A Year of Takahashi Week 12: The Ranma and Happosai Show (Ranma 1/2 Volumes 16 and 17)

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

It would be almost impossible for Takahashi to top herself in the humor department after the last three volumes, so things slow down a bit (relatively speaking) here, with the introduction of yet another character affected by the cursed springs, this time turned into a horrible flying beast with immense power. His link to the Ranma universe? His creation is all the fault of Happosai!

Needless to say, no one wants to be rid of Happosai more than the rest of our ensemble, so the race is on first to fight and then join forces with the tortured soul who's been linked in a cruel way to Happosai's fetishes. Can Ramna and his "friends" stay alive long enough to explain they don't like Happosai any better than this creatures does?

This is an unusually long story arc for Takahashi, taking up all of volume 16, with a coda of sorts in volume 17. It once again takes the primary focus of rivals fighting for (or against) Ranma and turns it more into a comedic situation in which normal enemies must band together in order to win. It seems like the further along we go, the less important it seems for our characters to really grab the attention of their paramours. Sure, we still have storylines that relate back to the engagement of Ranma and Akane (including a rather forgettable one in volume 17 where Ukyo moves in with the Tendos), but it seems like by now the stories seem more driven by placing these extremely interesting characters in wacky situations, just to see what they might do.

It's a premise that works rather well, actually. Ranma 1/2 is filled with fun and well-defined comedic characters, from the main person on down to part-time cast creepers like Gosunkugi, who just about closes out volume 17 with an awesome short in which he gets controllable paper dolls but ends up using them in all the wrong ways, with great comedy being the result just about every time. Takahashi's gentle treatment of Gosunkugi, even though he is a loser, is rather sweet.

Even Happosai is used well here, in what are easily his least-annoying appearances so far in the Ranma series. Moved more to the sidelines, his perverted nature is a lot easier to take. He's more the cause of problems than the problem himself in volume 16, and while I would not have minded that being the last we saw of him for quite some time, the return engagement as an octopus trap creature is one of the highlights of the 17th book in this series, as it becomes clear to Ranma just who he's facing inside that bucket.

The only real drag here is Ukyo, a character who just doesn't fit in with the rest of Ranma's world. She's just too practical to live in this crazy land where a gender-changing boy is considered normal or where a panda can work for a doctor or human playing cards cheat children out of their homes. Ukyo is far too mercenary. Her drive and desires just aren't funny, and that's never more clear than here, where she tries to bring reality and seriousness to the insanity that is the Tendo Dojo,. She's quickly becoming my least favorite character. Happosai may be disgusting, but he fits. Ukyo looks like she belongs in a shojo drama rather than a shonen farce.

Just shy of halfway, Ranma the series is changing. It's become an ensemble comedy that romps from adventure to adventure. For my part, I'm going to jump away for a bit again, as next week we'll have a daily celebration of Rumiko Takahashi as part of the April Manga Movable Feast. Be sure to turn to Panel Patter every day from April 25th to May 1st, when I'll have a daily dose of one of my favorite mangakas, links to the posts of others about Rumiko Takahashi and her world, and maybe even a guest post or two. Be there or be dumped in a cursed spring! And be sure to be back in two weeks, when I start on the second half of Ranma 1/2!