Neko Ramen Book 1

Tokyopop has been pushing this collection of four-panel comic strips, due out June 1, since March. With so many options to sample the comic, including an interactive website, is it possible that potential readers will have already tired of the concept? Not a chance.

First, the idea of a cat that runs a ramen shop is just funny. The 4-koma format (four vertical panels) makes for plenty of goofy gags, and if you don’t like one, just turn the page for more chances to laugh. There are known audiences for cat manga and for food manga, so that makes for lots of potential readers interested in at least part of the concept. And with so small a format, only four panels, a high concept that’s immediately understandable works well.

Neko Ramen Book 1 cover
Neko Ramen Book 1
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(With some 4-koma, it can be difficult to grasp the distinctions among the characters or follow development at a short length, or the comedy might not translate. My favorites are those where simply defined but funny characters play variations on their usual activities. Those are easy to pick up and put down while still getting the jokes.)

It’s not until a third of the way through the book that we find out how Taisho the cat came to run a noodle shop, so obviously, it’s not very important. What’s significant is that he does, and he’s very old-fashioned, almost samurai-ish about it, even when he doesn’t know what he’s doing. (Think Seinfeld‘s Soup Nazi for an American point of comparison.) His ambitions are made fun of but still somehow honorable.

Then there are those strips where the humor comes from contrasting a cat’s expectations with ours. Think of what he’d want in a restroom, for example, or the danger of cat hair in your food. The art is sketchy, with no line weight variation, and often dots or lines for eyes, but so long as you can tell what’s going on — and I could — the homemade, unpolished feel suits. It’s as though some of the panels were scribbled on a napkin at the neighborhood ramen bar, kind of a transplanted workplace doodle, or even greeting card art.

Strangely, the other animals in the strip are animals, while Taisho talks and walks on two legs. It took me some time to work out that the oval with stripe and triangles was meant to be a sleeping (normal) cat (with collar and ears). On the other hand, I did quite like the strip where the cat sets off on a food delivery. He heads over the roof, just as a cat would, and the panel looking down on him looking down on the street was a nice bit of staging.

The origin story, telling of the cat’s history, is told in more traditional comic style, breaking out of the strip format. Taisho’s father is a cute cat model, having his picture taken for ads and products. Taisho is expected to have a similar career, but he runs away from his father’s harsh expectations. He tries to apprentice as a sushi chef, but he eats more fish than he prepares. Finally, he is taken in by a street corner ramen cook, who trains him.

Additional interlude comics tell more flashbacks, such as when Taisho competed against a dog ramen stall or how he determined his secret recipe. At larger size and longer length, I found these a bit harder to follow, due to the art, but that’s not the point. Cat owners will recognize a lot of behavior in these comics, and the ones that are uniquely feline are the best reads. As a pleasant detail, the page corners feature a tiny flipbook animation. Unfortunately, they took the place of page numbers, making the table of contents absolutely useless. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

10 Comments

  1. [...] here’s the first review of Neko Ramen, the manga series that I have been rewriting/adapting for English [...]

  2. [...] to You (Manga Maniac Cafe) Rob McMonigal on vol. 6 of Nana (Panel Patter) Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 1 of Neko Ramen (Comics Worth Reading) Kristin on Songs to Make You Smile (Comic [...]

  3. I’m a fan of cats, lately I’ve been getting my cat craving fixes from Chi’s Sweet Home. Maybe I’ll give this a try at some point, although I’m still a bit shy of Tokyopop ever since they indefinitely delayed a few series I really liked. I’m hesitant to invest in one of their series, unless its already been fully released.

  4. The benefit here is, it’s completely stand-alone, so even if this is the only volume they release — which I doubt, given how much it’s been anticipated and promoted — you won’t be left hanging. But I sympathize with missing series that have been put on hold. I’m still hoping, unrealistically, for more Kindaichi Case Files.

  5. I loooooove Kindaichi Case Files now, sigh…I really wish I had more of that series. I keep hoping someone will swoop in and save that it like Dark Horse did with CCS/Chobits/Clover, but my hopes aren’t very high.

  6. I regularly wish for more Kindaichi. I’m re-reading a bunch of them now and they’re still good even when I know the outcome. Clever, charming; one of the best reads for most anybody. Case Closed ALMOST fills the void, but Kindaichi is in a class by itself.

    Given how un-promoted it was I really think it’s unfair for another company to not give it a shot with some muscle behind it. I keep thinking this would be a great fit at Del Rey.

  7. [...] Zack Davisson praises Saturn Apartments… Johanna Draper-Carlson gives two thumbs up to Neko Ramen…  Scott Green and Deb Aoki post early reviews of Top Shelf’s long-awaited AX: [...]

  8. [...] out of its one-joke premise. Early reviews of Neko Ramen have been overwhelmingly positive, with Johanna Draper-Carlson noting that the basic concept proves a solid platform on which to build a comedy: First, the idea [...]

  9. [...] of the same as Neko Ramen Book 1. That consistency is just what I wanted from a collection of comic strips about a cat who runs a [...]

  10. [...] Book 1 [...]

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