Ranma 1/2 (2-in-1 Edition) Volume 9
Author: Rumiko Takahashi
Meet Picolet Chardin II, master of the très terrifying La Belle France
School of Martial Arts Dining. A style of martial arts based on eating
doesn't seem like it would be hard to master…but if Ranma can't defeat
Picolet in La Belle France, it'll be wedding bells! Then, the
unfortunately named "Pantyhose Taro" makes trouble for Ranma and the
others, but who's really the target—and cause—of all the vengeance? (Source: Viz.com)
The latest Ranma 1/2 omnibus collection contains volumes seventeen and eighteen from Rumiko Takahashi's infamous martial arts comedy series. It is a ridiculous, slapstick bundle of humorous hijinks and romance and at this point, if the idea of characters literally slamming into scenes at random while oddly placed bodies of water put other characters into gender-related peril don't tickle you pink, you will probably not care to pick up the newest installment in this modern classic. But Ranma 1/2 remains a classic for a reason, one of the biggest reasons being that Takahashi knows how to keep things interesting book after book, and arcs like Picolet and Pantyhose Taro show that when this series is at its best when it gets weird.
The opening chapters of this ninth omnibus closes out the martial arts dining story arc, in which a female Ranma battles with her big mouthed new fiance, a very constricting underwear set, and mastering the infamous and possibly deadly Parlay du Foie Gras technique. Her fiance of the moment, Picolet Chardin, is possibly the most grotesque looking character in Ranma 1/2 canon up to this point. The fact that he can pivot his entire mouth around a human being's body while declaring his love for said person is equal parts hilarious and horrifying. And yet, as Ranma and Picolet engage in food combat, the gags never go full gross and the characters outside of the Chardin clan are fully aware of how bizarre the whole thing looks.
The next major plot arc is basically Nabiki trying to troll both Ranma and Akane at the same time while making money from her particular brand of emotional blackmail. It's a fun whirly-gig of chaos and misunderstanding, all while Akane and Ranma circle ever so closely to their true feelings for one another. But this is Ranma 1/2 and it's not the final volume, so there's no admittance of feelings from either person, and so the world of the Tendo family goes on in its usual off-kilter rotation.
Also: it's nice to see a Tendo sister that isn't Akane get some major page time. I've always felt that both Nabiki and Kasumi are often neglected by the main narrative in favor of Akane, and in ways it makes sense as Akane is the main female influence in Ranma's life and therefore the entire series. But damn, Nabiki is so much fun to watch as she schemes her way into money and plays the crafty accidental matchmaker to the hapless lovers Ranma and Akane.
The last story arc of this omnibus is the tragic and convoluted fateful tale of Pantyhose Taro, the latest victim of resident ancient pervert supreme, Happosai. If I say Taro's story has a lot in common with Mousse and Ryoga, you will probably understand why Taro is so upset. His story deviates greatly from his hot spring comrades in that he has no romantic interest in any member of the Tendo dojo (so far) and his inhuman form is a scary, fantastical and overall impossible beast you won't find in any field study of the animals indigenous to Asia. However, watching Ranma and his squad try to both incapacitate and then save Pantyhose Taro from his water-based fate is yet another high energy lesson in how Takahashi keeps the usual plot recipe from going stale.
This far into Ranma 1/2, the plot may be too continuity-heavy for new readers to jump into, but I can't fully discourage anyone from choosing this as an entry point. It will seem chaotic and random and you will question the in-universe physics and biology with every new character and their latest form of martial arts, but even long-time fans who have been reading from the first moment Ranma fatefully fell into the waters of the cursed springs feel that way with each story arc. If you're willing to go with the flow, accept a lot of weird things, and aren't frustrated by the classic will-they/won't-they courtship of Ranma and Akane, now is the best time to get on board with one of Viz Manga's most well-known and enduring roughhousing rom-com.
Both the Ranma 1/2 manga and anime is currently being re-released in newer formats via Viz Media. The manga is in two-in-one omnibus formats; the anime is being released one season at a time on both DVD and Blu-Ray.