Let’s Eat Ramen
Nagumo + Aji-ichi
★★★☆☆ (I liked it.)
Doujinshi, otherwise known as independent manga in Japan, is rarely published in English. In fact, it’s considered underground and quite exclusive in its home country of Japan as well. Let’s Eat Ramen and Other Doujinshi Short Stories finally gives western readers an exclusive look at the elusive world of contemporary Japanese doujinshi manga. Let’s East Ramen is a three-part tale of Saeki, a girl who loves ramen noodles. At last, she thinks that she has finally found the perfect ramen shop, but the problem is the shop is completely full of old regulars and she can’t get in. Will the timid Saeki ever summon the willpower to reach out and get the ramen that she desperately wants?
The summary on Goodreads only covers the first story, which lends the collection its title. After Saeki’s story, there’s “Plastic Blue,” the story of an ill-timed, unrequited first love, that works out in the end for the two girls; Urameshiya, a ghost story with a twist that, again, works out well for the two girls in the end; and You Make Me Dizzy, a schoolgirl maybe romance that works out pretty well for the two girls in the end.
Did I mention there are a lot of girls in this anthology? And while “Plastic Blue” is the most forthrightly queer, the others have girl/girl undertones, or focus on the friendship between girls. (Manga, in my reading experience, is sometimes very ambiguous about this. I like that ambiguity.)
Although Saeki does get a little crush on her ramen partner, her true love seems to be ramen – which is why I jumped at the opportunity to read this when it came up on NetGalley. I love ramen. (Unlike Saeki, I have no worries about walking into a ramen shop full of besuited businessmen and slurping with the best of ’em.) So you could say, “Let’s Eat Ramen” spoke to me – and made me really hungry. (My mouth is watering…)
The sweetness (savoryness?) of “Let’s Eat Ramen” was followed by the melancholy of “Plastic Blue.” Minato confesses (i.e., her crush) to Shizuku, but Shizuku shoots her down, saying, “I like you as a friend.” We can only assume it’s internalized homophobia or a fear of coming out that makes Shizuku turn down her friend’s confession, because a year later, Shizuku is still kicking herself. In the end, Minato dumps her boyfriend and the two girls get together and the story ends with Shizuku and Minato flirting, smiling, and holding hands, which is pretty much exactly how I like my girl/girl stories to end.
“Urameshiya” is a sweet little ghost story with a twist. (A footnote on the page explains that “urameshiya,” which the girls use to greet each other as an inside joke, means “boo,” like a ghost.) I don’t want to give it away too much. Suffice to say, it’s a cute story of a girl who likes to garden and a cooler member of the swim team and how they become friends while Hanako tends to the garden (her name means “flower child;” it’s also the name of a ghostly girl in a Japanese urban legend who usually haunts girls’ school bathrooms) and Natsume (“summer”) attends swimming practice – although she seems to spend more time chatting with Hanako than practicing.
The last story (and my least favorite) was “You Make Me Dizzy.” Although this one wasn’t as cute as the others, I liked that the girls’ friendship was founded on stories. Shibahara, deciding she’s “not very smart,” becomes the class clown. She’s never read a novel, until she befriends Kunitachi, a cooler girl who is always reading “books with no pictures.” There’s a classic manga miscommunication, but all’s well that ends well.
I thought some of the art was really cute, like “Let’s Eat Ramen.” The weird style of “Urameshiya” grew on me, too. But “Plastic Blue” was so-so, and the style of “You Make Me Dizzy” didn’t do much for me at all. But keeping in mind that this is dojinshi, independently produced comics, it wasn’t too bad. There were a few wonky pages in “Plastic Blue,” but I think that will be fixed in the final print.
My only other minor quibble was that I don’t think it’s possible to recover from a two year coma that quickly. (I won’t say which story.)
The paperback edition is about $10 on Amazon.com; the 2014 digital archive of GEN Manga is $24, including these stories, so, despite the inconsistent art quality, I’d recommend it for someone interested in reading something outside of the manga mainstream, especially with the queer content. (Unlike a lot of BL (“boys’ love”) or GL (“girls’ love”), these stories – especially “Plastic Blue” – felt genuinely like queer stories, not fetishized representations.)
When I was your age, these stories were impossible to find in English, and then when they became available, they were illegal scans. This is a step in the right direction, as is GEN Manga‘s completely reasonable pricing.
I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.