I promise to use only one wine metaphor in this review of the first volume of The Drops of God (Vertical): it gets better after it has a chance to breathe. The first few chapters of Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto’s tale of wine aficionados are kind of a slog.
There’s a behavior known as “mansplaining,” and I certainly think there’s a variation of it, “fansplaining.” You’ve all been engaged in conversation with someone who’s passionate about a particular entertainment who proceeds to bury you under unsolicited detail delivered with an unsettling degree of authority. (I’ve been both victim and perpetrator; I have no illusions about that.)
And Drops of God is absolutely fansplaining manga as only a certain type of seinen can be. Even though its protagonist is a novice to the world of wine, he’s surrounded by people who aren’t, and he’s thrust into a situation where he has to join their informed ranks. And the audience must gauge their tolerance for the level of detail they can endure regarding varietals, vineyards, rankings, price, and so on. There’s a lot of that, and the world of wine is often viewed as kind of byzantine and elitist and twee to begin with.
Personally, I can deal with a lot of fictional fansplaining if the characters are engaging. That’s why the first couple of chapters of this volume worried me. The leads came off as fairly flat, cookie-cutter versions of types you can see in literally a hundred different licensed manga: the brash, ignorant hero who happens to be enough of a savant to unsettle his highly trained, elitist rival, especially with the help of a book-smart rookie. Agi and Okimoto almost literally drown them in exposition in the early going, and I was kind of anxious that this eagerly anticipated title would turn into a charmless, didactic experience.
Then, a few chapters in, the creators start to relax a bit. The hero, Shizuku, reveals himself to be kind of an endearing dork. Yes, he’s suspiciously astute in terms of his ability to evaluate wine by taste, even though he tastes it for the first time in this comic, but he’s a pretty funny guy. Trainee sommelier Shinohara doesn’t quite transcend the thanklessness of her role as “girl who knows things but has no real personal stakes,” but I like her well enough.
The ostensible plot is a contest between Shizuku and a snooty wine critic to see who’s worthy of inheriting the legendary wine collection of Shizuku’s late father, a snooty wine critic in his own right. But the series really seems to be more about teaching readers about wine by showing the ways it can influence people’s character. Agi and Okimoto prove themselves to be pretty deft with that sort of thing, and, lectures aside, it’s the sort of thing I really enjoy in a manga.
It’s about hooch, it’s got amiable stars, and you can learn stuff about a subject that may be new to you while occasionally enjoying the comfortable structure of competition manga. I’m in for the duration.