Though Ranma ½ ended in 1996, VIZ Media has rereleased the landmark manga with cleaner artwork, a revamped script, and the original right-to-left reading format. A higher quality printing with crisp, bright pages will appeal to both existing fans and those who are looking for a solid entry point into the world of manga. Readers who are familiar with the anime series will find that the manga’s story is more developed, featuring characters and relationships that build slowly over the course of each issue.
The series revolves around the hijinks of teenage martial arts student Ranma Saotome who is under a curse he acquired on a training mission with his father, Genma. Whenever he is splashed with water, Ranma transforms into a girl, while his father changes into an adorable panda. The ensuing romance between Ranma and Akane, a dojo owner’s daughter, presents many opportunities for interpersonal conflict and discussions of gender identity.
When Ranma teases her about her lack of femininity, feisty and independent Akane replies, “If I accidentally fall in love, maybe I’ll become more feminine!” As the series progresses, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: as Akane falls in love with Ranma, she becomes more “feminine” and passive. She practices martial arts less while Ranma practices more, and eventually she adopts the role of the “damsel in distress.” Though she waits for Ranma to rescue her in order to prove his love, Akane is no helpless heroine: over and over, she must come to Ranma’s rescue almost as soon as he comes to hers. Without Akane’s help, Ranma would have lost many battles, as much as he hates to admit it. Akane is a key part of the team and neither one could succeed without the other.
It’s important to remember that Ranma ½ is also notable for its humor. There’s a lot of physical comedy and running gags throughout the series. Ranma’s narcissism and Genma’s parenting techniques provide ample opportunity for laughs. In contrast, Happosai’s misogynistic anticts and perverted pranks are funny, but they may cause a frown or two. Ultimately, it’s the balance between comedy and insightful commentary on gender expectations that has earned Takahashi legions of fans.
Takahashi draws in a gender-netural style that is nonetheless skilled, expressive, and interesting. Her strength is comedy, but she is also capable of drawing action scenes. In her early work, the heroes of different stories tend to look almost identical, which can be confusing. In Making Comics, Scott McCloud gives a slightly different perspective on this, pointing out that Takahashi is one of a number of artists who “have a narrower range of features for heroic or beautiful protagonists, but a wide range of face and body types among supporting characters” (p. 123).
In this edition, Takahashi’s artwork has been tweaked to include more shading, stronger pencils, and clearer dialog bubbles. The dialog is also slightly different from the original; critics have pointed to the inclusion of words like “schmuck” as instances of this retranslation. The improvements to the art and easier-to-read text should be appealing enough for hardcore fans to want to acquire these reprints, while first-time readers will enjoy this humorous, insightful read.
Ranma 1/2: 2-in-1 Edition, vol. 1
by Rumiko Takahashi
VIZ Media, 2014