If you're like me in that you tend to look for those quirky, odd, and oft times underrated anime, then rejoice, for Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture may be right up your street.
The original manga, created by Ishikawa Masayuki, began serialisation in Kodansha's Evening magazine in 2004, and in 2008 it won the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Grand Prize as well as Kodansha's General Manga Award. The anime adaptation, directed by Yuichiro Yano (Mujin Wakusei Survive, Patapata Hikousen no Bouken), and produced by Telekom Animation Film and Shirogumi Inc, was released in October 2007.
The story takes place at an agricultural university in Tokyo (something which I'd never heard of before, and I was surprised to find that it does actually exist), and centres around a first year student named Sawaki Souemon Tadayasu, who is attending the university along with his childhood friend Yuuki Kei. Sawaki, who is from a family of tane-kōji-ya (mold-starters, or yeast producers), isn't really interested in attending university, and has simply tagged along with Kei (who's family runs a sake brewery, and are long time customers of the Sawaki family).
They are taken under the wing of the highly eccentric professor Itsuki Keizo, and old friend of Sawaki's grandfather, and are given a crash course in fermentation on their first day (you'll understand when you watch the first episode).
Now, one would expect this to be a normal comedy, however Moyashimon has one big difference - Sawaki can see and interact with microbes, germs, viruses and bacteria, and all without the use of equipment of any sort. Only a few people know of his ability and, as far as anyone is aware, he is the only person in the world with it.
Cue the shenanigans.
The character designs are very good in this show. Each character is very clearly an individual, however the real stars of the show are the microbes themselves. Their design was pure genius as they are both cute and funny at the same time (especially with their big cheesy grins). The backgrounds are nicely detailed, with the university environs having a strangely authentic feel to them. The animation throughout the series is very smooth, and the usage of CG, especially for the microbes, is almost seamlessly tied in with the normal animation.
One thing I did like about the style of the show was that it wasn't afraid to go for the overly dramatic in certain scenes, and this actually enhances the comedic moments which often follow.
Sound is another good area for this series. The effects are well used, and serve to enhance the various scenes. The thematic music is nice and quirky, and is often highly reflective of the fact that this show isn't really meant to be taken seriously. The OP, "Curriculum" by Ifu Sarasa, is an extremely catchy pop song, and I never get tired of watching the video that goes with it as it is extremely well choreographed. The ED, "Rocket" by Polysics, is just as good, just as catchy, and very well choregraphed too.
The voice actors are very well chosen for their respective roles. Sakaguchi Daisuke does extremely well in the role of Sawaki, and manages to bring a certain long-suffering, and slightly bored quality to the character. The other seiyuu are also just as good, but then the cast for this show is extremely talented in the first place having worked in shows as diverse as Aria, Genshiken, .HACK//, Negima, Baccano! and Bamboo Blade. Almost every member of the cast has had a leading role in a popular series, and even the Aspergillus Oryzae are voiced by Touma Yumi (who plays Urd in Ah! Megami-sama).
The characters are very good throughout the series. Sawaki is fairly used to disbelief at the start of the show, so it comes as a shock to him that other people are not only aware of his ability, but also accept it. A good portion of the show sees him being dragged along by events and other people, and while at first he seems like he has no backbone, one should remember that he finds it very difficult to trust people, and so tends to take the easier option of just going along for the ride. Kei has his own, more fundamental, problem to deal with, and as the show progresses Kei seems to fade out as a character (although once the reason for his problem becomes clear, then it all begins to make sense).
The most memorable characters though, are definitely the eccentric and mysterious Itsuki Keizo, and the microbes themselves (who have their own quirks and prejudices too).
Each of the characters is portrayed in a very realistic manner, and I found it ironic that many of the traits they displayed were as familiar to me as my own hand - as they may be to anyone else who has attended university, lived in a dorm, or had dealings with a professor who seems more than a little off-the-wall. .
This is very much a comedy show aimed at a more mature audience, and I enjoyed it immensely. Younger viewers may not like much of the more subtle humour or the quasi-educational stance the show sometimes takes, although these are often amusing in their own way. This hopefully won't dissuade anyone from watching the show as, aside from the whole deal with Sawaki seeing microbes, this is one of the most realistic university based comedies I've seen, and at times harks back to the classic Animal House.
Moyashimon is a hugely underrated show for many reasons, but for those of you want something lighthearted, funny (in a sometimes surreal and nauseous way - you'll understand if you watch the show), and a little more "real" than the norm, then you should give this a try.
However I would advise hypochondriacs and people who are obsessive about cleanliness to steer clear :)