Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moyasimon: Oh, Japan, you fascinate me

Elsewhere: I reviewed Nomad: Girl Without a World #2 at Comics Bulletin.

Links: I've sung the praises of artist Connor Willumsen before, but I just found that he's got several of his short comics available to read free online, including the one I reviewed here. Check them out; I love this guy's work.

This gallery of caricatures by Stuart Immonen is pretty amazing.

Here's a list of all the comics mentioned in Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, with links to any that are available to download online. That's a pretty great resource for the curious, like me.

Weird manga!

Moyasimon, volume 1
By Masayuki Ishikawa


This manga seems like one of those "only in Japan" comics, featuring such a narrow-focused, bizarre subject matter that it's hard to believe anybody reads it at all, which makes the fact that it's a smash hit even more surprising. For those who haven't heard already, it's about a guy who can see bacteria, germs, and other micro-organisms with the naked eye. That's just strange; who would come up with that idea? And in addition to having a bizarre premise, it's also kind of an educational manga, with regular talky scenes that see characters lecture each other (and the reader) on various subjects. But somehow, not only is it actually quirkily charming, the torrents of educational facts actually turn out to be pretty informative. That it's so entertaining is almost as surprising as the fact that it got made in the first place.

Our story, which is much less plot-focused than your usual manga, follows Sawaki Tadayasu, the aforementioned germ-seer, as he enrolls at an agricultural university in hopes of learning more about the tiny creatures that he can see everywhere. He's joined by his pal Kei, and they immediately find themselves in an slightly odd environment, surrounded by quirky students and professors and involved in goofy experiments and research projects. The first chapter sees them trying to connect with Professor Itsuki, an old friend of Sawaki's grandfather, and the stumble across him when they have the police exhume one of his projects, which they think is a dead body (long story), leading to this bit of nastiness:



That's a pretty typical moment here, with something strange happening and our heroes reacting accordingly. It's a low-key, ambling series, not unlike the similarly-college-set Honey and Clover, although with less of a focus on character and more on comedy and the relation of scientific facts. The first two days at school take up nearly the entire first volume, with Professor Itsuki and his irritable, leather-clad graduate-student assistant trying to enlist Sawaki's abilities for a research tool, then Sawaki and Kei making friends with a couple of goofy sophomores who are more interested in money-making schemes than education, then other oddness occurring, including a food-poisoning scare and a bit of freshman hazing. And through it all, Sawaki gets to use his abilities to see what's going on at the cellular level, which means we see plenty of cute little creatures floating around the page and crawling on any available surface:


Interestingly, this translation retains the little author's notes that often fill the margins of manga stories when they are originally serialized but get elided upon collection (and therefore translation). While many of these are just character recaps, the purpose of including them seems to be the little portraits of the various micro-organisms, with descriptions that are probably quite amusing for bacteriologists. It's one example of Ishikawa's flair for goofy comedy, which also sees some memorable facial expressions and intermixing of germs with the rest of the art:


One scene in particular is a great example of comic timing, seeing Professor Itsuki feeding a fermented ray to the other characters as part of one of his many dubious experiments (which all seem to involve eating gross food or drinking sake). The sour taste provokes varied over-the-top reactions, and the way they play out over several panels is hilarious:


It does take Ishikawa a good portion of the volume to settle into a good rhythm, but by the time this first book is over, he's got a formula going that seems sure to deliver a mixture of laughs and interesting factoids in each chapter. One still wonders how he possibly thought this would be a good idea, but whatever the case, it somehow works, and will probably only get better and funnier as the series continues. Check it out, but don't be surprised if you start paying more attention to every sneeze and cough that you hear, or wondering what's lurking in all the foods and liquids that you consume.


Per FTC regulations: This review was based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher, although no monetary compensation was provided, no matter how much begging was involved.