A Year of Takahashi Week 15: Breaking the 4th Wall, Breaking the Jokes (Ranma 1/2 Volumes 18-20)

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

The dance of love and hate between Ranma and Akane continue through these three volumes, as their personal relationship issues spill over across all these adventures. Watch as Ranma faces the despair of Ryoga, tries to be a cheerleader, helps a variety of lost loves, and might even start to sort out his complicated feelings for Akane. Or not.

Every good series has stumbling points, and this is definitely one for Ranma 1/2. While we have what I think is the first set of fourth wall breaking jokes, continuing the pattern of capturing the humor of Looney Tunes and the Marx Brothers, these stories feel generally flat. The madcap insanity is missing, replaced by a calmer set of jokes that play heavily off the on again, off again relationship between Ranma and Akane.

Instead of having the characters do increasingly crazy things, it seems like Takahashi is pulling back a bit here. The stories have a more traditional comedy feel to me, and I honestly don't like the change. There's still a sense of fun, but I just don't get that same buzz from these that I did from the previous volumes. Coming off the absolutely insanity of the prior few trades, this is quite a comedown.

The problem, I think, is that when the focus is on the will they or won't they nature of the Ranma/Akane relationship, it's hard to just be silly. Instead of finding Ranma's continual denials here funny, they start to grate after awhile. Obviously, he can't admit he loves Akane or the series is over, so why keep putting him in these situations, only to move on to being a jerk, time and time again?

Several of the stories this time feel recycled, which doesn't help matters. The Queen of the Black Rose is back, again using the pictures of Ranma as a girl as the focal point. Then Ranma and Akane must team up to defeat an outsider, in this case a martial artist cheerleader. This feels far too much like the time they got on ice skates together. It was probably less noticeable at the time, but reading these in trade form just feels like more of the same.

The nadir, however, is when Ranma's mother comes to town. Ranma of course is not a "real man" because of the curse, and that means he needs to die. The jokes are supposed to be around the idea of Ranma hiding as Ranko, but I didn't think this was funny at all. Hiding your true self from your parents is something all too many children have to do. The whole idea is mirthless to me and smacks of a variation on the mother-in-law theme, which is a joke I don't much care for anyway.

We wrap up with a cheap fat joke involving Happosai. Rather than go for the interesting idea that maybe Happosai loves all women, we go instead for a lowbrow crack that an overweight matronly ghost is cursing him, leading to antics trying to get Happosai to steal granny panties.

Come on, Ms. Takahashi--you're better than that.

All in all, this was the most disappointed set of comics in Ranma 1/2, and shows that any good series have rough spots. Next week, things should pick back up as we keep on moving through what is still my favorite Takahashi work.