The Drops of God, Vol. 3

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 third omnibus of Drops of God sees the first major plot advancement in the series. After spending so long trying to guess which wine was described in the will, one of our heroes finally gets it right. Of course, that does leave eleven more. And there’s still a few other problems to solve along the way…

(Incidentally, my cover for V. 3 is different from the one above. Last minute change? Or multiple designs?)

Once again, we have a plotline about how wine is far more than just an alcoholic beverage. We left off at the end of the last volume with an amnesiac woman who only had a description of wine to link her to her forgotten past. The trouble is, she’s now married – and both she and her husband are worried that if she recovers her memories, she’ll remember she was in love with someone else. Even though it relied on a contrived coincidence (two car accidents in the past leading to tragedy?), I really enjoy the way the authors used this, showing that it doesn’t necessarily take amnesia to avoid the past. And indeed, that the future can also shape the past – when Kaori recovers her memories and discovers her old love, we see that she and her husband are not the only ones whose lives are shaped by the tragedy. Throughout this plot, wine comes into play, acting almost as a mnemonic in order to be a gateway to prior events.

We then get the battle for the first apostle, which comes down to a very interesting point: these are not ‘the 12 best wines’ that Shizuku’s father has been describing, but 12 wines that he wanted to describe. This means that the first apostle revealed here depends on it not being an outstanding wine, but rather a wine that you have to work at to enjoy. Not only can I empathize with this, but of course it opens the playing field of wine even more to the cast. As with previous volumes, we get lovingly detailed depictions of the scene they’re imagining (and that his father described), which allow you to see the similarities and differences between the two wines picked, which differ only in the year made. It’s a good scene.

Characterization of the regulars continues to be the weak part of the series, but to be fair this is a manga about wine, not about Shizuku and Miyabi. We do get a little more development of her character here, showing her first love from high school returning and shocking her by being a cold businessman, but honestly I thought the best part of the manga for her was her superdeformed jealousy of Shizuku having lunch with Sara. Any love story that happens in this series will take even longer than Oishinbo’s did (and that took 47 volumes!), mostly as when it comes to love Shizuku seems to be thick as a brick. Something lampshaded by the other cast members. Speaking of the rest of the cast, the Italian wine snob, Chosuke, gets a rather sweet little backstory showing why he dislikes French wine so much.

The volume ends with the first half of the story I mentioned above with Miyabi’s old love. It involves trying to show that brand name doesn’t always mean quality, but to do that they have to note that in terms of wine, it frequently does. Lafite and Rothschild aren’t the top names in wine just due to marketing and publicity. They’re the cream of the crop, and I liked the scenes where Shizuku and Miyabi realize what a big hurdle they have to overcome. In the meantime, they’re also searching for the second apostle. Given this is a manga series, I have a sneaking suspicion Shizuku is going to fail hard at finding it, but we shall see.

This continues to be a good solid foodie manga. The broad points (p;lot, characters) are cliched, but the writing is what makes them stand out, and shows the work of two long-standing professionals. Definitely one for your shelves… though maybe the drinks cabinet instead?

The Drops of God, Vol. 2

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.

The Drops of God, Vol. 1

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.

Everyone’s been waiting for this one for a long time – since before the announcement of its license, in fact. It’s rare that you can say that a manga actually has an effect on the real world, but that’s what we have with The Drops of God, which has drastically impacted the sales of wine in Japan and the Far East. It’s been featured in the New York Times over here, and there’s buzz about it in wine magazines as well. Does it live up to the hype?

It does, even though it’s not quiet as revolutionary as you may have been led to believe. This is another in a long line of foodie mangas, and this time around it happens to be about wine. The plot could almost be taken straight from Oishinbo: there is a truculent young man, at odds with his father, who joins forces with a cute young woman to try to capture the “perfect” wines. Indeed, the basic setup of “people bring out food/drink and the hero and heroine gasp and describe its taste” could be from any number of food mangas out in Japan, many with volumes numbering into the 50s and 60s.

That said, where Drops of God draws you in is its writing. The main duo are perhaps not as well-written as the rest, but I’m hopeful we will see character development for them as the book goes on. (Less hopeful for romance, I’m pretty sure that there isn’t an ongoing plot with them as there was in Oishinbo.) More interesting is the so-called villain of the series, Tomine, who manages to capture that ‘sneering bastard’ type very well. I also really liked his sister Sara, who comes across as a shallow and vain model but whose description of the wine she’s drinking is possibly the highlight of the entire volume. I hope we see more of her.

The wraparound story of finding Shizuku’s father’s wine collection is really a way to develop any story needed. Here we see a man and his lover torn apart by circumstance and by his misreading the taste of a wine 15 years earlier; and the cliffhanger deals with a co-worker who refuses to accept French wine, noting that Italian is the best there is. Naturally, most of these problems can be solved by just the right vintage.

The descriptions of the wine can be a bit over the top – everyone by now knows that Shizuku describes a wine as tasting like a Queen concert – but that’s apparently true to life, and it’s noted that the ability to speak poetically about wine is just as important as the identification. Oh yes, and for lovers of fanservice, we get to see Miyabi in bed with Shizuku and in her underwear (don’t worry, nothing happened), as well as Tomine pouring wine onto the back of his lover (yeah, something happened there, but not on screen.)

Vertical’s translation and presentation is as good as we’ve come to expect from them. I was startled to find that the series is unflipped – Vertical tends to go for the widest readership they can get, which usually means flipping the art – but apparently the wine labels used throughout the manga made this impossible. You’re also getting two volumes in one, as Vertical is publishing 4 omnibuses of the first 8 Japanese volumes. The series is 28+ volumes in Japan, and not ending anytime soon, so Vertical has just licensed the first ‘arc’. If sales do well, they may get more. I’d like to see more, this is a fun title, if very typical of its genre.