Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 14th 2012
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Life goes on for easygoing, microbe-communicating college student Sawaki. He works in the fermentation lab of deeply odd agriculture professor Itsuki. He hangs out with blobbish friends and aspiring criminals Misato and Kawahama. He occasionally visits the liquor store of his cross-dressing best bud Yuuki, puts up with the drunken antics of grad student Aoi, pals around with girl-next-door Oikawa, and mostly steers clear of S-and-M queen and Itsuki protégé Hasegawa. His routine is interrupted only occasionally—by Oikawa's obsession with a secret door in the fermentation lab, or by the horrors of the school's harvest festival. Things really go awry, however, when Hasegawa is once again spirited away by her marriage-arranging ass of a dad.
Some series use comedic side-stories as filler, others alternate-reality versions of their worlds or inconsequential adventures. Moyashimon uses biology lessons. That makes it unique to be sure, but it doesn't change the fact that it's filler. Between the lessons on fermenting soybeans, the saké history, and the more traditional fluff stories about secret cellar doors, this season doesn't really get going until episode four. In a series with only eleven planned episodes, that's a long wait.
Of course if you've a passing interest in microbiology or food science, the delay won't feel quite so long. There's plenty of odd trivia to be gleaned by the interested viewer. Impress your friends with your knowledge of saké and ancient tax policy. Wow your parents with your grasp of miso manufacture. Enchant the ladies with the nationalistic glories of miso soup. Regale the guys at the bar with tales of vinegar and biofuels and the microbial helpers who make them possible. All kidding aside, some of it is actually quite interesting, including the discussion of the hidden environmental costs (and objective idiocy) of biofuels and the later tidbits about the standardization of Japanese yeasts. And the series does what it can to make the educational interludes fun. The speech on the nationalistic glories of miso, for instance, is delivered by a microbial drill sergeant at a microbial boot camp (his curse of choice: “mayonnaise!”).
Still, it gets bothersome after a while, especially when the discussions of food and bacteria consume what feels like half of each episode. Propulsive plot and addictive drama aren't exactly what Moyashimon is about, but even as easygoing a series as this starts to bog down when the ratio of story to education gets too far off. Moyashimon's strength is its freewheeling portrait of college life, and while education has its part in that, it's most enjoyable when delving into dorm hijinks, espousing the joys of (possibly illegal) schoolyard entrepreneurship, or just enjoying the company of good friends. When the microbiology lessons get in the way of that, they become more burden than boon.
Those strengths keep the series afloat in its info-heavy early stages, breaking up the history classes with reminders of what a strange and often hilarious place Sawaki's agricultural college is: nods to Hasegawa's terrifying drunken behavior, glimpses of Professor Itsuki's murky past, the dorm's masked secret society straining their bathtub for female pubic hair. But the series only really gets its feet under it when the Harvest Festival shunts aside the lectures and the series' bizarre campus life again springs to the forefront. Students open booths where they teach horrified kiddies where fried chicken really comes from, the campus football team learns the terror of bargain-hunting Japanese hausfraus, Misato and Kawahama embark on one of their convoluted scams (elaborate disguises, chewed rice, and idol-singer saliva all play a part), and a secret nighttime festival pits two professors against each other in an unlicensed MMA match.
During these episodes the series is again the laconically funny joy it was five years ago. Eventually a plot even emerges. It involves Hasegawa being horse-traded by her business-obsessed dad, and unites the cast in their efforts to get to her before she's married off to a middle-aged goober. It has yet to really tip its hand by the end of these episodes (why did she agree? who the hell is that goober?) but it seems headed in the right direction—specifically towards getting the crew into France. If the rest of the series plays on this level, it'll be a cinch to forgive it its opening speed-bumps.
This season brings back most of the first season's creative staff, so it's no surprise that it looks similar. Its focus is still on coolly-delivered gags and comic behavior rather than impressive showpieces or anything else particularly active. Art is still more important than motion, and still understated enough not to draw attention away from the all-important character byplay. Misato and Kawahama are still purposefully off-putting blobs and Sawaki still the short, blonde calm at the eye of the show's storm of eccentricity. The series' comic timing is still fine and director Yuichiro Yano still knows how best to use his realistically attractive female cast. The pace is easy, the tone laid-back, and the show just generally a relaxed respite from the hyper energy of your average comedy.
Five years have passed though, and things can't help but have changed in the meantime. The character designs have traded some of their original sharpness for a rounder, friendlier look and the animation is smoother and easier as a result. The overall look of the series has softened and lightened, less concerned with details and composition than with just having a good time. Composer Takefumi Haketa brings a lighter touch the score than previous composer Naoki Satō, and Yano deploys it less aggressively as well.
Moyashimon Returns is not one of those sequels you can watch without seeing the original. It's a very character-driven series, and it spends precious little time re-establishing its cast before diving into the minutiae of Japanese fermentation practices. The first three episodes in particular depend heavily on viewers having long since become friends with easygoing Sawaki, germophobic Oikawa, thoroughly awesome Hasegawa, and the rest of the Moyashimon crew. Their effortless ensemble chemistry is a huge part of the series' charm, and will be largely inaccessible to newcomers. If you haven't seen series one, wait until it comes out before tackling Returns. If you have, welcome back. There are good times ahead.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Great ensemble cast; pleasing pace; loads of fun once it gets going.
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