Title: Ranma 1/2
Author: Rumiko Takahashi
Publisher: Viz Media (Shonen Sunday)
Volume: Volume 1 (includes volumes 1-2), $14.99
Vintage: 1988 by Shogakukan, March 2014 by Viz Media
Genre: Romantic comedy, martial arts
The classic manga is back, ready for a new group of fans to fall in love with Ranma, or an old group of fans to reread a beloved story. Ranma Saotome and his father recently went on a training trip to China. It was there they found the Training Ground of Cursed Springs, and each fell into a separate spring while training above the water. Ranma into one where a young girl had died, and Saotome into one where a panda had drowned. Now, whenever either of them gets wet with cold rather, they transform into a girl and a panda, respectively. Only hot water can turn them back to normal. In this state, they arrive at the Tendo Dojo of Anything Goes Martial Arts, where Soun Tendo and his three daughters live. Saotome and Tendo made an arrangement to have Ranma marry one of the daughters, and the older sisters Kasumi and Nabiki push Akane forward when they learn about Ranma’s curse. Unfortunately, Akane is not a fan of men, despite their obvious fondness for her. Every day she arrives at school she must literally fight off a sea of boys who have vowed to ask her out if they can beat her in combat. On the other hand, Ranma isn’t exactly a fan of Akane either, finding her boorish, dorky, and dull. He also seems to have little interest in…well, anyone other than himself. Akane, meanwhile, has a crush on the local Dr. Tofu, an osteopathic expert who has taken care of her and her sisters for years. Yet even though Akane and Ranma appear to have no interest in each other, it doesn’t stop the school’s kendo club captain, Kuno, from challenging Ranma. Or from falling in love with Ranma when he transforms into a girl in the middle of their fight. For some (fortunate for Ranma) reason, Kuno doesn’t realize they’re the same person.
School life doesn’t get any easier for Ranma (who is already having trouble keeping it a secret that he transforms into a girl) when a former rival appears. For months now Ryoga Hibiki has been searching for Ranma, whom he claims ran away from their duel. Unfortunately, Ryoga has a serious lack of a directional sense, and was four days late to their appointed fight (Ranma waited for three then left). He’s been searching for Ranma ever since (and frequently getting lost along the way). The freakishly strong Ryoga holds several grudges against Ranma, including beating him out for bread at lunch at their school (literally; usually with a foot to the face), running from their fight, and one little extra surprise that befell poor Ryoga during his journey. Ryoga hits hard, and fights with a super heavy umbrella (A wagasa/bangasa I think?), but Ranma has near inhuman speed going for him. Unfortunately, Akane gets caught up in the middle of their fight, and her hair is chopped off by Ryoga’s umbrella. Ranma tries to cheer her up, but it’s hard for Akane to take him seriously when he’s been nothing but out and out rude to her until that point. But as their relationship moves two inches forward, it moves miles back when Akane takes in a certain little black piglet and shows it kindness. The omnibus wraps up by kicking off the upcoming story arc, which will pit Akane in a rather strange gymnastics competition against a rival school’s champion, “The Black Rose” Kodachi.
As bizarre as this series sounds, and it is incredibly bizarre, it’s also completely hilarious. When Ranma becomes a female, it’s purely a physical change. His strength and personality remain the same (and his voice, as far as I know). In fact, other than it being a superb nuisance, he’s not particularly bothered by his new body. Or rather, he’s just sort of unaware of it as a female vessel. Boobs? Who cares? He’s got them, he sees them all the time on himself, he walks around the Tendo house shirtless. Of course, despite the fact that it is a hated curse, he’s not above using his female form for his own gain (like smiling sweetly for a bit of extra food at the market). His father, remarkably, seems quite comfortable as a panda, even taking a job at Dr. Tofu’s in panda form. While it might be difficult to identify with a teenage boy with a magical curse, Akane is incredibly relatable. She has been crushing on Dr. Tofu for years, but it’s long been clear he has eyes for her older, more feminine sister Kasumi. Hoping to make the doctor like her, too, Akane grows out her hair in an attempt to be more girlish. Whenever Dr. Tofu comments on her athleticism or boisterous personality, she becomes extremely embarrassed and tries to deny it. When her hair is suddenly cut off, she realizes that she should just be herself rather than trying to be like Kasumi (ie: the type of woman Dr. Tofu likes). In any case, it’s her kindness and personality that make her attractive, not the style of her hair. Even Ranma is showing early signs of realizing that Akane might just be cute after all. It’s not all sex changes and goofy romance, of course. There’s plenty of action to be had as Ranma fights off Kuno and Ryoga, and occasionally his father. And let’s not forget that Akane is also quite skilled, though she can’t currently stand up to Ranma in combat (he’s practically inhuman). There are also plenty of laughs to be found within these pages, from snorting giggles to loud guffaws. It’s hard to call yourself a manga fan without exposure to any of Rumiko Takahashi’s series, so if you never jumped on board with Inu Yasha, haven’t picked up her newest Rin-ne, or never looked into her five other series, then this is a perfect opportunity to jump in at the start of a beloved, classic title.