story by Tadashi Agi; art by Shu Okimoto
published by Vertical; $14.95 US
After launching strongly, The Drops of God series appears to be faltering. The previous book released was Volume 4, taking us through the discovery of the second “apostle” of twelve amazing wines. This volume jumps ahead to where the two oenophiles are seeking the seventh bottle, because that quest takes them to the wines of the New World, the Americas and Australia.
Reportedly, if this volume doesn’t do well, we won’t see any more in English, so it’s understandable that the publisher would pick chapters of direct interest to English-speaking readers. It got me back in — I’d given up after Book 3, where the thrill of reading a manga about wine had been overtaken by the clunky mechanics of the telling and the translation.
However, I find the way the publisher is cutting corners off-putting. If you’re trying to boost sales, which presumably would mean attracting new readers, why would you skip including some kind of text page? There’s no material here introducing readers to the characters or the premise, an omission that seems ridiculous. Even readers of the previous volumes will be a bit lost, since the book opens with a new character, Issei’s mother, who’s now participating in the contest announcements. Why not drop in one page with some character names, description, and a couple of “story so far” paragraphs to catch us up with what happened during the story gap (of at least six books, if I’m counting correctly)?
One of the plotlines includes a kidnapping, which demonstrates what makes The Drops of God so frustrating. Just when you’re fascinated by the various wine judgments and opinions being conveyed, feeling like you’re learning something about famous vintages (this time involving Robert Mondavi), something absolutely ludicrous happens, reminding you that this is a comic — in the unflattering sense. I might have cared more, too, if I knew who the character was who was put in danger, but she seems to have been introduced sometime during the gap.
Unfortunately, I think this series isn’t going to succeed the way the publisher and loyal readers hope. It got a lot of attention from wine magazines and other publications for its novelty. They loved the idea of a comic book about a topic they cared so much about. But I suspect that all those potential readers weren’t interested in committing to a series, especially one that, from a craft basis, isn’t all that great. The information in it is fascinating, but the characters are cardboard and the storytelling pedestrian.
Just as non-comic readers buy Watchmen or Batman paperbacks before the movies come out without becoming regular readers, so (I think) wine fans may sample a volume and then find their tastes sated. After all, few have patience for a series that takes over 10 pages to describe one bottle of wine, with images that include a cathedral, a lion, various landscapes, and a page of random heads representing humanity. This may have been a better choice to serialize the way Oishinbo was, with excerpted selections instead of reprinting the whole story. This book did make me want to take the Napa Valley Wine Train Tour, though, as the characters do. Drinking glass after glass of California vintages while riding the train through the gorgeous countryside sounds amazing.