27 Jun, 2010

Neko Ramen, Vol. 1

By: Ken Haley

By Kenji Sonishi
Tokyopop, 160 pp.
Rating: Teen (13 +)

After a fairly big online push from TOKYOPOP, the first volume of Kenji Sonishi’s Neko Ramen has arrived! Within you’ll find the highly entertaining adventures of Taisho, an adorable kitty who happens to run a ramen shop. With a setup like that you’d assume that hilarity ensues, and you’d be right!

This first volume is a collection of various 4-koma strips depicting the humorous day-to-day life of Taisho and his ramen shop. Many of the strips involve his attempts at garnering business through marketing, experimenting with flavors, promotions and more, often while using his one steady customer Tanaka-san as his guinea pig. From time to time, the story breaks away from the 4-koma format. This is usually accompanied by an extended flashback detailing some humorous aspect of Taisho’s life. For whatever reason, the humor in Neko Ramen really clicked with me in a way that a lot of manga humor doesn’t. On more than one occasion I found myself chuckling at Taisho’s antics. For his part, Tanaka-san is a fairly good straight man; a lot of the humor involves his reactions or under-the-breath commentary to Taisho’s off-the-wall schemes.

Neko Ramen’s art works with the stories perfectly. It’s simple, cute and incredibly charming. Furthermore, Sonishi seems just at home in the 4-panel strips as he does in the more conventional non-4-koma tales and his storytelling and comedic timing within both are dead-on. Taisho’s character design is brilliantly simple: instantly recognizable and utterly adorable. Frankly, it seems like he could be a hugely marketable character and I can easily imagine Taisho plushies, key chain charms and more.

In addition to the stories, TOKYOPOP crammed the back with extra features, including a look at their web campaign, and a nice four-page interview with Sonishi himself. There’s also an incredibly addictive flip book portion! I’ve got to admit that I went into this with a little trepidation. Like I mentioned earlier, what a lot of people find hilarious in contemporary manga just doesn’t click with me, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I ended up enjoying it. In the end, I found Neko Ramen to be an incredibly fun read, which should work its charm on just about anyone who gives it a look.

Volume one of Neko Ramen is available now.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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