Wednesday, May 13, 2009

At least I learned what miso is

Moyashimon has always had a severe predilection for textbookitis. With the main character able to see bacteria, it stands to reason the thing has to explain what the bacteria are; with everyone students at an agricultural college it stands to reason their lives revolve around the research they're involved with. The plot generally proves strong enough to bolster it past the occasional onslaught of exposition.
Not so much in volume 7. While there were a number of fascinating passages on the process involved in making staple ingredients of Japanese food, and a long lecture on how sake shops really ought to conduct themselves that managed to be compelling reading in spite of itself, there was literally no plot for the bulk of the volume. A character from an earlier volume showed up literally to get drunk and have some light background gender confusion comedy, and there was some business about secret doors that seemed to defeat the author's considerable artistic abilities entirely, and basically spend a hundred pages or so with characters staring in shock at something poorly defined for reasons even less poorly defined, and I pretty much had to page back through the lectures to put all the puzzle pieces together once he got around to answering them.
I strongly suspect that the kind of fashions he likes to draw girls in lining up a lot with the kind of fashions I enjoy seeing girls drawn in was a significant reason why I still found it a largely pleasant read. This is a shame, and Moyashimon should probably aspire to something better. Restore the balance it maintained successfully for the first six volumes, anyway.
I don't think the English version has started coming out yet, so I suspect people aren't aware just how oddball the format of this book is. Manga in serialization tend to get the frames plastered with helpful little pictures of the characters and brief bits of text explaining who they are - a vague attempt at making it possible to pick up and read a chapter of something in the middle. They also tend to have cheery little slogans plastered on the sides or over certain frames, commenting on the action. Snarkily for quirky comedies like this, with demented enthusiasm for jovian adventures. For reasons known only to the author - wait, I can't keep writing this because I'm too lazy to look up his god damn name. Ishikawa Masayuki. Right. Too generic to be anything but his given name. Anyway. Ishikawa apparently does all those character profiles and random commentary himself, and they are all preserved in the final collected volumes. A shocking panel might have "Good god!" written next to it; the character introductions tend to be less useful as such and more ongoing metacommentary on the work. "The main character, though you'd never guess." "Gosh, she's drunk a lot." "Male." He also tends to grab the images from the least identifiable places possible - shots of them from behind, or in silhouette. And then he might chose to spend an entire chapter simply introducing the bacteria floating around the corners of the frame. They certainly aren't essential reading, but they tend to provide a chuckle when the main pages have started to bore me.


  1. I always like to compare this somewhat to Genshiken because they share several features: a lot of obscure errata in a particular field, boisterous camaraderie in the college setting, subtle and occasionally obtuse humor, and some kind of artistic pizazz that draws the eye (those adorable little germs vs. oh, I don't know, the cosplay portions of Genshiken).

    But when I mull over that comparison, I can't help but recognize the one major shortcoming of Moyashimon, which is that Ishikawa just isn't as adept at characterization. He's very good at maneuvering them into comedic situations (Weekly Masayuki Ishikawa proves that) but in other ways they lack depth, and they certainly don't transcend their setting the way Kio managed. It took me a while to notice this, because I was so engrossed with the incredible volume of text and the constantly-goofy commentary that Ishikawa keeps up. But it's definitely THE problem that he has, and I can't really tell if he's an immature storyteller or simply just not that interested in peddling drama. For that reason I don't really see this withstanding the test of time or becoming any more than a cult favorite, but I do hope it does all right. There are definitely a number of weirdos that are just waiting to read this but don't know it yet.

  2. I think his characterization is fine, but the ratio of it to everything else is a bit off. I'd prefer he start with character and move on to science and he often ends up going the other way.
    I also think he has a bad habit of trying to be subtle about some character moment and just being cryptic instead.

    Haven't read Genshiken because I despised Kio's earlier work from the very bottom of my soul. I understand Genshiken was a breakout work for him, and it certainly had a less repellent art style, but it's hard for me to believe he could ever be really worth reading.

  3. The otaku stuff is mostly retarded but there was definitely a tipping point where the most simplistic cardboard characters were abandoned for in-depth studies of the more realized and interesting ones, and this coincided with a slow fade-out of the setting. That's the moment where it became a legitimately successful story and not just a silly comic comic book. I don't know that Moyashimon will ever reach that point, but like I said above, maybe Ishikawa's just not as interested in that. His fantasy series in Good Afternoon is a total pandering shlock-fest.

  4. Actually, I thought Genshiken massively lost its way when it started moving away from the cringe-inducing otaku comedy. That was a fairly unique hook (at the time; now self-referential nerd japery has become a well-represented subgenre), and when Ogiue came in it basically became one of a vast number of relationship books, and not a particularly good one. I don't hate the characters or anything, but I think it's vastly overstating things to claim they're legitimately well-developed. Compared to, I dunno, your average Jump book, sure, but those are written for eight-year olds, not a very high bar to jump over.

  5. I think you're really selling it short, and ignoring the growth in characters like Saki and Madarame. Anyways, Genshiken isn't a huge favorite of mine so I'm not going to spend a lot of time defending it. My general point is that flat or underdeveloped characters work fine in purely comedic stories and can be overlooked to a degree in plot- or setting-driven stories, but if there's going to be any attempt to make the reader care about the characters, they have to be well-rounded and believable. Genshiken succeeded in that, and Moyashimon shows occasional moments of it, but I don't think Ishikawa is quite capable enough to pull that off. In which case, it's sort of resigned to being, as Andrew said, a case of "textbook-itis." I just think it has the potential to be better.