Moyasimon Vol. 1: Tales of Agricultureby Masayuki IshikawaDel Rey, 240 pages, $10.99
When I heard the basic gimmick for Moyasimon -- incoming college student has the ability to see germs -- a number of possible scenarios ran through my head. None of them, however, involved a professor sucking out the innards of a dead bird through its anus after the bird had been sealed up in the stomach of an equally dead seal that had been buried under the ground for several weeks. Nor did they involve the main character having his hand stuck up a cow's anus with everyone watching (he does wear gloves) for several panels.
The amazing thing is Moyasimon isn't some gross-out, Johnny Ryan-style shock comedy. No, its focus instead seems to be on, as the subtitle says, agriculture, with a specific emphasis on the science of fermentation. The narrative stops frequently to explain the science of, say, how sake is made, or yogurt. Which, I should note, is always informative and engaging. Occasionally side routes will be taken to talk about eColi or stealing cabbages, but overall it's all about how microscopic organisms turn things into other things. Especially when they're left out to rot.
I should note liked Ishikawa's art style, which varies between realism and an almost minimal cartoonishness. The afore-mentioned professor, for example, is drawn as little more than an oval with a few straight lines and two smaller ovals for glasses, while his grad student assistant is delineated in a much more detailed style (with a special attention to her rather revealing fashion choices). This actually helps Ishikawa as it gives him the chance to portray the various germs and bacteria our hero Tadayasu can see as super-kawaii little smiley faces whose only differentiating characteristics seem to be how many lumps they've got on the top of their heads.
Moyasimon is definitely an odd duck. I liked it enough to want to pick up the second volume, but at the same time I can easily see more casual manga readers being turned off by its occassional sharp turns into disgusto-land. At the same time, that willingness to go off the rails a bit is what keeps it from becoming yet another manga about a gifted but put-upon young hero who is thrust into a highly specialized world of learning. Perhaps it just needs to find a proper balance. I'll be eager to find out if it does.