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The Ranma ½ cast

The Ranma ½ cast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ranma ½ season one is the quintessential display of what is both right and wrong about Rumiko Takahashi’s creations.

The Good

I recently showed Ranma ½ season 1 to some friends for diversion and light entertainment.

On that level Ranma ½ remains the (mostly) funny show that I remember from so long ago on Saturday nights at JAFWA.

The setup of Ranma turning into a girl when dunked in seemingly omnipresent cold water remains hilarious, especially when combined with Takahashi’s golden touch for absurd scenarios.  The potential for taboo breaking humour is also exploited to good effect.

In this sense season 1 is superb, delivering 16 good episodes out of 18 [1].

It still remains fun to watch, and the humour has aged much better than some of its contemporaries [2]. The first opening and closing songs are also part of the charm.

For the first 10 or so episodes there is also a slowly growing relationship between Ranma and Akane that is lovely to watch. This relationship could have been awesome to watch, but is quickly derailed by the ever growing cast of thousands.

The Bad: The Love Dodecahedron

No less than three arcs within the 18 episodes of season 1 depend on the introduction of new characters [3]Ryouga Hibiki, Kodachi Kuno, and Shampoo – and this is where the Love Dodecahedron starts rearing its ugly head.

This is probably simplified.

Fan made relationship chart sourced from TV Tropes Love Dodecahedron page

This is a part of Ranma ½ that never eases off. From what I recall of watching later seasons at JAFWA there is always another new character appearing, usually as a means to avoid advancing the core relationship between Ranma and Akane.

As far as I know, the core relationship between Ranma and Akane is never resolved.

This is the main reason why I haven’t bought the later seasons. I just don’t want to waste the time.

The Ugly: Gender Roles

A further issue is that for all that Rumiko Takahashi may be the most successful female comic artist in history [4] she may also be one of the least feminist comic artists in history [5].

The gender roles in Ranma ½ are fairly typical for late 80s anime [6], but episode 4 Ranma and… Ranma? If it’s not One Thing, it’s Another is now as flinch worthy as it is funny. Part of the premise is the Chaotic Greedy sister Nabiki covertly taking, and then selling, photos of both Ranma and Akane.

Nabiki even resorts to dunking a sleeping Ranma in cold water [7] in order to get provocative shots whilst Ranma-chan is sleeping. Nabiki then dunks her in hot water to hide the evidence and set up a sight gag of Ranma-kun wondering if he wet the bed.

The sequence of Nabiki selling the photos to Kuno whilst also extorting food out of him is hilarious to watch.

It is also, now [8], an example of rape culture, as well as part of the near omnipresent fan service.

I think that this is the single worst example in Season 1 [9], but the general attitudes are endemic and also show up in many of Takahashi’s other works.

The Verdict

Ranma ½ season one is still a hilarious show to watch, and despite the problematic elements I’m happy to have it in my collection .  This is the best distillation of Rumiko Takahashi’s humour, and it also the series that kicked off Megumi Hayashibara’s career as a voice actress.

Season one is definitely worth having, but I won’t be buying the later seasons, the OAVs or the movies. I’ll finish with the first ending credits:

[1] The two exceptions are Pelvic Fortune Telling? Ranma is the No. One Bride in Japan and I am a Man! Ranma’s Going Back to China!? The former is just painful to watch more than once, the latter is a recap episode.

[2] Exhibit 1: The Kimagure Orange Road comedy episodes of the OAVs have faded badly, with the dramatic episodes aging much more gracefully.

[3] I generally forgive Tatewaki Kuno as his introduction is early enough to qualify him as part of the original cast.

[4] Between Urusei Yatsura (195), Maison Ikkoku (96), Ranma ½ (143), and Inuyasha (167), there have been no less than 600 TV episodes adapted from Rumiko Takahashi major manga titles. This does not count her one shots, anthologies, horror titles, any OAVs, or movies.

[5] Not the least feminist. There has to be room for Rob Liefeld in there, and on that note I draw your attention to the Escher Girls tumblr.

[6] Which is another way of saying “Oh dear”.

[7] Being drenched with cold water does not wake the supposedly powerful martial artist Ranma up, primarily because the plot said so.

[8] I never thought about this when I first saw Ranma ½, the events that started shaping my Bumper Sticker Feminism were yet to occur.

[9] Although if I was prepared to take more time I’d probably take a critical look at Kasumi, and also at the Traumatic Haircut in episode 9 True Confessions! A Girl’s Hair is Her Life!