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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fall Back Into The Spring: Nostalgia, Ranma, and Rumiko

Pictured above: a ridiculously small percentage of the Ranma 1/2 cast,
fulfilling the rule that a Takahashi manga has to have more characters than Game of Thrones.
There are few series that invoke a deep sense of fan-based nostalgia as Ranma ½, which could have easily gone down in history as Rumiko Takahashi's most popular and beloved series until Inuyasha came along and knocked it off its throne. It also helps that while Ranma and Inuyasha are both wacky fantasy-based romantic hijink programs, Inuyasha benefited from being more accessible to U.S. fans, airing on American TV, and appealing to young female viewers with its telenovela romance of Inuyasha and Kagome.

Ranma, however, is special and always will be to me. When I think Ranma, I think about renting the first VHS of Ranma 1/2's anime from the local Blockbuster, then watching it in my mom's room on her tiny television set and watching the martial arts madness fly across the screen. I never actually finished the anime – a lot of episodes plus films and movies made it a hard project to complete when the Blockbusters doesn't keep new tapes in stock – but I still have a great fondness for the animation and the opening/ending themes, which have become iconic in their own right.

God bless whoever uploaded their
own pic of the Ranma VHS to Amazon.
(Ranma, somehow, was not the silliest anime I managed to rent at that time; I somehow got my hands on such series as Birdy the Mighty and Oh My Goddess' OVA and Devil Hunter Yohko. It's probably for the best that I always watched them when my parents were at work during the summer – especially with Yohko!)

Beyond the warped VHS haze of memory, I can recall reading a bit of Ranma in practically every format Viz Media made it available in: individual issues, un-flipped and flipped graphic novels, and now the 2-in-1 omnibus re-releases. As I reread the series via the omnibus releases, I can feel my subconscious slip back into what was once my neighborhood comic shop, where I gobbled up issues of Sailor Moon and Gundam Wing and Card Captor Sakura and Oh My Goddess and Princess Prince and yes, Ranma ½.

Reading Ranma, in retrospect, reminds me a lot of another manga-ka who I've recent more recently and is actually tied in real life to Rumiko Takahashi's work – and that is Mitsuru Adachi, author of such works as Touch and Cross Game. The first two volumes of Ranma definitely feel like Adachi and Takashi at the very least talked shop about the story while working on their respective series. It has heavy shades of Adachi's balancing act of slapstick humor and heartfelt character moments, punctuated by hilarious facial expressions and visual gags.

Of course, Ranma ½ by its very nature tips it over into Rumic World territory. Adachi's series are very much centered in reality as they are mostly sports/rom-com manga. Takahashi's work past Maison Ikkoku are very much centered in fantasy and speculative fiction. The basis of Ranma Saotome's world is one in which people can become cursed to change bodies based on the temperature of water splashed on them and a young woman can beat up thirty men before class without breaking a sweat and people fight each other with ribbons and weighted umbrellas and signs but can't somehow figure out how to tell another person that they like them.

How can you tell when a manga fan got into the whole scene exactly? Other than asking them directly? Ask them what was their first Rumiko Takahashi manga. Older fans who remember buying manga one chapter at a time or serialized in magazines, post-Barnes and Noble, will say Maison Ikkoku. College-age fans might say Ranma ½, when graphic novels really started blowing up and manga showed up in more stores. Younger fans will say Inuyasha, back when Adult Swim showed anime at night and men in silver wigs and red hakama dominated convention floors. Now, our youngest fans will most likely say Rinne, although the prevalent popularity of Inuyasha (and the fact that Toonami has been airing the last season, finally) will skew that answer 50/50. It's not a perfect method, but I imagine most of the time, it won't lead your wrong.

There's a fear about revisiting old favorites. You imagine that after so many years, even nostalgia can't save a pile of crap. Ranma ½, however, is just as ridiculous, fast-paced, and entertaining now as it was when I was in grade school. I still laughed aloud at many sections, from the dangerous hands of Doctor Tofu to Ryoga's wandering ways to the Akane/Ranma banter and all of the martial arts stuff that makes me wonder when the hell learning is supposed to happen at this school if everyone keeps beating up everyone else.

I literally cheered when Ryoga turned pig as well as soon after when Kodachi the Black Rose blew into the scene as dramatically she does, because they were markers I remembered of some of my favorite characters from the series. Yes, Kodachi! I've been trying to covet her infamous 'oh ho ho' laugh pose and style since almost 1999. Maybe someday, I will be on Kodachi's level of pose game and overall HBIC status.

I should probably denounce some part of Ranma ½ for not being as progressive or thoughtful on societal issues as newer manga are, but bugger that. I don't see Ranma ½ as aiming to invoke a conversation on anything meaningful. The main character changes into a girl's body when it rains and his dad turns into a panda and there is Tatewaki Kuno who is, well, Kuno, and all the people Ranma has to fight on a regular basis because he's engaged to a girl who can't stand him – what is there to be serious about? Everything is too busy being silly to be meaningful, and that's how I like it.

My current project is now rereading the entirety of Ranma ½. If revisiting the rest of the series is like the first two books, it should be the most fun I have reading this year.

I really have no excuse for the soft porn fighting and fanservice series Devil Hunter Yohko though. I should have had our Blockbuster card taken away for renting that.