I remember going through a heavy ramen noodle period when I was in college. To a typical poverty-stricken English grad student, the inexpensive packaged blocks of noodles made for filling fare — particularly if you dropped an egg into the hot water — and I couldn't help happily recollecting some of those meals as I read through Kenji Sonishi's collection of four-panel comic strips, Neko Ramen (Tokyopop). As Sonishi half-jokingly states in a back-of-the-book interview, ramen noodles are the Japanese version of "soul food."
A strip about a cat who (wrongly) fancies himself a Class-A ramen noodle chef, "Neko Ramen" is an appealingly loopy concoction. The simply drawn comic primarily focuses on Taisha, the ramen loving feline, and Tanaka-san, a "salary-man" who appears to be the only regular customer at the feline's noodle shop. The central gag revolves around Taisha's unwillingness to acknowledge that a) he's a cat and b) he's a lousy chef, besides. In one memorable strip, for instance, we see the cat attempt to make rice balls, wholly oblivious to the fact that fur is sticking into the rice. In another, Tanaka asks to use the restaurant's rest room, only to learn it's a cat box in the corner. Why the young businessman continues to lunch at Tasiha's shop is never openly explained, though it's clear that he has affection for the cantankerous kitty.
Between several stretches of four-panel strips, Sonisha includes some longer stories designed to flesh out Taishi's history, including an origin story where we learn that the cat's father was a famous model. Most gag strip characters don't manage the successful transition into longer stories — the shift in storytelling rhythm can be deadly — but these longer pieces prove just as amusing. Sonishi's style is to come at his jokes sideways, focusing more on the reactions to an outlandish situation more than on the punchline itself, and if the results often border on silly more than laff-out-loud funny, Neko Ramen should still be appealing to comedy fans with an affinity for the absurd.
I know that the poverty-struck grad student within me definitely digs it.