We are now a number of weeks into the Winter 2018 season, and boy are there a lot of fun and exciting shows going on right now. I’m sure many of you are aware of Studio Trigger’s new work that involves robots, copious sexual innuendos, and flower metaphors (Darling in the Franxx) and KyoAni’s extraordinarily well drawn 14-year-old war veteran with robot hands (Violet Evergarden). But this article isn’t about those shows. This is the mid-season impressions for Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, the greatest ramen show to ever not actually have that much ramen in it. (There are minor spoilers).
Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen is a show about hitmen in the Hakata ward of Fukuoka. In this lovely part of the city, it appears to that 3% of the population is in the business of killing people, which if we take the current population of the ward, is somewhere in the ballpark of 6,800 people. Our main characters are Lin Xianming, a crossdressing Chinese hitman, and Zenji Banba, a private detective with a penchant for spicy pollack roe and baseball, and is later revealed to be the killer of assassins, the Nikawa Samurai.
The show didn’t have the strongest beginning. My first impression of Banba was something along the lines of, “Oh look, another ‘too cool’, lone wolf detective man and his dispassionate, pragmatist hacker friend.” It honestly made me feel like it was going to be just another detective show, one that I would watch a few episodes of and then just forget about. It seemed totally average. I’m happy to say, however, that over the course of the first three episodes, the characters have managed to grab onto and hold my attention.
The interaction between Lin and Banba reminds me of a double act, with Lin playing the straight man and Banba playing the comic.
Banba’s reason for dressing as the Niwaka Samurai “because it looks cool”, sounds like the kind of reason that a laid-back, carefree guy like Banba would have. It’s a stupid reason, but it’s also believable. Lin’s dedication to his family, sending money home every month and constantly thinking about the well-being of his sister makes him more sympathetic, which is important because usually we don’t feel sympathy for assassins. This sympathy that we begin to develop for him is crucial, because without it, the revelation that Lin’s sister has been murdered by the Chinese mafia becomes meaningless if we don’t care about Lin and what keeps him going.
In this age where traps are feeling more and more prevalent, it is actually kind of refreshing and fun to have a crossdressing guy, who makes sure you know he is a guy. Using the super masculine pronoun ‘ore’ and having a voice actor with an obviously masculine voice, Lin Xianming is a character that I will probably remember at the end of the year. That is no mean feat in this time of seasonal goldfish memory.
I was honestly surprised to see that the show wrapped up the first arc before the end of episode four. I thought that the human trafficking arc would take at least half, if not all of the season. But I’m not complaining, because this allows me to see more characters and probably more character interaction. In fact, I like this because I feel that none of the slice-of-life and quiet character development scenes, such as the baseball games or the time spent at the avenger’s bar, could have happened if there was the constant presence of the Chinese mafia looming like a Sword of Damocles. It was also nice to see the reason behind the name so soon into the show. Revealed at the end of the fourth episode, the show’s title is the name of the volunteer baseball team that all of the main cast participate in, and also the dish that Hakata is known for. I think that is very clever and amusing.
The second arc seems to be shaping up nicely too. The introduction of Shunsuke Saruwatari as an antagonist was well done, with time spent developing his character. We learn his reason for leaving Murder Inc., and him being hired by the same Chinese mafia that Banba and Xianming fought against was a good way to connect the first and second arc. I think the second arc will build up with Saruwatari slowly drawing more and more attention to himself, in an attempt to drag out Banba. Then, in an artificially tense situation created by having someone/something put in a dire situation e.g. hostage situation, Banba will defeat Saruwatari, and kill him. Afterwards, the gang will take another baseball break and the third arc will begin with the Chinese mafia getting ready to kill Banba once again. The only real curveball that the show could throw would be if they actually killed off one of Banba’s friends, like the informant or the torturer, but I truly doubt that will be the case.
While the show is good, it has brought up a point of personal contention. The lukewarm reaction to people dying bothers me. Everyone we meet, with the exception of our Murder Inc. employees, is so hard-boiled. This results in the only negative emotion in the show: anger. There is no mourning for the person who died, no period of grief, just anger at the murderer. And it may sound a bit messed up, but I like seeing anime characters cry. I think that anime is one of the best mediums to convey sadness. The way that the acting, music, camera angles, and art style are put together allows for a display of emotion that would be considered excessive or overly dramatic in other media such as theatre or live action films. But maybe it was my mistake to watch a detective show with hitmen and expect any of the characters to cry.
Now what kind of person would I be if I didn’t talk about the opening and ending themes? It’s nice to see the Kishida Kyoudan and the Akeboshi Rockets doing another anime theme. I was introduced to their music by a friend, and while it isn’t really my style, I think they are competent musicians who can write a pretty high energy opening. The ending theme reminds me of the Michiko to Hatchin opening, and is a great send off for the show. The dialogue hints previewing the next episode that occur during the track is also a great way to hold onto my interest.
Overall, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens has been shaping up to be an unconventional, but still familiar crime drama. If you want unique characters and a simple, but engaging plot, then it’s not too late to try out the fresh new flavor of Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens.
The anime is now streaming on Crunchyroll.