#CBR4 Maneuver #2 – The Drops of God: Volume 1

Target: Tadashi Agi’s The Drops of God Chapters 1-18.  Art by Shu Okimoto

Profile: Manga/Graphic Novel, Viniculture, Dramatic Fiction

Summary: From the Back Cover, “When world-renowned wine critic Kanzaki passes away, his will reveals that his fortune of a wine collection isn’t bequeathed as a matter of course to his only son, who in a snub went to work sales at a beer company.  To come into the inheritance, Shizuku must identify – in competition with a stellar young critic – twelve heaven-sent wines whose impressions the will describes in flowing terms…”

After Action Report:

When Japanese comic artists, Manga-ka for those in the know, started running out of original sci-fi/fantasy adventures that had driven their industry since the 1950s, a strange trend started cropping up.  Writers and artists started conceiving very ordinary sorts of stories with painstaking detail about an unusual facet of everyday life.  Manga about bread making, Go players and even middle management had a lot of appeal to individuals who were in those fields, but they were also popular with laymen who were interested in acquiring hobbies.  In that same vein, The Drops of God is a story about wine and the people who understand it.  It appeals both to wine aficionados and the relative neophytes who seek to learn something about wine.  The series has been credited with an enormous surge in the wine imports of both Japan and South Korea, and was called “arguably the most influential wine publication for the past 20 years” by Decanter Magazine.

The serialized manga has been in production since late 2004 and is still incomplete.  It already sprawls over 270 ‘chapters’ so I’ll keep the plot down to its key points.  Shizuku Kanzaki, son of famous wine critic Yutaka Kanzaki, was trained from an early age to be a top tier sommelier.  Like many children, he rebelled against his father’s strict teachings and ended up working for a Japanese beer company.  Fast forward to Yutaka’s dying day and Shizuku has never even tasted wine, but still possesses the finely honed nose and palate of a master wine taster, along with some fancy decanting skills that make for pretty freeze-frames.  Kanzaki’s will stipulates that only a worthy successor shall inherit his substantial wine collection, along with naming Issei Tomine, a successful young wine critic, to be his legal son.  Shizuku and Issei must now compete in the ‘Drops of God,’ a thirteen step contest in which the boys must identify wines based only on the flowery descriptions given in the will.

The setup is pretty standard in the world of manga.  A natural genius with little practical skill is put up against an expert in the field and expected to triumph by willpower, grit and determination.  But we’re not reading The Drops of God to find out who wins.  We’re reading to learn about wine!  The first volume (chapters 1-18) is very heavy on the French wines, only getting into Italian wine at the very end of chapter 18.  The writers (Agi is a joint penname) clearly did a lot of serious research putting together a haphazard and non-linear guide to the upper echelons of French reds along with the basics of wine tasting and drinking.  It also gives a lot of hints to finding cheaper alternatives to the 5 Chateaus and other top tier options.  Shizuku’s complete inexperience with the world of wine serves as the springboard for educating the reader.  We learn along with Shizuku, and are entertained by his borderline ridiculous descriptions of the wine.

If there’s one problem with manga, it’s the pressing need for hyper-dramatic moments that punctuate story arcs.  These semi-climaxes are often inappropriate to the flow of the story, but make really good stopping points for the serialized chapters as they get released in magazines.  Once bound into tankobon collections, this pacing can get very bouncy for readers.  It’s somewhat similar to watching a story driven TV show on DVD and getting annoyed at all the recap moments when you’ve just seen the referenced episodes days or hours before.  Drops uses wine tastings as its punctuation marks.  Every new wine worthy of note gets a unique description, which starts with the standard “Notes of blah blah blah” we all saw in Sideways.  But they all end up in overwrought word-pictures of a place or an event that the wine supposedly evokes.  The very first contest wine in the will, a 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, somehow conjures an image of Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus” complete with the critic Tomine superimposed into the piece, hair waving in the imaginary wind.  These moments of hyperbole will appeal to the manga fans but could deter a more scholarly read of the novel.

And The Drops of God deserves to be taken seriously.  With its very real impact on the East Asian wine markets, salient if not terribly clear introduction to the world of fine wine and beautiful artwork, the manga is clearly worthy of the praise it has received in Japan, France and now the U.S.  It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but there is a clever way of learning something encapsulated here and it definitely worth giving a try.

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Posted on January 2, 2012, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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