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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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12/10/2006 Archived Entry: "Manga review: Ranma 1/2 Volume 36 Review"

Ranma ½: The Final Episode, (Vol. 36)
Story and Art by Rumiko Takahashi
English Language Version produced by VIZ, 2006

Review by Kelly S. Taylor

As devoted readers of my reviews know (or would know if there actually were any devoted readers of my reviews) I luuuuuv Rumiko Takahashi and of all my favorite Takahashi favorites, the Ranma ½ series is my favorite-est. Therefore my expectations were high when I picked up this the final volume of my favorite-est favorite manga ever.

Takahashi herself pumps up the volume by putting a picture on the cover that fans have waited the whole series to see -- reluctant fiancées Ranma and Akane in full wedding gear. I won’t give away the end, but I will tell you that you the cover is not simply part of a bait and switch ploy. You do get to see Ranma and Akane in those lovely white outfits. Wedding invitations do go out. The ceremony… Okay, I’m shutting up now. You have to read the manga to find out. To cut any stress-inducing suspense out of this review, let me go ahead and tell you that I think you should read the manga.

There are some manga series that I like because they are beautiful. There are some I appreciate because they are innovative. Ranma ½, though, is a series that I have always loved because it was fun. While answering an interviewer’s question about why she decided to use water as the agent of transformation for characters in this series, Rumiko Takahashi replied, “I really liked it because it's idiotic and laughable. I wanted to make Ranma a funny, kind of happy comic that can cheer up the reader…” And cheer me up it does.

Part of the fun of Ranma ½ is its unpredictability. Rather than being located firmly in a single genre, the series flips between being an action comic, a romance, and a slapstick comedy. Rather than coming off as the schizophrenic mess it would under the hands of a less skilled storyteller, this rotation between styles gives the series constant variety and interest.

I think the genre switching works because it springs from the nature of her dramatic personae. A classic Takahashi character has a conflicted nature. Not only do they turn into pigs and girls and ducks and cats when water hits them in this series, they also frequently have yin/yang oppositions in their own personalities. Akane, for example, is a practical, tough, martial-arts obsessed tomboy who also has a romantic side and in part wants to be a demure, soft-spoken housewife like her older sister. Ryoga, my favorite of Akane’s suitors, is a solemn, serious, completely dedicated martial artist who has no sense of direction and turns into vulnerable stammering idiot when he’s around his true love. When talking about writing scenes between the two of them, Takahashi said something that may reveal the motivation behind the serio-comic turn in Ranma ½ . “I like the atmosphere when Ryöga tries to talk to Akane,” the artist told her interviewer. “He really gets embarrassed or can't say what he wants to say. I get embarrassed when I'm drawing a serious scene, so I ended up including a gag. This applies to things other than love scenes. Sometimes, I draw a little gag at the edge of a cartoon. I don't really care if anyone notices it or not.”

The contradictory, unpredictable nature of the characters give the series range and a sense of joyous caprice. Getting those little gags that Takahashi tosses off to relieve serious scenes adds surprise and depth. Priceless, as a certain popular commercial would say.

Takahashi’s graphic style is deceptively simple. Her characters are drawn with bold, spare strokes, but there are always delightful dashes of decorative detail. This volume opens at the infamous springs at the Jusenkyo training grounds in China. Like all the Jusenkyo episodes, the art style is enlivened with playful references to Chinese motifs and designs.

The fight scenes practically fly off the page. Action sequences are filled with vigorously rendered motion and dramatic poses that urge you from panel to panel breathlessly. Takahashi is a veritable Shakepeare of onomatopoeia, crafting sound effects like “Znnn,” “Hoosh,” and “Krii” that create a uniquely vivid aural vocabulary.

Best of all is Takahashi’s capability to manage pacing visually. A frenetic battle scene will be punctuated with a “gag” pose that will bring the action to a sudden, hilarious halt. Romantic frills and sparkles slow the story to a crawl then splinter into hectic crowd scenes. It is easy to see that Takahashi already had several anime adaptations of her works under her belt by the time she penned this volume. The graphics are exhilaratingly cinematic.

The wait for this final volume has been a long one for American fans. Ranma ½ began to be serialized in Shonen Sunday in August of 1987. The final panels were published in February of 1996. In 2006, we patient American fans are finally getting our hands on this excellent English-language version.

Was is worth the wait? Oh, yes. Although connoisseurs will notice that the action/romance/gags balance has by this point tipped towards a ratio that would be more typical of Inuyasha, Ranma ½ goes out in high style. Don’t expect every plotline to be neatly tied up. Don’t anticipate that every character arc will be given a full stop. Do plan to be energized, amused, and delighted. Read this last volume of Ranma ½. I think that --just as Rumiko Takahashi intended -- it will cheer you up!

Replies: 1 Comment

I am a devoted reader of your reviews.

Posted by Tom @ 01/14/2007 07:47 PM PST

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