Title: Ranma ½ (Ranma Nibun-no-Ichi / らんま ½ )
Author: Rumiko Takahashi (Story & Art)
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Martial Arts, Adventure, School Life
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Published: 1988 – 1996 (tankōbon)
Volumes: 38 in the original run [Completed]
Japanese Publisher: Weekly Shōnen Sunday (magazine); Shogakukan (tankōbon)
English Publisher: Viz Media
Available to Purchase in English?: Yes (Indigo / Amazon / Barnes & Noble )
Synopsis: In China, there lies a famous training springs, a place where martial artists can hone their skills to great levels. Unfortunately, the springs are also cursed! Teenage martial artist Ranma falls into the “spring of drowned girl” and now changes into a woman every time he’s splashed with cold water. That doesn’t stop his father from engaging him to Akane, the daughter of an old friend and a tough girl who has better thing to do than worry about boys. But Akane isn’t the only girl who has a chance for Ranma’s affections—two other girls have also been betrothed to him. But Ranma has better things to do than worry about his love life—such as making a plethora of crazy rivals and even more suitors! (MAL)
I first discovered Ranma ½ when I went to Japan as a high school student in the summer between grades 11 and 12. I recognized the title in Japanese and picked up the first 5 volumes. I’d heard about Ranma ½ and wanted to read what it was all about.
Later back in Canada, when manga started to become more popular, I grabbed the first volume of Viz’s English release; the copyright date on the inside pages is from 2003, so this original run was before Viz re-released the series between 2004 and 2006 with some minor differences in formatting and new cover art. This original version also reads left to right, something which was an unfortunate standard of the time for some of the first English titles to be released in the west. After their second release of Ranma ½, Viz went on to publish Ranma ½ in a 2-in-1 omnibus format for the 36 volumes, completing this third run of tankōbon in 2017. Whew! If only all series could be so popular that they get published three times! (Although if you want to get nitpicky, Viz’s initial publishing of Ranma ½ only lasted 21 volumes before changes were made. These differences are also why the second and third runs of Ranma ½ spanned only 36 volumes instead of the Japanese release’s 38.)
I remember being excited to finally read Ranma ½ in English because while I enjoyed the Japanese volumes, I have unfortunately never been fluent in Japanese ( ;~; ) and didn’t understand everything that was being said. I could translate bits of dialogue and get a basic understanding of what was happening, but there were definitely scenes which left me completely clueless as to what was going on.
As someone who took martial arts lessons as a teenager but was never much interested in the field itself, Ranma ½‘s draw for me was its romantic comedy elements, many of which revolve around Ranma Saotome’s genderbending between male and female. Other characters in the series can also change from their human form, including Ranma’s father Genma (human to panda), Shampoo (human to cat), and Ryoga Hibiki (human to piglet). These unexpected, often sneaky switches lead to many comedic moments as the characters who can change try to keep their transformation ability secret from those around them. Sometimes transforming characters interact with other characters in their alternate form, which inevitably leads to more moments of hilarity as the transforming characters fight to keep their real identity hidden. For example, Ryoga is discovered by Akane in his piglet form; she has no idea Ryoga is the piglet and she names him P-chan. The kindness Akane shows “P-chan” causes Ryoga to fall in love with Akane, leading him to become Ranma’s rival after Ranma and Akane become engaged to each other courtesy of their fathers. Ryoga also develops a crush on Ranma’s female form, having no idea for part of the series that Ranma and the shorter dark-haired girl he has feelings for are the same person.
This is where I disclose that I’ve never actually read Ranma ½ all the way to its conclusion. After reading the first volume in English, I found that I enjoyed the series but it became repetitive to me very quickly. Characters trying to keep their secret animal forms hidden as they have close call after close call with other characters got boring, Ranma and Akane constantly arguing got annoying, and the series never felt like it had much of an overarching plot to me. Ranma ½ was cute, quirky and funny, but it never felt like the story was actually going anywhere, outside of waiting for Ranma and Akane to fall for each other because despite being engaged to each other against their will, you just knew that’s what was going to happen.
Also, while this didn’t factor into my opinion of the series at all, I would like to note that Viz’s original run of Ranma ½ is of what I would consider to be poor quality. I re-read parts of my volume for this review and it honestly looks like Viz photocopied the original Japanese tankōbon, translated it and re-packaged it. Some scenes with lots of shading went to shit and clothes often looked darker in the English version because of whatever Viz did. That being said, I do try to keep in mind that English licenced manga in the west was, by comparison to its current state today, somewhat in its infancy so I imagine Ranma ½ wasn’t the only title to suffer from quality issues. /shrug
Another thing to note is that this title does contain some upper body nudity. Usually in the context of bathing scenes/people getting wet, like Ranma genderbending when he’s soaked with water, or characters falling into a hot springs.
In conclusion, this review is based on me having read the series only up until the end of the fifth Japanese volume. I didn’t enjoy it enough that I wanted to finish the rest of the series in English. It was just a little too slow-moving and repetitive for my liking.
Do I Recommend This Title?: It’s alright. If you like romantic comedies or stories involving martial arts, this might be your thing. It’s very much a slice of life/school life title in that the plot doesn’t move very fast, but it’s funny and has an interesting enough concept. (It also beat out Fruits Basket‘s animal transformations by 11 years. I mention them because they’re the only other title I can think of offhand which does animal transformations.) A large cast of eccentric characters who have some very unique relationships with each other also helps keep the manga lively and entertaining.
Final Score: 7.5/10