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Moyashimon, vol. 13, by Masayuki Ishikawa, Gade: A-
Been a year since vol. 12 came out. I'm happy now.
Moyashimon runs in Kodansha's Evening and Morning 2 magazines. The stories in this volume appeared for most of 2013. The artwork is as great as ever, although the story drags in a few places where explanations of the sake brewing process become very text-heavy. Otherwise, I'd be giving this volume an A+. Most of the plot revolves around small-batch Japanese sake (called Nihon-shu, or jizake. Sake can be used to refer to any kind of alcoholic beverage, not just rice wine. So, to draw a distinction between rice wine, shochu and plum wine (Ume-shu), the Japanese will use the term "Nihon-shu". "Jizake" means "locally-made sake" and refers to sake make by smaller, regional companies.)
(Sawaki is tasked to track down a specific strain of bacteria.)
I'm a little torn. I don't really want to do a full summary this time, because I don't know how many people read this, or will get the manga in Japanese. So, instead of going scene-by-scene, I'll just give an overview of this volume, including possible spoilers. I'll start with a refresher for anyone that can't remember the series. Moyashimon is set at Noudai, an agricultural university in or near Tokyo. The main character, Tadayasu Sawaki, is a first year student whose family makes starter yeast for sake makers. He is one of the special ones in the family able to see and talk to microbes. His best friend is Kei Yuuki, whose family makes sake. Kei likes to dress up as a goth-loli. Tada and Kei have joined the fermentation research lab of the eccentric Prof. Keizou Itsuki, along with fellow classmate and germophobe Hazuki Oikawa. In the last volume, Hazuki was named Miss Noudai, taking over from the alcoholic Aoi Mutou. Keizo's lead researcher is the semi-sadistic, and very rich, Haruka Hasegawa. The team is rounded out with Kaoru Misato and the half-Mexican Takuma Kawahama. These two 2nd-year goofballs are desperate to use microbes to become rich, somehow. New to the group is Madoka Nishino, a high school senior whose father's sake business was ruined by big-name competition.
(Kei's grandfather sees him in full goth-loli outfit for the first time.)
Keizo has agreed to help Madoka's father get back on his feet by taking what remains of the family's starter yeast and building the strain back up. He summons Kei Yuuki's grandfather to Tokyo to do the actual work. The old man arrives along with two assistants, Toku and Shin. They introduce themselves to Mr. Nishino, then the grandfather panics over seeing his grandson in a dress for the first time and keeps trying to check whether the boy has had a sex-change operation. At this point, a number of the other students arrive at the lab to protect Kei, and remind him that he still has responsibilities. That is, as part of the Miss Noudai competition, Kei had led the group in making their own sake, and it's not done yet. Although he lost the contest, the group still wants to see the sake to completion. Kei's grandafther sees this as a challenge, and he decides to turn the Nishino sake into something better than what Kei can make. One of the members of Kei's group is a friend of Sawaki's, and he mentions that he'd gone on vacation and had brought back some handmade food or something as a souvenir. When the guy leaves, Sawaki sees a strange new microbe floating in the air, and he kills it without knowing what it is. At the same time, Misato and Kawahama task Sawaki into going into the woods near the campus to look for Delftia acidovorans, a bacteria capable of separating gold out from seawater.
(Misato and Kawahama get their Delftia acidovorans sample. Sawaki notices that the men's dorm is a soup of bacteria.)
Soon, many of the guys in Misato's dorm come down sick and Hasegawa is summoned as part of the Hasmat team to quarantine the building. The vector is Streptococcus pyogenes, a virulent form related to strep throat, the symptoms of which include very high fevers and can result in death 25% of the time if not properly treated. Sawaki is alerted and he verifies that Kei is clean, but he then notices the same weird microbe floating around Madoka. She comes down sick within a few hours, and runs a high fever. The problem is complicated by the fact that she's supposed to be taking the entrance exam to get into Noudai tomorrow, and if she misses it, she'll have to wait another year. Sawaki is torn up by this, because although he can see all of the microbes in the area, he doesn't know what many of them are. If he'd trained harder, he would have been able to stop the contagion earlier on. Later, it's confirmed by the guy that brought the souvenir foodstuff that his sister was infected, and probably introduced the bacteria when she made the food.
(Kei and crew work on brewing their first batch of sake.)
Sawaki decides that he's going to make up for his mistake. He goes into the sleeping room next to Keizo's lab, where Madoka is passed out, and starts talking to the microbes. Kei hears the voices coming from the room and quietly watches on as Sawaki bribes the pyogenes germs into leaving Madoka's body and moving into his. To do this, Sawaki has to kiss the sleeping girl, which Kei sees as a burst of bright light. The next morning, Madoka is feeling better, and is cleared to take the entrance exam with the other applicant hopefuls. When the test is done, Oikawa realizes that she can help reduce the high school kids' stress in her new role as Miss Noudai. She has her followers make up batches of soup to hand out for free to the kids, which additionally aids in their bonding to the school even if they don't pass the first time. Hearing that the guys in the quarantined dorm are suffering from depression, Oikawa has the remaining soup brought in to them. Sawaki's friend is in tears, knowing that he's the one that caused all this. Germophobe Oikawa hugs him and tells him it's all right, it's not his fault.
(Madoka goes into hysterics over the possibility of having to skip the entrance exam the next day. Hasegawa tries to cheer her up, while Sawaki feels guilty.)
Madoka sees all of this happening, and suspects that Sakawi had a hand in her miraculous recovery, and she tracks him down to the room next to the lab. There, the boy is in the middle of a high fever despite taking medicine right away (the pyogenes germs call him a traitor for this). He and Kei have been talking about their mutual feelings of inadequacy during their first year at university. Sawaki respects Kei's ability to wear a goth-loli outfit and lead people to make sake, while he himself does nothing. Kei counters that Sawaki had immediately fit in with Misato and Kawahama, and that Kei began wearing a dress because he felt he'd become an outsider. As both of them tell the other how much better the other one is, Madoka bursts into the room and demands to have the pyogenes germs returned to her. She's realized that he'd taken them while she was asleep, and that means she missed her First Kiss. She wants that kiss taken back for a do-over.
(Miss Noudai Oikawa Soup Team, tanjou!)
Madoka and Kei keep watch over Sawaki, and talk while he sleeps. They understand each other better, but Madoka still sees them as rivals. She falls asleep, then is awakened as Kei runs out of the lab. He'd forgotten to babysit the sake, and it has foamed up and out over the top of the tank. Kei is pretty much devastated at what he believes is now a lost cause. Sawaki follows him to the vat, then berates him for thinking that he's in this mess all on his own. A lot of people have worked hard to get him to where he is now, and all he needs to do is to ask for help to get past the current rough patch. Kei agrees and Sawaki summons the yeast around them, creating one huge super-yeast, which is handed to Kei, and he quickly puts it into the tank, which it happily proceeds to ferment. Again, a lot of light is released during this, which even Madoka and Misato can see. Later, Prof. Keizo talks about ways to boost sake brewing, including the introduction of brewer's alcohol to the tank. Madoka "helps" Kei in adding several gallons to the tank, in a possible act of sabotage.
(Madoka gets her "first kiss" by Sawaki.)
That night, as Misato is sitting outside the lab taking a cigarette break, he's spotted by Hasegawa. The two of them haven't gotten along well for a variety of reasons, one of which is that she's rebelling from her rich family's attempts to get her into an arranged marriage, and he's a moneygrubber. Plus, she turns evil-mean when drunk. So, Misato starts sweating bullets when Hasegawa approaches him to talk. They go into the lab and she has him warm up some sake over the room heater. As they're waiting, they split a bottle of beer. They both comment on how Oikawa has suddenly started acting like an adult, and that Sawaki and Kei have grown quickly, too. Both being older, they're wondering if it's time to start becoming more mature as role models. Misato is forced to explain his current scheme exploiting Sawaki's skills - that of using bacteria to extract gold from seawater. Hasegawa is impressed at the concept, but replies that you just don't get that much gold that way. Suddenly, the alcohol hits her and she demands to know if Misato likes her. Sweating blood now, he says that he does. She says that in two years, she may want a boyfriend, and that he may qualify, since that's about the time he'd be graduating. To seal the "contract", she kisses her fingers then smashes him on the forehead, the lipstick quickly lost in the blood that forms.
(When Hasegawa kisses a boy, it leaves permanent scars.)
Things start winding down. Sawaki is feeling better, as are the guys in the dorms. Finally, the time comes for the first sampling of the new sake to see how it's turning out. A large number of people arrive at the lab, including Kei's employer (the sake shop owner that taught Kei how to blend sakes) and his grandfather. Madoka introduces the event, as Kei just stands there. He then admits that his sake is a loss. It's alcoholic, but not very good. His grandfather crows in victory, not wanting to lose to a crossdresser. He brings out the bottle that he's made at the Nishino factory and passes it around. The consensus is that it, too, just isn't very good. The old man drops to his knees and apologizes. While the Nishino yeast strain was very weak, he'd thought that he'd be able to save it. Obviously, he was wrong. Off to the side, Kei's employer winks to him, and Kei suddenly understands. He grabs both bottles and stomps off. Soon, he returns with some glasses. Part of the art of sake selling is to make strong blends from the dregs of tanks from various suppliers. The blend that Kei offers the group is good enough to make them all happy. Prof. Keizo offers to buy everything Nishino has produced, and it's going to be released under the name that Mr. Nishino had originally wanted to use - "Madoka".
(Sawaki's idea of helping people out. Say "Hi" to the super yeast.)
As the group celebrates, Sawaki hears a voice calling to him from one of the tubs of seawater set aside by Misato and Kawahama. He pours all the tubs together and asks why the bacteria aren't doing their jobs. This leads into a discussion of just what Sawaki plans to do in school and whether he's willing to give up his powers to see and speak to microbes. Sawaki has never wanted this ability and it is something that he's struggled with. He finally answers that he wants to learn more about microbes and work with them more closely. At this point, Keizo walks into the room and sees the light coming from the boy's hand where it's touching the water. He asks if he could be allowed to see the microbes too, and Sawaki tells them to introduce themselves. The room is suddenly filled with the light of millions of bacteria and yeasts, and they tell him that he's still got a long way to go before really understanding them. When the light fades, Sawaki apologizes for the microbes' poor manners, and the professor, with tears streaming down his face, asks the boy to work with him in the lab for the next couple years. (As part of the first sake tasting party, Misato and Hasegawa went out shopping for snacks, fueling rumors that they may be dating each other now.)
(The bottom of the volume - a small bottle used for heating and serving sake.)
And with this, Sawaki and Kei's first year at Noudai comes to a close. Sawaki calls his brother and a few of the girls they've met to tell them of his plans. The next day, Sawaki, Misato and Kawahama run for the gate to get into school before the first bell rings. Sawaki stops and gives them the small pellet of gold his bacteria extracted from the seawater. Misato tells him to keep it as part of his part-time salary. Then they keep running. Nishino had to go through orientation, and she's freaking out over having had to milk a cow. A few minutes later, Kawahama gives Sawaki a phone call with some bad news. The group joins him at the gates, where a number of hooded figures are beginning their patrols. Seems that the Infamous Spring Matsuri is starting early this year. The group asks each other if they want to escape now, or stick around to see what the contest is this time. As Madoka frantically demands answers, everyone says, "Sure, we've got nothing better to do". The volume, and the first year of school, ends with the school gates being chained shut, Madoka screaming "What's going on?" and the others saying, "Just wait, you'll find out."
The omake has the microbes joking with each other, and telling Keizo that Sawaki still doesn't have a steady girlfriend yet. Keizo takes this as a challenge.
Comments: Great stuff that gets bogged down in the detailed descriptions of the intricities of making sake. Recommended if you like anything alcoholic and want to know more about the fermentation process. Or to just see Oikawa in a bunny suit.