When I was a kid, I seriously loved The Magic School Bus Lost in the Universe. It wasn't just Miss Frizzle's wacky hair or that LSD-inspired shape-shifting bus, it was the way that the book incorporated a story into a science lesson in a way that was fun and informative. And I ended up learning a whole mess of information about our solar system through Ralphie and Arnold and Amanda Jane and that crazy lizard, Liz. In The Manga Guide to the Universe, Kenji Ishikawa and Kiyoshi Kawabata attempt to do the same thing with a little more information thrown in. What Magic School Bus did for third-graders, Manga Guide is meant to do for high school and college students.
Yamane, Kanna, and their American friend Gloria explore the cosmos as they attempt to put on a school play. Of course, the story of that play involves a moon goddess, a stalk of bamboo, and an elixir of immortality set ablaze on the summit of Mt. Fuji. Semantics. All fairy tales are strange and this one, the story of Kaguya-Hime and the Bamboo Cutter is apparently much beloved in Japan, similar to our Thumbellina. Whatever the reason, the rest of the book follows these three friends on an educational journey through the universe. They learn a bucketload about the whole heliocentric/geocentric debate that gave the Church so much trouble, the shape of the universe, the Big Bang, and pretty much any other information that would be covered in an Introductory Astronomy textbook.
Essentially, that's because Manga Guide is a text book. It's divided into five chapters of major ideas, has an index, and includes countless charts and diagrams to explain the theories being discussed. Where was this series when I was taking physics? If my textbook had included big-eyed manga girls with buoyant bosoms and long legs, I can guarantee that a much larger percentage of my class (about 50%) would have scored significantly better on the exams. And the easily understandable text and clear explanations would have helped the rest of us, too.
Though it's not exactly leisure reading (unless the disc-shaped galactic model floats your boat, in which case, play through), but this teen-friendly guide to the universe is a must-have for any science classroom. Think of it as "The Universe for Dummies" with a better storyline.
Final Grade: A-