February 12th, 2011



100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#12 RANMA ½ – Rumiko Takahashi

“She’s really a very sweet girl. She’s just a violent maniac.”

Pretending that the setup of Ranma ½ really matters would be beyond me, so I won’t. Let’s sum it up quick and dirty: teenager Ranma is a star of the School of Indiscriminate Grappling who suffers from a curse. Cold water turns him into a girl; hot water turns him back into a boy. Boy or girl, he’s almost undefeatable in a fight. This leads to violent solutions to the love triangles beyond counting he/she is trapped in. Also his father is sometimes a panda.

In Ranma, everyone solves their problems with challenges. If two girls like the same boy, then obviously they have to resolve this with a rhythmic gymnastic wrestling match. If someone steals your pet pig, that’s an issue that can only be dealt with by a combat skate-off. Even something as simple as noodle delivery becomes The Anything Goes Miss Martial Arts Takeout Race. You know how in dance movies every problem in the world can be solved by dancing? Particularly if it’s some kind of dance-off in which somebody gets ‘served’ and then somebody else ‘steps up’ in extreme cases ‘to the street’? Ranma is like a dance movie with martial arts instead of synchronised boogying. There is no difficulty that cannot be overcome by finding someone’s weak point or kicking them through the ceiling.

As kung-fu heroes, the characters in Ranma ½ can catch swords with their bare hands and balance on poles, but their ability to perform ridiculous feats is taken even further. Every kick sends someone into the sky and punches come by the hundred (per second). When Ranma is almost pushed out of the ring during a bout by a gush of water from a firehose, he fights back by swimming upstream through the torrent. The laws of physics are violated as casually as in a Looney Tunes cartoon, and Rumiko Takahashi draws it as cartoonishly as one.

Those characters who aren’t heroes know it. One thug carries a stopwatch so he can time how long it takes for him and his mates to be defeated, since it’s obviously inevitable. Even the locations seem to understand what’s expected of them and self-destruct spectacularly whenever it’s time for another round of escalation.

For all that, it’s also a romantic comedy (with gender-swapping) that artfully juggles a massive cast of confused characters, all of whom have reasons to be in conflict with everyone else. Those characters just happen to be incredibly skilful violent maniacs.