March 21st, 2010 by Lianne
Part of the reason this page is rarely updated is the age of the staff members. We’re not obnoxious college students anymore – we’re obnoxious adults who have jobs and clearly can’t balance that with writing inane articles. A seemingly perfect marriage of our lives and this site, then, would be reviews about manga that relate to our jobs. That means NotHayama has to find a librarian series other than Read or Die and Bad Jew has to find a manga about a young hero trying to become The Best Urban Planner In The Universe.
Although I spend one day a week rewriting manga scripts for my eternal liege, four days a week I’m a biochemist. This is a fancy word for “someone who can pipette tiny amounts into tiny tubes without sneezing into them.” I’m not a good biochemist, but I’m an earnest biochemist. I love science even if it returns my love with robust hatred. For the record, science hates it when people try to tell it what to do. It likes to kill those people.
But just as there are manga out there for wine aficionados and boys who dream of being space garbage men, there are more than a few manga out there for the laboratory nerds. Here’s a look at a few: one that appeals to the biologists, one that appeals to the chemists, and one that appeals to anyone who likes to watch handsome men in lab coats make out.
PG-16 for a bit of college sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. Also, bacteria. Official manga website.
I’m not sure why Del Rey chose to spell the title of this manga “Moyasimon,” but let’s ignore that. This is a manga about a young man named Tadayasu who can see microbes without a microscope. For some reason, they look very big and very cute in his eyes. A single mold spore looks like a grinning plushie about the size of an eraser head. Yeast? Adorable. E. Coli? Snuggly.
This comes in very handy for Tadayasu, who goes to university to learn about agricultural biology. Tadayasu’s wacky friends and professors teach him (and the audience) about bacteria, fermentation, and the fine line you can walk between science being awesome and science trying to kill you. In other words, don’t put something from the ground into your mouth until a professional’s given you the go-ahead. This makes for a manga that’s both educational and ripe for merchandising. It also means it’s given me useful tidbits of information to contribute to lab meetings at work, although I’ve never admitted to my source being a comic book.
The story in Moyashimon is a little weak – it’s pretty standard seinen “boy becomes a man through learning stuff” – but it’s so damn interesting that it doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s nice to see story and melodrama and characters that don’t take away from the science (I hope you heard that, CSI: Miami). The episodic nature leads to varied, optimal learning. The manga also handles the story better than the anime…the character Kei, for example, has vowed revenge on a certain type of microbe that was directly responsible for the death of a loved one. The manga does this as a sort of joke. The anime thinks it’s dead serious.
And the story may be light, but the characters are surprisingly interesting. There’s even talk of one of the leads being transgender. Considering seinen is usually pretty tone-deaf about gender and sexuality outside of Dude Nailing Girls, that’s progressive as hell. Perhaps it was a combination of Moyashimon’s varied characters and bacteria with pinchable cheeks, but the manga won the Tezuka Grand Prize, meaning it’s considered one of the strongest manga in Japan ever. This manga is an awesome idea done extremely well. Also, the anime opening is ten kinds of cute. And that’s definitely not something you can say about all awesome science shows.
Initial impression: I haven’t even read/watched much of this series, but I’ve loved every moment. It’s even inspired me to come closer to my life-long dream of making my own yogurt. (Lianne)
PG-13/16 for some violence, sex, and adult concepts; official manga website.
I can say, in all seriousness, that this is one of the best shoujo titles I’ve read in the past decade, and it’s not just because I’m a complete medicine nerd. Apothecarius Argentum is a costume drama about a sad young man who’s been fed enough poison to be immune to pretty much all of it. The toxicity over many years has left our hero with silver hair, the obvious name “Argent,” and the skills to be a royal food taster for a princess who’s the constant target of poisoners. They (duh) fall in love, but there’s a catch – Argent’s ingested so much poison that his skin and saliva are literally poisonous, meaning he and the princess can’t be intimate unless someone invents the full-body condom. She sets him free of his job, and he tearfully leaves her because he can never touch her, instead deciding to become an apothecary and use his knowledge and tolerance of poisons to make medicine for the citizens of his country. He also decides to embark on a quest to detoxify his body and thus know physical love even though he’s not sure an antidote to his condition exists.
This manga has everything – murder mysteries, politics, doomed romance, medieval dresses, and PHARMACY. Although the science in the premise is admittedly weak, Argent’s poisonous body is the driving force behind the adventurous plot, which is PACKED with both awesome real science and almost believable science fiction. Every character in the manga loves to learn, so at various points, Argent’s traveling party includes a little boy who’s his apprentice, a guy in his 30s who’s a nutritionist, an old lady surgeon, a young lady geologist, a prince with an interest in entomology, and the princess, who’s growing into a powerful diplomat. For anyone who reads a lot of shoujo, you know that far too much shoujo is about girls having things done to them by fate and handsome boys who are good at two things: 1.) school and 2.) sports. Shoujo is almost never about people going out and doing real things. But every character in Apothecarius, whether male or female, young or old, rich or poor picks a subject and gets shit done. This manga even talks about the abortion issue, when Nana, the lifestyle shoujo/josei that everyone can’t stop talking about, can’t even bring up birth control without being totally lame about it. Apothecarius actually has a screaming match between two people in the health field who can’t agree on abortion while a pregnant prostitute cries in the background. Whoa!
And that doesn’t mean this manga’s missing the character relationships and melodrama that make shoujo so addictive. He’s a lowly apothecary and she’s the princess, so the rigid class system is keeping them apart…and even when they’re alone, he can’t touch her because his TOUCH. IS. POISONOUS. This manga is filled to the brim with angst broken up by humor and lab time, kissing that results in fainting ala Rogue and Gambit, and even some great old-timey clinical anesthesia (does this rag smell like ether to you?). I think one of the Free Talks mentions that the mangaka was a pharmacist in another life, and she kept trying to create a shoujo story that could believably allow her to delve into her love of botany and medicine. The lady struck gold.
Educated impression: This comic is amazing. Every page is pure bliss. Read it this minute. (Lianne)
The Tyrant Falls in Love
PG-18 for, well, on-screen gay lovin’; informative Wikipedia page
Although it was trapped in licensing hell for several years courtesy of Drama Queen, this yaoi, the superior spin-off to the manga Challengers, is coming out soon through DMP at last. It’s the story of Morinaga, a semi-closeted biology grad student, and his tyrannical senpai Tatsumi, a raging homophobe who mixes poison in his free time. They kinda fall in love amidst a lot of kicking and screaming. They’re both perpetual students, and their sexual escapades and melodrama make for some uncomfortable blackmail and some really awkward mornings-after…but they always find time to sneak back to the lab when the other isn’t around, because only assholes would let gay sexcapades get in the way of research. Hey, cell cultures don’t feed themselves!
This is one of my favorite manga of all time, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that in a public forum. The thing is, the sexual relationship between Morinaga and Tatsumi is so complicated that love scenes can’t reasonably fade to black…so the comic is pretty graphic in that regard, making it an adults-only read. But it’s hilarious, and mangaka Hinako Takanaga (prolific in her own right) makes the characters so sympathetic despite their sado-masochist tomfoolery that touching scenes have literally given me that squeezy pain in the chest I only get when something really moves me. The narrative is mostly through the eyes of Morinaga, an assertive seme who’s acknowledged the fact that he’s gay and even frequents a local gay bar to complain about his falling in love with a straight guy. For anyone who reads yaoi, this kind of self-awareness about homosexuality is rare, and adds much-needed realism to the fun. The series is popular in Japan; to give you an idea, very few yaoi series last more than a volume or two (even amazing ones), but The Tyrant Falls in Love is three times that length and hasn’t finished yet. It’s even spawned two excellent drama CDs and a truly bizarre doujinshi by the mangaka about the boys being furries who live in the woods while still wearing lab coats. I don’t get it, either.
But one of the best parts of The Tyrant Falls in Love is how effectively Takanaga captures the lives of grad students in the sciences. Morinaga and Tatsumi practically live in the lab, and they refuse to tarnish the sanctity of it – any moment of romance between the two of them on school grounds is shut down in horror and immediately moved off-campus. The terrible lab hours, the commute between school and a crappy apartment, the never-ending thesis, sucking up to advisors, and traveling off-continent for some conference you need to wear your only suit for? All in here. I admit I had a really hard time toward the end of grad school, but reading The Tyrant Falls in Love always made me feel better. It sympathizes with being a science student, then perks things up by making the lab unexpectedly sexy. As an added bonus, Tatsumi’s younger brother – the lead uke of Challengers – is an engineering student who moves to America to work for NASA. This is officially the nerdiest yaoi ever (except for maybe this one or anything by Yamada Yugi).
Educated impression: The Tyrant is definitely not for everyone, especially those of you who are minors. But if you want a yaoi sex comedy with some substance and a lot of hilarity, this comic is well-written, sympathetic, and totally fun. (Lianne)