Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture Vol. 1

Tadayasu Sawaki has just started college in the agricultural school of a Tokyo university with his best friend Kei Yuki. Sawaki is not like the other students though, or any one else for that matter. He has a special power: He can see microbes with his naked eye.

That’s the basic premise of Masayuki Ishikawa’s Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture Vol. 1 (Del Rey). It’s a college comedy about microbiology and, specifically, the way various germs and bacteria relate to human beings, and what they are used for in food production. In other words, it’s educational. But it’s also entertaining, perhaps more the latter than the former, as I didn’t manage to retain very much new knowledge while reading (This, of course, could have more to do with my complete lack of interest in the subject matter and/or the fact that all of my memory storage has been filled with facts about Batman and can’t accommodate new ideas than it does with the quality of Ishikawa’s lessons in how yogurt works with the intestines, how alcohol is brewed or how a variety of disgusting delicacies are created.

(And man, there are some disgusting delicacies in here, like kiviak, which is prepared by burying a dead seal for a long period of time, digging it up and cutting open it’s stomach, removing one of the dead seabirds contained within, and then you “simply rip the bird’s tail feathers out… and the goopy insides can be sucked directly from the anus.” Is kiviak really real…? Oh God it is!)

The young students hook up with two pairs of older, smarter members of the university community, each of which seeks to exploit Sawaki’s ability for their own purposes.

First he meets Keizo Itsuki, an elderly professor at the school with plans to stave off the end of the world by manipulating microbes (“If we can rule the world of the microorganisms, we might as well have gained control over the entire universe, aside from time! I mean to build a second earth, forming the cornerstone of ever greater prosperity for mankind”), and Haruka Hasegawa, the professor’s mean grad student assistant with interesting footwear.

Then they encounter Kaoru Misato and Takuma Kawahama, a pair of broke, slovenly sophomores seeking a means to get rich quick (When we first met them, they are trying to create a vat of bootleg sake, but so many hiochi bacteria got in the mixture that it destroyed it).

Ishikawa allows us as readers to see the microbes in the same way that Sawaki does, and they don’t look like they do though a microscope.

Here’s a group shot of some of them that appear in this issue, from the title page:

Why do they look like that? I don’t know, but they sure are a lot cuter that way. Early in the volume, when Hasegawa is skeptically testing Sawaka’s ability, she holds up a blown-up photograph of koji mold taken through a microscope and asks if it’s what he sees; he replies by drawing a big-headed, simplified character with eyes and a mouth.

In addition to being able to see them, he can also communicate with them, touch them with his fingers and, it’s hinted at, help others to see them.

Here he is in the sophomore’s germ-filled dorm room, isolating a type of Penicillium:

And, after suffering from stomach difficulties later in the book, here he is being cajoled into eating yogurt by L. yogurti and B. bifidum:

Ishikawa’s designs for the various germs are all so minimal that they’re given a cute, happy appearance, even when they’re really nasty bugs.

Here are two panels from a sequence in which Sawaki discovers e coli in the picnic lunch prepared for the students on orientation day:

Obviously the rather unusual subject matter makes Moyasimon a manga that may not be for everyone, but I found the various human characters and their various conflicts rather engaging, and the germs are great fun whether, they’re interacting with Sawaki, or talking directly to the reader to summarizing earlier installments and the way they work, or simply going about their business while Sawaki or the professor explains something.

It’s educational and it’s entertaining, but it’s not edutainment—in fact, it’s kind of hard to tell where the greater emphasis lies and what Ishikawa’s goal in creating this story is.

Not that it’s too terribly important; of course. It’s a fun read, and that’s good enough for me.

1 comment:

Justin Boatwright said...

Glad to hear you liked this and that it's getting at least a little bit of attention. In a great year for manga this one may have been a little below the radar, but it was a great little read and I'm definitely looking forward to the second volume.