Written by Ross Locksley on 02 Apr 2020
Distributor Dark Horse • Author/Artist Naru Narumi • Price £9.99
A slice-of-life story set in a high school, wherein Ms Koizumi is the enigmatic lover of ramen noodles who finds herself suffering the unwanted attention of Yu Osawa who is fascinated by her classmate's chosen hobby.
Written by real-life ramen connoisseur Naru Narumi, the book provides in-depth ramen information and works the story around the subject matter, in much the same way that How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift does with keep-fit and exercise. A few chapters in, I wasn't really sure that Ms Koizumi was going to get the balance right - it stumbles out of the gate, unloading a lot of very dry facts about noodles to the detriment of any character development for the lead or her fangirl. A hobby is no substitute for a personality, and I was a bit worried the author had let the love of noodles overwhelm the book.
Happily, once new classmates are introduced by chapter 4 the book picks up. Yu doesn't have much of a personality, and Ms Koizumi is basically a walking encyclopedia with little emotional depth, but this is finally put to use as her calm and one-note demeanour act as a catalyst for other characters to develop around her.
The author's notes at the rear of the book do explain that a 20 page-per-chapter storyline is unusual, and that the title is serialised in Japan - that's definitely the best way to digest the book, as bite-sized nuggets of ramen-knowledge. Chugging the whole book in one sitting can be a bit dry, and going back to it and just reading a chapter or two over coffee made the experience far more enjoyable.
It's certainly a pretty book - the art style is cute without being cloying, and although backgrounds are used sparingly thanks to some clever page layouts, it never looks cheap or unfinished. Some of the panels are genuinely beautiful, and it must be a real labour of love to draw complex noodle dishes.
There's no overriding arc, no sense of impending menace, just a girl who loves noodles inspiring those around her in different and sometimes surprising ways. The information is all interesting in its own right, but unless you have the means to take advantage of it by visiting Japan and taking advantage of these tidbits (or cooking your own noodles!), then it's really a bit of a tease.
I was interested to see that the translator is also Japanese and works as a pastry chef in her own establishment, Huggle Sweets in Hillsboro, so a love of food was invested even in the translation.
Ultimately your mileage may vary - there's no fanservice like Dumbbells to titillate, nor much in the way of competitive drama, but if you like whimsical everyday tales of noodles and manga, then this was tailor made for you.
It's also an anime, available to stream on Crunchyroll if you like your noodles animated.
Ross founded the UK Anime Network waaay back in 1995 and works in and around the anime world in his spare time.
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