By Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto. Released in Japan as “Kami no Shizuku” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Morning. Released in North America by Vertical.
The second volume of The Drops of God continues our story where we left off, with Shizuku and Miyabi trying to find dazzling yet inexpensive French wines to satisfy a bet with their colleague who boasts that Italian wine is the best. Of course, each bottle they find brings another story, be it a family torn apart by both death and the inability to match wine with food; two brothers who cannot agree on anything about wine; and Tomine’s lover Saionji, who’s intrigued by Shizuku yet also wants to show him up in a wine-tasting competition. And of course there’s the will of Shizuku’s late father, which finally gives us the main plot of this whole series.
Really, there are so many things working against me with this manga, which I should not love nearly as much as I do. I don’t drink wine, which means that I’m usually smiling and nodding at all of the wine backstory and exposition about as much as I would be were I to read a really deep mahjong manga. The broad strokes of the plot rely on cliches that we have seen in a million other Japanese seinen mangas, food or otherwise, and this applies to some of the one-offs as well. (Father and daughter torn apart by an argument over the mother’s death? Two brothers, one a delinquent and one cool and intelligent? Did they get this from the Big Book of Manga Plots, Vol. 3?) And Miyabi, one of the main characters, is still rather undeveloped: she’s there to be the sounding board, provide mild fanservice, and be a cute female who the hero might eventually hook up with, but it’s not happening anytime soon.
All of this is true. So then why is Drops of God so good? Because the writers are fantastic at what they do. This is a manga written by two pepole who know exactly what needs to be done to sell a plot – which includes using tired cliches, which can easily work in your favor when handled correctly. The pacing is phenomenal, with every 4-5 chapters feeling like an episode of a TV drama (which I believe the show was later adapted to). These chapters were written for reading as a serialized weekly manga, and the start of each chapter recaps the cliffhanger from the last, just like old-school Doctor Who. The goal is to get you to be unable to ever put it down or stop – you have to find out what happens next week.
As for all the wine exposition, despite my lack of knowledge, I was never really bored with it. There is a balance between walls of text explaining a particular region of France and the emotional feelings that go with drinking the wines from that region. The descriptions of what it is like to drink a particular wine are not quite as over the top as the first omnibus, but are just as evocative – my favorite was probably the Parisian flea market. Given how hard it is to convey taste and smell to another person, you can easily imagine that wine critics talk like this all the time. I also enjoyed that the manga tries to be even-handed – the competition with Honma is not as easy as you’d suspect, and the Italian wines featured sound just as good as the French ones.
Lastly, I enjoy the art, which can sometimes be an afterthought in manga like these that are meant to be incredibly wordy. Most folks will love the scenes showing what the wine conveys to the drinker – I’d mentioned the flea market earlier, but the masquerade was just as good, and the description of the First “Apostle” looks gorgeous, and makes you want to figure out what wine it captures just as much as Shizuku. I also like the little ‘goofy bits’ that get thrown in – the manga has a certain sense of humor, though it’s not a comedy, and seeing Shizuku and Miyabi’s occasional frazzled or superdeformed expressions is great fun.
A lot of this reads like a giant mystery, which is not surprising given it’s from the creators of The Kindaichi Case Files. It’s a definite must for anyone who drinks wine. But it’s also fun for those who simply enjoy reading a well-crafted work with good dialogue. Albeit one that revels in some cheesy situatoios.