Ranma ½ is a lot like Akira.
Wait, wait, wait. Put down those torches and pitchforks. Let me explain for a second. It will all make sense if you just give me a chance.
They not the same when it comes to content. I meant that in the sense that at one point in time it was almost inconceivable to think that anyone who was any sort of casual anime fan had not seen at least a little of either. People tended to either love or hate either title and of course that led to lots of “overrated” and “overexposed” being thrown around about both. But even if you your opinion was in the middle of the road about it you were expected to have an opinion about both. They were an integral part of the framework of fandom conversations.
And then time passed and luster fell off both titles. Neither of them are forgotten. They still randomly appear on top 10 lists. They still influence people. They still get brought up in conversation. They are just no longer the essentials they once were. You can bring them up at a convention and if half the audience has not seen either of them you’re not too surprised. And so at some point both of them went out of print.
Viz announced at Anime Expo that the Ranma 1/2 manga was going back into print in a new format. Then at Otakon they announced the same for the anime. With this classic coming back into the consciousness (and store shelves) soon I decided this was a good a time as any to talk about this series.
Ranma Saotome is a martial artist with an unusual affliction. When he comes in contact with cold water he turns into a girl due to a curse placed upon him in China. While he wants to find a cure for his condition as soon as possible his life is complicated by the fact his deadbeat dad sold off to be the finance to the daughter of one of his friends, Soun Tendo. Despite trying to wriggle out of the engagement Ranma ends up betrothed to Akane, Soun’s youngest tom boy daughter, who develops an instant love-hate relationship with her fiance. This leads to infinite problems as various martial artists with strange powers come to either break up their relationship or prove themselves against Ranma.
Such is being a powerful fighter in a romantic comedy.
I will admit that Ranma ½ has a distinctly soft spot in my heart as the series that seriously got me into anime and manga. While I had watched series before getting seriously into Ranma it was the title that actively made me part of the fandom as opposed to passively picking up titles whenever they randomly came onto my radar. Rumiko Takahashi is still my favorite manga-ka partially in part to this series (that and Maison Ikkoku.)
As I mentioned in the 43rd Speakeasy podcast about American comics I have seen several web comic authors mention Ranma ½ as a title that inspired them overt the years. While Japanese fans often cut their teeth on Rumiko Takahashi with Urusei Yatsura most American fans would learn through Ranma a world of love polygons, terrible human beings, strange situations, odd mythology, and puns galore. The fact that Ranma also had fights with over the top fighting techniques like Martial Arts Tea Ceremony and the Shishi Hokodan certainly helped its case.
When Ranma originally came out in English it was unlike anything people had seen before it. It had boys turning into girls, girls turning into cats, and whatever the heck Pantyhose Taro is. It had a huge cast filled with unrequited love wherein half the cast was in love with the other half in a fruitless manner because the object of their affection was in love with a different overlapping half. It had characters you loved to hate and yet found yourself rooting for. It was quirkly Japanese but also very relatable at the same time. At this point in time all these plot points, tropes, and themes are what we think of when Japanese romantic comedy comes to mind but back then they were revolutionary.
Also the simple fact that you could have a romantic comedy for boys was an eye opener. It was hardly the first title to have a unisex appeal in the anime community but I think it was a manga that showed quite a few people a way to appeal to both genders by giving them both something they stereotypically like in a way that makes everyone happy.
And if nothing else Rumiko Takahashi greatest strength is her characters and making them expressive. Ranma is an arrogant punk, Akane can be a real shrew, Genma is the worst father ever, Nabiki would make most libertarians blush, and Kuno is a straight up vain prat. Therefore when very horrible things happen to these characters there is a delicious schadenfreude you can get from their pain. But at the same time you come to care about everyone. Ranma has his sweet moments, Shampoo can be charming, and even sometimes you might feel bad for Happosai. (OK you might never actually for Happosai. But everybody else can be cool.)
But most of all Takahashi’s skilled at making her cast express those emotions. When characters are in a mood it is immediately obvious just by profile alone. When they get hit (emotionally or physically) you can feel it. And her facial reactions are just as expressive. That really helps sell the comedy as much as the drama or action.
Ranma is 38 volumes long which might be a bit too rich for some people’s blood even when it is now in two book omnibuses. But it is also highly episodic. After you read the first book you can pretty much pick up what is going on by getting any random book with a few exceptions. So is it worth reading each and every Ranma story every written? Unless you love the series it is hardly a priority. But I think it is one of those influential series that you should at least have a passing knowledge of. It might not be the best series ever but it undoubtedly had a lasting impact on both Japanese and English fandom.
By The Way – There was a live action TV special of the series I never watched. I should probably see if that ever got translated. If there is anything people like it is hearing other people sit through terrible things that they know are terrible.