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Food, art, and exclusive merch are part of love letter to one of the most popular anime of all time, and totally worth a six-hour wait for a table.
At the height of its popularity, Ranma 1/2, the story of a teenage martial artist who changes from male to female with a splash of cold water, was just about the biggest thing in the anime and manga world. But creator Rumiko Takahashi’s manga finished serialization in 1996, and the last Ranma 1/2 TV episode aired in 1992. In the minds of many younger anime fans the series has been displaced by Takahashi’s subsequent franchise Inuyasha, which features some similar character dynamics and storytelling tropes, so if I’m being totally honest, I didn’t expect the Ranma 1/2 Cafe, which just opened in Tokyo this last weekend, to be all that crowded.
Then I showed up at the restaurant, and was told the wait for a table would be six hours.
So suffice it to say that there are apparently a lot of people who fondly remember Ranma. Luckily, the staff doesn’t expect you to stand in line for a literal quarter of a day. Instead, they’ll give you a numbered ticket and an approximate seating time, and if you register your email address or Line messaging app ID, you’ll receive a message when your table is expected to open up within the next 30 minutes. I got my ticket around 1:30, and my Line message came in at just about 7 p.m.
Luckily, there’s an adjacent pop-up store selling all sorts of limited-edition Ranma merchandise, which is a pretty ideal way to kill some of that incredibly long wait time.
However, on the limited-time cafe’s opening day (January 6), the early afternoon crowd was so huge that there was even a line to get into the shop, with about 40 people in a 30-minute queue that stretched half-way down the stairs to the lower floor of the department store that houses the Ranma 1/2 Cafe.
Once inside, though, there’s some very cool stuff for sale, like this whiteboard that lets you flip through various Ranma character art and word balloon shapes to find the perfect combination for the message you want to write.
Before wading through all the merchandise, though, let’s flash forward to the cafe itself.
The venue for the Ranma 1/2 Cafe is The Guest, a restaurant in the Ikebukuro branch of department store Parco which rotates between different themes. For its current tie-up, the interior is decked out with all sorts of large-scale character artwork and manga panels covering the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Monitors play clips from the anime adaptation, while Ranma theme and character songs stream out of the speakers, with the music occasionally stopping so that the anime’s first episode can be played, with audio, in its entirety.
▼ The place mat is yours to take home with you.
The menu is a mix of recreations of food that actually appears in the source material, such as the ramen served at the Cat Cafe, and original creations inspired by characters and memorable scenes from the series. While the ramen, which can be ordered with an optional VR headset introduction, was tempting, I couldn’t resist the urge to try the series’ two extreme endpoints of culinary skills: the okonomiyaki made by Ukyo (Ranma’s fiance who runs her own restaurant) and the curry made by Akane (Ranma’s other fiance who’s one of anime’s all-time worst cooks).
The okonomiyaki (600 yen [US$5.35]) comes on a comically oversized spatula, though not quite as big as the one that Ukyo uses as a weapon. A random message of love (like the ones the character writes to Ranma) is drizzled in mayonnaise across the top. Kansai-style okonomiyai like this usually has a variety of extra ingredients mixed into the batter, but the Ranma 1/2 Cafe keeps things simple, as its okonomiyaki is a pretty plain pancake with a pleasingly sweet sauce that makes it a nice snack/side dish.
Next up: Akane’s Training Cooking (1,290 yen), based on a storyline in which Akane accompanies fiance Ranma and his father into the mountains on a training mission, and makes curry for dinner.
Despite Akane’s status as one of anime’s all-time worst cooks, it actually doesn’t look half-bad. Sure, the unsliced beet, still with its leafy stem, is something I’ve never seen in curry before, but aside from that, the carrots, potatoes, chicken, and eggplant were all perfectly normal and tasty curry elements, and the roux was flavorful with a mildly spicy kick.
But read the menu’s description carefully, and you’ll learn that this is a recreation of Akane’s curry before the addition of her secret ingredients, which are served on the side. So if you want the curry’s canon flavor, you’ll need to pour in the salt, mayonnaise, and vinegar (yes, straight-up vinegar).
Only then can you truly experience Ranma’s pain for yourself!
▼ Akane, you dummy!
…still not quite as bad as desserts with diced tuna, though.
Thankfully, a pair of desserts were on their way to get rid of the bad taste Akane’s cooking had assaulted me with.
A quick glance around the restaurant showed that the P-chan No Sense of Directions Pancakes (1,290 yen), named for the pint-sized pig that directionally challenged character Ryoga transforms into, are the most popular item on the menu, and with good reason. They’re the spitting image of the adorable mascot character, and as a nod to how easily Ryoga gets lost, they come with a sata andagi fried pastry from Okinawa (Japan’s southernmost prefecture) and a cup of Yubari melon gelatin, made with the representative fruit of Hokkaido (Japan’s northernmost prefecture).
▼ Footprints made of dusted cocoa powder
The angular accents (P-chan’s eye, ears, and bandana) are made of extremely bland wafers. The rest of the plate, though, is deliciously flavorful. The two-stack of pancakes is glazed with a chocolate cream that’s sweeter than its jet-black color suggests, but doesn’t overpower the natural pancake flavor of the fluffy flapjacks.
▼ Messy eaters beware: the chocolate cream will definitely leave its color behind if you get any on your fingers or clothes.
The P-chan pancake plate is a pretty filling dessert combo, but with stomach space for just one more dessert, the Romance Fortune-telling Sakura Mochi Parfait (1,190 yen) filled the role of the meal’s finale.
Like the Training Cooking, this is another based-on-a-scene-from-the-manga dish, but with a few creative liberties. In one chapter, Akane makes a batch of sakura mochi confectionaries, which have the ability to make cherry blossom marks appear on the face of the man destined to be her true love after he eats one. The Ranma 1/2 Cafe took this inspiration to create a parfait with sakura ice cream, sakura mochi, matcha green tea warabi mochi, and granola.
▼ The sakura mochi here is Kansai-style, as opposed to the Kanto-style that appear in the manga chapter in question.
In the manga, Akane’s hand-made sakura mochi taste, of course, terrible. But unlike the Training Cooking, there’re no unpleasant optional surprises here (though the sakura ice cream does have a bit of an unexpected coconut flavor to it). This is just an outstanding Japanese-style parfait, and worth ordering even if it doesn’t quite have as strong a connection to the Ranma 1/2 theme as some of the other items on the menu.
By the way, don’t feel bad if you show up as a solo diner. Along the counter where parties of one are sat are some Ranma figures to keep you company, sort of like how Pikachu used to sit with unaccompanied patrons at the Pokémon Cafe.
▼ Gosunkugi, as usual, goes almost entirely unnoticed.
Okay, now let’s head back over to the shop. Remember how I said there was a line to get in during the afternoon? The crowd tapered off during the evening, and at 7 p.m., you could just walk right in.
Coming later in the day carries the risk that some items might be sold out (on opening day, the store ran out of okonomiyaki spatulas sometime between 1 and 7), but it also means that you can actually move around the interior freely and compare one item to another as you struggle with the economic dilemma of limited resources and unlimited Ranma merchandise desires.
▼ Manga post-it notes
▼ Serving plate
▼ Plastic clear files
▼ Hand mirrors
Since hot and cold water serve as transformation triggers for Ranma and about a half-dozen members of the cast, the shop also sells coffee mugs and towels with patterns that change when in contact with hot or cold liquid.
▼ Need a beverage for your new Ranma 1/2 mug? There’s a whole line of flavored character teas.
For big spenders, there’s even a Ranma 1/2 Yokosuka jacket, with retro-style embroidery, for 36,000 yen, which more than a few cafe customers were proudly sporting.
▼ The P-chan canvas bag sums up Ryoga’s internal monologue for roughly half his scenes.
▼ Outside the shop are gatcha capsule toy vending machines selling keychains and pins, and which don’t require you to wait in the shop admission line to use.
But while hitting the shop later in the day is a smart move, you’ll still want to show up early to get your seating ticket. The cafe caps seating at 200 parties per day, and when I got my ticket at 1:30, I was already number 181. So really, the best plan is to head to the cafe early in the day, get your ticket, go do some sightseeing, and come back to shop before your projected seating time. Granted, that kind of splits your day up into two separate parts, but considering this is the Ranma 1/2 Cafe, that kind of duality is pretty appropriate.
Ranma 1/2 Cafe / らんま1/2カフェ
Venue: The Guest Café and Diner
Address: Tokyo-to, Toshima-ku, Minami Ikebukuro 1-28-8, Ikebukuro Parco Main Building, 7th floor
Open 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Until February 25