Project X Vol. #02 - Cup Noodle - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Art Rating: C+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Text/Translatin Rating: C
  • Age Rating: 3 & Up
  • Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
  • MSRP: 12.95
  • Pages: 208
  • ISBN: 1-56970-959-9
  • Size: A5
  • Orientation: Right to Left

Project X Vol. #02 - Cup Noodle

By Sakura Eries     July 24, 2006
Release Date: July 12, 2006


Project X Vol.#02 - Cup Noodle
© Digital Manga Publishing


Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Tadashi Katoh
Translated by:Sachiko Sato
Adapted by:

What They Say
In a time when the Japanese food industry was struggling economically, a man named Momofuku Andou sought to turn the tide. Seeking a new type of food for a new era, he ordered the development of a "Cup Noodle" - a revolutionary idea for a convenient instant noodle. Overcoming public skepticism as well as doubts even from those within their own company, Andou and his staff of young developers constantly challenged convention to create this new product. Behind the now proverbial cup o' noodle, which has sold over 8.2 billion worldwide, lies a dramatic story of the struggles of the men behind its success.

The Review
Packaging:
As in the first volume of the Project X Series, Cup Noodle is presented in the A5 trim size with the black and red "Project X Challengers" logo displayed prominently at the top and the purple Digital Manga Publishing logo along the bottom of the front cover. The cover art features the three key members of the Nissin Cup Noodle Team (Andou, Matsumoto, and Ohno) to the left with the Cup Noodle logo and the image of a Cup Noodle to the right against a white background. The men are drawn with determined looks on their faces in a style reminiscent of inspirational portraits. However, I found having such serious faces juxtaposed beside a huge Cup Noodle silly (even if it was their dream product).

Printed on the back cover is a two paragraph story summary in Times Roman font against an auburn background. To the center top is the "Project X Challengers" logo with a line of Cup Noodles and the Cup Noodle logo just below it. At the bottom of the back cover is rating, printing orientation, and publishers icons.

The printing is fine, and binding and materials are average. There are quite a few extras. A short bio of the mangaka is printed on the inside flap of the front cover. Also at the front of the book are a 2-page introduction from NHK Project X Chief Producer Akira Imai and two pages of character profiles. The back of the book includes an interview with Head of Noodle Development Kunio Matsumoto; 8 pages of B&W photos of the actual characters, different Cup Noodle products, and the Cup Noodle manufacturing process; and a 5-page timeline of events that puts Cup Noodle history into context with Japanese/world history.

This is the third DMP title I've reviewed, and in terms of production quality I found it to be middle of the road, falling somewhere in between Café Kichijouji's, which was gloriously slick, and Edumanga: Helen Keller's, which was somewhat lacking.

Artwork:
The artwork tells the story in a straightforward manner, and that's about it. The style used in Cup Noodle is similar to that used for Fairlady Z, but mangaka Katoh's character designs are less distinct and more bland than mangaka Yokoyama's. I had difficulty keeping the four young members of the research team straight in my head as the only differences between them were slight variations in eye squints, the presence/absence of glasses, and the cloth patterns of the bit of shirt collar poking out of their lab coats or coveralls (yes, all of them wear the exact same shirts throughout the entire story. You would think that maybe they would have at least one wardrobe change).

Backgrounds tend to be boring many of the key events take place on factory grounds or laboratories. However, as the story moves on to the marketing phase, Katoh does a decent job of capturing the flavor of the places where salesman Akiyama is trying to sell. Because the art is in black-and-white, it often does rely heavily on a combination of sound effects and text to drive the point home in this story where color and texture are so important. For example, you can't tell what the outcomes of Ohno's shrimp freeze drying experiments until he makes a comment on the color, and Matsumoto's failed noodles are drawn essentially the same as the well-cooked ones.

Text/Translation:
SFX are translated with side text that match the original style. Written text and signs are translated with overlays that match the original style. However, I noticed that English overlays are used on the Nissin factory sign and the Cup Noodle banner for Pedestrians Paradise the first time they appear only. Afterwards, they are left in the original Japanese, which I found a little strange.

Honorifics are translated into English equivalents. The English script reads satisfactorily, except that the years, which are expressed in terms of Japanese eras (i.e., Showa 45), are not translated to anno Domini (A.D.) years for Western readers. However, the translations of the producer's intro and interview seemed stilted. They also had minor grammatical errors (mainly punctuation errors) as did the author's bio. In addition, all text except for the back cover summary was entirely in capital letters. While capitals are fine for manga text, it gets annoying when you're reading a five-page table written in all capital letters.

Content:
Ah, instant noodles -- the staple of starving college students across the United States. Hard to imagine university life without this convenient and reasonably priced food source. But once upon a time, instant noodles were a foreign thing in this country...

When Momofuku Andou of struggling Nissin Foods comes to the United States in the 1960s seeking new markets for his instant noodles, he faces a cultural difference that poses a serious marketing problem: what are the Americans to put the noodles in? Unlike the Japanese, most American households at that time do not have an equivalent to the Japanese donburi bowl handy for preparing and eating such a food product. That problem becomes his inspiration for what will eventually come to the United States in 1973 as the now famous Cup O' Noodles!

Gathering his young research team at Nissin Foods, Andou challenges them with this assignment: create an instant ramen in a container that, with the addition of hot water, will provide a meal in three minutes. It is a daunting task, but spurred on by the hope of increased wages (and, for part-timer Ohno, probably the prospect of full-time work), the four researchers take it on.

Engineering such a product is not easy. Problems arise at every stage of development -- from the design of the container that must serve the multiple functions of packaging, cooking, and serving to the selection of appealing toppings to the difficulties of mass production. However, they are aided in their quest by two new inventions: Styrofoam and the freeze-drying process. The determined efforts of the team pay off, and they are able to produce the desired product that meets Andou's high standards.

But a product's no good unless a consumer is willing to purchase it. The Nissin Cup Noodle's unconventional appearance and high asking price (¥100, three times the price of a package of regular instant noodles) turns off most customers before they even try a bite. It will take all of Nissin's marketing savvy to tap into that generation of Japanese willing to buck convention for a taste of the future!

Comments
As Jarred Pine-sempai mentioned in his review of the first of DMP's Project X series (for the Datsun Fairlady Z) , Project X originally began as a NHK produced documentary series that followed the success stories of certain businesses and/or the people behind them and ran for about 5 ½ years after amassing around 180 episodes.

When I saw the title "Cup Noodle," I knew I had to pick it up. It seemed such a quirky topic, after all. The manga does a good job of telling the story of how the Cup Noodle was created. I was somewhat surprised to learn that creating an instant noodle was not part of the challenge. Andou had already achieved that goal of three-minute ramen years earlier. The Cup Noodle challenge essentially had to do with the designing the rest of the product, and, like many products, there was a lot more that went into its making than you might initially imagine. So now I know more than I ever wanted to know about history and making of fried instant ramen...

Where this manga falls short is in the human element aspect. You don't really feel like you get to know any of the characters that well. Katoh seems to attempt to make them more real by including Matsumoto's wife in the story, but it feels more like a cameo to include a female into the plot than anything else. Oddly, the character with the most presence in the story isn't any of the young upstarts but the older Andou. The Cup Noodle is his concept, he backs the research, he comes up with a number of ideas that are key to his researchers' success, he stakes his company's future on it, and he is out on the front lines marketing it. For the younger employees, their motivation seems to be primarily the promise of more money (which is understandable considering their salaries had been cut as Nissin Foods fell on hard times), but for Andou, his goals seem to be higher.

One thing that I did find humorous about the story was that Andou was promoting the Cup Noodle as not only convenient but nutritious. I haven't looked at a ramen nutrition label lately, but in more recent times, instant ramen has gotten a reputation for being high in sodium and fat (it is fried after all). This title is rated for all ages, and I really do think that this kind of manga would engage readers of all ages.

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