The Drops of God is an adult manga that revolves exclusively around wine and wine lovers. The series ran from 2004 to 2014 and became incredibly popular in Japan, China, Korea and, of course, France. This was due to a combination of factors: its touching slice-of-life plot, its lush imaginary landscapes for whenever one of the characters tasted an extraordinary wine and the amount of real-world enological -- that's the study of wines -- detail, which brought real-world wines into the story and allowed readers to taste the same bottles as the characters, which in turn influenced the international wine market.
However, The Drops of God never achieved the same widespread popularity in English-speaking countries as it did in France, probably due to a choppy publication history. Vertical translated and packed the first eight volumes of the manga into four volumes, which covered about one-sixth of the first arc and then jumped ahead to volume 22. A whole chunk of the plot was missing, forcing English-speaking readers to either catch up via unsavory means or drop the series entirely. However, now that comiXology has partnered with Kodansha to release the entire series in English, it's the perfect moment for a plot and character primer on The Drops of God.
What is The Drops of God About (Other Than Wine)?
The Drops of God kicks off with the death of world-famous wine critic Yutaka Kanzaki, who leaves behind a sprawling Estate, a wine collection valued in the millions of dollars and an estranged child, Shizuku, who at the time of his dad's death was still rebelling by selling beer at a popular alcohol distributor, despite having inherited his father's nose and expressiveness. When Yutaka's Last Will and Testament are read, Shizuku finds out that he's not the sole heir of his father's estate, but that his father had recently adopted Issei Toomine, a successful wine and food critic, and that they must prove their wine knowledge against each other to access the estate's funds -- and, most importantly, the precious wine cellar.
To do so, they must identify 12 extraordinary wines from all over the world, which Yutaka called "The Twelve Apostles," as well as a magnificent thirteenth that he nicknamed "The Drops of God." Shizuku is initially at a disadvantage because he had forsaken wine -- the obsession that had progressively isolated his father from the rest of the world. He's also extremely resentful of Issei, because he understandably feels like his father tried to replace him and, although he has excellent friends and colleagues who have his back, Shizuku lacks Issei's worldliness, education, ruthlessness and apparently infinite resources.
However, old Yutaka had taken that disadvantage into account, and the wines he picked are not particularly well-known, expensive or remote -- but chosen to convey a particular emotion or memory within Shizuku and Issei, or to put them in contact with people who will enrich their lives or unlock precious stories and perspectives. As the contest progresses, and Shizuku and Issei race to beat each other, they realize that they have more in common than they thought, both with each other and with the world at large.
The Drops of God's Characters
Shizuku Kamizaki is the deuteragonist of The Drops of God. He was close to his mother and had a strained relationship with his father, who was obsessed with wine and tried to train Shizuku's taste even as a child. When the series starts, he's an extroverted, show-off beer salesman, warm and well-loved by his colleagues. He has his father's extraordinary sense of smell and his expressiveness, and he's essentially a kind-hearted, open person with simple wants.
Issei Toomine is slightly older than Shizuku, and already lightyears ahead of him as far as the wine world is concerned. His calculating demeanor hides an iron determination and the heart of a true hedonist, and he will go to any lengths to secure any bottle that he considers precious. He's grown up surrounded by women, and he has strong relationships with them -- from his younger sister to Maki Saionji, his ice-cold lover and boss, to Loulan Kyrgyz, a scrappy orphan from the Tamaklan desert with an extraordinary sense of smell -- and probably the love of his life. His romance scenes are what give the manga a mature rating (besides the constant alcohol drinking, of course).
Miyabi Shinohara is a newly minted sommelier, passionate about wine, and Shizuku's main ally. She provides the everywoman perspective into this world of ultra-privileged wine snobs while remaining equally parts cool-headed and passionate about wine herself. She's the Watson to Shizuku's Sherlock tastebuds, is funny and personable and the perfect companion for his misadventures.
Maki Saionji is the president of SAOION Trading, a world-class company that specializes in wine. She has an on-and-off affair with Issei, and wants access to the Kamikazi Wine Cellar to increase SAOION's caché. She doesn't approve of Issei's relationship with Loulan.
Kyrgyz Loulan is a headstrong Xinjiang guide from the Taklamakan desert who saved Issei's life twice -- first by driving away bandits and again by saving him from freezing to death in the middle of desert ruins; they became lovers after that. Growing up in the desert has sharpened Loulan's sense of smell and she quickly and naturally surpasses Issei and Shizuku's skills despite her humble origins and powerful enemies. Her subplot is one of the most interesting of the entire series.
Robert Doi is the Yoda of the series. He was an old friend of Shizuku's, and he was entrusted with a precious bottle of wine and the role of referee in the wine contest. At the start of the series, he was living on the rough and hoarding incredible bottles of wine but quickly warmed up to Shizuku and Miyabi.
All 40 volumes of The Drops of God's 40 volumes are now available in English on Comixology.