OP: 「ストレイ」 (Stray) by Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets
「プレイボール」 (Purei baaru)
It’s a killer’s playground in the town of Hakata, Fukuoka, according to this Winter’s Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, and it’s starting out so far with an intriguing web of mystery as our leading detective Banba is tasked to look into how deep the thread unravels in the criminal underworld of hired killers. He’s got quite the task ahead of him as the overly obvious Red Rum Inc. is an organized hitman association in disguise that is interlinked with a mayor’s inner circle.
The investigation Banba takes is made all the more interesting when we shift perspectives to the rest of the anime’s ensemble cast with a slew of hackers, hitmen, and con artists making up a majority of our key players. Banba’s friends, hacker Enokida and pickpocketer Yamato help him gather information on a mysterious suicide that is tied to a specific picture of a mayor. In the process, other hitmen are tangled up in the mess with Reiko helping spearhead many of the assassination jobs to protect the mayor, her reckless son using his parents’ connections to get away with murder and beating up a foreigner, Jirou getting paid by the foreigner’s friend to kill the son’s friends who lynched him, and Saito committing himself to a new profession of being a professional hitman only for his efforts to go awry once he crossed paths with Jirou.
Our most fleshed out character so far is one who has the largest stake in untangling these threads, Xianming. His killing of a bartender who was seen in a picture with the mayor and the short-change he got when his next target was already assassinated make him somewhat knowledgeable of the circumstances behind what Banba has been investigated. On top of that, the ending scene shifts Xianming’s priorities as he’d rather work with Banba rather than kill him like he was originally supposed to do. He also has a personal issue of his own to investigate as he wants to try to find his long-lost sister, giving him a goal to reach in the long run.
The only issue with Xianming is how his penchant for crossdressing is brushed off rather easily. That’s not to say that every depiction of crossdressing must pull the viewer aside to have a long conversation about the complexity of trans identity in society, but at this point in time, it feels more like a gimmick to have a crossdressing assassin for the coolness factor than anything significant to Xianming himself. I think it’s the quickness for him to go “Don’t get it twisted, I’m a guy!” that makes it feel like the decision to have him crossdress is merely to make him look more intimidating. On the same coin, it might also be to make any prospective ship-teasing with Banba look kinda straight, and Xianming is more or less considered to be one of the protagonists, so it’s not like he’s as villanous as other characters who share the distinction of being crossdressing killers.
But on the whole, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is shaping up to be a slick, unique thrill-ride through the lives of assassins as they get tangled up into a web of conspiracy through their connections with a corrupt mayor political ambitions. It will be interesting to see how Banba and Xianming work together through an investigation, what’s going to happen with Saito now that he’s been abducted by Jirou, how the rest of the house of cards will tumble as assassins get entangled with other assassins, and whether the opportunistic samurai will come to visit anyone in our cast.