Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture Book 2

Review by Ed Sizemore

Tadaysu Sawaki has the ability to see, grab, and communicate with microorganisms. He’s a freshman at an agricultural university and has been recruited to be part of Professor Itsuki’s research group because of his unique abilities. In this volume, Tadaysu encounters his first spring culture festival, a surreal experience in keeping with the general culture of the university.

Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture Book 2 cover
Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture Book 2
Buy this book

Moyasimon is a mix of Real Genius, Animal House, and a PBS nature series on the world of microorganisms. Like Real Genius, the central cast of characters contains an eclectic mix of intelligent students and professors in a research setting conducting both typical and unusual experiments. Like Animal House, this is not your ordinary college. The spring festival makes you wonder who is really running the university and if they are sane. Interspersed within all of this mania is scientifically accurate information about various forms of bacteria, mold, and microbes. The manga is as eclectic as its cast.

Let’s discuss the cast. With the exception of his ability to see microorganisms, Tadaysu is actually a fairly typical young man dealing with both standard college courses and strange circumstances. Professor Itsuki is an enigma, a highly respected research scientist and a man of, shall we say, exotic tastes in foods. His assistant is Haruka Hasegawa, a gifted researcher in her own right. She also enjoys tight black leather outfits with lots of metal stud accents, and she’s fearsome with a bullwhip. Hazuki Oikawa is a female freshman who is studying microorganisms and is at the same time a bit of germophobe. Then there are Kaoru Misato and Takuma Kawahama, who are using their knowledge of fermentation in hopes of breaking free from their cycle of student poverty. Alas, they need to take a few courses on the fundamentals of business.

What’s amazing is that the above paragraph is almost all we know about the characters. Up through volume two, this is a very plot-driven series. Normally, I’d be upset by this lack of character development. However, we really don’t know much about what’s going on in general, so this lack of character backgrounds and motivations fits in well with the overall sense of the series. We are learning about the university (which still remains nameless) through the experiences of Tadaysu. One thing becomes apparent: this school values experience above textbooks. So there’s no student manual that explains university life.

There’s a wonderful madcap feel to Moyasimon. I literally never know what to expect from chapter to chapter. It’s not easy to pull off this style of comedy, but Ishikawa does it masterfully. Readers will find themselves getting caught up in the flow of events, just like Tadaysu. This strange world is so fascinating, you can’t help but read more. Ishikawa has captured the chaotic, exhilarating sense of college life but with the added twist of a university that threatens to break out in anarchy at any moment. It reminds me of a Marx Brothers film in that sense.

Ishikawa is an excellent artist. His backgrounds are beautifully detailed and make you feel like you’re looking at a real college. For the most part, his characters are also drawn realistically, but he does like to throw in exaggeration for comedic and emotional effect. This realism helps in making the world come alive and drawing the reader into the surreal events. He gives each strain of microorganism its own character design. That’s an impressive feat when you consider the sheer number of varieties of microbes that exist.

I want to take a moment to talk about one odd and slightly disturbing feature in volume two. Ishikawa likes to use the margins of the pages to give information about the cast, the microorganisms, or to explain a joke. However, in chapter 18, Ishikawa uses the page margins to address his American readers. Here is what he says:

I wish I could get some original cell-phone straps made in America, too. It would be nice if there were some ‘sales fair’ displays for Moyasimon in American displays. Bonus (1): We’d (hopefully) send posters, figures, plushies, and other goodies for the displays. Bonus (2): We’d send autographs from the author, too. But it all depends on the response we get from you, the reader. This is not a joke. It is actually our deepest desire. By the way, we have a request for our American readers. We don’t know if you’re actually out there or not. Please send word of your existence. Please get in touch at your earliest convenience. We’ve found more bookstores to sell the book. What a wonderful thing.

It’s odd to see a manga author directly address his foreign readers. It’s disturbing that Ishikawa feels he has to. I wonder why he’s not getting any feedback on how Moyasimon is selling in America? I realize that Moyasimon isn’t burning up the sales charts, so is his editor scared to report disappointing sales? I do urge fans of the series to write Ishikawa c/o Del Rey to let him know they exist and what they think of the manga.

I, too, would like to see Moyasimon do better in America. Unfortunately, I didn’t read this volume in time to take advantage of Ishikawa’s offer for my final convention of the year, New York Anime Festival. Hopefully, a few fans will take up the offer and help promote the book at some upcoming conventions. If the offer still stands for next year, I wouldn’t mind setting up a display booth at a couple of conventions to promote the series. Having just returned from SPX, I think Moyasimon would be a good fit for the indie comic crowd.

There is a live adaptation of Moyasimon with computer-generated microorganisms. It’s an 11-episode series, and all episodes are now available for viewing. You can see them either at Hulu or Anime News Network. The TV series is a loose adaptation of the manga. It draws story elements from beyond the first two volumes available in English, so there are some minor spoilers about upcoming events in the manga. It’s a fun, enjoyable show. It’s a shame that it’s so short and there’s no news of a second season yet.

Moyasimon is a delightful series. It’s hard to compare it to anything else that’s available. It’s a smart, funny, and unpredictable series, a roller-coaster ride of a book. I think Moyasimon has the potential to reach a wide range of comics and manga readers. Since it’s not trying to be a realistic portrayal of Japanese college life, non-manga readers don’t have to worry about being bogged down in Japanese culture and customs. Madcap humor is pretty universal, so anyone should feel free to pick up the series and give it a try. Your only regret will be the slow release schedule from Del Rey. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

11 Comments

  1. “I wonder why he’s not getting any feedback on how Moyasimon is selling in America?”
    You might well be reading it the right way, but I took it as an interest in personal feedback from American readers (I’ve considered replying, though going into the British-but-reading-American-edition thing would tax my paltry Japanese).

    “Since it’s not trying to be a realistic portrayal of Japanese college life”
    Or at least we really hope it’s not realistic.

  2. James,

    It’s the line about not know if the American readers are out there that made it sould like a desperate plea to me.

    If that’s college life in Japan, then I might have to finally learn Japanese and apply to a couple of graduate programs. Not sure I’d learn anything, but I’d have a great time.

  3. His message to American fans is sad and frustrating because the blame seems to be completely on Del Rey. I understand releasing a series slowly because you won’t expect it to do well, but at the rate they’re going it’s one volume a year. How do they expect to build any kind of fan base? And without an ounce of effort toward marketing it?? Why bother releasing it at all if they have so little faith in it???

  4. Anime sells manga. Manga doesn’t really sell itself. That’s why a lot of the current comics are that creepy moe stuff: It’s easier for them to get anime made of it that can be sold to the otaku and little girls that buy it’s merchandising.

    Moyasimon and other seinen comics being released in English at all is simply amazing.

    This series, like a lot of the Viz Signature titles, strikes me as something that gets published for the library/ serious collector markets rather than because the publish thinks they’re going to rake in the big bucks with it.

  5. Also, I don’t know if this is just another lie the internet told me, but I once read that the typical prose book sells around a thousand copies. If Moyasimon is selling even just five thousand copies, a long established book publisher like Del Rey may see that as a good thing.

  6. J, To be fair to Del Rey, they did do a lot of heavy promoting when they announced the Moyasimon license. Last year at thier boooths there were posters and they gave away medical masks with the Moyasimon logo. However, they released the first volume just before the manga industry began it’s implosion. So some of the poor sales may just be bad timing.

    William, getting publishers to release sales figures is next to impossible. I suspect if Moyasimon was selling 5,000 copies Del Rey would have the series on the fast-track release schedule. It would be nice to see Moyasimon make it onto the NY Times bestselling manga list. It certainly deserves to be there. Hopefully, with the live action action adaptation on Hulu, Del Rey will see sales pick up.

  7. Tommy Raiko

    I wonder what that marginal note says in the original Japanese edition.

    If it basically the same thing, it may have been written before Del Ray’s edition was in the works (that is, before an American edition was in the works at all.) On the other hand, if the note is indeed a new note referring to how well Del Ray is publishing the book, I’m a little surprised that Del Ray would include that in their edition at all.

    Weird.

  8. Ed, I picked the number 5000 because even the bottom of the barrel super hero comics typically sell in the five digit range(Maybe worse these days?). If what you’re saying is true I guess my low balling wasn’t low enough. :D

  9. I’ve seen the anime so I’ve been slow to actually read the first two volumes of Moyasimon. But don’t worry I pre-ordered them both and they’re sitting and waiting for me in my manga library. I adore almost every Viz Siganture manga series and realize if I want to read a series from this line it’s best if I buy it asap even if I don’t have time to read it right now. Currently I’m reading Ikigami and Oishinbo. I intend on reading everything from this line except Tough.

  10. I very much enjoy Viz’s Signature line, too, but this title is from Del Rey. I do wish there was more Oishinbo to appreciate.

  11. Thanks for the review; I’m a big Moyasimon fan, but I’d forgotten about the author’s request to hear from his American fans. I looked up his website, found his e-mail address, and sent him a letter. In English, sadly, but that’s what you get when you ask for feedback from Americans. (My Japanese barely goes past “junmai daiginjo”.)

    By the way, the anime is legally available from overseas sources, with subtitles that are a bit uneven, but livable. It’s quite good, and it follows the manga much more closely than the live version does. But it goes further that the events in volume 2, so it’s spoilerific if you’ve only read up that far (as I have).

Leave a Reply