Book Review: The Drops of God: Vol 1, by Tadashi Agi

I’m tickled by the idea of wine featuring prominently in popular entertainment. I think a lot of wine lovers got a kick out of Sideways. Regardless of what they thought of the movie overall, there were enough inside wine jokes and archetypal wine conversations that anyone who loved wine was able to at least smile knowingly. I found it delightful to watch people geeking out about wine and extolling the virtues of Pinot Noir on the big screen.

A similar small delight is to be found in the pages of the newly translated Drops of God, by Tadashi Agi and Shu Agimoto. Drops of God, or Kami no Shizuku, as it is known in its original Japanese, may well be the most widely read wine book in history, that is, if you are willing to grant this Japanese manga cartoon status as a wine book. I’ve written about the phenomenon of Kami no Shizuku several times here on Vinography, with amazement at just how popular the wine infused adventures of a young businessman could be. The readership in Japan is close to 500,000 people, and the series is purportedly just as popular in Korea.

And now the first volume of the comic has been released in the US by Vertical, Inc. in conjunction with Kodansha U.S.A.

Curious wine lovers will find several surprises in the book, starting with the fact that it must be read right-to-left, top-to-bottom, just as it is in native Japanese. This format, which will take a little getting used to for most readers, stems from the fact that while the words can easily be translated to English, the drawn panels cannot as easily be rearranged to read in the traditional Western flow.

Perhaps more surprising is just how fun a story that completely revolves around serious wine geekery can be. From the finer points of Left Bank chateaux to the revered icons of Burgundy to the influence of terroir and time on the flavors of a wine, The Drops of God is suffused with a near mystical reverence for wine. Of course, this is manga, so the profundity level is much closer to that of a soap opera than a Rex Pickett novel, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving it a try.

The story centers around a reluctant protagonist, Shizuku Kanazaki, a low-level employee at a beer company who just happens to be the estranged son of Japan’s most famous, and as it turns out, recently deceased wine critic. While Kanazaki doesn’t like or drink wine, it quickly becomes clear that his father has taught him more about wine than he was aware himself. And a good thing this turns out to be, as his father’s last will and testament throws Kanazaki into a mysterious contest for his estate and wine collection, against his father’s somewhat sinister wine-critic protégé Issei Tomine.

Kanazaki teams up with the studious, sweet, and adorably self-conscious sommelier, Miss Shinohara, to plumb the mysteries of his father’s legacy and take a crash course on all the more practical wine knowledge that he needs to accompany his uncanny palate and decanting abilities.

As is typical for such comics, plenty of hijinks ensue, from the typical teenage-level obliviousness to developing romance, to shouting matches with aggressive bosses, to chases around the city to find a particular bottle of wine. The art is cinematic in quality, with a mix of great drama and subtle detail, much lavished on the fine reproduction of wine labels. The sub-plots multiply as the pages go by, just as some of the world’s great wines surface everywhere from tragic messes on the floor of a cellar to buried in a city park. The storyline is quite compelling, and the mysterious plot can easily lead you to devour the entire book in a single sitting.

While many adults might not ordinarily consider spending their time with a comic book in hand, The Drops of God is worth a look. In any wine loving household with a teenager, and parents who aren’t afraid of glorifying the consumption of wine (with an occasional bout of over-consumption depicted) the book will likely be a big hit.

Frankly, the book’s biggest disappointment lies in the fact that it is merely the first in a series, and as a result, leaves every thread of the plot hanging for resolution in the subsequent volumes.

Luckily for me, the second one came out a few weeks ago, the third is due in March, and the fourth in June.

Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto The Drops of God, Vol. 1, Vertical, Inc. / Kodansha U.S.A 2011, $9.65, (softcover).

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book.