For hyperactivity, crazy fights, hero team parody, and all-out laughs, Ramen Fighter Miki - excuse the pun, I can't think of any other way to say this - delivers.
What They Say:
In a world where terror grips the land, one girl walks the line between life and death to bring her own special brand of... ramen. Miki Onimaru works at her mother's ramen shop, making deliveries, waiting tables, and attracting customers with cute, girlish charm. But somehow, Miki can't complete even one of these simple tasks without her bone-crunching, skull-splitting martial arts. Can Miki get through the day without messing up and angering her mom, who makes her look like a gentle kitten in comparison?
What We Say:
Miki is a show with a simple stereo mix that handles dialogue (mainly yelling) and sound effects (mostly people getting whacked and stuff breaking) in a pretty straightforward style with moments of directionality supplied as needed. Even the most chaotic situations, which aren't particularly rare now that I think about it, have good separation and everything comes through clearly. Pretty basic, really, but it works just fine.
Ramen Fighter Miki is one of the few recent shows that has not bowed the knee to the decadent widescreen format, and presents itself in an honest, clean-living, full frame aspect ratio. Being a recent show, it has pretty much pristine source materials and the transfer lets them shine. Colours look bright and clear; the image is sharp; the few darker moments stay pretty solid. There might be just a hint of artifacting during moments of furious speedlines, but I couldn't make up my mind about that. The live action extras don't look quite so good, but that's almost certainly due to the cameras they were shot with. Subtitles are nice and easy to read, which is important here as there's no English dub. I was very pleased with the way this looked.
There are some cover images that seem to say, "This is what you've been waiting for. This is the show that will forever change the way you look at anime." Ramen Fighter Miki isn't that kind of series and doesn't have that kind of cover image. Instead, it just has the major characters looking as happy as you'll look when you watch the show. The three discs come housed in their original cases inside a thin cardboard box. All of these feature some nice character art; the third case gets the advantage here due to sporting the hilarious Hell's Bunny costumes. All of the discs feature the information you expect to find on singles: write-up, technical grid, etc. With this being an economy collection that compiles the original release, it's about what you'd expect.
The menu of each disc takes its design cues from the images on the cases, so there's definitely some good continuity in that department. Selections are generally presented as the text on covered bowls of ramen, a touch I liked particularly. The subtitles default to "on", so you probably won't even need to visit the setup menu at all, and jumping right in is that much easier. The one thing I could point to as less than perfect is that the scene selection menu is a little sluggish. But this is because all of the selections are available on a single page, and I'd have to say the convenience of that counterbalances an extra second or so of access time perfectly. Only the epidodes themselves are labled on the selection menu, but if you've ever seen a TV show's selection menu before you'll know exactly what's what and where's where. A basic approach with a couple of good touches is the verdict.
Miki is a show with a couple more extras that you'd ordinarily see with such a short series, and they're pretty offbeat ones at that. It does of course come with clean opening and closing sequences, always welcome but especially so here since the opening is just a blast. The unusual extras are found on the first and third discs and two go under the title "Voice Actor Fight". These are longish segments featuring the two main voice actresses, as they carry their onscreen rivalry into real life through various competitions. The first of these is a simple jenga match that drags on and on because the players are allowed to take pieces too close to the top. A somewhat better watch is the third disc's segment, because there's a better variety of games played and they're edited for shorter running time. They're filmed pretty well with multiple cameras, so they never get too boring, and sometimes the voice-over narration is worth a giggle or two. I guess these are sort of interesting, if you like the idea; I personally doubt if I'll be watching them again, and I don't think I would have finished the Jenga game if I hadn't had to. But the best extra is easily the full opening sequence for the show within the show: "Star Rangers". Or at least, it would have been easily the best extra if the song had been subtitled. Oh well. It's still pretty fun to watch.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Trying to talk about a show like Ramen Fighter Miki makes you realize just how inadequate most adjectives are. I could tell you the show is a high-energy comedy. But if I say "high-energy" you'll just think of cheerleaders, or Gatorade commercials, or something, and that's not the right idea at all. Watching Ramen Fighter Miki is more like opening a Pepsi can that's fallen down all the stairs in the Washington monument: it takes your breath away, it's tremendously entertaining while it lasts, and it's over far, far too quickly.
Genres are just as inadequate as adjectives for describing Miki. I could say it's a fighting show parody, but that would be overstating the case. Sure, it's going to have parody: almost anything can go in as long as it's funny. It's really very similar to Looney Tunes, just with a little more continuity between episodes. It has the same emphasis on exaggerated physical action and unflagging speed. It has the same affinity for chases, fights, pratfalls, clobberings and rug-yanking misdirection. It even uses the same wappity-wappity sound effect when characters come skidding to a halt.
The format of the show is an unusual one, and one that fits the the show's style and approach perfectly. Each episode is divided exactly in half, with each half of the show getting a story unto itself. The shorter running time keeps the comedy compressed - this is its way of shaking the Pepsi can. The setting is also compressed - action is limited to a small shopping arcade "and environs", as the travel books say. It is within these limits that some very good and sometimes brilliant comedy is produced.
Most of the time the eye of the storm is, appropriately, the main character, though this is by no means set in stone. The main character is of course Miki herself. Miki has an almost fathomless ability to get into trouble - an invaluable skill in a show like this, at least from the audience's point of view. She spends most of her time making deliveries for her mother's ramen restaurant. Or rather, doing everything under the sun except make the deliveries, and then getting pounded for not making them. In some instances she has a good excuse, such as fighting for her life. Miki is...shall we say, a forthright young lady, and has made her share of enemies. Her most relentless one is Megumi. She runs the bread shop that competes with the ramen place come lunchtime, so there's a professional as well as a personal angle to the rivalry. Their personalities are diametrically opposed. Megumi is sneaky where Miki is direct, demure (at least superficially) where Miki is spunky. Her weapons of choice are wooden skewers, which she pinches between her fingers like Wolverine's claws and throws as darts. Whenever the two see each other sparks are sure to fly. Considering that Megumi's bread shop is across the street, this happens pretty often.
But there's a lot more to the show than the Miki/Megumi rivalry. Other challengers (and unwitting distractions) arise to bar the way of the two-fisted ramen delivery girl. There's a guy who apparently has a score to settle with Miki from their school days, even if she can't even remember his name now. There's Toshiyuki the monster dog and the little girl who takes him for walks (even if he usually ends up taking her for runs). Or there might be a baseball game in the vicinity. It doesn't take much to get Miki off track.
And to a certain extent that goes for the other characters as well. One of best things about the show is that each character has a nearly complete lack of proportion in at least one area. This even holds true for the straight man character. He runs the produce shop next door to Miki's ramen place, and is about as close to normal as you're going to get in a show like this. But even he has his weakness: he's a rabid fan of the Star Rangers television show. The fruits (ha, ha!) of this infatuation are that the fictional reality of the Star Rangers is allowed to protrude into Miki's world at several points - many of which provided some of my favourite material in the show. (I'm sure the strong Shinesman vibe I picked up didn't hurt it any there.) Almost as good is the other "serious" character, a teacher with a sense of responsibility so strong that she's plunged into suicidal despair when one lone student plays hookey. Depression hasn't been this funny since Marvin the paranoid android.
The depressed teacher brings up another side to the show that helps it work so well. It's not something I would have expected to find in a slapstick comedy series about crazy people fighting for very little reason. The show is, on the whole, nice. The characters may be total nutjobs; they may plot and scheme; they may try to maim one another on a daily basis. But when the chips are down, they try to help people out. When they find out the teacher really is suicidal, they cheer her up. Of course, being the sort of people they are - the kind that have no sense proportion - they might not always help out in the best possible way. Teaching a hooligan how to write better graffiti is not really going to do any good in the long run. But it's the thought (or lack thereof) that counts. Their brains are missing in action, but their hearts are in the right place.
Ramen Fighter Miki has one other attribute that made it stand out to me; I've saved the best for last. It has a nearly perfect visual sense. Its ability to show physical action is at a level I haven't seen a televison series achieve in some time. Take the fighting scenes. They're crazy and silly and exaggerated within an inch of their lives - but they're good fights. This extends even to the opening credits. I assume Miki's opening is a parody of a fighting show opening. At the same time, I think a fighting show would thank its lucky stars if it had an opening like this one. As with the battles, so with the gags. The imaginative dexterity that they show is nothing short of astonishing. This show has so much imagination in it that...well, I was going to say "that it's not even funny" but that isn't an appropriate phrase here. It can be almost unbearably funny. There's one shot in particular that sticks in my mind. Miki is facing one of her challengers. The challenger has decided that Miki's weakness is trains. He has conditioned himself to fight like a train. The two fighters hurtle towards each other. Miki realises his technique and decides to match it. Imagination becomes reality: the two combatants morph into trains speeding directly towards one another. Then - no, you'll have to find out what happens for yourself. Suffice it to say that the encounter ends with one of the most impossible shots I've ever seen in my life.
Ramen Fighter Miki is simply one of the best recent comedies I've come across. It won't be for all tastes, of course. Some people will find it too lightweight, or too hyper, or perhaps both. Episode quality can vary, though none of them dip below medium good. Not all the gags hit the mark, but a surprisingly high number do considering how many there are; and there were several bullseyes that left me literally gasping for breath. I'd feel more comfortable calling it a parody of a fighting show if it weren't so skilled with its action scenes; you get the idea the staff could have made a perfectly good Street Fighter type of series if they'd felt like it. (Though now that I think of it, there's more fighting in the street than you tend to see in Street Fighter.) But when you add comedy this good to all the action, you get something that I wouldn't willingly miss. I suspect far too many people will miss it; but with this cheap collection in stores and a free stream online, they have no one to blame but themselves if they do. I can only hold out the hope that this finds its way into as many hands as possible. The fighting is a blast, the comedy is a riot, and I am perfectly satisfied.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Textless closing, Voice Actor Fight! Finale, Voice Actor Battle
Sony 35" KV-35XBR88 SDTV, Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player (via generic component), Yamaha RX-V550 DD/DTS Receiver, Infinity Primus C25 and 150 speakers.