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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #51 (December 19, 2006), page 19.

Comic-book text for Japanese study is fun but no laughing matter

Japanese in MangaLand 2: Basic to Intermediate Level

By Marc Bernabe

Kodansha America, 2005

Paperback, 208 pages, $21.00

By Oscar Johnson

Japanese comics translator and interpreter Marc Bernabeís follow-up to his first book, Japanese in MangaLand, offers the next equally creative step in learning the rudimentary reading (and to a lesser degree, writing and speaking) of Japanese. But donít be fooled by its comic-book cover. This is a serious text. True to the title, it uses Japanís world-renowned manga (comics) to get its lessons across.

The popularity of the first of this four-part series testifies to its ability to help the serious student start mastering enough Japanese to at least read manga ó if not more. It was first published in Spanish, and demand soon called for English, German, French, and Catalan versions. Fans of the first book will be pleased to know that Japanese in MangaLand 2 picks up right where its predecessor left off. They should also know that, in comparison, this time the gloves are off.

While the bulk of the text is in English, Bernabe dispenses with using it for Japanese words. Instead, readers are expected to have mastered the Japanese kana and basic kanji laid out in the 30 lessons of book one before moving on to lessons 31 to 45 in this text. The accompanying literal translations (but not transliterations) of sentences give a feel for Japanese sentence structure, and this ó along with the manga theme ó makes the authorís method fresh and unique. It aims to teach the language from a Japanese linguistic perspective instead of one based on the readerís native tongue.

Despite its serious commitment to language learning, the bookís claim to fame is its ability to take the doldrums out of Japanese study. Whether students are fans of Japanís comics or not, the manga examples are sure to assuage anxieties, if not evoke enjoyment, as they ease students into each new chapter. It may be a stretch to describe this book as a comprehensive course in Japanese. But it does have an edge on similar texts ó and formal courses, for that matter. Where else can you learn such phrases in Japanese as: "Beautiful women of the earth are monsters here"; "Itís the smell of Kasumiís blood"; or, "It appears that thereís no one here stronger than me." The more pragmatic, however, neednít worry. More practical phrases can be learned for such tasks as catching a train, taxi, and plane, or shopping for that coveted comic book.

In all, Japanese in MangaLand 2 sports 100 drawings modelled after popular manga. There are 150 written exercises (answers are given in the back of the book), 11 grammar lessons, plus four chapters on Japanese conversation. It also includes a Japanese- English vocabulary list and an introduction to 100 more elaborately detailed kanji to add to those presented in the first book. Itís also peppered with page-long "cultural notes." These well-written entries offer insights on subjects such as Japanís youth fashion, traditional inns, and visas with information readers could actually use if they ever touch down in the Land of the Rising Sun. Moreover, each cultural note uses a handful of Japanese characters to provide effective but easy reading practice.

Whether you are a serious student of Japanese, just itching to delve into the untranslated realm of manga, or pleased enough with the first book to see what comes next, Japanese in MangaLand 2 is not likely to disappoint. But be prepared for some serious study. As the author warns in his preface, strap on your headband as in the movie The Karate Kid: "Things are going to get rough from now on Ö ."

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon