A Cooler Coke: Hata Original Ramune Soda

Back in middle school, a bunch of my peers got deeply, dorkily involved in Japanese pop culture. Cartoons, toys, various scholastic accessories; if it was Japanese, it was cool. I never really got the appeal, finding many of the cutesy icons unpalatably silly. Perhaps, had I paid more attention while my friends were shopping for manga, I would have discovered ramune sooner.

As it is, my first experience with the Japanese soft drink was a recent accident. While shopping at the newly face-lifted Disco Kroger (I hate the new design; it's like shopping in a Martha Stewart catalog. I know, I'm weird.), I happened upon a small display of bottles next to the sushi counter. There were two varieties available. With cartoonish strawberries adorning the bottle, one was fairly clear about its flavor. I chose the other bottle.

I didn't look up any information on the beverage before drinking it; I wanted to be surprised. If the pictures on the bottle are intending to be telling, this one was meant to taste like children. You know you would have opted for the child-flavored soda, too.

I must admit, I was fascinated by the fairly involved process required to open the soda. A small plastic device is used to force a marble through the neck of the bottle, like some sort of Rube Goldberg refreshment. I half expected a set of dominoes to topple over, leading to a basket dropping on my head, as I opened it. The marble, held in place by the CO2 pressure of the drink, makes a zippy popping sound when it comes loose, like some kind of science fiction pop gun (no pun intended).

As I was drinking it, a coworker regaled me with the tale of how his kids like to open it. He puts his thumbs on the marble, and his kids take turns hitting his hands until the marble comes loose. It's like a piñata where you hit your parents to get soda. I nominate him for father of the year. And hope my kids never meet him.

The soda itself is perfectly pleasant, though nothing particularly special. It smells like a combination of banana snow cone syrup and the bubblegum eyes from the Super Mario ice cream bars I used to get from the ice cream truck as a kid. It also kind of smells like Type II Diabetes.

It tastes very much the same, but less sweet than expected. It's only mildly carbonated, which is unexpected given carbonation's role in sealing the contents. There's also an odd edge of dairy creaminess that I wasn't expecting. I'm still not entirely sure what flavor it's supposed to be, or if it's really supposed to be a flavor, per se.

As a side note, I feel I should point out that, to me at least, drinking it feels weird. The shape of the opening requires an odd pursing of the lips, and the marble slides around, slightly impeding the flow. The marble also looks pretty cool as it rolls around in the bottle; it reminds me of the glass ball Bowie rolls around in Labyrinth, Fushigi style.

While I probably won't buy this one again - $3 is a bit much for six ounces of soda - I will certainly seek out some of the other flavors, just out of curiosity. I figure the only way to top child-flavored soda is with kimchi flavored soda. Maybe I'll buy a few bottles of that for my coworker's kids. . .

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