As it just so happens, for the next six months I am without access to my stash of manga. For those that know me, this could seem as problematic since my memory tends to rival that of a goldfish; however, I was inadvertently blessed before my departure. The weekend before I left, I was hanging out with my friend and we were having a nostalgia bomb of a night on YouTube, listening to 90’s cartoon themes right and left. Thus, with these memories still somewhat fresh in my mind, it seems only fitting for me to review a series that surprised me with how many of my friends actually knew of it and watched it.
Although Sailor Moon was my first true foray into the world of manga, Ranma ½ by Rumiko Takahashi was not far behind. As with most of the manga I bought back then it fell into my hands because I saw how HUGE the first volume was and figured I was getting a better bang for my buck. I was fortunate that I actually ended up liking the series.
Our titular character, Ranma Satome, is a martial arts student who trains under his father, Genma. Genma is close friends with Soun Tendo, a fellow practitioner of the “Anything-Goes” school of martial arts, who has three daughters: Akane, Nabiki, and Kasumi. Ranma has been betrothed to Akane, however the first time the two run into each other there is an obvious discrepancy: Ranma is a girl. Rather, Ranma is a girl half the time. While the two Satomes were training, they ended up in the Jusenkyo springs. These springs are cursed with each pool of water granting a different form to those who may fall into it. Ranma fell in to the Spring of the Drowned Girl while Genma fell in to the Spring of the Drowned Panda (I think Ranma got the better end of the bargain). As such, each time the two are doused in cold water they change into their cursed form and return to ‘normal’ when hot water is poured on them. This would be an easy thing to work with; however, on their journeys, Genma has also betrothed Ranma to about every other woman that he could as long as he got something free from it. On his own, Ranma has also inadvertently betrothed himself to the fierce amazon, Shampoo, who will stop at nothing to get her man. I would say this series thrives off of the love triangle, but by the end it’s more of a love spaghetti monster. Needless to say, if you aren’t paying attention it’s easy to get lost in the endless flow of characters.
From what was explained earlier one would think this would just end up being a harem-type series, but I would hesitate to call it so completely. This is because Ranma does almost everything in his power to get everyone to leave him alone. Although always up for a spar, Ranma easily gets annoyed with everyone looking for his hand in marriage, no matter which gender he is. Of course, he is not unsympathetic to the others either. When his brash actions (as a teenager is wont to have) end up hurting his friends/acquaintances, he feels for them. He may not necessarily regret what he’s done, but he realizes that these feelings other people have are just as valid as his. This can be seen with his interactions with his main rival, Ryouga. Ryouga is a direction-impaired, sensitive guy…who just so happens to turn into a tiny black pig via Jusenkyo and blames Ranma for everything. Despite this, Ranma, though extremely prone to just teasing the poor guy mercilessly, tries to help Ryouga with his problems, even going so far as to destroy his own plans to make sure Ryouga maintains some shred of pride. They are battle brothers, thick and thin, and exemplify ‘brothers’ through every sense of the word outside of blood.
Most, if not all of the characters in this series are fascinating but what I really like are the female characters. First, let’s get Ranma out of the way. What I like most about female!Ranma is that Takahashi just…doesn’t change him. He doesn’t start liking shopping, he doesn’t talk about boys with the Tendo girls, none of that “Ah, I’m a girl and I like stereotypically girly things” bullshit that many series tend to do (coughEerieCutiescough). He’s still Ranma, just with boobs. Perhaps in this he shouldn’t even be considered a female character, but it’s that the others who don’t know about this change that makes me more prone to do so. Though it’s still just Ranma, he has to deal with an entirely new set of gender roles which he has to decide whether or not he’ll follow, exploit, or go against. The refreshing thing is that there’s always someone that likes him no matter which option he takes. This sends a message that a girl doesn’t have to act in a prescribed way to get someone to like her, just being herself is enough. Of course, Ranma may not be the best vehicle to get this message across. This is why the audience is blessed with the three Tendo daughters.
Each of the daughters, while bonded together by blood, are completely different from each other. Akane, the youngest, is another aficionado of martial arts and constantly defends herself from other boys/suitors and girls that want to become Ranma’s bride. She has no interest in becoming Ranma’s bride, but due to her fierce pride she takes them on. However, much like Ranma, she is compassionate and has to deal with her desires of being both sides of the coin: a demure, soft girl and an independent woman. By the series end, she learns that she can be both in a combination that defines her as herself as opposed to copying others. Nabiki, the middle daughter, is the independent woman of the family. She makes her own money, buys her own designer items, and has no need in asking for help. She comes off as childish and selfish, but she really has a soft spot for her family, helping them when things get really rough. On the other hand Kasumi, the eldest, best fits the stereotype of the gentle housewife. She takes care of the entire family, cooks, cleans, never complains, and never gets mad. She’s a character that is easily missed in the antics of the story, but she is never ignored by the family (…except for one chapter, but they profusely apologize). She is the cornerstone, the foundation.
By having these three distinct females, Takahashi shows that there is no correct way to be and that a systematic definition of femininity and what it is to be a woman is essentially worthless. Although I’m not entirely sure Takahashi intended for this series to be anything besides a RomCom of epic proportions, it does offer more than funny characters, fan service, and ridiculous plots. Even though the series is long—a whopping thirty-six volumes!—I would highly recommend looking into it.