A departure from the monochrome and long shadows of film noir, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is an exuberant and vividly animated crime show. It’s set in a city with a disproportionate number of hitmen organisations and business is booming. The neon lights blur and bleed, and the city comes alive to the sound of acid jazz, making the nocturnal scenes a delight to behold. On a side note, the ending theme is already one of the best of the year, distilling everything that’s great about the show in a ninety-second burst of jazz and colour.
At the heart of the series is Chinese native Lin, a refreshing and likable lead who quickly won over our hearts. Although he cross-dresses, this doesn’t define his character and its only ever addressed matter-of-factly. When asked why he wears women’s clothing, Lin’s response is simply that he likes to. Quite the coup when you consider that cross-dressing is so often used in anime as a twist, as punishment or to ridicule.
Although some of the other players fail to make much of an impression, Banba more than makes up for that. He’s playful as a cat, balancing mischief, humour and talent. While he’s most often found unintentionally winding Lin up, or slurping down the titular tonkotsu ramen or spicy cod roe, he’s probably the single most powerful character in the show. But we won’t spoil all the surprises.
Just when you’ve got it figured out, the show goes and pulls the rug out from under you. After all the murder and mayhem (of which there’s ample amounts of both) the characters play baseball. Turns out, Tonkotsu Ramens is the name of their team, and Lin is its latest member. This camaraderie gives us a reason to get behind these characters and care about their plight. It’s a good reason too, as it’s doubtful they’ll all survive the season. Right now, though, all we want is to see Lin and Banba hook up.