Thursday, August 3, 2017

REVIEW: The Drops of God (manga, vol. 1) story by Tadashi Agi, art by Shu Okimoto, translation by Kate Robinson

I'm not sure what genre to assign to The Drops of God. I'm not surprised that its Wikipedia page just says "wine." Anyway, I requested it via interlibrary loan. Although it doesn't say its an omnibus volume, it collects the first two volumes of the series.

Review:

Shizuku Kanzaki is the son of Yutaka Kanzaki, a world-famous wine critic. Ever since he was a child, Shizuku was exposed to a variety of sights, smells, sounds, and tastes, all the things he’d need in order to properly appreciate wine. Unfortunately for Yutaka Kanzaki, it backfired. The relationship between father and son became strained, and Shizuku eventually went to work for a beer company without ever once tasting a drop of wine.

Shizuku has been estranged from his father for two years when he learns of his father’s death from pancreatic cancer. His father left a will describing 12 great wines and one legendary wine called “The Drops of God.” Shizuku can only inherit his father’s property if he is able to correctly identify the wines and their vintages before the end of a one-year time limit. Not only that, but he has a rival: Issei Tomine, “the prince of the wine world,” a famous young wine critic. Issei convinced Yutaka to adopt him a week before his death, so Issei is legally Yutaka’s son and also gets a chance at inheriting everything.

Issei and Shizuku’s first task is to identify and describe a particular wine set aside by Yutaka. The person who comes up with the most appropriate description will get to live in Yutaka Kanzaki’s mansion. Although Shizuku drops his glass before trying the wine, something about its appearance and smell brings to mind a wisp of memory. He seeks out the one friendly face in the wine world that he knows of, apprentice sommelier Miyabi Shinohara, to help him figure out what that wine is and why it affects him so strongly.

I’ll start off by saying that I rarely drink, even socially. I’ve drunk wine a grand total of maybe twice in my life, and both times I thought it tasted a lot like medicine. I went into The Drops of God knowing very little about wine, and it only took a few pages for me to realize that I knew even less about it than I thought.

Shizuku spent his childhood being given an intensive wine tasting education but never took the last step, actually tasting wine. That’s where Miyabi and her friendly and supportive mentor, Shiro Fujieda, came in. As Shizuku learned more about wine, readers got an education as well. This volume covered things like decanting and terroir as Shizuku attempted to identify the first wine in his father’s will, helped Miyabi find a similar tasting replacement for a bottle of major-league wine that she broke, and tried to get Taiyo Beer’s new wine division going.

I enjoyed the volume’s educational aspects, even though there was only so far I could go in my level of understanding without actually taking part in a wine tasting. Which, by the way, I’m not planning on doing. This manga has succeeded in convincing me that those two wines I drank might just have been terrible, or perhaps improperly served, but I’m not so convinced that I want to go out and see what I’ve been missing.

Overall, this reminded me a little (a very little) of Yakitate!! Japan (a bread baking manga), if that series hadn’t been so ridiculous. Both series made frequent use of over-the-top reaction shots, although in The Drops of God’s case they weren’t intended to be goofy - they were literal depictions of what characters were feeling, tasting, and smelling when they tasted wine. One wine, for example, reminded Issei of a particular painting (which he then spent several panels discussing), while another wine mentally transported Shizuku into a Queen concert.

Shizuku got past the chip on his shoulder regarding his father so quickly that I found myself thinking it was a shame the two men couldn’t have sat down at some point and talked things over. At any rate, I enjoyed seeing Shizuku and other characters try to understand the sensations and emotions various wines evoked in them. My favorite part of the volume was Shizuku and Miyabi’s quest to find a replacement for the broken bottle of major-league wine. The end result of that story was a reunion between Miyabi’s boss and a past acquaintance. It was surprisingly sweet and romantic, even though I, personally, thought it was stupid and risky as heck to make everything ride on one person interpreting a wine just so. Years wasted, because the characters couldn’t bring themselves to use words like normal people.

All in all, this volume interested me enough that I’ve already put in a request for the second one. The story and characters were a little thin, but I enjoyed seeing wine through the eyes of people who appreciated it more than I ever will. I also enjoyed the artwork. Although something about it struck me as just a tad boring (maybe because Okimoto tended to skip drawing backgrounds unless it was absolutely necessary?), it was precise and attractive.

I want to see if Shizuku can manage to identify all the wines in his father’s will and thereby come to a better understanding of his father and what I imagine was his father’s final message to him. With these people, wine is never just wine - it’s a given that there’s a larger message in the thirteen wines Yutaka chose to include in his will. I’m also interested to see whether there’s a message for Issei as well. There has to be more to the adoption than just setting Issei up to be Yutaka’s rival, right?

Unfortunately, I’m going to be doomed to disappointment. Only five volumes of The Drops of God were published in English. The last one was released several years ago, and it looks like the series might be out of print. If I assume that each volume is an omnibus containing two to three volumes (this first volume was originally published as two volumes in Japan), that’s at most 14 volumes and probably more like 10. Wikipedia tells me that the series ran for 44 volumes and then continued with the currently ongoing final arc. I can’t imagine how the author managed to get the identification of 13 wines to take that many volumes, but the end result is that I’m not going to get to see how everything turns out. Well, it won’t be the first time. I’ve requested the next volume anyway.

2 comments:

  1. I’ve been a wine drinker most of my life, so I’ll have to check this out. Wine is an acquired taste, like drinking beer or coffee, so like the latter two drinks, I didn’t initially enjoy drinking wine. Enjoyment came after years of exposure. If you have Netflix, I would suggest watching the documentary “Somm,” as a complement to “The Drops of God.”

    I’ve often wondered why so many manga and animes are didactic in nature. Covering food, science, the arts, and social interaction. Often when watching animes set in high schools, I think that my teenage life would have been easier if I had learned the life lessons shown in these animes. On some days, when I’m more conspiracy minded, I’m inclined to think that the Japanese government is trying to socially engineer their society through anime and manga.

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    Replies
    1. I have Netflix, so I'll add "Somm" to my queue.

      I like reading manga with educational aspects - it's nice to learn new things, and format helps it go down a little easier. I'd probably have loved it if one of my high school teachers had supplemented their lectures with readings from manga on a related subject. It might have made certain subjects, like history, stick in my memory better.

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