Amazon finally got around to sending me the recently published English language version of the first volume of The Drops of God aka ‘Kami no Shizuku’ and ‘The Twelve Disciples’ by Tadashi Agi (a pseudonym used by a brother and sister writing team) and Shu Okimoto (illustrator). It’s an award winning Manga series with a wine focus that Decanter described as “Arguably the most influential wine publication of the past 20 years“. This is not as absurd as it first appears when you consider the rise of the Asian wine market and the importance of engaging younger wine drinkers. The Drops of God has been directly linked with price rises in specific wines but, more interestingly, has also captured the imagination of people who may not have previously considered esoteric Burgundys and sensory issues in wine.
I had seen a few of the original Japanese issues, and even skimmed a French one, but have been eagerly awaiting it in English so I could really immerse myself and assess the overall quality. First impressions are not mine though. Eldest son Luke ripped through it before I got home from work and declared it ‘really good’. He is an avid reader, really loves Manga (Bleach, Naruto and Toriko are favourites) and I respect his knowledge. It is interesting that he is articulating more questions about wine than usual and is keen to read the next one. I guess it therefore passes muster when judged simply on ‘Manga merit’. Not a bad start…
Reading ‘backwards’ and right to left is a bit of a challenge for me, but in terms of narrative, it is pretty straightforward; the son of an influential wine critic has to identify mystery wines to claim his inheritance. There are the usual supporting cast, mysteries and twists but the most interesting aspect is the take on wine and tasting. The protagonist Shizuku has been ‘trained’ to identify aromas from an early age but has never tasted wine. He is a blank slate and this allows us to join him on a voyage of discovery where he challenges orthodoxy and relates to wine in a unique way. During this voyage he is exposed to some of the rarest and most celebrated wines (First Growths and Burgundys from Jayer feature prominently) but also to cheaper, sometimes more interesting, alternatives. The story touches on the importance of context, drinking windows, terroir, the influence of critics, blind tastings and most of the other big issues in the world of wine. As such it provides a effective, novel and accessible introduction to wine.
In terms of artwork, there is lots to enjoy, especially in the use of illustrations that are used to create metaphorical descriptions of a wine. The Angelus (originally titled ‘A Prayer for the Potato Crop’) by Millet is Mouton Rothschild 82 and Mont Pérat 01 is Freddie Mercury and Queen. An image is a richer and more enjoyable description of a wine than any score will ever be and the use of imagery and metaphor like this should be encouraged.
There are some weaknesses. The dialogue, like many translations, does not always scan that well. Depth is limited by the genre and many comics suffer from a lack of space for words. Illustrations do supplement this and are why ‘graphic novels’ can succeed so well but these are not always the most dynamic or creative drawings out there. There are also minor factual inaccuracies and more than a few cliches along the way. However these should not put you off as there is much to enjoy and I couldn’t put it down. It also had me reflecting on past wine experiences and triggered a severe craving for pinot (review of the Potel Beaune I plumped for will follow). I have already ordered the second volume (out in December) and I guess that in terms of reviews that is a definitive statement.
Agi, T. and Okimoto, S. (2011) The Drops of God Vertical New York
originally published in Japanese by Kodansha as Kami no Shizuku (2005)