Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture, by Masayuki Ishikawa, is one of the rare examples in manga of an outlandishly original concept -- boy can see germs with the naked eye -- which is actually executed quite smartly.
Moyasimon follows the hilarious trials and often disgusting adventures of agriculture college freshmen Tadayasu. The story opens on his first day of school, where his special talent -- the ability to see bacteria and other micro-organisms -- is exposed to an eccentric bacterial researcher when he accidentally uncovers the "corpse" of a dead seal by following the trail of "germs" he sees. In fact, the Professor had buried the seal in order to induce fermentation of around 70-80 seagulls stuffed inside the dead rotting seal which is a "traditional fermented food of the Canadian Inuit." Obviously, we have a more-than-slightly demented professor who is clearly down with the wacky -- his first, but not last, truly disturbing act in this volume is to rip open one of the birds and drink out its "insides." Tadayasu's talent makes him a human scientific instrument without parallel according to the Professor, and therefore, means the poor boy is of special interest to this whack-job.
Tadayasu's strange "talent" really is extraordinary -- he can distinguish between different germs by sight and he can actually prove his ability by plucking a germ out of the air and placing it on a petree dish so that others can confirm its identification under a microscope. However, he seems to lack even the most basic characteristics necessary to advance in the sciences -- an inquiring disposition. Seeing little germs -- who are often shown as cute little circles comprised of only simplistic expressions and antennae of some form -- is simply a part of his everyday life. While this vision can be useful -- such as his ability to recognize E. coli, saving the entire class from a case of food poisoning -- it is the Prof. and his snarky assistant Hasesgawa who have the grand (one might even say overblown) vision to imagine the possibilities of bacteria research. (Let's just say, "Life on Mars" takes on an entirely new meaning in this manga).
Tadayasu struggles somewhat with the fact he can see the disgusting aspects of life that others can't -- such as two sophomore slacker's mold-infested dorm room, where the germs become an overwhelming cloud that blots out Tadayasu's vision. Or athlete's foot on an otherwise attractive woman. Or one of a million other ways bacteria finds its way into our daily lives. It isn't just enough that Tadayasu can see these bacteria -- the creator also makes this story a kind of version of scientific!Oishinbo. Instead of demonstrating how fish or vegetables should be prepared for maximum taste-awesomenss, these characters like to demonstrate to Tadayasu all the disgustingly significant ways bacteria informs so much of our lives, usually for the better (although the knowledge often isn't conducive to enjoying those aspects of our lives. As Tadayasu seems to say, is his life really better for knowing that alcohol is really just "yeast poop"?).
The manga is full of quirky characters but the real stars of the show are the germs. They are delightfully personable and love to communicate their cheerful, almost innocent, intentions with Tadayasu (basically they want reproduce. Sometimes in your stomach!). This manga manages to make practical science and modern (and even traditional) uses of bacteria novel and interesting. More often than not, we are being educated right alongside Tadayasu but we get the pleasure and fun of seeing others wade through (and even ingest) bacteria in all its glorious forms.
Review copy provided by Del Rey.