February 22, 2011

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A Year of Takahasi Week 7: Back on Track (Ranma 1/2 Volumes 8-10)

My year-long look at the work of Rumiko Takahashi continues here. A great creator deserves a whole year of examination! You can find all of the posts here.

Written by Rumiko Takahashi
Illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi
Viz

I can't resist the pun here, as I not only feel these volumes place the manga on a more solid footing than the ones with the skeezy Happosai as focal antagonist but it also represents getting my feature back on track. (Computer issues wiped out last week's planned post.)

As with just about every volume of Ranma, we are introduced to some new characters but this time they work much better within the context of the narrative. Ukyo is yet another suitor for Ranma and she fits in perfectly for several reasons. Let's talk about those for a minute before we move on.

First and formost, she is of a similar age to Ranma and Akane. If Ukyo shows interest in either of them, it does not make you sick to your stomach. That's a huge improvement from Happosai.

Secondly, Ukyo has gender issues that do not stem from a cursed spring. Because Ranma "rejected" her, she feels that she can no longer be feminine. Thus she has turned to a masculine life. Now I realize that this is a comedy and a comedy for kids to boot, but there are some deep contrasts that you can make here. Ukyo leads a dual life because she feels it is the only way to deal with heartbreak while Ranma leads a dual life by fate. Perhaps the sins of the father/son combo have more to do with Ranma's plight than bad luck?

Or maybe I'm just overthinking it.

Anyway, the third thing that makes Ukyo so interesting to me is that she is just as tomboyish as Akane but Ranma seems less bothered by it in Ukyo. Sure, she can cook (for comedic effect) but I wonder if maybe Ranma only respects a fighting spirit in women whom he won't be sharing his life with. That's a fairly common--if unfortunate--theme in both fiction and real life and I wonder if Takahashi isn't slipping a bit of social commentary into her farce.

Again, maybe I'm just overthinking it.

At any rate, Ukyo is a fresh face that immediately brings some new life into the series and interacts with the existing cast quite well. Like other new characters we see a lot of her initially then she fades back a bit. She's definitely a keeper though and her appearances are welcome.

During this stretch of chapters we also get the return of Mousse, the nearsighted boy who wants to destroy Ranma to get at Shampoo. The plot is about as normal as you get in Ranma 1/2, with an evil scheme to either kill Ranma or turn Akane into a duck. Because it's an almost normal idea, some of the fun is lost and I feel like we see a recycling of gags. Plus Akane as damsel in distress just doesn't work for me. It's far funnier when Ranma only thinks he needs to save her. Real danger just doesn't belong in Ranma.

While volumes 8 and 9 are solid, I feel like volume 10 is a bit of a filler volume. The stories are funny but while we can see character development in the Ukyo and Mousse battles, these shorts are just moments in time. Really darn funny moments in time mind you, but somewhat akin to deleted scenes.

Most notable in volume 10 is the introduction of another non-suitor villain, the Principal. As with Happosai, the story moves from being akin to Tom and Jerry to their later team up work in The Tom and Jerry Show, where differences were put aside to fight a common enemy.

While I prefer the action to focus on suitors, at least the principal is not a pervert. He is just diabolical, with all the resources of a James Bond villain, complete with an underground lair. In order to avoid his mad edicts, all of the students must stay one step ahead of his fevered brain, leading to quite a bit of funny moments.

This story arc, while stepping back from the love hate rekationship of Akane and Ranma, at least continues the zaniness, which makes it a lot of fun to read. Ranma 1/2 is at its best when things make absolutely no logical sense and that's definitely the case here.

As we close in on the 1/3 mark of 1/2, we get a little bit of everything and there's nothing wrong with that. This is still such a fun book to read and that doesn't change anytime soon, as we'll see next week.