「調味料の涙」 (Choumiry no namida)
As I rather suspected it might be, Kai Byoui Ramune seems like a strong candidate for weirdest show of the season. It certainly stands as the leader in the clubhouse. As you know if you read or watched my preview, Dr. Ramune was the one series this winter which really qualified as a sleeper for me (since I know Kemono Jihen will be good, even if most don’t). As you’d also know I had no firm basis for that opinion, the manga being completely untranslated and virtually unreviewed – it was pure intuition. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
So did it? Well, my tentative answer is “yes” – although it’s still pretty early in the game. I can easily see this being a divisive or even downright unpopular series, much as Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge was. That show was certainly darker and more avant-garde than this one seems to be, but they’re both unapologetically surrealist – and there’s a limited appetite for surrealism in anime (and that’s indisputably even more true now). At least when it doesn’t have moe, isekai, or idol elements. Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita managed to be modestly (just) popular, but that was a flat-out comedy most of the time, with a relatively famous author and director.
The weird premise of Kai Byoui Ramune is that the titular doctor (Uchida Yuuma) – why he’s named after a child’s soda is not made clear, which I suppose is the point – specializes in fixing mysterious diseases caused by stress. Diseases which manifest themselves in manifestly weird ways, like mayonnaise or soy sauce tears. Dr. Ramune may or may not be a Shinto priest, but he does seem to live at a shrine. He’s assisted by what appears to be a middle-school boy named Kuro (Nagatsuka Takauma), who’s as impassive as the doctor is wildly expressive. Exactly what their relationship is who knows, though there could be a familial element to it.
The format will apparently be a bizarre case of the week (the next one looks like a doozy), with the first being a young child actress named Koto who cries the aforementioned tears. And ketchup, and tonkatsu sauce, et al. The condiments stand in for the emotions she’s forced to suppress by her abominable stage mom, who’s evolved from a loving mother into someone who sees her daughter as the golden goose laying sweet, sweet eggs all over the house.
This story is played pretty broadly, but it does make an important point. And it’s one which I suspect is central to the series’ premise. To wit, that emotional health is every bit as physiologically manifested as any physical condition, and if abused, will bite us in the ass in profound and debilitating ways. In Japan especially, being the galactic center of passive aggressiveness and stoicism in the face of overwork and emotional abuse that it is, one could easily see this sort of thing being an epidemic which erupted like a centuries-dormant Mount Fuji. With mayonnaise lava and pyroclastic ketchup…
Clearly, Dr. Ramune is not going to be for everybody. It’s probably not going to be for most people. But so far at least I’m buying what it’s selling. It’s a weird and absurdist premise that has a certain resonance, and it appears to be executed with full abandon (as it would need to be in order to work). As always the caveat is I have no idea whether this formula has staying power, and whether the execution by the relatively unknown staff will be up to the challenge. But I like surrealism and pointed strangeness, and so far I like Kai Byoui Ramune.