That’s one way to get around the censors.
Sometimes the fit is as important as intrinsic quality (which is hard to quantify anyway) in determining whether we like a series. I’m certainly not ready to commit to Koi Byoui Ramune yet, but after two episodes I can confidently say that its weird aesthetic is working for me. And while it doesn’t sport a flashy studio or staff pedigree, it has a pretty sharp sense of style that’s been on display in its first two episodes. I don’t know exactly what we have here, but it’s interesting – and there are signs it’s only going to get more so.
Interestingly the premise here is somewhat similar here to the first serialized work of Kemono Jihen’s Aimotou Shou, Hokenshitsu no Shinigami. That was a series about a middle school nurse who cured (and attracted) byouma, curse-diseases more or less. The tone was certainly different and Dr. Ramune puts a different slant on it, but there are elements of crossover that point to the importance this sort of thing plays in Japan’s Shinto-infused culture. It’s not insignificant that Ramune-sensei appears to be a Shinto priest (he lives at a shrine anyway), as Shinto folklore is all over the cases we’ve seen so far.
This time around the victim patient is Kengou, a serial Lothario who’s juggling seven different women (all of whom, crucially, have their own rings). It’s funny but as soon as Kengou showed up I thought “that looks like a guy Kenn would play”, and lo and behold, so he did. One of them is the waitress at the shokudo Ramune and Kuro frequent, who also happens to be someone Ramune has his eye on himself (he seemingly falls in love at first sight a lot). The doc doesn’t know that when the guy comes in for his consultation for a unique problem – his penis has turned into a chikuwa (a kind of fish-cake that’s shaped roughly like a- well…). No wonder six hospitals turned him away.
As Dr. Ramune says, sometimes the body sends us a hint as a warning to change our behavior. But ultimately of course it’s up to us whether we accept it or not. This is a recurring theme with Koi Byoui Ramune, clearly – the ails of the soul are often manifest in the body, and we ignore them at our peril. As with the child actor case from the premiere this isn’t played out with a tremendous amount of subtlety, but I don’t think that’s really the point. These are adult folk tales really, and the moral in folk tales is easy to spot by design.
Ramune is no angel of mercy, to be sure. At Kengou’s insistence he cheerfully offers him a palliative – a furoshiki which has the power to mask any condition (even a chikuwa penis). But it masks with lies, which of course only make the actual condition worse in the long run. And transferring the sickness to another more visible but less cringey body part is another palliative of sorts. Only by confronting the condition head-on can Kengou lose his chikuwa, and the only way he can do that is by coming clean to the girls he’s been screwing both literally and karmically. And even then, it only works if the act meant something to him.
This is interesting stuff but I think it needs to be taken in the spirit it’s intended – that is as a modern folktale, told in surrealist fashion. I’m happy to do so, and I’m also inclined to believe (the ED certainly suggests it) that there’s a story behind the connection between Ramune-sensei and Kuro-kun which could add a layer of emotional depth to the narrative. Even the epilogue this week suggests at the recurring plot, with a couple of seemingly regular characters making their debuts. Koi Byoui Ramune has niche written all over it, but if you happen to fall into that niche sometimes those shows can be the most interesting.