Monday, March 26, 2007

Review: Project X: Cup Noodle

Project X: Cup NoodleThree different manga read over the weekend, each quite different from each other and at the same time the sort of comics that you just don't see being produced on this side of the ocean. I'll be spreading out the reviews over the week.

First up is Project X: Cup Noodle (DMP, $12.95).

I'd heard that one popular manga category in Japan is salaryman manga, i.e. manga intended to appeal to Japan's white collar work force. I'm not sure if Project X: Cup Noodle is explicitly a salaryman manga, but I imagine that it's close.

Adapted by Tadashi Katoh from an episode of a television program, it relates the more-or-less true story of how the Nissin Foods Corporation developed the extremely popular Cup Noodle product. During an economic downturn in the 1970s, Nissin President Momofuku Andou came up with the idea for a portable version of their popular Ramen instant noodles. He assembled a team of engineers and set them to the task.

While the manga does a good job of telling the story and presenting the facts, it is mostly absent of any sort of narrative drive or emotion. Will the engineers develop a cup design that will insulate and allow for the noodles to be cooked all the way through? Will they find a shrimp that stays red through the freeze-drying process? Will they convince a skeptical public of the superiority of the Cup Noodle, even though it costs 100 yen? The answer of course is yes to all of those questions, and the outcome is never in doubt. Despite a couple of attempts to show the home lives of the engineers, an emotional connection is never formed.

Katoh's art and storytelling is workmanlike, fine but uninspiring; it gets the job done.

I suppose that one's ultimate reaction to the story will depend on one's opinion of the role of large corporations in the capitalist system. Some will read the story as a triumph of work and ideas in bringing a product to market and creating wealth for the corporation. Others will feel a bit sad and sorry for the engineers who labor under the direction of the management, and upon succeeding are happy to receive only a salary increase.

Project X: Cup Noodle achieves its basic aims; after reading it I knew about how the Cup Noodle was developed. But as an enjoyable story experience it falls short.

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

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