by Masayuki Ishikawa; adapted by Stephen Paul
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.99 US
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 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.)