Lately, I have noticed people taking an interest in the Japanese art form of ’manga’. The word has changed connotation over time: Hokusai’s views of Mt. Fuji of which many are familiar with the “Great Wave” (while, perhaps, not realizing that Mt. Fuji is in the background) was called a ‘manga’ in the late 18th century. Today, it is comics, and there are various sub-changres (seinen, shoen … don’t know what that means, really). And wine mangas.
2004, the “Kami no Shizuku” first appeared. The title is in French translated into (lit.) “drops of god”, where ‘god’ stands for ‘kami’. In the universe of this manga, a well-known Japanese wine critic, Yutaka Kanzaki, in his will, stipulates that a contest shall be between his son Shizuku (to whom he is estranged) and his (hrm hrm) ‘adopted’ son Issei Tomine to find out who is worthy to receive the inheritance of his cellar containing wines worth millions and millions of yen.
The contest consist of twelve descriptions of wines, called ‘apostles’, in a flowery and very poetical mode, apparently the Japanese original is extremely difficult even for a person proficient in Japanese. The contestants are then to find out what wine is implied by the description, and present it, and render their own description of the wine. Their efforts are to be judged by Yutaka’s old drinking friend (and self-proclaimed alcoholic) Robert ‘Pepe’ Doi, who lives in a cardboard house in a park, where he keeps his wines buried in the flower beds.
The contest would appear weighed in favor of Isse Tomine, dubbed “The Prince of Wines” (Yutaka being ”The King”), and a world authority on fine wines, while Shizuku has, as a part of his estrangement with his father, refused to drink wine and is currently (as the story opens) engaged as a commercial seller of beer,
in a brewery.
In a way, the story is slightly reminiscent in its build-up, of a computer game. Each new wine is a new level. Shizuku gains new allies, new tools he can use, while, over time, realizing his enormous potential in the olfactory department – he can literally sniff the difference between two wines without opening the bottles. He also gets to solve various other problems, usually by finding an appropriate wine. This appears to be central: for every problem, there exists an appropriate wine. Lost interest in swimming? Chablis Le Moutonne. Your lover has died? A Gevrey-Chambertin. You will die in 6 months from an incurable illness and you are 19 years old? Yes, even to this ‘problem’ there exists an appropriate wine … though none so complicated as fnding a suitable wine for Korean cooking a, no wine goes with kimchi (spoiler alert: yes there are a few).
The arbiter, Pepe, is in his way a version of “the hermit on the mountain” – cf. Katsuichi-sensei in Usagi Yojimbo, or the guy who knows how to make the perfect broth for noodles in ‘Tampopo’. He is also fabulously rich, despite living in a cardboard box.
Shizuku, being described as one “who will be attractive to girls” is strangely uninterested despite having had very obvious come-ons from various nubile ladies – somewhat like a wine-drinking Spirou, or, possibly, Tintin (though I have never seen any girls try to go down on Tintin). Isse, on the other hand, has a rich life in terms of sexual relationships, though never with full frontal nudity (nipples are not to be shown in a SFW manga, so, they are oddly hidden by strands of hair or similar). I suspect something cultural is behind this – I mean, the protagonist is celibate, the antagonist is not.
Where the series stands today, the two combatants are in fact head to head, with ten wines identified and described.
Yutaka died in 2004, and, in the French version, oddly, wines of vintages after his death are beginning to appear. Various other oddities – even today, after more than ten years, Shizuku has not grasped that the world famous model Sara, whom he is friends with, is, in fact, Isse’s half-sister. An early competition within the competition, that the winner of the last apostle should have the use of Yutaka’s mansion-like home – this died out after two apostles, and, to this day, it has not been disclosed where Shizuku lives, if anywhere. A person who early in the story appeared to be important (the “Le Pin” lady) and who apparently was extremely well-known to, and revered by, Shizuku’s boss, Mr Kawagate, has since simply disappeared out of view – perhaps she will reappear but, I don’t hold my breath.
To be continued …