Interest-grabbing manga science study guides sell well

Manga science crammers infatuate students

By Takashi Yokomizo Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Study guides illustrated with cute manga-style girls are displayed on the shelves of the main store of the Maruzen bookshop chain in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo.
Study guides illustrated with cute manga-style girls are displayed on the shelves of the main store of the Maruzen bookshop chain in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo.

Study guides illustrated with cute, manga-esque female characters who explain the basics of subjects such as physics, chemistry and mathematics are selling well, giving rise to hopes among educators they will help stem the trend of young people turning away from the sciences.

Some doubt, however, whether such books will really help youngsters become more interested in the subjects.

The main store of the Maruzen bookshop chain in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district has on its third-floor shelves a selection of books introducing difficult physics subjects such as the properties of neutrinos and the principles of quantum mechanics.

Visitors are lured to the section by a selection of books with large, colorful illustrations of attractive young girls on their covers.

PHP Interface, a publisher known for its business books, published a study aid in October titled “Genso-shuki–Moete Oboeru Kagaku no Kiso” (The Periodic Table–The Basics of Chemistry Learned through Infatuation). In the book, attractive manga girls teach the periodic table by personifying the 118 chemical elements.

The company already has published 11 printings of the science crammer, selling a total of 35,000 copies to date.

Fluorine compounds are used for coating frying pans, and in the books the apron-wearing character embodying the element tells readers, “The fluorine coating repels water!”

A 16-year-old high school student from Chiba Prefecture said of the language used in the books, “As well as the drawings, the [characters’] lines also convey the properties of the elements.”

Miyuki Mitsuda, a part-time instructor at Musashi Institute of Technology, was the chief editor of the books. He said he asked the illustrators to try to help readers comprehend the properties of the elements by simply glancing at the drawings of the books.

Kochi cram school operator, Akihito Hamada, 47, said he always has copies at hand in class.

Manga drawings have been used in study books for many years. Hamada said, “The cute illustrations of girls go down particularly well among female middle school students.”

A manga book explaining quantum mechanics published by PHP Interface last month has already sold 45,000 copies.

Hiroshi Matsui, a 74-year-old chemistry teacher at a vocational school in Hiroshima Prefecture, said he felt the book “is drawing in children who didn’t get a feel for science from textbooks that focus on entrance examinations.”

Ohmsha Ltd., a long-standing publisher of science and engineering books, has published about 20 books covering subjects such as calculus and Fourier analysis in its “Manga de Wakaru Shirizu” (Understanding through Manga Series). The series also features large front-cover illustrations of girls in maid costumes and other images typical of manga.

The most popular book in the series covers statistics. Maruzen reportedly sells twice as many copies of this book than any other title on the subject.

As Mio Murayama, a 32-year-old sales clerk at Maruzen’s Marunouchi store, explained, it is not only the drawings of pretty girls that are helping the books sell.

“Some books barely sell at all,” Murayama says. That’s because they don’t have the content to go with the pictures.”

However, Akito Arima, a former education minister and chairman of the Japan Science Foundation, is not wholly convinced of the books’ utility.

Arima said, “If [the books] are used by people unfamiliar with science to introduce them to scientific concepts, then I’m in favor of them using this kind of book.”

“People who really want to learn, though, should then study from try specialist books,” Arima, 78, added.

(Mar. 14, 2009)

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