I don’t necessarily avoid manga in my reading diet—it’s just not a staple. I’ve enjoyed Cromartie High School, Ghost in the Shell, Akira and even a little Yotsuba&!. Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto’s The Drops of God was little off the beaten path for me—not something I would have come to naturally. As David Brothers over at ComicsAlliance wrote last year, though, it’s manga about wine. What’s not to be interested in?
Being neither a manga nor wine connoisseur, this book only had things to teach me. It’s a comic about the son of a famous wine critic, who has a quest that conveniently allows him discover and describe real-life wines or trigger a lesson on the history of French winemaking. After you begin to understand the structure and story beats that are going on, you start to get curious as a reader about what’s around the corner, what’s on a label that’s being obscured or why a wine tastes a certain way.
Yes, there is a hokey quality to the melodrama that permeates the pages of The Drops of God. Those groan-inducing sequences of a manager belittling an employee or the story’s villain pondering his master plan snowball hilariously into moments of revelation that punctuate the chapters and keep things going at a respectable pace.
I’m only one volume into this series so far, but I’ve already learned more about Henri Jayer and French vineyards than I ever would have read and remembered anywhere else.
The near-photorealistic illustrations of the labels and bottles integrate seamlessly with cartoonish illustrations to stitch together the non fiction with the fiction.
And I should note that you won’t walk into the wine department at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods able to dazzle your friends with observations and interpretations after reading this manga. In fact, most of the knowledge you glean will only be useful under significantly more expensive circumstances. However, if you do happen to wander onto some French vineyards in the future, you may find yourself significantly more informed about why a crop of grapes is going to be ideally suited for whipping up a particularly good batch of wine, as well as why that batch shouldn’t be enjoyed for at least 20 years.