(This review was written in May 2009 for the Greater Cleveland PC Users Group newsletter.)
Books that aim to be both educational and fun often fail to reach one of these goals by trying too hard to attain the other. In other words, they’re usually either text-heavy snoozefests or lightweight fluff. Fortunately, The Manga Guide to Electricity is an exception to this rule. Striking a healthy balance between instruction and entertainment, it is a perfect introductory guide for young readers with an interest in graphic literature – comics, if you will – and a curiosity about electricity.
Most of the book is composed of cartoons drawn in the Japanese style of manga. All of the familiar characteristics of manga – faces exploding from the panel in excitement and surprise, abrupt changes in tone, a fascination with exotic foods and clothing – are employed to tell the story of Rereko, a teenaged girl from the world of Electopia. Seems Rereko’s been neglecting her studies of late, so her teacher orders Rereko to surrender her summer vacation and spend time on our world studying the basics of electricity. Upon her arrival Rereko meets Hikaru, an electrical engineering professor with a kind heart and a messy apartment. Hikaru’s patience and clean-cut appearance contrast nicely with Rereko’s outlandish personality and clothing.
Assisted with a series of illustrations and an odd little robot named Yonosuke, Hikaru walks Rereko through the basics of electricity – voltage, current, resistance, circuits, valence electrons, magnetic fields, generators, turbines, capacitors, diodes, semiconductors. Each lesson is followed by a section of traditional text that explains the preceding chapter’s concepts in more detail. And make no mistake – this is a serious, weighty work of technical writing. Acting as the reader’s surrogate, Rereko openly and frequently expresses her confusion and curiosity, to which Hikaru responds with an unfailing patience that invites Rereko’s, and the reader’s, participation.
It’s doubtful the work could stand alone as a work of manga — the artwork is like good wallpaper, noticeable but not memorable. Yet Rereko and Hikaru’s growing relationship provides a storyline strong enough to hold the reader’s interest through even the most complex technical passage. As an introductory guide to electricity, The Manga Guide to Electricity works very well.