Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moyashimon, vol. 8, review

(Outer cover. All copyrights reserved by their owners. All images used here are for review purposes only.)

Ok Bunny, this is the one you've been waiting for.

(Front cover. The women's football team, versus the lacrosse player.)

Moyashimon, Vol. 8 - Grade: A+
The microbes welcome you to their world, and launch into a short history of modern beer, discussing the differences between ale and lager, and talking about the Japanese preference for pilsner beers. They then introduce a great lover of sake, and budding alcoholic, Aoi Mutou.

(Back cover. Ad for the Meat Festival, plus Oktoberfest.)

Mutou sneaks through the secret door into the tunnels, holding a beer mug in one hand. She makes her way to the casks and inserts a tap into one of them. However, the beer that comes out is too dark and thick to be normal, and way, way too tart for her tastes.

As she's complaining about the flavor, Kei shows up, commenting that this is one of Keizo's experiments - a lambic. Lambics, common in Belgium, are fermented using yeasts that occur naturally in the air. They are characterized by "wild" flavors, and generally softened with the addition of fruit juices. Before Kei can get much farther into the explanation he remembers what he had set out for, and asks Mutou to come with him to the shop to help talk with a stranger that has just dropped by.

(Not liking lambic.)

In the Hiyoshi sake store, a small, serious-looking woman in a suit introduces herself as Hana Kanou, from Kanou Farms. A young man, Tomoharu Hiyoshi (we finally get the younger Hiyoshi's first name) had visited the Farm, and suggested that the sake shop try carrying her beers. So, she came to Tokyo to visit the shop as a saleswoman to promote her wares.

(Hana Kanou.)

Mutou starts asking about the beer, referred to as "ji-beer", or "local beer" (what would be a microbrew in the States), and immediately comments that she dislikes local beers because they're too bitter. She continues that Japan's local breweries account for a very small percentage of the market, and are equivalent to the minor leagues in baseball. Eventually, her opinions start striking too close to home, and old man Hiyoshi breaks up the fight, escorting Mutou out of the shop. He asks her if she'd once been jilted by a local beer operator, and she berates herself for having been excessively rude. It's just that she prefers sake, and if she's going to drink beer, it's one of the major brands with "normal Japanese" flavors. Hiyoshi comments that she'd talked like someone quoting what they'd read from a book - very unlike a student of Prof. Keizo - and leaves her with a question of what beer is.

(Defending ji-beer.)

Meanwhile, in the tasting room, Kei is trying Kanou Farm's "Flower IPA". It's a lighter flavor, less bitter than a regular IPA, and is likely to appeal to casual female drinkers. He immediately decides to carry the line in the shop. Hana asks if that's ok, since it's such a small production run, and Kei reassures her that their's is a small shop that specializes in small-lot sakes. A small-lot beer would fit right in. This makes Hana very happy.

(Local beer versus the big commercial brands.)

Immediately, Mutou calls Aya and asks her to teach her about beer. Aya's in sports practice at the moment, and tells Mutou to come by the shop that night. She then places a call to Kei to find out why Keizo's research team is studying beer instead of the usual sake. That evening, Mutou hesitatingly enters the bar only to discover Hana Kanou, Prof. Keizo and Kei. Keizo gets down on his knees to apologize for his stupid student's trying to talk big in front of a pro beer maker. From this point, Aya starts the educational seminar, focusing on two pilsners - the Czech Pilsner Urquell, and the Belgian Brugse Zot. They're the same style, but completely different presentations and flavors. Aya then sets a bottle of Kanou Farm's Flower Weisen in front of Mutou and dares her to drink it. Swallowing her pride, Mutou shouts - let's drink this until morning!" The rest of the group shouts along with her.

The next morning, Hana wakes up in Mutou's bed, with Keizo sitting to one side ready to present breakfast. It's a combination of rice and katsuobushi, but a special version of the smoked tuna designed to be eaten in the morning when people are in a rush and can't appreciate the taste. Mutou accepts that there are different kinds of Japanese foods that all have their merits, and Hana returns back to her farm. Nagamine, the guy that had made the picnic food that had made Tada so sick back in volume 1, had asked Keizo for help in setting up a possible new festival to start up in a few weeks, called the "Meat Festival". As the Meat Festival draws near, Mutou is sitting at her desk in a haze, unable to answer "what is beer?" Keizo tells her to go down to Kanou Farm and find out.

She immediately puts on her exploration gear and takes the trains out to the countryside. Pretty quickly, she gets to Kanou Farm, where she discovers that Hana works the farm by herself, as well as running the brewery alone. If she needs help, she'll call on her family or neighbors. Hana shows Mutou the brewery, and lets her sample the wort before it starts fermentation.

Mutou likes the wort flavor, but before they can continue the discussion, some bar owner calls Hana on her cell phone to reject a batch of her beer. It was a weizen (unfiltered wheat beer), and the cloudy appearance of the beer made the customers think it had gone bad. This happens to Hana frequently, with lots being rejected for uneven levels of beer in the bottles, labels peeling off, etc. Mutou can't believe that people that haven't tried the beer would reject it out of hand, and suddenly all of her words come screaming back at her. She has dinner with Hana's parents and grandmother, then heads back to the campus.

Mutou joins up with Aya at the bar, and she's still having trouble understanding the appeal of beer. Eventually, Aya pulls out a magazine dedicated to world beers and events, and one page catches Mutou's eye. The next morning, as TMK and Hazuki work at churning the miso mash, Mutou arrives bright and chipper and starts calling various ji-beer breweries around the country. By lunch, Hasagawa interrupts her and takes her notes. Everyone has been listening to her work, and they want to help. She's Miss NouDai, so she's told to use her powers to the fullest.

First she seeks out the ex-UFO Club and asks them to put up fliers - they would die for her, so the chance to do something like this brings them to tears. Then she goes to the Meat Festival planning meeting and suggests that since it is the Fall, that they try adding an Oktoberfest theme for the beer stalls. Nagamine hesitates, but Aya supports the idea and the rest of the council is for it. They bring in the cosplay club to make the beer server outfits, and the First Years are tasked to put up the tents and stalls. They only have two weeks to get everything ready, so the work goes pretty much without a break.

Finally, it's the day of the event. Mutou is given a costume to wear, and Tada leads the decorated horse that's she's to ride at the head of the opening parade. When the two of them get to the campus gates, the road is blocked with ji-beer trucks waiting to get in and set up. Hana arrives in full costume, thrilled at being invited. At 10 AM, the parade starts, and there's a huge crowd out to watch. A number of men comment on how cute Kei looks in his costume. Misato and Kawahama are driving some of the floats pulled by horses, and Hasegawa desperately wants to get a whip from one of them for some reason. As the parade finishes, Hana is stunned to see a man as short as she is; Tada is crushed at this. But, there's more noise coming from the streets, with Keizo driving the Orion Beer float. Turns out that Aya had contacted the 4 big commercial beer makers (Sapporo, Suntory, Kirin and Asahi), and they decided to join in. Hana refuses to back down in the face of this competition and runs to operate her tent. And then Mutou collapses.

She recovers in her bed in the lab, surrounded by the rest of the group. Tada knew that she'd picked up the flu that morning, but hadn't wanted to say anything. Mutou spends the day in bed, missing out on the event, but gets to eat Keizo's beer soup. The Oktoberfest event is a smash; Hazuki stands in for Mutou at the closing ceremonies; Hana has sold out of her stock; and the school agrees to hold the same event next year, but not as the Meat Festival (on the other hand, the sausages made by the students are a big hit with the customers). At the end, Aya shows the magazine photo that had triggered Mutou's zeal in the first place - people laughing and enjoying themselves at the Oktoberfest in Munich. So, Mutou's answer to "what is beer?", is "people smiling at each other". Hana's so happy at this that she says that even though she's 27, she'll try even harder from now to make people happy. The group is shocked that she is so old.

The omake section has the microbes talking about the history of the pilsner beer style, developed by one Josef Groll, in Plzen, after government agents destroyed the ale that people had been drinking in town. Unfortunately, Groll was an arrogant slob, and was run out of town 3 years later. This is followed by a list of the ji-beer makers that appeared at the end in the manga. One of the featured brands is Preston Ale, the one that has the Moyashimon characters on the label. Preston is the reason why I started reading Moyashimon in the first place.

(The photo that inspired NouDai's Oktoberfest.)

Summary: Beer, beer, beer. Highly recommended!

As a side comment, halfway through this volume I ran out to the sake shop where I've bought shochu, and asked if they had ji-beer. They said no, but directed me to a small shop on the other side of the Odakyu line that carries a number of imported beers (Chimay, Duval, Newton, Hobgoblin), called Edoya Wine and Beer. Edoya only had 3 kinds of ji-beer (one from Tokyo, one from Nagoya, and Coedo, from Saitama, north of Tokyo). The shop clerk was very friendly, and answered all of my questions. (He also commented that he has some other American customers, because he's one of the few places in the area that carries Sam Adams.)

(Why some people should not be allowed beer.)

I decided to get all 5 of the Coedo beers, one of each color, 330 yen each ($18 USD total). These are all made in different styles, including a pilsner, a weizen, a red, and a stout. The red includes sweet potato, so it's not really a standard beer, but it has an interesting sweetness to it that isn't too bad. The weizen is very typical of the style, but without the "spoiled fish" smell that I dislike about the other weizen's I've had before. The coedo weizen is quite drinkable, if you like this style (many people don't). Unfortunately, most of the reviews I've seen on the net for Coedo beers are in the B+ to B- range, which I think is due to the higher price as an import beer to the U.S. As for me, I like them.

(The page misalignment kind of makes it impossible to tell what the images are this time.)

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