Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Somewhere, in the depths of a shopping arcade somewhere in Japan lurks a monster. Her name is Miki Onimaru, and she's the poster-girl for her mother's ramen shop. What makes her special is her inhuman vitality, her incredible martial-arts prowess, and casual brutality. She's got a strong sense of justice, but is cursed with a lethally short temper and an even shorter attention span; and everyone around her suffers as a result. Her regular victims include Megumi Kannazuki, a fellow poster-girl who attacks her with thrown skewers because she can't get close enough to attack otherwise; Kankuro Nishiyama, a recently-returned college student bent on revenge; and Akihiko Ohta, a local store owner who simply happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—a lot. No one is safe from Miki's desire to "help"—not children, not delinquents, not (very) scary teachers. Luckily for them though, Miki's indestructible mother is on hand to beat her into submission when things get too out of hand.
If you're wondering what Ramen Fighter Miki is about, the title really says it all. Miki tries to deliver ramen. Miki beats the snot out of someone instead. Roll credits. There isn't a thought in this show's frazzled, violence-fried, ADD-ridden brain. Outside of providing a silly, outrageous good time, that is. It's all deeply stupid—and quite fun.
Providing half-episode, ten-minute bursts of pure comic mayhem, Miki owes more to the unbridled physical humor of the Looney Tunes than to mainstream anime. To be sure the morphing SD transformations, long, shouted martial-arts moves, and sentai parodies are very anime. There're references to The Ring, the art style is traditionally anime, and the entire structure of the series is one big sports/fighting-show cliché. But the broken-arm jokes, the endless running and chasing, the impossible physical feats, the over-the-top violent rivalries, the repetitive gags, and the skewers to the head and faces to the pavement that have no apparent adverse effects all recall Tom and Jerry more so than Kodocha or Azumanga Daioh (the show even has its own SD version of the MGM logo spoof that precedes each Tom and Jerry episode).
The prospect of an hour-and-a-half of free-association jokes and people bonking each other might be horrifying, but the series' unflagging energy and unabashedly juvenile humor are actually kind of endearing, and it's never sloppy or crude. Characters are quickly and simply sketched but are distinctive and sympathetic. For all her brutality and wigging out, Miki makes a good lead, and no matter how two-dimensional they are, no one is less than interesting. Even if the series thinks the sight of Miki's mom bashing Miki's head in is funny no matter how many times it's repeated, and some of its gags are rather predictable, the humor isn't stupid (some of the jokes being quite clever) nor truly vulgar (no breast jokes!) and it never devolves into meaningless joking—always basing each half-episode around some comic plotline.
Though there are some (relatively) complicated gags—Miki's habit of escalating every problem she tries to solve, that extended sentai parody—an inordinately large portion of the humor is visual. For a series as frivolous as this, the production values are pretty solid, so the visuals tend to be up to the task. Miki herself is a fine creation, especially her lightning shifts from sparkly cutie to super-deformed slob to pointy-toothed monster (and everything in-between). Much fun is similarly had with scary teacher Ms. Kayahara and her lazy-eyed SD form. In fact, wild expressions, shouting, dashing, pummeling and rapid editing are the name of the game in general, keeping the energy level high and the gags flowing fast and thick. Deformation and simplified character designs are used in addition to the usual stills and speed-lines to allow allocation of the animation budget to Miki's unusually (but not overly) fluid fighting techniques, and are also deployed skillfully to maximize the laugh-factor. Character designs, objectively speaking, are standard to the point of plainness—the way they are used being far more interesting than their appearance. Backgrounds, particularly the shopping district, are well-detailed and fully sufficient to their purpose, once again without being particularly impressive.
Like every other aspect of the show, the music is used primarily for maximizing comedic impact. The director knows exactly which tone of goofy music to use in support of which kind of gag and when to let the visual energy carry itself without support. The music really is just varying shades of sonic silliness though, and its usage is fairly pedestrian, especially (just to keep the comparison alive) in comparison to what the Looney Tunes did with music. The opening song is a solid, rocking little number, while the closer is a sappy love-ballad of extremely questionable appropriateness.
Media Blasters provides two extras on this disc. One is the opening sequence for the in-show sentai parody "Star Rangers," and the other a twenty-minute Jenga competition between the seiyuu for Miki and Megumi, split between two episodes of what promises to be an ongoing series of competitions. Guess which one is more interesting? In case someone is yet unaware of it, this is another of Media Blasters' subtitle-only releases, and that means no English dub folks.
No one will find any real depth here, but anyone who leaves without a smile is probably the kind of person who thinks The Three Stooges is unfunny slop. If that's you, then this is one series you'd probably best avoid. On the other hand, if the thought of the aforementioned person being whacked with a ramen delivery box strikes you as highly amusing, then dig right in.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Effective, relentless comedy that doesn't pander (too much) to the lowest common denominator.
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