Friday, December 6, 2013

Comic Review: Ranma 1/2

I just finished Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi and it was awesome. 36 black-and-white manga volumes of absurdity. Many thanks for the many months of book loans to Lorisia, daughter of Bookmonkey!
Although serialized for sixteen years between 1987 and 1996, the text itself takes place in less than a year (albeit a very busy, very timeless year) in a fantasy version of Tokyo. Sixteen-year-old martial artist Ranma Saotome has a life not unlike the famous Archie Andrews. If Archie Andrews was cursed with a body that swaps genders when doused with water. And if Archie had upwards of eight lady suitors running the cultural gamut from pancake vendors to Chinese amazons (and several clueless men) instead of simply Betty and Veronica vying for his attentions. And if Archie was a jerk.

Ranma comes by his prideful ways honestly: his father Genma is also a jerk. Genma Saotome, having set his son on the path of the mystic martial arts by various ill-considered methods often bordering on child abuse, is a self-serving, cowardly lout who mooches his way across the world, and barters his boy's betrothal at various times to various people, usually for the promise of a hot meal. Also Genma turns into a panda.

Genma's sensei, as you might imagine, was also a jerk. Wizened but not wise, Happosai's mastery of his craft serves primarily in the stealing of women's underpants. The tiny, goblin-like master is best kept under a rock, as his students attempted to do ten years ago.

Happosai's second student, the kindly widower Soun Tendo, hopes to pass on his training dojo to Genma's son... and one of three lovely daughters: homemaker Kasumi, mercenary Nabiki, or tomboy Akane. But Akane is no more eager to wed Ranma than the reverse. Complicating matters (like THAT was simple) is a slavering host of dashing idiots with crushes on Akane, many of whom turn into adorable animals when they get wet. Will the course of true love run smooth? Will Genma's estranged wife learn that her son Ranma has grown up *gasp*... less than manly? How many times must a girl kick a guy over the horizon?

I've never read anything like this. I'd venture a guess that there IS nothing like this, especially outside that Friendly Island in the Sea, Japan. The art is just amazing, with rich, detailed backgrounds peopled delightfully. The distinct characters have such fiendishly simple, wild, and hilarious facial expressions! Equal parts comedy, magic, action, romance, and fan service make for an all-time manga classic. There's no deeper meaning here- apart from life itself: complicated, unfair, stupid, sweet life. It's funny when it's not happening to you. I'm no expert, of course. I just know what I like.

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