Anime, and indeed Japanese culture in general, has a love for the cute (or “kawaii” as they would say) and enjoys trying to make anything loveable. Perhaps one of the oddest, and certainly one of the most educational, sees cute personifications of something you cannot normally see with the naked eye: bacteria.
Moyashimon (sometimes spelt Moyasimon) ran as a manga under the full title Moyashimon: Tales in Agriculture by Masayuki Ishikawa between 2004 and 2014. It was well received, winning several awards. It has so far been adapted into two anime series, the first airing in 2007 and the second under the title Moyashimon Returns in 2012. A live-action series was released in 2010.
The central character, Tadayasu Sawaki, is a first year student at agricultural college. He is a student with a remarkable ability: he can see and communicate with micro-organisms and bacteria with the naked eye. The bacteria look very different to him compared to how we normally see them: they are mostly smiling creatures of all different shapes, and look a lot larger. He is attending alongside with Kei Yuki, an old friend of his whose family run a sake brewery and works alongside Sawaki’s family.
Sawaki’s ability to see microbes are the main reason he is at the college. One of Sawaki’s teachers is an old friend of his grandfather. This teacher, Prof. Keizo Itsuki, is a man with brilliant knowledge but has an odd habit of eating fermenting and rotting food. Sawaki ends up studying alongside Yuki and some other students: Haruka Hasegawa, a sadistic, dominatrix-like post graduate who is spending as much of her time studying as she can to avoid entering an arranged marriage; Hazuki Oikawa, a student who is obsessed with cleanliness and cannot stand bacteria; and second-year students Kaoru Misato and Takuma Kawahama, who like to use their bacterial knowledge to make money, such as making their own sake.
Moyashimon is one of the most educational of all anime. You learn a lot about microbiology and the use of these cute bacteria help make it more fun. Amongst the bacteria encountered these include Aspergillus oryzae, one of the key bacteria used in brewing sake; Penicillium chrysogenum, which produces antibiotics; and Trichophyton rubrum, the cause of athlete’s foot.
The human characters are good too of course. Hasegawa is some great comic moments due to her inability to handle alcohol and easily getting drunk. Yuki is one of the stranger characters. Part way through the series he disappears, and then later on he appears in a totally different guise: namely crossdressing, in a gothic Lolita style (see Black Butler, No. 10 for more on Lolita fashion), and stays like this for the rest of the anime.
There are those who consider the pace of the series to be too slow, but overall the series is considered pleasing, especially to the critics. In 2008 it won the “Grand Prize” category in the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize (Tezuka being the creator of Astro Boy, No. 1 and Princess Knight, No. 51). In the same year it won the Kodansha Manga Medal in the “General Manga” category.
If you are going to learn, you might as well make it entertaining. That why one of my favourite English-language shows is QI. Moyashimon is one of the few anime that fits into the category of shows that inform, educate and entertain in equal measure.
Both series of Moyashimon are streamed on the website Crunchyroll.