A Feast of Volcanic Desire

The Manga Guide to Statistics

Here's a new item published by No Starch Press, a 224-page b&w softcover, priced at $19.95. It's both authentic, straight-from-Japan manga and a valuable book of learning, which seems almost redundant to me, since I've already learned so many important things from manga over the years.

Really! Were you aware a woman can walk around outside in only her boots? FACT: As long as she can turn invisible, it's not indecent - it's sci-fi! Did you know I dash off to work every morning with a slice of toast in my mouth? FACT: Makes you go faster, and half the time you bump into your crush (the restraining order suggests she's catching on). I can't even recall the last interaction I had with another person that wasn't informed by Kazuo Koike, to whom I attribute my great success: a free parking spot, and I can cut a motherfucker's arms off with one swipe. I weep afterward, but only when parking!

This particular book, however, is educational in a more specific way: it's an introduction to basic concepts of statistics, in which a lot of information is conveyed courtesy of the comics form, with dialog and gags and an ongoing plot and things. The authors are Shin Takahashi and "TREND-PRO, Co., Ltd." with the former tackling the general stats content and the latter hammering it into delightful manga form, possibly in a small, antiseptic cube. The book's Preface identifies ''re_akino" as the writer and Iroha Inoue as the artist of the manga pages; it's above-average dōjinshi caliber stuff, very cute and clean.

And if you don't count the all-text Appendix, there's easily more comics in here than anything else, although later chapters become somewhat heavy with charts and formulae. Text-based information and schoolbook-style exercises follow each manga chapter, although they also start to intrude upon the manga itself toward the end of the book; the chi-square test doesn't really lend itself to the comics form, I admit. If you're planning to use this thing for book-larnin', I'd recommend you always go through the text pieces along with the comics, since the text occasionally offers clarifications that presumably couldn't fit into the manga without sounding really clunky, which strikes me as a bit of a failure of the whole 'comics' conceit, particularly given the number of panels surrendered to graphs or lists with a character's head and a word balloon poking in.

Still, speaking from the position of someone who uses Google calculator routinely in his working day, and brushed off his undergraduate math requirements with the easiest core option he could locate (which it turned out was mostly filled with underachieving English and Theater majors of similar inclination), I imagine this'll probably serve as a decent introduction to basic concepts -- data types, deviation score, probability, hypothesis tests, etc. -- or maybe an easy refresher. There's plenty of one character reacting with horror to another's explanations, so as to soothe the anxious student's nerves through easy relation. Cute girls too.

Oh, didn't you expect the cute girls? Allow me to elaborate!

Probably the most striking thing to me about this book is the above-mentioned ongoing plot, which kicks off with 17-year old Rui getting bowled right the hell over by an unspeakably cute guy Dad brings home one night from his work in market research. Within panels the girl is expressing the greatest interest in her father's job, to the point of requesting a private tutor for a little one-on-one instruction - perhaps by, um, maybe someone from Dad's job!

Naturally, poor frustrated Rui-chan winds up not with her marketing idol, but a total nerd who reads shōjo manga and must collect himself upon seeing girls in their school uniforms. Mr. Yamamoto is a goddamned whiz at basic concepts of statistics, though, and soon young high school-aged Rui finds herself oddly... distracted by her older tutor's mastery of stats!

Yep, you got it: we're looking at one of those 'female pov' comics that's actually unadulterated male fantasy. And a very manga/anime-fluent fantasy, not merely content to use comics magazine response cards and schoolgirl outfit preference polls as fodder for examples (ramen prices & bowling scores too, in all fairness), but to position its terribly compelling teacher as just the type of mildly perverted milquetoast male protagonist that may well match right up with the studious consumer of this kind of educational tome. Shit, you don't even need to relate to girls, fellas - just demonstrate your prodigious stats skills and the (youngish) ladies will soon grasp your under-the-glasses appeal!

Granted, the book is entirely cute 'n flirty about its adult working man/sub-age-of-majority high school lass plotline; everything is charged with comedy, if not quite the sort of comedy that would obstruct the fantasy. No, by the time Rui-Rui is dressing up in her new sailor suit getup to catch Our Geeky Hero's eye -- which is entirely focused by that point on divining hypothesis tests from poll data tracking how males and females prefer being asked on dates, tee hee -- we're entirely into a light farce of desire, one that strikes me as awfully frantic and more than slightly insulting in its pandering, but maybe wisely so, I dunno. It's stats, and the segment of Japanese readers liable to pick this up know what they want, and as Dirk Deppey once remarked, "heterosexuals are weird."

Don't ask me what the appreciably different, smaller, focused manga readership of North America will think. Is it cute? It strikes me as especially straight-from-Japan, so maybe that's enough.