Thursday, July 7, 2011

Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture

So did you ever play that game with your friends where you ask, if you could have any superpower, what would it be? Chances are that if you did, nobody said "I wanna see germs with my naked eye." But such is the fortunate or unfortunate ability of Tadayasu Sawaki, the protagonist of the brilliant new manga Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture by  Masayuki Ishikawa. For reasons unexplained (at least in the first two volumes), he can see the germs everywhere he goes. They all look like a variety of happy-faced cartoon characters with exotic hairstyles, but that doesn't stop the bad ones from packing a punch.

Sawaki, it seems, is the son of a professional koji maker who supplies cultures for use in fermentation, and the title Moyasimon translates roughly as "mold man." His best friend Kei Yuki is the scion of a sake brewing family, so they are natural allies. The story commences with their arrival at an unnamed agricultural university, where Sawaki is swiftly adopted by a number of eccentrics who hope to exploit his strange power. Chief among them are Keizo Itsuki, a cryptic and visionary scientist who extols the greatness of agriculture and the wonders of fermented foods, as well as his fierce lab assistant Haruka Hasegawa who has a fondness for wearing bondage outfits and grosses out the other characters with her habit of wearing shoes indoors!
At first I thought that Sawaki's strange ability would just be a pretext for depicting college students getting themselves into amusing predicaments. But no: the germs themselves are central to many of the storylines, and if you're not careful, you might find them sparking an interest in microbiology. At the very least you will be amazed to learn of so many bizarre types of fermented foods (and drinks!).

As a bonus, volume 2 gives us a storyline involving the school's Spring Festival. Not having attended a Japanese university, I have no idea how accurate this is, but it makes American fraternity hazings look like a walk in the park.

Occasionally there is also a glimmer that there may be a serious theme buried in here somewhere. A chapter from the germ's-eye-view shows them forming grandiose plans for mutual cooperation, only to be swept away by a mop moments later; it's enough to make you wonder how germlike we ourselves might appear to a higher Being. Not to mention how one each of us humans is, essentially, a colony of micro-organisms bonded together in mutual cooperation. Isn't life weird? This manga makes it a pleasure to contemplate just how weird our existence really is.

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