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Got Game?

by Wilma Jandoc

Sunday, July 29, 2001


These 2 anime shrews
need a whole lot
of taming

DRAWN & QUARTERED

Graphic Arts As Literature


By Wilma Jandoc
wjandoc@starbulletin.com

Anime has often been based on the weird and wacky, and there's almost nothing wackier than "Ranma 1/2," a martial-arts comedy based on the comic by Rumiko Takahashi.

The anime opens up at the Tendo residence in Japan. Soun Tendo, head of the Anything-Goes School of Martial Arts, has just received a postcard from old friend and training partner Genma Saotome, saying he and his son Ranma will soon return from a decade-long training mission in China. Soun tells his three daughters that one of them must marry the 16-year-old Ranma to carry on the school.

But who should show up at the Tendo residence but a buxom, red-haired girl and a giant giant panda. The girl introduces herself as Ranma Saotome. Soun is devastated.

But all is not as it seems. Akane, the youngest Tendo daughter and a self-proclaimed boy-hater, makes friends with Ranma, only to later discover that Ranma is really a guy.

Turns out that Ranma and Genma had traveled to Jusenkyo, the Training Ground of a Thousand Cursed Springs. Whoever falls into a pool of water will instantly transform into whatever drowned there last. While training, Genma fell into Spring of Drowned Panda, and Ranma fell into Spring of Drowned Girl.


VIZ VIDEO



Now, a splash of cold water will turn them into their alter selves, while hot water will reverse the effect -- until the next cold drenching.

Now that Soun knows all the details, he invites Ranma to choose a wife from among his daughters: Kasumi, 19; Nabiki, 17; and Akane, 16. Ranma isn't particularly eager to choose any of them, and so the two older girls, not wanting to be saddled with a younger man who's also half girl, decide to make Ranma's choice for him and elect Akane as the lucky fiancee. The engagement is on.

Neither Ranma nor Akane is pleased, and the two immediately duke it out, which sets the stage for their relationship through the series. Ranma is headstrong and arrogant, and Akane is no pushover. Her anti-boy attitude is a response to all the hormone-raged teens who literally fight for the right to go out with her -- which amounts to the entire Furinkan High School.

"Ranma 1/2" moves fast in the first few seasons, introducing a bevy of characters who have a score to settle with Ranma.

In that time he racks up three men who want to kill him and three women who want to marry him, including Shampoo of the Amazon tribe in China; Ukyo, a lively okonomiyaki chef; and Kodachi the Black Rose, who'll stop at nothing to snag her darling Ranma.

Akane deals with her own gaggle of admirers: Kuno, the Shakespeare-spouting leader of Furinkan's kendo club; Ryoga, whose terrible sense of direction makes it hard for him to find his own back yard; and others she meets over the course of the anime.

Ranma's female self doesn't have things much better, with her own flock of lovers and haters flapping around her at inopportune times.

And Jusenkyo is simply too good a concept to leave alone, so at least three others in the series also have curses, which complicate matters.

This convoluted web of relationships resembles a complex NFL play diagram. The anime itself is one big football game, with the requisite head-pounding, arguments, short tempers and action.

But shorn of the insanity, the basic story line is of love. Ranma and Akane grow to love each other but can never bring themselves to admit it. The couple's cat-and-dog relationship is punctuated by moments of tenderness, which are always killed by some silly interruption.

Takahashi captures perfectly and exaggerates comically the turmoil of unrequited love, and it's hard to believe at times that the main characters are only 16 or 17 years old.

Takahashi's fertile imagination also creates some original martial-arts action. Ranma participates in the Martial Arts Ramen Take-Out Race, Martial Arts Ping-Pong and even the Martial Arts Tea Ceremony. The mixture of that with, at frequent intervals, utter stupidity can make anyone's head spin.

Officially described by domestic producer Viz Video as a sex comedy, "Ranma 1/2" does include scenes of nudity that highlight Ranma's Jusenkyo plight, as he forgets he's turned into a girl and shamelessly strips off his shirt in the manner of men.

The anime has already ended after eight seasons, two movies and several TV-only specials in Japan; the Viz releases are in their sixth season. The Japanese manga ended after 38 volumes, with the slightly larger English translations currently up to volume 16.




Wilma Jandoc covers the universe
of video games and anime for the
Star-Bulletin. She can be emailed at
wjandoc@starbulletin.com



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