Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

A college student who can talk to microbes brings a quirky twist to this unique blend of college life manga and biology lesson.

 

 

 

240 pgs., B & W; $10.99
(W & A: Masayuki Ishikawa)
I’ve often heard it said that you can do anything in manga and the Moyasimon (or Moyashimon, depending on who you ask) series seems determined to prove it. On the one hand it’s your basic college life manga, but on the other it’s also a tutorial about microbes and the roles they play in human life and industry. And the combination works remarkably well—the characters are a little sketchy in the first volume but they’re interesting enough to keep you reading, and meanwhile you’re learning to differentiate lactobacillus brevis (found in kimchi) from lactobacillus bifidus (used to make Western yoghurt) and lactobacillus homohiochi (makes sake go bad). Think about it—wouldn’t those dreary industrial films of your school years have been more fun if they’d packaged their information inside a fictional framework which included rotting seal carcasses and explosions?
Tadayasu Sawaki is a freshman at a school modeled on the Tokyo University of Agriculture and is an unprepossessing fellow just hoping to find that fun college life he’s always heard about. He does have one unique talent, however: he can see microbes with his naked eye (and talk to them, and pick them up). When he was a kid this ability made him an object of ridicule, but at college it proves so useful that several of his colleagues are eager to exploit him for their own purposes.
Keizo Itsuki, Tadayasu’s professor, is a sort of mad scientist who one minute is lecturing on fermentation in human history and the next is revealing his grand plan to harness the power of bacteria to make the other planets more like earth. His assistant, Haruka Hasegawa, dresses like a dominatrix and uses her senior position in the lab to get the other students to do what she wants. She’s initially suspicious that Tadayasu can do what he claims, but eventually comes to realize how useful he could be. Kaoru Misato and Takuma Kawahama are sophomores at the university and have lots of money-making schemes (like brewing sake in an unused lab) which go awry, leaving them deeper and deeper and deeper in debt—they want Tadayasu to help with their latest project, raising caterpillar fungus to sell for use in Chinese medicine.
Moyahimon is an episodic manga and many of the chapters are organized around different lessons in microbiology. In one we learn about kiviak, a real life dish created by burying a seal carcass filled with dead birds. After they’ve had time to ferment, you dig the carcass up, remove the birds and suck out their guts. Why, you may ask? Because the fermentation process produces vitamins which were in short supply in Greenland and other northern nations where kiviak was popular. In another, Tadayasu saves everyone from E. coli poisoning (watch out for those salads!). The first volume is a little short on character development but full of humor and fun science facts. The art is realistic within manga conventions, except for the microbes which are disarmingly cute (and seem to have mostly perky personalities as well!).
Moyasimon is a seinen manga rated T+ for older teens (age 16 and old): there’s not much of a violent or sexual nature, but the factual content can come rather fast and thick. There are lots of annotations in the margin including character profiles (usually dropped when a serial is collected into book format) and more information about the microbes. Extras include nine pages of translation notes and the usual Del Rey guide to honorifics. | Sarah Boslaugh

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