The second volume of Kenji Sonishi’s collected absurdo manga strip, Neko Ramen (Tokyopop), is subtitled “Curry Is Also Delicious” — a comically inapt title since we know that would-be ramen chef Taisho’s attempts to master curry will prove just as inedible as his ramen noodle making.
“It appears Japanese people eat four times more curry than ramen!” the feline chef tells Tanaka, his most loyal customer, so naturally he wants to cash in on it. With his never-ending attempts at repackaging a product that only his hapless friend returns to eat, Taisha is the quintessential 21st century entrepreneur. In one memorable sequence, the cat tries to add “international” ramen to his menu: the German ramen is made by pouring beer into the bowl. “It’s all foamy!” Tanaka complains. “That’s what makes the German stuff so tasty!” Taisha explains.
Elsewhere, we’re provided a glimpse into the show biz life of Taisha’s father, a successful cat model; meet Tanaka’s dad, who improbably dreams of opening his own ramen shop; and get two engagingly moral-free reminiscences from Taisha’s checkered past. All agreeably silly, though not without the occasional head-scratcher “punchline” for those of us unacquainted with all the niceties of ramen and/or curry. As in the first volume, Sanishi alternates four-panel strips with longer “Short Comic Specials.” The first are laid out vertically, two to a page; the specials are presented like regular comics pages, with larger panels. I personally find the smaller strips more visually appealing, better suited to the artist’s simple cartooning style.
The key to the strips’ humor lies in the character of Taisha, who’s both blithely self-confident despite his kitchen incompetence and willfully oblivious about his place in the animal kingdom. In this, he works as a parody of the traditional shonen theme of mastery, but let’s not take that too far. At heart, what we’ve got here is a genially surreal gag strip set in an establishment as familiar to its core readership as a family run deli would be to most New Yorkers — minus the cat hair on the serving bowls, of course.