5 Point Discussions – Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens 5: “Tryouts”

by Sage Ashford

Zenji Banba is a private eye that’s teamed up with Lin Xianming, a Chinese hitman.  What sort of insanity will they get into in the city of Hakata, the city of killers?  Remember, if you like this article and 5 Point Discussions, please share it on Facebook or Twitter! It really helps. And if you’ve got any comments or questions, please hit me up @SageShinigami.

Hi guys, and welcome to a new version of 5 Point Discussions. For the remainder of the season I’ll be covering a new series, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens. Adapted from an Dengeki Novel Award-winning light novel, HTR is the newest series out of animation studio Satelight. Satelight does a lot of anime, but some of my favorite they’re known for include Log Horizon, Senki Zesshou Symphogear, and for nearly two decades now the Macross franchise. 

I’m jumping right into the latest episode, so if you missed the first four, here’s a brief recap: Hakata is a city full of hitmen and assassins, but one guy stands above them all as the hitman’s hitman, Zenji Banba.  Banba runs into Lin Xianming, a crossdressing Chinese hitman who’s trying to pay off a debt to save his little sister. After the people Lin work for sell his sister to a sadistic monster, he teams up with Banba and his friends to go on the kind of murder spree that could only happen in anime…or a Tarantino flick.  Then afterwards they all played baseball.  No, seriously:

Toldja. Last episode ended the first volume of the light novel, making this a nice jumping-on point if you’re curious about this frankly great series.

1. The first thing I noticed once I volunteered to write recaps for this series and began looking at it more critically is that HTR is less about how cool it is to be a hitman, and instead about how being one can be just as mundane as every other job out there.   Case in point: Kazuki Saito is a guy that was absolutely terrible at his job while he worked for Redrum, Inc–he only got the job because he embellished a story about -almost- killing a guy during a baseball game, and never committed a single murder while he was there–but since he quit the job without actually explaining why, the company puts a hit out on him. Because who walks out on a company of professional murderers without doing an exit interview?

2. Equally important in HTR’s underworld is developing a good working relationship with other people in the industry. The same time Kazuki Saito’s “termination” is being discussed, in another room a different hitman is having issues with his current assignments and having issues proving his worth to the top brass of the company.  Saruwatari Shunsuke is a relatively new hitman who’s decided to leave Redrum, Inc. because the company keeps giving him targets that are too easy. That sounds insane, but people do quit their jobs because they aren’t challenging enough all the time.

The funny part here is that his boss is technically right. Though Shunsuke levels up over the course of this episode, that doesn’t happen until he develops his first connection with an old high school friend that grew up and became a hitman’s consultant. Like most jobs, connections are everything.

3. I did say they ended the last episode by playing baseball, but even I didn’t think we’d be returning to that well particularly often. Still, when we join the main cast this week they’re taking a train to Kashii for a practice game. Fortunately for an anti-sports anime person like myself, they don’t spend a lot of time on this bit, and it’s mostly used as set up for an argument between Lin and Banba. Since Lin’s life has mostly been focused around being a hitman, he’s obviously pretty terrible at actually playing baseball.   Eventually, his mistakes lead to the other team gaining a sizable lead in the ninth inning, which results in Banba giving him some rather solid advice for baseball…and life.

Still, the argument results in Lin being pretty ticked at Banba for most of the episode, and he solves it by going on a shopping spree for new outfits. (Which is fine, he’s been wearing the same schoolgirl-esque outfit for four episodes now. Switch it up.) One thing I love about HTR is that it’s so delightfully queer and it’s never a big deal. Lin’s a man who feels comfortable in women’s clothing and no one ever really says much about it.  Banba may have a thing for him, or he may just like making as many friends as possible, who knows? Jiro and Jose are both gay and seem to be raising a child together, NBD.  There’s nothing wrong with making a queer show and having it make statements over its run, but in an era where “everything is political”, there’s equally nothing wrong with putting forward a cast like this and just making it seem normal…because that’s what it’s supposed to be.

4. Back with Shunsuke and his friend Naoya Nitta (which feels like the Japanese equivalent of Peter Parker or Bruce Banner), Shunsuke’s learning one of the key methods of rising up in the hitman world: a gimmick. When Banba goes out as the infamous Niiwaka Samurai (the hitman of hitmen), he wears a mask and uses a katana.  So Naoya suggests that Shunsuke use ninja weaponry and develop his own persona.

He also gives Shunsuke a list of hitmen and suggests he kill a few of them to get his name out. It makes sense from Shunsuke’s perspective because he mentioned wanting to be challenged more, but at the same time I can’t help wondering why there aren’t protections in place for this. Because Shunsuke’s a hot-headed child who looks at being a hitman as more of a thrill-seek than a proper job, he kills everyone on Naoya’s list; surely there should be some kind of agreement amongst hitmen that they can only be killed in certain circumstances? Otherwise what’s to stop a major organization from wiping out every other hitman that isn’t contracted to them?

Still, Shunsuke succeeds in getting his name up and as such is given a top-ranked contract: taking out the Niiwaka Samurai, who recently attacked a gang consisting of ex-Chinese mafia and Yakuza members. Well, at this point the guy’s either about to get murdered or become a part of the cast.

5. Kaizuki Saito’s rescue: When the hitman sent to kill Saito comes to Hakata, the very first person he meets is Enokida, who seems to be the information king of the city of Fukuoka. In the last arc, Enokida sold out Lin as he was attempting to avenge his sister, but it seemed to be only in order to save his life.

…Or so we thought. In actuality, it seems like Enokida will sell out anyone for the right price, and immediately sells the location of Saito’s home to the hitman trying to kill him.  Immediately afterwards, he calls Saito and informs him about it. It feels slimy, but it’s actually a pretty solid little side hustle for a character that, as far as we know, isn’t directly responsible for any deaths at all. He makes his cash, counts on the people he works with to be competent enough not to get killed by scrubs, everyone wins.

In this case though, Saito is a total scrub; the dude was never meant to be a hitman in the first place, and at this point just hangs out with them because…well, hitmen need friends too. (That’s the real point of this show, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)  He just barely gets the message from Enokida that someone’s trying to kill him, which results in a chase scene as he waits for Lin to reach his location on the railway. It’s a tough battle, but some advice Lin remembers from baseball practice with Banba saves both his and Saito’s life. For now, at least.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.