The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
Dr. Ramune: Mysterious Disease Specialist
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dr. Ramune: Mysterious Disease Specialist ?
What is this?
From a girl who cries condiments to a philanderer who finds a chikuwa in his pants where something else should be...Dr. Ramune can cure them all, but his treatments come at a cost, and not one that can be paid in money. Follow Dr. Ramune and his wacky patients in stories too unbelievable to be treated by anyone but the Mysterious Disease Specialist.
How was the first episode?
I hate mayonnaise. It grosses me out so much that if I'm trying to cook with it, I gag the entire time or make someone else deal with that part of the recipe. The moment the main concept of this episode was introduced – that a child actress was crying mayonnaise – I wanted to turn off the TV and run far, far away. I didn't, though, because I am a professional god damn it, and if I can get through some of the other stuff I've reviewed for the sake of those sweet sweet freelancing dollars, I can get through a little girl with mayonnaise oozing out her eyes and oh god I think I need a minute, hold on.
Okay, I'm back. Anyway, it's a bizarre premise that doesn't make any sense. Dr. Ramune, who specializes in ~mysterious diseases~ that are the product of a sick soul and can't be explained by medical science, diagnoses her as keeping her emotions too bottled up so he gives her a teapot that makes her speak the truth and sends her on her merry way. I'm sorry, but what? How does it follow that holding in her feelings would make her cry condiments? And if she wears the contact lenses that stop them from coming out, she begins to rot away? Excuse me? How does any of this follow logically?
While the illness may be, uh, original, the root cause is as trite as they come. Look, I understand that a lot of stage parents are horrible and see their children as walking ATMs. I grew up in Hollywood. I was a child actor myself for the first few years of my life. But that doesn't excuse the hackneyed storyline of, “She was a good mom who did things like cook for her daughter, but now she's obsessed with money and luxury goods and feeds her daughter discounted convenience store bentos!” Believe it or not, “original to the point of nonsensicality” and “cliche” don't balance each other out.
You'd think a director who has been working on anime for over twenty-five years like Hideaki Oba could turn out something competent, but no, this is an ugly show. The character designs weren't great to begin with, but things are regularly off-model and the shot compositions and use of color range from “boring” to “what in the world were you thinking?” Ominous shots of *urk* mayonnaise and ketchup glugging out of a bottle take things from “bad” to “unintentional comedy” rapidly.
Dr. Ramune isn't offensively or upsettingly bad (unless, like me, you're a mayo-hater), but it is deeply stupid. It's also a Crunchyroll co-production so, uhhh… at least So I'm a Spider was good?
Dr. Ramune: Mysterious Disease Specialist has a premise that sounds perfectly fine on paper: The titular doctor, an eccentric and aggressively extra fellow, helps people cure ailments of a more magical sort than what the typical physician is used to, which usually crop up because of unresolved emotional or psychological stressors. So far so good; we've seen plenty of variations on that before. Then we find out that the main girl of this introductory case is Koto, a young child actress with an overbearing mother who has become so used to stifling her emotions that she can no longer cry. Well, she can't cry regular tears anymore, at least. Instead, she has condiments coming out of her eyes, and let me tell you, dear readers, it is so much worse to see and hear than you might already be imagining.
Now, the title of the episode is “Condiment Tears”, so I wasn't exactly surprised to see poor little Koto have globs of mayonnaise and streams of soy sauce pour out of her tear ducts. And there is supposed to be a very light veneer of spooky-spooks to these mysterious disease ordeals, so I'm sure some of my discomfort watching this case unfold was intentional. That said, I can't understate how much I absolutely did not enjoy the act of watching and hearing this girl's distinctly disgusting plight. Tears are not supposed to plop when they hit the table, you know? And don't even get me started on when the magical contacts cause Koto's body to rot away right in front of everyone's eyes. It just isn't right.
That's honestly small-potatoes, though, and I am enough of a professional to distinguish between my personal discomfort with condiment-based body horror and whether or not this premiere of Dr. Ramune was actually good at what it was trying to do. Unfortunately, the unpleasantness of the experience goes beyond the mayonnaise tears; almost everything about Dr. Ramune is just plain ugly to behold. The character art is stiff and sloppy, and I lost track of the number of times I would get distracted by some especially off-model or disproportionate drawings. The camera has that cheap, soft glow about it that makes it seem like someone smeared Vaseline on the camera. Many scenes are awkwardly punctuated by cuts that hold for a few frames too many, as if the show was stalling for time in order to pad out its obviously meager resources.
The writing is awfully sloppy, too. One of the first things Koto tells Dr. Ramune and his assistant is that none of the doctors believe that she has horrifying condiment tears, but then the show goes out of its way to explain that Koto has gotten so used to crying on command that she has forgotten how to genuinely express emotion. So…why couldn't she cry some soy sauce tears for the doctors that dismissed her? And then there's her cartoonishly terrible mother, who is a complete nightmare of a parent outside of the one schmaltzy flashback about her cooking, and she does a pretty crap job of things right up until the very last minute of the episode. We're supposed to be convinced by the sappy ending and the Dr.'s cheap platitudes that everything has been resolved now that Koto can eat a homecooked meal? Sorry, but I remain unconvinced, not only by Ramune's prognosis, but by this show's whole pitch. It's an ugly, half-baked mess of a series, and there doesn't seem to be anything going for it that would justify overlooking those flaws. This is an easy pass, for me.
So how did Kyo from Fruits Basket end up starring in this totally unrelated series? Seriously, I can't be the only one who had this reaction upon seeing the title character for the first time. He even has the signature wristband of beads. Granted, Dr. Ramune acts and dresses nothing like Kyo, but they could be alternate-world counterparts.
That aside, this is a show distinctly in the same spirit as Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation, where an odd case with possibly supernatural origins is solved by a spiritual specialist. Granted, Ramune does not use fancy exorcisms, and is quite a bit more of a fruitcake in his behavior than Muhyo is, but the darker-edged tenor of their work is about the same. Dr. Ramune also has just as deep and acute an understanding of the darker forces that drive humans to deleterious behavior and that dealing with such behavior is as much a part of the cure as any supernatural element. In that respect, the cases can be potentially fascinating.
The problem is that the series has a lot of other issues that have to be worked through (or at the very least tolerated) in order for the content to be appreciated at this level. The mother's greed pushing the child star to act when the child doesn't want to is handled in a heavy-handed fashion, and sorry, but the whole thing with crying varied condiments as a response to this is silly. Equating condiments to negative emotions is just too much of a stretch for it to be taken as seriously as the series clearly wants it to be taken. Maintaining that analogy as the girl is being threatened by necrosis just doesn't work. I had much less of an issue with Dr. Ramune turning nasty as he convinces the mother – that seemed appropriate, but the mother also made an unconvincingly drastic turn-around at the end. Even if she did see the error of her ways, that kind of abrupt attitude shift also lacks credibility. Then there's Next Episode preview indicating that a man's penis turns into a chikuwa. Riiight.
In other words, the fatal flaw of this series is tonal whiplash. The first episode is not without entertainment value – the bit about how Dr. Ramune and his assistant express emotions differently was actually somewhat funny – but so far the series has too many gimmicks working against it.
In the vein of Hell Girl, xxxHOLiC, and Phantom Tales of the Night comes Dr. Ramune: Mysterious Disease Specialist, and it doesn't quite have the guts to go where those other three series have gone. That's not to say that it won't later, or that it isn't still kind of fascinating if this type of light horror is your genre, but I really did feel let down by the end of the episode. Perhaps I shouldn't have, because it was, after all, a happy ending. But Mrs. Kashiwagi was such a reprehensible mother that even though Koto wanted things to go back to normal, it felt like a cop-out rather than a natural resolution to the issue, and if that's going to be the way the show handles things going forward, it runs the risk of undermining its own premise.
Backing up, that premise is that when your heart is troubled and lets mysterious elements in, that results in mysterious diseases. For Koto, the child actress at the center of this episode, repressing her emotions around her abusive mother leads to her crying condiments like some sort of fast-food version of the fairy tale The Kind and the Unkind Girls. (That's the one where the good daughter has pearls and gold fall from her mouth when she speaks and the bad daughter has snakes and toads fall from hers.) When no one will believe her or treat her, she ends up following a totally-not-suspicious high school boy to a very shady doctor named Dr. Ramune, the eponymous curer of mysterious diseases. He gives her some amazingly cute fish-shaped teabags and a glass teapot, which turns out to be the real medical device – the “Teapot of Loose Lips” forces her to vent her stoppered emotions. Oh, and some questionable contact lenses that almost kill her, but whatever.
The root of Koto's problem is that her mother has become addicted to spending Koto's earnings on herself while feeding her kid bargain combini bento boxes. This arguably means that the person who really needs to learn a lesson is Mrs. Kashiwagi, not Koto, because when Koto does express her emotions, her mother just gets meaner. That's what makes her sudden change of heart, after Dr. Ramune has saved Koto at the price of all of her mom's stuff, feel so artificial. Her child was literally rotting in front of her from the extremities inward and all she could do was moan about her trinkets. How is this a safe woman to leave a child with? The episode honestly would have had more impact if Mrs. Kashiwagi hadn't changed her tune.
Be that as it may, I'm still kind of fascinated by this show. (And, okay, by the fact that episode two features a guy with a chikuwa instead of a penis. I guess he has to stay away from cats…) I'll give it another couple of episodes, but the ending to this one really did bring it down, so that's something to watch out for going forward.
Anyone remember the 2019 “Netflix Original” show Ultramarine Magmell? No? Good. Nobody without a war crime to their name deserves to be subjected to it. But I was, and that miserable little pill of a show was continuously on my mind while sitting through Dr. Ramune. For those mercifully ignorant, Magmell was a horribly written, atrociously animated wet fart that pretended to be about episodic, supernatural morality plays, but was actually just an aimless and ineptly constructed time vampire. Dr. Ramune's first episode isn't quite that bad, but it is certainly cut from the same cloth.
First and foremost, this show looks like garbage. It was off to a bad start with the awkwardly proportioned, stone-faced, dead-eyed character designs, but nearly every shot in this premiere manages to make those designs look worse with every scene. Faces or bodies stretch, bend, and morph between edits in a way that never manages to look right even when technically on-model, and what little movement that's to be seen is stiff at best, laughable at worst. The direction is so flat and lifeless that nearly every frame looks like a rough draft, and any shot that haphazardly attempts to communicate perspective looks worse the longer you look at it. Combined with a generic and poorly implemented score, this premiere somehow makes The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter look competent by virtue of at least knowing how to storyboard its cleavage shots.
The writing, meanwhile, is possibly worse. Supernatural diseases are a tried and true premise, but that also means you have to get pretty weird with them to actually stand out. The concept of a girl crying mayonnaise is certainly novel to me, but it's such a laughable visual that none of the ensuing drama about her abusive showbiz mom actually lands. I shouldn't be laughing as a dead-eyed little girl's limbs turn black from necrosis, but the reason it's happening is because her magic contact lenses won't let all the soy sauce and ketchup out. She is quite literally lost in the sauce, and I'm somehow expected to take that seriously. The resolution is also the cheapest attempt at karmic retribution I've seen, and combined with the charisma vacuum who calls himself Ramune, I genuinely think I'd be happier having somebody upend a jar of mayo over my head than watch more of this show.
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