Story and art by Rumiko Takahashi
Original Publisher: Shogakukan (1988)
Length: 38 Volumes (407 Chapters)
Ranma ½ possesses many of the structures I dislike in the comedy genre of manga. It has a completely detached episodic form of storytelling, a frustrating relationship between protagonists and a general lack of story progression. Yet, I cannot help but love this manga. The characters and universe Rumiko Takahashi has created are a testament to her dexterity in the industry, and one of the many examples why she is the greatest female mangaka of all time. While my feelings for this series are somewhat based off its quality, I must acknowledge that my own nostalgia dictated some of the positivity from my read.
This manga follows Ranma Saotome, a martial artist who, during his training in China, becomes cursed after falling into a scared spring. Once splashed with cold water, Ranma now temporarily transforms into a female. On top of trying to reverse his curse, his uninterested, arranged fiancé Akane whom he must court has a constant stream of suitors Ranma must defeat, while trying to keep his transformations secret. This series documents their journey.
When dealing with both repetitious plot points and an episodic form of storytelling, length is a key factor in whether the manga’s content remains charming or spirals into tedium. Running jokes and similar storylines are great at reaffirming characters, but as you’d expect, if present in 30 volumes of manga, create a chorus of groans. Unfortunately, Ranma ½ isn’t 30 volumes of manga. It’s 38. It is currently the longest manga of its genre that I’ve ever read, and to be honest I don’t ever see myself reading one even close to that length again. I’m very vocal about my disdain for unnecessarily long manga, opting for series that are able to cut the fat when needed to produce more compelling storytelling. But re-reading this manga reminded me that everyone wants/needs different things from manga. Some want a story with a beginning and an end, but some people just want a world to get lost in. Even though close to 40 volumes, nothing really noteworthy happens throughout most of it. Characters are gradually introduced, get up to mischief/misunderstandings, and repeat. You could essentially read the first couple of volumes, be introduced to the characters and then move to the last volume to find out the ending. But that doesn’t make it boring. Reading it did made me feel incredibly happy, and I never found myself disinterested at any point. Nothing really changes, but I liked that, it made me feel safe, secure. I never even questioned the content’s quality (progression-wise) until sitting down to review it, and I’m sure at the time I first read it, this was exactly what I was looking for in a manga.
While we’re not introduced to the most complex characters, Rumiko Takahashi is a creator known for her world building. After reading Ranma ½ you can create an expansive mental map of all the important locations where events take place and where characters reside. It creates a stronger relationship between reader and character, as we become part of a small, close-knit community. However, as there are so many characters, they usually only get 5/10 chapters after being introduced to develop before new characters or sudden plot progressions throws them out of the spotlight. There is no continuous development with characters; they are either part of a chapter or not. Still, the characters were compelling enough without extended development, but what became really frustrating was not underdeveloped protagonists, but lack of relationship progression (more on that later).
Ranma ½ treats the reader to the classic Takahashi art style, probably the most distinct design of any mangaka. While this series does not possess art that would challenge her skills, it doesn’t need to. They are complex enough to be recognizable, but simple enough to allow the character’s traits or episode storylines to stand out. And as manga becomes more and more mainstream, it’s easier to find complex, almost overwhelming art, but harder to find entertaining stories. This manga is also a great reminder that simplicity doesn’t necessarily correlate with forget-ability. My first read-through of Ranma 1/2 was close to six years ago, yet the character designs have been etched into my memory, which is more than I can say for many manga I’ve read after it.
A disappointing ending reaffirms a massive issue with a lot of Takahashi’s works; no development between characters leads to frustrating experiences. After twenty chapters, if there is no ounce of change with potential love interests, it’s obvious that the conclusion to their shenanigans will only come at the end of the series. But when you have to read 400+ chapters only to be given an inconclusive ending, it’s almost a slap in the face for readers who invested so much time into these characters. I can understand how, to some, having characters openly in a relationship in the middle of a series isn’t as exciting as having them bicker in every chapter, but I still disagree. The chase is fun, but Ranma 1/2 has no balance between continued interest and feelings reflected in behaviour. Going hard in the opposite direction, e.g. having the love interests “hate” each other doesn’t create a “will they/won’t they situation”, it makes it obvious that they will and that the mangaka is trying to throw us off. And usually I’m not as happy that they were together as relieved that their bickering finally ceased.
Ranma ½, when you give it time, can be repetitive, frustrating and lacking in substance. But it really does depend on what you want in manga. Because in the same vain, (and what I remember from my first read-through) it can all be a fun, uplifting battle romance manga that made me feel really happy. It’s a manga that, when I’m feeling down or anxious transports me when I pick up a random volume. I won’t ever read a manga like this again, but if you’re thinking of reading just one in this genre, it must be this one. So many important (thought not all positive) tropes in manga come from the mind of Rumiko Takahashi, and no one does them better.
Art – 8
Story – 8
Writing – 8
Overall – 8/10