Our second week of Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is one sure to continue giving tourism agencies in Fukuoka a headache, though not as big of a migraine as last week. The story’s fascination in Hakata, Fukuoka has been in a bind lately where it is unsure whether to glamorize the regional delicacies such as spicy cod roe and the title drop, or if they want to turn an otherwise calm, suburban city into a red light district full of strip clubs and assassination agencies with names as silly as Murder Inc., which sound like either a Saturday morning cartoon villain’s syndicate or a mid-90’s rap label. But with Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens‘s second episode, they make a strong case for these crime syndicates doing much worse than just killing.
One of the unluckier characters on the show is Saitou, the series’ equivalent of Rock from Black Lagoon, whose foray into assassination jobs has been marred by getting mistakenly identified as one of the mayor’s son’s friends by Jirou and his torturer friend Jose. Jirou lets him go, apologizing for his confusion, but Saitou’s bad luck goes beyond this as his payday for the killing he never did bites him in the rear after he wakes up with a dead woman in his bed. On top of everything that will go down now that he’s the one who was caught in bed with someone who just made the news, the woman turned out to be Xianming’s sister, Qiaomei, who was arranged to be trafficked to the mayor’s son so he can stay out of the public eye. If the assassins that would want Saitou’s head after the set-up won’t get him, Xianming will most certainly try to hunt him down.
Let’s get some of the episode’s good merits out of the way; the chemistry between Xianming and Banba was great in the episode as Banba’s chill method of trying to lower Xianming’s guard bounces off well with the no-nonsense demeanor Xianming carries with him. There are also some fun characters within the narrative as well with Jose casually mentioning how he gets paid to do odd-jobs for people (like punch Xianming in the face to get the blonde guy from the last episode back) whenever the torture jobs he enjoys doing dries up. Jirou was also interesting in how he completely dropped everything to apologize to Saitou after the misunderstanding, as if it was just a big goof-up. And in general, Xianming is a fascinating character to follow as his life story is compelling, and the revenge story that is being set-up promises a good pay-off for Xianming to kill through the bigger bastards in the show. The ED is also very cool as a jazzy instrumental number with visuals that are reminiscent of “Tank!” from Cowboy Bebop.
And now, for the most dubious part of the episode. There was a part in Stilts’ Darling in the Franxx impression where he mentions a character being “stuffed in a fridge”, a term that describes women in fiction who are created to be killed off as a plot device. In Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, Qiaomei is the textbook definition of a fridged character. At first, she described as just being separated from Xianming until he’s able to pay off a debt. However, her on-screen debut outside of the picture Xianming keeps in his wallet is her being sold to the mayor’s son, who straps her to his bed as he gets ready to rape and kill her. Her corpse is then shoved in Saitou’s bed after he blacked out to frame him for her death, and is broadcast on the news as icing on the cake for Xianming’s employer to brag about how he arranged for his sister to be killed. It makes for Xianming’s story of trying to see his sister again to be a revenge story where he kills through his old employers, but what does it make Qiaomei? She’s given very little to work with, and unlike John Wick, where we’re given reasons to care for his late wife and why his dog’s murder would piss him off, Qiaomei is treated like an object throughout the past two episodes whether it is as a photo, as a victim of human trafficking to be raped and murdered, as a corpse to be posed in someone’s bed, or as an image to be flaunted on the news. She merely exists in the show as a symbol, an icon, a device, and a tool to propel Xianming’s role in the plot into high gear.
I’d hope at the very least she’d be given more significance to Xianming’s life with flashbacks to flesh out what she meant to him, but we were given very little time to grow attached enough to Qiaomei to get as infuriated as Xianming. At most, we’re infuriated because the mayor’s son is the only character that most of the audience would hope is tortured violently and brutally, but is that what we should be angry about? Should the only notable aspect about Qiaomei’s demise be that it makes the mayor’s son and the assassins helping him look like even huger bastards? Shouldn’t we be more upset with her dying because of what Xianming remembers her for rather than what she were to become? Hopefully, the show will do more justice to Xianming and Qiaomei’s past together as the former’s past is still compelling. It just needed that human layer of telling us beforehand why he felts strongly about paying off the debt to free him and his sister.
ED: 「Dirty Bullet」 by Tri4th