Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens
Three percent of the population of Hakata is said to be comprised of professional killers, and some major (and minor) criminals here have lots of enemies, so situations like that of hitman Xianming Lin are probably not uncommon- someone else got his employer's target first, so his employer, named Zhang, refused to pay him- but Lin doesn't take it well, and so, in revenge, he not only refuses to kill his next assigned target, a detective named Banba Zenji, but he actually helps defend Banba against Zhang's further efforts to have Banba killed, which causes Zhang to dramatically escalate things in his next reprisal. BIG mistake by Zhang, for Lin's rage causes him to cement an alliance with Banba, and when you throw a mysterious hitman-of-hitmen, called the Niwaka Samurai, into the mix, that percentage of Hakata that's assassins is likely to plummet to new lows.
Like many other shonen shows, this is a "buddy" show, but here one of the buddies- Lin- likes to crossdress. He definitely identifies as male (when people later refer to him as Banba's girlfriend, he indignantly replies, "I'm a guy!"), and he also emphatically says he's not gay, but with his somewhat sour, even bitter, disposition he somehow DOES end up looking... well, tsundere in contrast to Banba's flippant and seemingly carefree demeanor. It's amazing how putting one of the "buddies" in a male-bonding picture in a dress and high heels makes the show look (and feel) a LOT different than a typical show of the genre- and Lin makes a very beautiful woman. (Though Lin might consider flats instead- sure, they might not be as stylish as heels, but I would think they're infinitely more practical for things like landing from two-or-three-story falls, as well as in close combat- it's much easier to bring down an opponent if their feet are not in full contact with the ground. To its credit, the show does kind of acknowledge all this.) Lin favors a knife in combat, though his knife, as well as his appearance, is a bit deceptive. We will find out Lin's tragic past over the course of the show- and an important part of that past will return in the flesh to torment him all over again.
Banba's past is kept a bit vague, though we do find out one major secret about himself that he carefully conceals. He doesn't mind Lin's taking refuge with him, and tries to encourage Lin to relax and enjoy life. Banba's very social by nature; one of the major subplots here is that Banba's entourage- a mixed bag of characters ranging from fellow hitmen to one long-suffering policeman- has been organized by him into a baseball team. (Lin's a little rough at first, but he does improve at the game.)
That entourage deserves a little more explication. It includes a would-be assassin named Saito. When he's first introduced, one of the fellow "employees" at Red Rum Inc. (I take it most folks HAVE seen The Shining and get this joke?) remarks that he doesn't seem much like a hitman at all (he seems much more a typical salaryman), and he proves his incompetence at this trade by first being mistaken for another hitman's target (wouldn't these guys normally be given PHOTOS of their marks?), and later getting framed for the murder of a girl. But these distressing events in Saito's life, and some of the people involved, tie into the Banba/Lin story as well, so Saito finally ends up working for Banba, though apparently mainly as a decoy since running away from trouble is one thing he's finally become skilled at; he's really more of an asset to Banba's baseball team than to his business. (You'll see why.)
Next up we have Enokida (as with most of our cast, that's really just an alias), a hacker who seems to be perfectly happy to betray Banba for the right price (or under the mildest coercion), but...well, it's more complicated than that. The show's "good" characters are nicely complex and more inscrutable than its "bad" ones- which is one of the advantages the "good" guys here have. ("Good", in THIS world, of course being a relative term.)
We also have Jiro, who tends bar- and does cosmetic work on dead bodies. He seems to be the guardian of a little girl named Misato, though I wondered how that came to be- he's almost certainly NOT her father. Misato is one of those standard-issue bratty-but-cute sort of kids, though she doesn't have that many lines in the show. I'm pretty sure that the manga eventually got around to giving us everyone's backstory, but this (first?) 12 episodes of anime only has room for Lin's backstory plus that of one other character. (I won't say who.)
Then there's Maru. Maru is an "avenger"; these apparently specialize in tit-for-tat revenge, usually short of murder. (The title character in Marvel's Deadpool did this sort of thing before he became Deadpool, as I recall.)
There are a plethora of other characters who get woven into the complicated quilt of the show's story, including a female assassin named Sayuri, who of course was once Banba's girlfriend (and who, perhaps also not surprisingly, became so after originally being assigned to kill him.) There's another young hitman named Shunsuke Saruwatari (in the manga; I think he's only known as "Sarucchi" in the show, by the only person who addresses him by name, his friend (MAYBE) and self-appointed agent, Naoya Nitta.) Those of the cast who actually survive the season should provide enough fodder for quite a few more stories to come.
The show is EXTREMELY violent, especially when the Niwaka Samurai joins the fray; he eschews guns in favor of a pair of katana swords (well, and also a few knives.) But it's all very well paced, once it gets its plot engine going. It has many of the usual improbabilities of shonen shows - here, in addition to those I've already critiqued, and the usual unusual durability of our cast, there's a plot to find a character that would only have worked if they'd purchased a certain supplement online- but there's nevertheless a sheer energy in the show that's impressive, and some of the characters, and their plans, are elaborately conceived (though occasionally contrived, I admit.) And believe it or not, there is a moral framework in here, whether it's Lin's finally learning how to trust people, or another character's deciding to finally face an opponent rather than spending their life running from them, even on pain of death.
I'd REALLY like to see some more of this. Banba seems a little TOO laid-back to be believable, but I really liked Lin and several members of the entourage. I particularly hope to get more of the entourage's backstories. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Includes beheadings, dismemberments, and blood spurting everywhere; the Niwaka Samurai doesn't play around. There's some nudity, but the violence drives my rating here: about movie R/ TV-MA.
Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll video stream.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens © 2017 Chiaki Kisaki/Kadokawa Corporation AMW/Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens
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