Many manga titles, popular in Japan are being translated into English and published in the United States. This trend continues with a book that puts a slightly different spin on manga. The Manga Guide to Statistics, part of a series already popular in Japan, seeks to entertain while it informs. There are many elements here that can be found in any manga; a young love struck girl, giant eyes, small noses and exagerated emotional responses. What many may have not seen in manga before are things like calculating the mean, median and deviation of bowling scores. And that is just the start.

The story line is relatively simple. The protagonist, Rui is a teenage girl. One night her father brings home a co-worker Mr. Igarashi. Rui is quite smitten with Mr. Igarashi and tells her father that she is interesting in learning about statistics so that she can be tutored by Mr. Igarashi. The day of her first lesson, her tutor shows up and it is not who she expects. Rather than her heart-throb it is another of her father’s co-workers Mamoru Yamamoto. Rui is crushed but plunges ahead, heart still set on hooking up with Mr. Igarashi.

If the idea of a fifteen year old bouncing about in skimpy outfits while persuing a relationship with one of her father’s co-workers sounds strange to you, welcome to the world of manga. If you’ve already read a lot of it this should sound pretty normal. It provides context as the book covers various topics in statistics and also injects quite a bit of humor into the story. That said, in the end of it all math is math. The story does provide a framework around what is presented but underneath it all this is a book that is trying to teach statistics and so my first question was “How does it do in that regard?”

The book follows a standard format through each chapter. A comic section presents some new facet of the story and then that is tied into the statistics concept that will be covered. Here the math and story are blended together. As the book moves further along these sections become increasingly more text heavy and contain less graphics. That section is followed with exercises. Here I have a small issue. The exercises are sometimes numbered, sometimes not and there seems to be absolutely no pattern or system that regulates this numbering. The answers immediately follow the excersises so it doesn’t really cause any problems. I can only guess the numbers are related to an issue from the translation process. I couldn’t figure it out.

The instruction and excercises are not watered down to somehow fit into the whole making math interesting theme. This was my first concern. That in an attempt to make it fun the math would not be correct or somehow watered down. This isn’t the case. In fact, for a person to really get some good use out of this book I would say that they need to have a very strong command of algebra and at the very least some familiarity with calculus.

There is an entire section in the back of the book about how to do statistics using Microsoft Excel. When some formulaes are presented the book says that knowing it is not necessary but the reader is still going to see things referenced like integration and derivatives. But when, for example, Mr. Yamamoto is teaching Rui about chi-square distribution and explains to her how to read a probability density function she starts to freak out and he consoles her saying, “Don’t worry. You’ll never have to learn this formula itself unless you become a mathemetician.”

But all of the math and tables to do the work for the exercises are presented. A graphing calculator would probably make things easier but I don’t think it would be necessary. I think the only other shortcoming is that the exercises are not very numerous. There are usually two or three per chapter. Sometimes they are packaged as one exercise with multiple parts. Having the answers immediately follow the excersize may also make it difficult for the reader to avoid looking at it until they have done the work themselves. The reader should still gain a solid idea of what statistics is all about and the math behind it. I wouldn’t say they will have a deep understanding of the subject but they will also have moved well beyond a cursory introduction.

The story is silly and sets up some humorous examples of how to use statistics. Ramen noodle prices get graphed, Rui looks at grading on a curve and explores why her and a class mate get different grades for identical scores. Cramer’s coefficient is used to examine how boys and girls prefer to be asked out. I thought that this was helpful not only because it helps to keep the readers interest but because it also moves the problems from the abstract to more concrete applications.

The weak point for me is the lack of examples and exercises. The graphic style of story telling is entertaining but limits the space for more text. This is not a statistics text book and I know that it is not trying to be one but it still limits the usefulness. Rather than giving a thorough education into statistics, it is more of an overview or quick primer. Anyone who picks this up thinking that they will gain a solid mastery of statistics is mistaken.

The jacket states that it will help the reader ‘get over the “I’m no good at math” feeling.’ I think that the reader had better already have some decent math skills if they want to get the most from the book, but it could be useful in helping the reluctant realize that statistics is not unnaproachable. As I said, really all that is required is a good solid grasp of algebra.

I think that the real strength of the book may be in helping younger people to find the entry into this kind of work to be more entertaining. Kids would be, I think, much more likely to actually pick this up and find out if they are interested in statistics as opposed to a regular text book. If they do enjoy it, it could encourage them to go further and really master the subject. A sort of gateway text if you will. It also helps to answer the age old student’s question, “Why does this matter?” by giving examples of real world use. I think the book could also be a lot of fun for someone who doesn’t need to learn statistics but approaches it as a fun mental exercise, like Sudoku or another math game but with a story line and more complicated problems to solve.

Balancing out the limited amount of work, and the possibility for finding budding statisticians and mathemeticians or entertaining those who already enjoy math I think that this book fills a rather unique niche. I think within that nich it is pretty good, but outside of that may be found lacking and that is why I would rate it as adequate rather than outstanding.

Title: The Manga Guide to Statistics

Author: Shin Takahashi

Publisher: No Starch Press

Pages: 222

ISBN: 978-1-59327-189-3

Rating: 7/10

Tagline: Statistics with heart pounding excitement!