections on catalysts and a small amount of math and graphing to figure out reaction rates. The final chapter works with nucleic acids and genes and explains certain experimental techniques. In an epilogue, Kumi does learn the key to successful dieting, although it’s the same advice we all know and find hard to follow.
I would have liked some mention of the Atkins diet (or similar low/no-carb plans) and how the chemistry behind that works, although perhaps that would have wandered too far away from the key purpose of the book. As it is, this isn’t my favorite in the series, since I found the many specialized names and concepts overwhelming. If I had to learn the subject of biochemistry, though, I would certainly appreciate the illustrated approach.