The adage that the Japanese have a manga for everything is, for the most part, true. If you can think of it, there’s probably a comic about it out there somewhere. Yes, even curling. Lucky for us, some of these special interest manga are starting to be licensed and translated into English.
The first volume of one of the most eagerly anticipated titles has recently been released by Vertical. The Drops of God, by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto, is about Shizuku Kanzaki, the son of a renowned wine critic, and his battle to identify the thirteen wines his father considered divine. Should he fail to do this, Shizuku’s inheritance will go to his father’s protege, a wine-obsessed, snobby, pill-of-a-guy who sets Shizuku’s teeth on edge.
In the race to identify these heavenly wines, Shizuku suffers from a terrible handicap. Fed up with the weird things his father made him do while growing up (drink weedy teas, lick knives, sniff pencils, etc.), Shizuku left home before he’d even tasted wine. He has no idea what he is supposed to be looking for when a bottle is opened. His only advantage is that, thanks to his father’s training, Shizuku has an incredible sense of taste and smell and can identify the subtle differences in vintages, vintners, and even terroir. What starts out as a fight to save his father’s collection of wines from an interloper turns into a desire to learn as much about wine as possible. And in order to do both, Shizuku must learn about wine quickly, which allows the reader to learn along with him.
Don’t panic if you aren’t quite sure what vintage, vintner and terroir mean. The book handily defines all these terms and more within the context of the story. Even better, Agi and Okimoto use senses and emotions to describe how the wine tastes. I may not automatically know what a wine critic means when he says something about “fruity bouquet” or “earthiness,” but I know what it’s like to stand in a strawberry field on a spring day under a peach tree. Using images I’m familiar with to describe a topic like fine wines makes for more ah-ha! connections as Shizuku and I learn about wine together.
On Twitter, I commented that The Drops of God is one of the best sports manga I’ve read and I think the comparison is fair. What Cross Game does for baseball and Hikaru no Go does for a board game, The Drops of God does for wine: it takes a subject a select group of people know a lot about and makes it accessible to the lay-person through clever narration, solid art, and healthy competition between two characters who both want to win.