20 January 2010

Daily Breakdowns 056 - Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture

Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture Vol. 1
Writer/Artist - Masayuki Ishikawa
Publisher - Del Rey Books. $10.99 USD

The first thing this manga has over a lot of others is a striking cover, with the playful use of cartoony bacteria in place of the stars in Old Glory. And make no mistake, bacteria are the stars of this series. Tadayasu has the unique ability to see them with only his eyes. They're depicted in a simple, cute fashion, basically round heads with different stemlike things coming off them in order to differentiate one species(?) from another. The fact that he doesn't see them as they really looked is even remarked upon once or twice in the book.

Tadayasu and his friend Kei, heir to a sake brewery, are just beginning their first day as freshman at an agriculture college when we meet them. Masayuki immediately finds a nice contrast between the typical big-eyed, overexpressive characters and realistic, carefully rendered flora, fauna and the surroundings. His fascination with microbes is immense and infectious, no pun intended. Who knew learning how fermented seal meat is made, or what makes sake go bad, or how caterpillar mold can be a moneymaker, could be so interesting? But while this is interesting stuff, and very readable with the confident storytelling and handy sidebars identifying this or that germ as well as a frequent rundown of who the characters are, there's a big element missing here. The characterization. The basic premise of the book is great: boy can see bacteria and this creates opportunities for mini-mysteries, humorous stories, and even some suspense as people seek to exploit his ability. But Masayuki has only, in the 200+ pages here, scratched the surface of Tadayasu as a character. Yeah, he's special, and used to be picked on, and now it's worse because he's also a lowly freshman, PLUS he has to try to keep his ability a secret, thereby prolonging his status as a nerd and outcast. But...so what? Aside from wanting to fit in, we don't know anything about him, what he wants or cares about. It's not a bad book; it's amiable and ingratiating, and I admire that Masayuki found a way to make a love of science (I have to believe this is a subject he cares deeply about--that comes through) into art. But maybe it's that side of his brain getting all diagrammatic or something, but the emotion just hasn't been invested in these characters.

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