Ms. Kozumi Loves Ramen Noodles is pretty much what you’d expect from the title: a manga about a high school student whose interest in noodles crosses the line from simple enthusiasm into full-blown mania. While Kozumi’s peers go to the mall or the malt shop, she visits out-of-the-way restaurants to sample every conceivable type of ramen, from spicy to sour to sweet. Her passion is so extreme, in fact, that she ditches school for a 200-mile trip to Iwaki just to taste a local specialty: no-bake natto ramen.
Though Kozumi is uninterested in socializing with her classmates, three girls—Yu, Misa, and Jun—find Kozumi’s reticence an irresistible challenge, and repeatedly seek her company outside of school. Yu, in particular, is one of those only-in-manga characters whose cheerfully inappropriate behavior would be considered creepy in almost any other context, as she follows Kozumi to ramen joints around Tokyo, copying Kozumi’s behavior and—more egregiously—her orders. When Yu’s pals befriend Kozumi before she does, she flies into a jealous tizzy, and doubles down on her efforts to show Kozumi that she, too, appreciates ramen, as evidenced by her unique repertory of dishes.
These scenes are clearly intended to be funny, but the social dynamic among the four principal characters is too strained to elicit laughter, as it relies almost entirely on the characters behaving idiotically for effect. The artwork, too, leaves something to be desired, juxtaposing hyper-realistic drawings of food and condiments with ultra-cutesy character designs that seem ready-made for key chains and body pillows. The cuteness would be less off-putting if the characters weren’t frequently drawn in rapturous close-up, sucking down noodles while suggestive trickles of broth dangled from their lips—a potent reminder that Ms. Kozumi runs in a seinen magazine and not, say, Bessatsu Friend.
The shop talk, by contrast, is genuinely enlightening. If your primary experience with ramen has been limited to steaming bowls of noodles, scallions, and chicken broth, the sheer range of dishes will come as a revelation; in one sequence, for example, Kozumi describes a form of ice cream ramen, while in another, Jun discovers the savory pleasures of a salted pineapple ramen bowl. A solid translation by Ayumi Kato Blystone helps convey what’s distinctive about each dish, and offers good insight into how dishes are prepared—more so, in fact, than many ostensibly “serious” food manga. So on that front, at least, Ms. Kozumi succeeds in communicating why the title character likes ramen so much; too bad the reader has to soldier past so much resolutely unfunny slapstick to enjoy the tastiest bits. Your mileage may vary.
MS. KOZUMI LOVES RAMEN NOODLES, VOL. 1 • ART AND STORY BY NARU NARUMI • TRANSLATED BY AYUMI KATO BLYSTONE • DARK HORSE COMICS • 136 pp. • NO RATING