Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture
Volume 1
Ishikawa Masayuki
Del Rey

When I first heard rumors of Moyasimon, I assumed that it would be one of those amazing concepts that would never see the light of day in America, simply too weird for any publisher to shell out the hefty fees to license and print. Fortunately, my assumptions about this industry are often misguided and wrong, and so Moyasimon made its first appearance on US shelves this past November, perhaps celebrating its stateside arrival with a U.S.-friendly cover. Now if only the anime — with its brilliant, beautiful opening, which I’ll never grow tired of watching — would do this same.

The story of Moyasimon (or Moyashimon as it seems to be called in Japan) is pretty straightforward. Tadayasu Sawaki is a first-year college student from the countryside attending an agricultural university in Tokyo. He’s likely expected to take over his family’s mold-culturing business back home, who work in partnership with the neighboring sake brewery owned by his best friend’s family. Since childhood, Sawaki has been able to see microbes without the aid of any optical instruments. They appear to him not as amorphous, impersonal blobs as they do to most people through a microscope, but as smiling, cheerful, inch-tall sprites that speak to him on a first-name basis. This lands Sawaki in a number of hilarious situations, even before his first day of classes, and poses a question that’s probably going to hang over the rest of the story: why does he have this ability, anyway? His friends and classmates seem to take it in stride early on, but will everyone else he encounters be so understanding?

Moyasimon appeals to me on a number of levels, first and foremost because, although I realized it tragically late in my college career, biology is my favorite subject. If I could do college all over again, biology (perhaps even pre-med) would certainly be my major of choice. I’d love to be a researcher, or even work in bioinformatics. I hate writing lab reports as much as anyone else, but I love reading about zoology, genetics, evolution, or anything related to the biodiversity of living things, how they reproduce, co-exist, and affect the world around them. I don’t know what prompted me to change my interests so late in the game, although it’s kind of a moot point now. A life in science is a path you choose when you’re still in high school, not years after college when you’re trying to support yourself.

Aside from its unique premise, quirky style, and respect for the intelligence of the reader (characters frequently go off on page-filling microbiology mini-lectures), I also love Moyasimon‘s depiction of college life. Within days of setting foot on campus, Sawaki makes new friends, meets hot girls, is taken under the wing of an eccentric but wise old professor, and drinks sake with all of them. This is pure fantasy, I realize, but I read it with a real yearning to experience that kind of youthful optimism and camaraderie once again. I got this same feeling when I was reading Genshiken last year, which filled me with all kinds of wistful longings for college life and the bounty of opportunities it presented. I figured it out too late, but you’ve really got to be at a university to experience anything like this. Parents and guidance counselors will warn against attending large schools, harping on their massive lecture halls and classes taught by mere T.A.’s, warning you that you’ll be “just a number” if you choose big State U. But the fact is that small, private colleges are socially suffocating drags and academic dead zones, twice the price and half as nice, as they say. Getting a bachelor’s degree from Gudger College might have sounded like a great idea five years ago, but see how well that gets you a job when other applicants are listing Michigan State, UCLA, or Syracuse on their resumes.

I didn’t intend to dwell on the past or go off on any bitter tangent so I’ll stop myself for now. Moyasimon is a positive and fun read so far with a simple and lighthearted story with hints of ominous intrigue to come. The cast of characters (eukaryotic and bacterial) are fascinating and likable, their dialog witty and knowledgeable and frequently informative. Volume 2 won’t be out until May but I know I’ll be picking it up for sure. I mean, I know I could find a scanlation of the complete series within just a few minutes, so what’s stopping me?

I guess I just want another nice paperback to lay in my lap while on break at work or to take with me to bed at the end of the night. Granted, this means I only read a handful of titles every year compared to the dozens or scores of manga that other fans download online. Ironically, this old-fashioned honesty probably makes me significantly less qualified to say anything of consequence about the medium than the typical fan who voraciously consumes manga in digital form but doesn’t consider it worth paying for. I don’t know how often I’ll be blogging here about what I’m reading, but when I do I’ll probably be drawing more on my own emotional response than on any backlog of manga-related knowledge. Whether that makes entries like this genuinely interesting for others to read or not, I cannot say, but at least it gives me a way to (re)examine what I’m reading, and maybe understand manga a little better than I would if I simply tossed it aside when I’m finished with it.