Neko Ramen Volume 1 by Kenji Sonishi
I haven’t read very much 4 koma (four panel style manga) but I’ve often thought that if manga were to crossover to a more mainstream audience, this format might encourage it. Arranged like a typical newspaper comic strip except generally oriented vertically, it theoretically should be easier for someone unfamiliar with manga to pick up a title in this format because it doesn’t require reading backwards. Tokyopop has put a considerable amount of marketing behind Neko Ramen, developing a standalone website for the series and launching a publicity campaign. There’s plenty of opportunity to sample this series, because Tokyopop is putting selected strips online.
The set-up for this series is that a cat with many psychological issues named Taisho runs a ramen shop. His only customer is a young salaryman named Tanaka who appears every day for lunch despite being the subject of Taisho’s more unfortunate ramen experiences. One of the things I liked about the series was that it wasn’t all cat-based humor. Tanaka is dismayed when he visits the shop’s bathroom and only finds a litterbox and Taisho’s career as a sushi chef never took off because no one wants hairy sushi. But Neko Ramen doesn’t rely only on feline funniness. Taisho is a classic struggling businessman, trying to come up with ways to make his ramen shop more popular by giving away branded merchandise that no one wants or removing chairs to create the appearance of a line in front of the store. Taisho has an epic past that is shown in regular manga-style interludes where we learn about his strained relationship with his famous father, a celebrated cat model.
Not all of the strips are laugh-out-loud funny, as some of the panels are more focused on character observation based humor. I always tend to be a bit suspicious of series that get hyped so aggressively, but Neko Ramen was a pleasant surprise. If you are a manga person who is also a foodie or a cat person you’ll likely be amused by this series.
Review copy provided by the publisher.