Tadayasu Sawaki can see and talk to bacteria. Otherwise, he's a normal first year student at Tokyo agriculture university.
There are premises that make you go "who on Earth thought of that?" The answer, as so often, is of course, "Someone in Japan." (To be precise, manga-ka Masayuki Ishikawa.) That's Moyashimon. It's a completely real-world slice-of-life anime about university life and friends doing academic research... except for Sawaki's microscopic chums. They're adorable. They float around in cute super-deformed cartoon form, burbling to each other in high-pitched voices and passing comment on the world around them. They're fairly silly and it's hard to believe the real things look anything like this... but if you look at images of the bacteria being represented, you can see where the artist got his character designs from.
I love the bacteria. What's more, it would have never occurred to me that I could love bacteria. For obvious reasons they have little effect on most of the storylines, but they're funny and charming and I kept wanting more of them. They're also cute when dancing in the season one title sequence.
It's also educational. This show will teach you all about the useful work that bacteria do in our daily lives, especially in the body and when making various kinds of food and alcohol. You'd expect the Microbe Theatre Deluxe bonus mini-episodes to be merely comedic, but in fact they're teaching us about microbes in the gut, epidermis, etc.
Bacteria are the adorable half of the show that everyone will remember, but aren't actually that important most of the time. The other half is Sawaki's university life, with his studies and his friends. This is nothing extraordinary, but it's likeable. Sawaki's acquaintances aren't comedy characters, but instead fairly normal people. Well, with the occasional exception of their dress sense. Kei (a boy) will eventually decide become a cross-dresser in black Gothic Lolita clothing, while the abrasive Hasegawa wears faintly kinky clothes underneath her lab coat. It's not far off bondage gear. Otherwise, though, everyone's just a normal person going about regular university life. Professor Itsuki might be teaching us about some truly horrific real-life foodstuff that you'd sooner cut out your tongue than eat. Misato and Kawahama are loutish young men who mostly want to make money, although Hasegawa can keep them under control.
They're nice. It's pleasant spending time with them. Some of them (the women and Sawaki) are also beautifully drawn, albeit less so after season two simplifies the character designs. People like Itsuki, Misato and Kawahama are simple caricatures that you could scribble in a few minutes, but the more painstakingly rendered characters must have taken hours and hours to draw with so much realism. I was in awe. Admittedly it will have helped that this is a real-world anime, without battle scenes and so on, but even so that was superbly done. The only downside is that there perhaps isn't enough difference between the girls, making it hard to tell (for instance) which one's which if you can't judge by clothes or hair colour.
The 2007 season is perhaps a bit better than the 2012 one, although the latter ends with "to be continued... perhaps" and so hopefully we'll get another in 2017. On the downside, though, season one also has that annoying two-part story about the boys trying to get their hands on an aphrodisiac. Both seasons occasionally showcase the dafter side of university life, which can be very weird indeed. (I could cite the "paper balloon on your head" competition, the robot boxing match and the killing of chickens in front of small children, which was funny.)
Season one clearly has a better finale, though, with Sawaki losing his bacteria-seeing abilities. It's lovely. We all need to see a heartwarming ending about a boy and his bacteria. Season two, on the other hand, takes the core cast to France for several episodes, which lets us learn about the bacterial component of wine-making after we'd been studying it exhaustively for sake, miso, yoghurt, etc. This is fine and I quite liked the Hasegawa story, but it doesn't really involve many bacteria. It also buds off an unrelated and slightly less interesting story about a female Kei lookalike (Marie) and her relationship with her father. I have no objection to any of that, but I really wanted more bacteria.
There's also a live-action version from 2010, also 11 episodes long. Apparently it introduces romantic feelings between Sawaki and Haruka. Hurm.
This is a gentle show and there are people out there who absolutely love it. It's plot-light, mind you, while its characterisation is comparatively understated. It's just nice. It's educational and it'll make you love bacteria, although I was mildly creeped out by its earthworms' faces. Apart from anything else, it's wonderful to think that someone had this idea and turned it into a manga, a live-action TV show and an anime.