Neko Ramen volume 1
Author: Kenji Sonishi
Taisho was a former kitten model, who ran away from home and had a hard life on the streets...until the day he was saved by a kind ramen shop owner who later served as his mentor. Now Taisho takes pride in his noodles...and is easily angered when customers are dissatisfied! So step aside, Soup Nazi - there's a new cat in town!
I remember watching the Neko Ramen anime back when Crunchyroll was still hosting fansub videos. It was hilarious and quirky and clearly a labor of love shared between various creators, thus giving each animated short a different style and atmosphere than the one before. I had extremely high expectations for the manga when I heard Tokyopop had licensed it for English language release and now that I've had a chance to properly digest the first volume, I can say with confidence that all my expectations were dashed to the floor.
Put simply, the manga isn't very funny. A lot of the gags that shone on screen fall flat on the page. Even the basic premise - a cat that makes ramen - becomes excruciatingly dull to read halfway through. I imagine the manga-ka realized that he couldn't let this manga ride on the premise alone, so he started adding in different characters and back story for the stubbornly hard-working Taisho. But none of it actually works. It doesn’t help that the official English description for the first book completely gives away most of Taisho’s back story, so the utter absurdness of it all is lost on the reader since Tokyopop has seen fit to spoil them from the beginning.
To add to the unfunniness of it all, the art is downright atrocious – it is messy, ugly, and does nothing to add to the humor of any of the scenes. It has ugly art in an unfunny manga which for some reason is 4-koma but also has a large amount of non-koma manga chapters which I’ve never seen before in a 4-koma tankoubon before. The fact that the regularly formatted manga almost outweighs the amount of 4-koma material in this book makes me wonder why Sonishi didn’t just stick to one or the other. It would have been better in all 4-koma; a majority of the jokes don’t work well spread across several pages and are better contained in four panels at a time.
Overall, the Neko Ramen manga is a major hit and a miss. You’d be best advised to find the anime and leave the manga well alone. One thing is for sure: I bet Tokyopop regrets the major advertising blitz behind this particular title because it was not worth it.