by Rumiko Takahashi; adaptation by Gerard Jones
published by Viz; $15.95 US (first edition)
As we learned in the first volume, Ranma Saotome, while undergoing martial arts training with his father, fell into a magical hot spring. Now, whenever he gets wet, he turns into a girl (because the spring was cursed when a young girl drowned in it). To change back, he has to be dowsed with hot water.
Conveniently, there were hundreds of these cursed springs. Ranma’s father, for example, turns into a panda when he gets wet. It’s a flexible gimmick that allows for funny variations on the main theme.
When he was a child, his father promised to marry Ranma to Akane, the daughter of the father’s best friend. Akane, an accomplished martial artist in her own right, doesn’t even like boys, let alone “pervert” ones that are girls half the time. Even so, Ranma and panda dad have moved in with Akane, her father, and her two sisters at their martial arts school.
So, now that we know the backstory, this volume opens with a new character arriving at Ranma’s home. Ryoga has vowed revenge on Ranma for refusing to duel him. He had followed Ranma to China, where he also fell into a cursed spring. Since it’s a rainy night, he is cleverly carrying an umbrella, but that doesn’t save him from eventually getting wet.
Ryoga’s transformation is into a cute little black pig, who’s adopted by Akane as a pet, although she doesn’t know who he really is. He’s just another source of potential jealousy for Ranma. Whenever Akane and Ranma have a touching moment, some new rival will show up to provide ample reason for misunderstandings, although usually Akane’s the one getting jealous. Just about everyone either falls in love with some version of Ranma or wants to kill him or both.
Everything in this series can become a fight, including rhythmic gymnastic wrestling and combat figure skating. Sometimes I get so caught up in the story that the most outrageous ideas seem plausible — it’s only when I stop to think that the wit and imagination come through. For example, during the gymnastic match, Ranma winds up chained to Ryoga-as-pig, which leads to the competitors throwing furniture at each other. It’s a cuter, more graceful version of professional wrestling.
Dad seems to spend most of his time in panda form, maybe because he’s more fun and distinctive to draw that way. Although pandas can’t talk, Takahashi gets around that limitation by giving him signs to hold with his comments on them.
The cartooning is great, as expected. There’s some nudity, but it’s played for comedy, not titillation. Lots of exaggerated fighting is punctuated by comedy bits, and elements like the skating are drawn beautifully yet convey the danger of battle. Ranma ½ is an enjoyable, entertaining read, justifiably a manga classic.