~by Rumiko Takahashi
I had seen Ranma 1/2 sitting on the shelf many a time before I finally gave it a try (at thirty-six volumes, it's kinda hard to miss). Part of the problem was that I didn't particularly like most of the covers except for the first one and after a quick flip through a volume or two the artwork simply didn't appeal to me overly much. Eventually though, I did pick up the first volume, Battle of the Sexes. In the United States, Rumiko Takahashi is debatably best known for her series InuYasha although Ranma 1/2 makes for a very close second. Viz Media first started publishing Ranma 1/2 in English in 1993. Beginning in 2003, they re-released the collected volumes in a smaller sized second edition. This smaller format was retained from volume twenty-two through the end of the series in 2006. (In Japan, the series ran from 1987 to 1996). I've only read about a quarter of Ranma 1/2 so far, but let me tell you, despite my initial hesitation, I'm absolutely loving it.
During a training exercise in China, highly skilled martial artist Ranma Saotome, sixteen, suffered an unfortunate accident. Now whenever he's splashed with cold water he turns into a girl, although hot water will turn him back. His father Genma fell victim to the same incident, except that he turns into a panda. Years ago, Genma made and agreement with the owner of the Tendo "School of Indiscriminate Grappling" that one day Ranma would marry one of his three daughters. When the Saotome's returned from China, it is the youngest daughter, Akane, that is chosen. Of course, Ranma's "condition" causes a certain amount of commotion. He's very sensitive about it, although he's more than willing to use or brag about it to his advantage, unfortunately often at the expense of Akane. He eventually realizes he may sorta-kinda like her, but there are plenty of obstacles in the way. Akane has a crush on the acupuncturist Dr. Tofu while upperclassman Kuno has declared his love for both Ranma (well, the girl Ranma, anyway) and Akane. And then the embittered and ever directionally challenged Ryoga shows up seeking revenge.
Although it is growing on me, I am not particularly taken with the style of artwork in Ranma 1/2. Most of the younger characters, especially the girls (even including Ranma), have very similar faces, the hairstyle often being the only distinguishing feature. Although, I do suppose this means that the Tendo sisters actually do look like sisters. However, I will gladly say that Takahashi's layouts and attention to detail are fantastic. Page designs show a nice variety and exhibit flawless comedic timing. Things that at first seem like mistakes are readily, and sometimes unexpectedly, turned into gags. Small, seemingly unimportant and easily missed trifles, like a sign reading "To defeat owner in savage combat, use rear door," are delightful additions. Another thing that was particularly well handled was Ranma's sex changes. His character designs as a boy and a girl are close enough that it is obviously the same character (at least to readers) but different enough that it's apparent at a glance which sex he is sat any given moment. Plus, his body is smaller as a girl while his clothing remains the same and Takahashi never forgets this.
The first volume of Ranma 1/2 is a whopping three hundred pages, so there is plenty of time to get acquainted with the story and characters. I'm not entirely sure why this series makes me so incredibly happy, but it does. It is absolutely ridiculous, over-dramatic, silly and completely unbelievable--which is what makes it so wonderful. Frequently, I would find myself laughing, chortling, and snorting out loud while my housemates wondered about my sanity. The humor in Ranma 1/2 is probably not for everyone, it can be rather absurd and random at times and even the basic premise is preposterous, but I found it to be hilarious. I love Ranma 1/2, it makes me grin, and the first volume gets the series off to a great start. I'm definitely looking forward to rereading volume two, Challenging Situations.