by Kenji Sonishi; adapted by Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
published by Tokyopop; $10.99 US
More 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 noodle shop, since it means I’m still enjoying the escapist humor.
It’s a light, entertaining read, with the gags falling in several major categories. There are the ones based around normal, everyday activities taking on weirdness because they’re done by a cat, as when he tries on new glasses or when his mom comes to visit because she wants him to find a wife and give her grandkittens. There are a bunch of strips about him playing cards badly, too.
Next, there are the business jokes about running a restaurant. Taisho rents out part of his space to a spiritual advisor. He tries lots of new dishes and cooking methods, including international specials to attract customers. Sometimes he’s too cheap to buy the right kinds of bowls to serve his noodles, or he hires a French chef as his assistant, resulting in weird changes to the restaurant.
My favorite strip in the book is the first. The cat chef wants to set up online ordering, so we see him carefully putting a full bowl of soup (with no cover) into a cardboard box, sealing it up, and shipping it out. The weirdness is presented so straight-forwardly that it almost makes sense — until you see the expression on the guy in the background watching this catastrophe play out. It’s that commitment to the concept, the idea that a cat could run a ramen shop, that underlies much of the humor.
Mostly, there are food gags. As indicated by the subtitle, Curry Is Also Delicious, there are several longer runs in which Taisho attempts to learn how to make curry, even though he has no idea how to. HIs variations on ramen are also disgusting, which makes them funny.
There’s another recurring theme which I found particularly head-scratching. Often, Taisho interacts with other animals, but they’re regular while he’s not. He feeds a neighborhood cat, for instance, or attempts to start a petting zoo with a rabbit, hamster, and chicks. I guess my looking askance at this is similar to asking why Mickey Mouse had Pluto as a pet — unnecessary to the enjoyment. (Or just another way to enjoy it, pondering the deeper meaning late at night.)
Also included in this volume are four short comics, in which the four-panel strip layout is escaped to allow for slightly longer stories. The scratchy art, with no perspective or line variation, works less well in this format, I thought — the extra space does the style no favors — but given that the first one is about the chef’s father, a cute cat model, they provide more space for the cat drawings. Another features a literal shaggy dog story, as Taisho tells the tale of when he ran a food cart and had to fight off vicious stray dogs. The cooking competition one, a parody of those types of manga stories that revolve around cook-offs to achieve an important goal, was the most amusing, since everyone involved loses.
The biggest omission with this book is the lack of any kind of glossary or end notes. Frequent reference is made, for example, to ramen ingredients, including char siu. I’d have liked to have what that is explained to me in the book instead of having to hit Wikipedia. (It’s Chinese barbecued pork, the bit of meat in ramen noodles.) Given its prominence in this installment, some information on Japanese curry would also have been nice. I’d much rather have had that kind of info instead of seeing two pages wasted on an interview with the adaptors that I found mostly content-free and unrelated to their work. Also missing are page numbers, which makes the thorough table of contents listing useless. (The publisher provided a review copy.)