“Read a Damn Book – 169: Ranma ½ Volume 6”
It’s been over a year since I last reviewed a Ranma book, but when I’m stressed out, I reach for something funny to try to ease the tension and relax, and there are few things in the world funnier than a Rumiko Takahashi book, when she’s in a comedic mood. So here we go. Let’s look at Ranma ½ Volume 6!!!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
Rumiko Takahashi – Ranma ½ Volume 6 (2003) [Translated by Gerard Jones, Toshifumi Yoshida, and Matt Thorn]
Although this edition of the book, published by Viz, came out in 2003 (almost 17 years ago), the CONTENT of this book originally hit shelves in Japan in the late 1980s!!! (Over 30 years ago!) I think the Ranma books qualify as genuine CLASSICS at this point, but still, I’m not going to assume that every reader is going to know this story (even though I’ve personally reviewed FIVE other volumes!) Anyway, here’s a run-down of the plot for any of you folks just encountering this series for the first time…
Ranma Saotome is an expert martial artist who, while training at a “cursed springs” in China, fell into a pool haunted by the spirit of a drowned girl. Forever after, when Ranma is splashed with cold water, his body transforms into that of a young girl. (It doesn’t affect his MIND at all, but he suddenly gets shorter and grows breasts... It’s weird---but very funny!) When he is splashed with or immersed in warm water, he turns back into a boy. Ranma’s father, Genma Saotome, was also training at the cursed springs and fell into a pool, and now when he touches cold water he transforms into a giant panda. We learn over the course of several volumes of the series that a LOT of folks have gone to this particular training ground and come back with similar curses.
Meanwhile, Genma’s old friend, Soun Tendo, runs a dojo specializing in “Anything Goes Martial Arts,” and Soun, who has three daughters but no sons, decides he needs a MALE HEIR to take over the dojo when he retires. Genma offers to have his son, Ranma, marry one of Soun’s daughters and, subsequently, inherit the dojo, and Soun accepts the offer, which he believes will insure the survival of his school. Soun’s youngest daughter, Akane, who is herself a very strong martial artist---a tomboy, in fact---is chosen (by her sisters) to be Ranma’s fiancé. Problems arise immediately when NEITHER Ranma nor Akane are particularly excited to find themselves engaged to a partner who they don’t particularly LIKE.
And so begins a farcical, hilarious, bizarre, and surprisingly sweet romance between two reluctant children who are trapped in an arranged marriage that neither of them wants…at first! While Ranma and Akane fight and bicker, there are about a hundred OTHER characters who all fall in love with either Ranma or Akane, and these suitors, who can sometimes be quite AGGRESSIVE, cause no end of troubles, and their attempts to woo either Ranma or Akane usually result in some kind of exotic martial arts battle---such as a fight entirely on ice-skates, or a battle using only tea serving utensils while remaining in a sitting position, or a martial arts based noodle delivery contest, or some other equally weird, often uproariously funny bit of slapstick comedy. (Though this is technically a "fighting" comic, the violence is all goofy and humorous, and not gory or particularly brutal. This stuff is played strictly for laughs...)
Takahashi’s art style is cartoony and silly, but remarkably expressive, and her imagination is unbounded---although by this sixth volume, she does seem to be recycling a few familiar plot formulas with unsurprising outcomes. She frequently explores a number of variations on similar themes, most commonly, a series of aggressive suitors coming between the spiky (but growing) relationship between Akane and Ranma. Which isn’t to say this volume is no longer funny. It still is VERY funny to me---HOWEVER, there is one character who is introduced in this book whose personality and actions are VERY problematic… That character is Master Happosai, who supposedly trained Genma and Soun---although they believed that they had KILLED their master when last they saw him (or at least buried him alive.) The chapter that introduces Happosai is titled, “The Evil Wakes,” and we’re lead to believe that he is some kind of monster or demon when he first appears, but in actuality, he’s just a creepy old pervert...
In the 1980s when this title was first published---even into the 1990s when the show ran as a popular animated series---Happosai was probably considered a very funny character, but TODAY, we have VERY different cultural understandings of what is and what isn’t appropriate behavior. Happosai is a sexual predator, a peeping tom, and a pedophile. (I don’t know exactly how old a character like Akane is supposed to be, but she’s still in high school, so not very old.) Granted, even in the 1980s, Happosai’s lecherous peeping, unwelcome touching and attacking of women, and secret photograph collection of girls in various states of undress were not considered ACCEPTABLE, by any means---and even in this comic he is berated and even physically assaulted by his victims---but the idea that his actions where considered HUMOROUS is pretty clear. (And remember that this book was written and drawn by a woman!)
But in today’s #MeToo era, this type of behavior is not only unacceptable, but I can see this character easily offending and even potentially triggering a survivor of sexual assault. And his story takes up a solid two-thirds of the book! To some folks, this isn’t going to be FUNNY at all, but horrible and unacceptable. And I know that there are also cultural differences at play here, as well, as Japanese folks are much less uptight about sexual subject-matter than American readers are, but still... In addition to Happosai's lecherous conduct, there is also quite a bit of nudity in this book, as well---although, again, it’s cartoony and somewhat silly---mostly just naked breasts "displayed" for comedic effect, not full on sexual content. Rumiko Takahashi isn’t trying to make pornography, nor is she trying to make something horrible or traumatic for readers, she's just trying to make people laugh---but the times have changed, and attitudes have changed with them.
Personally, I’m old and a bit evil---and I've seen a LOT worse from Japanese comics and anime (Cutie Honey anyone? or U-Jin Brand??? Those names ringing any bells??? If so, you're a sick, SICK individual! Ha!)...and I can grasp the fact that these are cartoon characters in a cartoon world, and not a real life predator and his prey, so I still find this book funny---particularly the chapter where Ranma thwarts Master Happosai’s plan to collect undergarments from all the pretty girls in town, and Happosai gets truly angry and enacts his ULTIMATE revenge! That revenge turns out to be a thousand ridiculous, juvenile pranks, like ordering take-out from a dozen restaurants and having it sent to Ranma’s house, putting tacks in everyone’s shoes, poking holes in their paper screens, and so on. It’s pathetic and hilarious that this ultimate fighter, this character who is introduced as a monstrous, demonic evil, is actually just a childish, selfish, snotty brat. And again, Takahashi draws the expressions on Happosai’s face hilariously, showing his fiendish glee as he’s pulling each prank. To me, this will always be funny---even though I know the humor is crude and could easily cause some readers great distress. BE WARNED!
Overall, I do think this volume (despite my negative comments) is funnier than the previous, primarily because I’m amused by some of Happosai’s more juvenile antics. The final third of the book isn’t quite as entertaining, as it slides back into the trope of a suitor trying to get Ranma to say he’ll marry her (or at least go on a date with her), while Akane gets jealous but pretends she doesn’t care. We’ve seen this story a few different times already, so it wasn’t quite as entertaining as the psychotic Happosai segments. Still better than most of the junk on the comic stands TODAY, though...
SADLY, I only own one more volume of Ranma ½, so I only have one more left to review---although I AM going to Portland in a few weeks, so I might see if I can find volumes 8, 9, and 10 while I’m hunting around Powell’s Books. (That store is GIGANTIC, and I HAVE to set myself a spending limit before I open the doors and walk inside, or things can get dangerous rather quickly…) Hopefully, I haven’t scared you away from Rumiko Takahashi’s work, because she is one of my all-time favorite comics creators. AND I finally picked up a HUGE book of Urusei Yatsura comics, Takahashi's first series, which I’m dying to dive into. (I loved the old animated version of Urusei Yatsura, but I’ve never read the books!) So look for a review of that sometime in the near future, AND I’m eventually going to go back to reviewing InuYasha, as well. I really loved that series, too, but I’ve only reviewed the first volume so far! (So much to read---so little time…)
Okay, go read a damn book already! And thanks for stopping by!!!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
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