I Thought We Brewed Years Ago
I would’ve sworn I’d seen Moyashimon back when it first aired. I had it in my head that I’d at least seen half of the series or so. I knew the plot. I knew about the key “twists” that happen later in the series. But when I sat down and watched the series over the past couple of days I realized that, no, I hadn’t seen the series. And here I was rating the damn thing a 9 on My Anime List when I hadn’t seen it.
That rating’s staying in place, by the way. It’s a pretty damn cool series now that I’ve actually seen it.
Y’all know how anime series tend to function. The creator comes up with some sort of high concept, like “If you write names in this book those people die” or whatever. More often than not, said high concept becomes something of a crutch. The story ends up being about that concept, rather than having the story build off of said concept and growing naturally. Plot threads are tailored to essentially jump up and down and remind us of the fact that Naruto is special because of the fox demon in his belly or that Keiichi has a magical goddess girlfriend or whatever happens to be “the thing.”
Moyashimon tackles its high concept from the opposite angle. The microbes that Sawaki sees take a backseat to the personal drama and antics that develops due to other plot threads. For a good stretch of the series, especially during the festival story, Sawaki’s ability to see microbes isn’t all that relevant to what’s going on. That’s pretty cool because the story has branched off into a different direction because of the relationships that have been forged between the characters and the overall college setting in which they live. Even the finale of the series, that boils down to Sawaki temporarily losing his ability to see them, is less about “OMG I CAN’T SEE BACTERIA ANYMORE!” and more about him needing a means to grow some balls and realize that he needs to find some direction in his life. The super-microbe-sight thing isn’t a narrative crutch like so many concepts in other anime series (and movies and comics and TV series, and so on), it’s a means to an end that’s used when it’s appropriate and pushed to the side when other stuff is more interesting.
And despite being a minor aspect of the series, the microbes still manage to be pretty awesome and lend a great deal of charm to the goings-on. They almost seem to fill the same sort of role that a magical pet serves in a magical girl series, minus the child slavery wish-fulfillment bits. They’re a little bit mascot, a little bit guiding light/moral compass, a little bit walking plot device, and a little bit comedic relief. And much like a magical pet, they rarely take the spotlight. They just allow Sawaki’s spotlight to shine brighter. And you gotta give it to the series for making shit like E. Coli and Influenza so damn cute. Almost makes you want to get sick.
So, yeah, what makes Moyashimon awesome is the characters. A pretty simple, reductive thing to say, since half the blog entries you read about any series boils down to that, but in the case of Moyashimon that’s the dead truth. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the series doesn’t take any easy outs with the way they develop.
I rather liked Hasegawa’s storyline. She’s the daughter of some rich something-or-other (Seemed pretty vague in the series. I’d wager yakuza, but that’s just my biases speaking.) and she’s been wrangled into some antiquated arranged marriage. Her family and her fiance want her to hurry up and get married, but at the same time they’re willing to allow her to have her “youth,” so to speak, and go to college. That alone is pretty refreshing, since most “arranged marriages” in anime usually end up involving someone forcibly making the unwilling party to go ahead with the marriage. It usually plays into some stereotypical “you want to control me and I just want to fall in love my way” situation. Instead, the situation seems to be playing out the way such a situation would in real life. The marriage is one of business, both sides (Save Hasegawa) see it as beneficial for all parties, but they’re willing to go at it at a slower pace to allow her to have some fun before delving into the world of arrange maturity. Hasegawa hates the situation and has no intentions of going through with it, but at the same time she doesn’t want to be that bitch that just stands up and yells in everyone’s faces to go fuck themselves with their god damned arranged marriage. She sure as hell would like to do that, but you can tell that she likes her family too much to burn that bridge, even if that’s the most convenient way to get what she wants in life.
The series doesn’t cop-out in any way. It doesn’t have Hasegawa magically fall in love with her fiance and realize her situation is OK. It doesn’t have her parents realize they’re doing the wrong thing after some convoluted plot point that conveniently resolves the issue. Neither side is willing to ruin their relationship with the other side just to get its way. That’s how most families operate when it comes to touchy subjects, so I gotta give the series props for that.
I also really dug Sawaki’s personal arc. The whole “I lost my ability to see microbes” thing ends up being a stand-in for the way some people feel when they first reach college. When you’re in grade school, if there’s something that stands out about you (Whether it’s good or bad. Or in Sawaki’s case, something of a mixed blessing.), you’re usually the only one that’s like that in your area. Even if you’re at a larger school in a big city, if you’re “unique” you’re likely only one of a few kids that’s going to stand out in that way. You kind of get used to the fact that you’re somehow “special” and different from the crowd. You have something that helps define your identity.
The you get to college. You’ve passed some sort of metaphorical bar that weeds out a good chunk of the people your age that don’t have “something special.” On top of that, you’re place in an environment that caters to people who are also unique, especially if you end up at some specialized school or a particularly prestigious college. You’re no longer the only kid on campus that has “it.” You’re just one more face in the field trying to re-find your identity.
That’s what’s happening to Sawaki. His ability to see microbes is his “thing,” and if he losses it (as he does at the end of the series), he has to come to grips with finding something else that will help define his future and his identity. No one in real life deals with anything so super-power-ish, but a lot of kids that go into college have to deal with the reality that their place in society up to that point was tenuous at best. The game starts all over again, and it’ll get reset after college as well.
And despite this, the series never really resolves Sawaki’s situation. He only loses his “sight” temporarily, but he never really comes to an understanding of what it’d be like to lose his ability. The only thing he realizes is that a select few around him won’t think anything less of him, but at the same time that friendship isn’t going to get him anywhere in life. His friends will still be friends, and that’s a damn good thing to have, but he’d still be an aimless soul whose identity is crushed. It’s that ambiguity that makes Sawaki’s character far more interesting than other less-than-confident male leads. There’s always a sense that shit’ll work out for them. I don’t get that feeling from Sawaki.
Also: I’ve been watching the live action version of the series. I love how the anime series is far more low-key. You usually expect the anime series to be more over-the-top, but it’s been the exact opposite for Moyashimon. That’s pretty awesome.