Saturday, January 14, 2012

On the Coffee Table: The Drops of God

Title: The Drops of God (Volumes 1 and 2)
Writer: Tadashi Agi
Artist: Shu Okimoto

Image via Vinography: A Wine Blog

My instincts were correct. My Wife's purchases at Big Planet Comics in DC were better than mine. The Drops of God, a Japanese manga series first published in 2005 but not translated to English until 2011, is outstanding. I am completely sold on manga and now have a suitable standard for judging other books in the genre.

Image via BARNES & NOBLE

The series follows the adventures of Shizuku, son of a legendary wine critic, and his sidekick Miyabi, a sommelier in training, as they explore the world of wine. Basically, they're on a scavenger hunt for wines described in Shinzuku's father's will. The Drops of Wine has been a very big hit throughout Asia and has led to a huge surge in wine sales on that continent. While the story is pure fiction, all of the wines discussed are genuine. The books practically constitute an oenology course, my only regret not being able to taste along with the characters.

My Wife has worked for a lot of food and beverage magazines in the past and, as a result, already had a decent knowledge of wine by the time I met her. While I learned some from her, my explorations took on a more clear direction when we lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey. There was a wine shop in town (Old Vines) that held tastings on the weekends: $5 to taste four wines, I think. The staff were very well-informed and generous with their knowledge. I learned to favor South American wines - a lot more bang for your buck than the French stuff. Rutgers offers a 1-credit class on wine for seniors only. Not surprisingly, it's one of the first classes to close every semester.

Sadly, wine is an expensive hobby and not always compatible with raising a child so we don't pursue it with the same energy now. But someday, I'd love to learn more about wine. If nothing else, I've found that it's well-worth finding out what you like in a wine and how you're likely to find a satisfying choice.

Getting back to the books, reading the pages and panels from right to left takes a little getting used to, of course, but the mental exercise is surely healthy. Manga generally use katakana - the phonetic script for foreign words, among other things - for the background onomatopoeia. My daughter's Miyazaki books offer a direct transliteration in the back. In The Drops of God, the expressions are translated within the panel. But interestingly, to me at least, the sounds are not translated directly. Rather, approximate English equivalents were found. It's kind of too bad. I think onomatopoeia in other languages is fun to learn. The greatest question a Japanese student ever asked me was: "What is the English word for the sound of a peach floating down a river?" I was very sad to tell him we don't have one. But there's one in Japanese: dumborako, dumborako, dumborako...

The artwork in the book is outstanding. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud wrote about how the Japanese pioneered the use of different artistic styles within a single comic. In The Drops of God, the art changes dramatically for a panel devoted entirely to wine - changing from what I think of as the standard manga style to near-impressionism.

Ultimately, the wine lesson and the artwork serve the story and we're both genuinely hooked. Volume 2 ends with the introduction of a new character, one who clearly is connected to the wine quest but it will be a neat trick figuring out how because, of course, she has amnesia. How's that for a cliffhanger?

The series is ongoing in Japan and Volume 3 in English is set for release in March. Not only are we planning to get it but we're already thinking of friends for whom the books would make suitable hostess gifts. This one's a keeper. Stay tuned.

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