I find myself drawn to crime drama animes, as there is enough going on to garner my interest and the evil guys can get genuinely evil. Such is the case with “Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens”. You may feel it is another hitman tale, but that merely scratches the surface.
We are in Fukuoka (that’s in the far southern region of Japan), and are in the Hakata Ward. For want of a better term, this is a city of killers. If you want to be a hitman, this is where you go and there are a ton of people that deserve to be offed. It feels like 25% of the population is employed in this profession, whether you are doing the actual dirty work or cleaning up the mess created from doing the actual dirty work. We begin with the Banba Detective Office.
It is run by Zenji Banba (which is convenient for him, center right), who, among other things, loves baseball. Dropped into this mix is the cross-dressing hitman, Lin Xianming (center left). He is incredibly skilled with the knife and came to Japan to (a) look for his sister and (b) to pay off a large debt incurred by his family. After a series of events, he teamed up with Banba to help deal out his personal revenge and join the firm. The series examines the rather delicate balance between all of these competing forces.
In one sense, it reminded me of “Durarara!!!”, in how everything takes place in a compact area, everyone knows of or personally knows everyone else, but there are tons of secrets they keep from each other and themselves and there are miles to go before they sleep. It all comes to a heady confluence, when it appears that everyone’s past catches up with them at the same time and these divergent forces must unite to defeat a larger, more dangerous enemy.
Since the stories really do build on one another, they are all compelling and involving. Yeah, we do get that bullet-proof nature from them, when they sustain wounds that might dispatch mere mortals, but they are up and running in just a few days. One underlying theme is the Nikawa Assassin, who kills hitmen. Needless to say, the crime groups here are bent on removing him, as his mere presence puts a crimp on what they can do, but he is one tough customer and no one knows when and where he will show up.
The only drag for the show is that each episode is a baseball term. I guess that the idea presented by the title (The first episode is called “Play Ball”, which is what the umpire says before the game starts) serves as a theme for that segment. Remember, Banba-sama was into baseball and a couple of the other folks here used to really play the game (and this is how they know one another).
I want you to see this show, but without distractions. Take a couple of days to work through it, as the relationships between everyone are involved and complex, but things pay off over a stretch of time. Much like what goes on during a ball game. You see how things develop and the big pay off in the end, but you have to pay attention. Don’t leave to get a beer or a bag of peanuts or you’ll miss how they set things up or why they do what they do.
Anything neo-noir always works better flat-out, so I give high marks to binge. In a sense, this is ‘real time’, so the numerous factors in play make themselves more manifest than a once or twice a week approach. The titles of the episodes may become more annoying, but the story should present things sharper.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 7 (The anime norm)
Plot 8 (Builds very nicely)
Pacing 8 (Even the slow parts are interesting)
Effectiveness 8 (Interesting use of back story)
Conclusion 7 (It reaches a ‘coupler point’, but hasn’t ended)
Fan Service 2 (A similar show would be “Okamisan”)
Bingeability 9 (All cards are in play)
Overall 8 (Interesting concept done well)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. What? You’re a guy?