February 11, 2009

Book Review: The Manga Guide to Databases by Mana Takahashi

In The Manga Guide to Databases (TMGD), Ruruna is the princess of a faraway land called the Kingdom of Kod and she has a bit of a problem. Her parents have left her in charge of Kod’s famous fruit export business. And managing the data related to the prices and sales is getting the good princess all down.

TMGD is somewhat curiously structured. It’s not as much a guide to databases as it is an introduction to relational databases. Instead of explaining database concepts and the utility behind it clearly, author Mana Takahashi takes an early dip into database constructs such as normalization and Structured Query Language (SQL).

Because Takahashi gets into database nitty gritty early, she doesn’t have time to build a really good introduction to her characters or the core benefits behind building databases. You have to come convinced of the utility of databases before you read the book.

Having said that, once the characters have grown on you – the story cruises along nicely and even the hard stops by way of text chapters don’t derail it. The narrative is not innovative but it has a mythical charm to it.

To organize her fruit business, Princess Rurana has help from her childhood aid Cain. Things pick up when Cain opens a mystery book sent by the king by mail. The book is, conveniently, a tutorial on databases. But it comes with its own instructor – a Tinker Bell like fairy called Tico who is only visible to Cain and Rurana.

Tico quickly convinces her students that relational databases are the way to go. She teaches them how to build a database and then how to normalize it. Soon Rurana and Cain are designing databases. By chapter 4, they are knee deep into SQL (which is the strongest and most readable chapter of the book).

The book is wrapped up by a couple of chapters that are more in line with what one might expect from a Manga Guide. Chapter 5 talks about some operational aspects like Security, Optimization, ACID transactions, Disaster Recovery and Query Optimization. The final chapter explains how databases are used in every day applications.

TMGD is illustrated by Shoko Azuma, who relies on classic Manga sketches and emanata to evoke emotions. TMGD is translated from Japanese and because of the way Azuma has rendered it, clean up and translation is cleaner than say The Manga Guide to Statistics. But I did wish that emanating text had been a bit more dynamic instead of static.

All in all, TMGD is a fun way to learn about databases and core concepts, but it’ll require a few leaps of faith.