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Neko Ramen Volume 1

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Neko Ramen Volume 1 by Kenji Sonishi, published by TokyoPop

Neko Ramen Volume 1

© Kenji Sonishi, MAG Garden Corporation

The Bottom Line

Taisho is a cat with a dream: he wants to be a great ramen chef. Trouble is, Taisho is an abysmal cook. On top of that, even with all the desire and the equipment to run a ramen shop, Taisho just can't help acting like a cat; and as everyone knows, hairballs and noodles just don't mix.

Neko Ramen's brand of comedy is pretty silly, but it's all a good-natured dig on Japanese melodrama clichés and their weakness for novelty and cuteness. It's not going wow you with exquisite artwork or profound messages, but Neko Ramen serves up a kooky, but likeable comic snack for cat-lovers (and maybe cat haters too).

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Pros

  • Snappy 4-panel comic strip comedy that's enjoyably absurd
  • Cat lovers (and even cat haters) will get a laugh or two out of Taisho's cooking mishaps
  • Its simple artwork is a good match for Neko Ramen's no-frills, down-to-earth humor
  • Sonishi manages to find many ways to keep his simple formula fresh and fun
  • Just when you think you know Taisho, Sonishi piles on more kooky twists to his back-story

Cons

  • I know it's for laughs, but Taisho whips up some truly disgusting ramen concoctions
  • Its humor would benefit from explanations of some uniquely Japanese cultural quirks
  • Why does Tanaka keep coming back for bowl after bowl of mediocre ramen?

Description

  • Original Title: Neko Ramen (Japan)
  • Author & Artist: Kenji Sonishi
  • Publishers:
  • ISBN: 978-1427817792
  • Cover Price: $10.99 US / $13.99 CANADA
  • Age Rating: T – Teens Age 13+ for comical violence.
    More about content ratings.
  • Manga Genres:
    • Yon-koma (4-panel comic strip) Manga
    • Animals / Pets
    • Comedy
    • Cooking / Food
  • US Publication Date:June 2010
    Japan Publication Date: June 2006
  • Book Description: 160 pages, black and white illustrations
  • More Manga by Kenji Sonishi:

Guide Review - Neko Ramen Volume 1

When office worker Tanaka walks into a ramen shop, he's surprised to see that the chef in charge is a cat. Tanaka's first instinct is to turn around and try to find other lunch options, but Taisho the cat/chef guilt-trips him into staying, saying "eat first, then judge!" And sure enough, the ramen tastes... horrible.

This ends up being the first of many mediocre bowls of noodles that Tanaka will endure at Taisho's counter. Why he keeps coming back for more is anyone's guess, but if he's willing to be the straight man in this cheerfully kooky cooking manga, then who am I to complain?

Much like his kids' manga series Leave It To PET, Kenji Sonishi takes a simple but absurd premise and pushes it new heights of improbable hilarity over and over again. It's wacky enough that Taisho is a cat who can 1) talk, 2) walk upright and 3) own a ramen shop - but Sonishi keeps finding new ways to milk laughs out of Taisho's burning desire to succeed and the half-baked ideas that keep him from meeting his goal.

For example, Taisho tries to take advantage of the "dog craze" by opening his shop up to dog lovers, only to find that having a shop full of barking dogs is just a recipe for driving a cat/chef insane. Then he tries adding special ingredients to make his ramen stand out from the rest - but adding kitty kibble to the broth or trying to make "dessert ramen" with strawberries and milk are stomach-churning ideas that only Taisho would attempt to serve (mostly to his favorite test taster, Tanaka).

Sonishi also manages to keep the joke going a lot longer than you'd expect by revealing improbable twists to Taisho's back-story, like introducing Taisho's father and the 'family business' that Taisho rebelled against, and Taisho's lost love. It gets pretty dumb sometimes, but Neko Ramen cheerfully mocks three things the Japanese hold dear: the pursuit of culinary perfection, the endless quest for novelty and the national weakness for cuteness.

Full disclosure: I'm a big cat lover and I love good ramen, so Neko Ramen is something right up my alley. Knowing both subjects of this comic pretty well, I'm predisposed to "get" the jokes, but I have to wonder how much of its humor flies right over the heads of non-cat lovers / ramen-eaters.

The artwork in Neko Ramen is fairly simple. With its broken lines and uneven scrawls, it sometimes looks like Sonishi dashed his comic strips off on a paper napkin before handing it in for publication. But this slightly sloppy approach works, mostly because Neko Ramen is a comedy about ineptitude; it would be an odd mismatch to have an exquisitely-drawn comic about a cat who can't cook.

Just as Taisho won't likely win any Michelin stars, Neko Ramen probably won't wow you with its artwork or knock you out with any profound plot twists. Nevertheless, it's a fun, quick bite of kitty / foodie / Japanese pop culture humor, and if that's what you're in the mood for, well, bon appétit!

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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