- Oct 25, 2017
I meant to start this earlier in the year, but do to a lot of circumstances and time investment, I'm just now getting to it. I'm not an English student, so I won't be able to really deep dive a lot of themes and story elements, but I did want to reflect on this series. Growing up and being non-binary (though not realizing I was, or even being open about it till very recently) I connected a ton with this series. Even before I started my rewatch, I knew a LOT of this show was not going to hold up to modern scrutiny or even to myself, but something about this show stuck with me in a big way growing up and I'd often rewatch it especially if I was feeling down.
Before I go any further, I want to explain the setup: I'm currently rewatching the entire series on Hulu, which has the anime broken up into 7 equal length seasons of 23 episodes each. They also rearranged the episodes to be in production order which isn't hugely different from airing order, but it does fix some continuity errors introduced by airing the first Shampoo arc early. A move that was 100% a synical move because of her overwhelming popularity in the Manga. For the purposes of simplicity, I'll also be sticking to this for my take on entire seasons.
I don't plan on reviewing individual episodes unless there is something huge plot wise, or a particular episode really had a big impact on me growing up, or perhaps even a stronger impact looking back on it. I'll also go over my thoughts on individual characters as they are introduced (if they are reoccuring). I'll probably review about a half seasons worth at a time (13ish episodes, give or take in case it happens in the middle of an arch)
I also plan on watching the series in it's original 90's dub in all of it's stilted, sketchy glory. Baby Koji didn't understand the anime terminology or like reading subtitles. While that changed over time, I wanted to stay true to my original memories and experience on this retrospective. I will say, while the dub itself is questionable at times, the commitment to not overly localize and at times even teach the tropes and concepts in the dub itself was very ahead of it's time. No character names were changed, concepts and food items are explained instead of being "donuts", etc etc. There are a few times when this was applied a little wantonly, an example being keeping P-chan, P-chan but deciding to localize "Little Azusa" but in general I'm impressed with those efforts even if at times it made some dialogue more stilted than necessary.
Here's Ranma / The Strange Stranger from China: As far as single episode length pilots go, this is pretty much perfect. Introduces the primary characters, conflicts of the series (Ranma and Genma's transformations, the betrothal of Ranma and Akane), as well as setting up the love/hate dynamic of Ranma and Akane. We're shown straight up that Akane is hot headed, but overall a nice person and even treats Ranma well until the bathroom scene. And that line... "I'm better built to boot!" savage, and Akane's reaction just as much so.
School is No Place for Horsing Around: Introductions and some expansion on a lot of our side characters. Nibiki starts to show her personality, and the total Non-threat that is Kuno is also introduced. We're also told why Akane hates boys so much, the answer? Kuno made a declaration that any boy that could defeat Akane in battle would date with her. Kuno is the absolute worst, even if he's played up for comedy.
A Sudden Storm of Love: We find out that Kuno is an idiot and doesn't know that boy and girl Ranma are the same person. A reoccuring theme that will be constantly played up for comedy. Nabiki is best girl, I always forget just how much she is best girl since she often gets put on the back burner... but her sarcasm, her wit, and her ruthless attempts to extort money from Kuno, and just about everyone else is always endlessly entertaining. Especially since she's at her heart, not a bad person. She cares about her family, and even the Saotome's to an extent. That said, she definitely does some things outside of a comedy setting that are pretty gross. We also get Ranma's first love confession, and it's of course from Kuno.
Ranma and... Ranma? If it's Not One Thing, It's Another.: I-love-you-I-would-date-with-you I-love-you-I-would-date-with-you I-love-you-I-would-date-with-you I-love-you-I-would-date-with-you I-love-you-I-would-date-with-you. The opening nightmare is pretty amusing, putting aside some "you can't date me, I'm a guy!" otherwise very slow. A reoccuring problem in the first half of the first season is that it's actually focused more on the Drama than the comedy.
This episode is a little gross for another reason though, and that's Nibiki taking risque pictures of female-Ranma in his sleep to sell to Kuno. Though it does lead to a funny part where Ranma things he's wet the bed from his nightmares (Nibiki poured warm water on Ranma to change him back into a boy before he woke up). Still even with that bit of scummy behavior, Nibiki is still the absolute star of this episode and still best girl.
Love Me to the Bone! The Compound Fracture of Akane's Heart: A pretty boring episode, we learn more about Dr. Tofu, who mostly serves as a plot device in occasional episodes going forward. In this episode, he serves as a means for Ranma to see the nicer side of Akane. Dr. Tofu throws out Ranma's hips so he can't walk and Akane pig backs him home (after a bit of pointless whining and then turning Ranma into his girl-type). The boys in Akane's class give up on trying to fight her though at least.
Akane's Lost Love... These Things Happen, You Know: A direct continuation of the previous episode, and easily the slowest, least interesting episode of the first season. The primary vehicle for comedy this episode is from Dr. Tofu and his slapstick routine every time he runs into Kasumi. We do see Ranma and Akane having an actual discussion about their feelings in general which is rare in this series as it goes further and further to comedy over drama.
We're also introduced to the brief running gag where something bad happens and it'll be better "by next week", a meta joke on the time between episode airings. It's not funny, and it doesn't last long.
Enter Ryoga! The Eternal 'Lost Boy': Enter best boy, or at least I remembered him as such. We share the same basic trait of being unable to read maps, or find where we are going. Luckily I was born in the age of GPS, so I had that going for me at least. Needless to say, most of the humor in this episode revolves around this trait, but as Ranma's primary bro/antagonist we probably learn more about him than anyone else besides Ranma and Akane over the course of the series.
Also he can't find the empty lot behind his house. Also also... "I'll get you for sure by next week!"
School is a Battlefield! Ranma vs Ryoga: Another direct continuation, This episode is mostly a battle/comedy episode with just the last few minutes being really important going forward. There is also a minor continuity error before the curse reveal, where Ryouga swims across the China see to Japan in a flashback without him transforming. This episode also contains what I'd consider the first real good use of Sakuga (good animation) for fight choreography. Akane also ends up the victim of Ranma and Ryoga's fight, spelling the end of her long hair style for the rest of the series. Also Genma gets sent to the Zoo as an escaped Panda, the first of many times throughout the series.
True Confessions! A Girl's Hair is Her Life: The aftermath of Akane's unwitting hair cut as well as the reveal that Ryouga is also cursed. He's also probably the least lucky of all of the characters in this series, but as we go further into the series we see a lot of it is simply karma. He's not exactly a good person, a theme that we see a lot. Very few characters in Ranma 1/2 are what we'd consider truly 'good' people but it's done so intentionally. It's a lot easier to see the constant slapstick against those we feel deserve it versus a truly good character constantly getting beat down.
The only bright side for his piggy self is Akane finding and adopting him, naming him P-chan. He gets his first kiss from her (even if he's a pig at the time) and is smitten for the rest of the series. This one-sided love triangle between Ranma, Ryouga and Akane has a very different flavor from the Ranma/Kuno/Akane in that it's clear that Akane both thinks of Ryouga as an actual friend, while still also being clear that that is all she'll ever see him as. This itself leads to some really interesting scenarios later on.
P-P-P-Chan! He's Good For Nothin: Ryouga has already assumed Ranma had ruined his life by abandoning their duel, the first few minutes of this episode confirms it's much more direct than that with Ranma being the one to knock Ryouga into the cursed spring. It's been awhile since I've read the manga, but I do think this is the first bit of anime filler in the series. Most of the episode is ranma and ryouga/pchan hijinks, but there is a small 7-8 minute subplot where P-chan ends up being adopted by an old couple to become the heir of their fortune. This leads to a strangely well animated fight between Ranma and a couple paid butlers/thugs that Ranma almost loses to. Like some of the best in the entire first season.
Ranma Meets Love Head-On! Enter the Delinquent Juvenile Gymast!: These next 3 episodes makeup a 3 parter. We're introduced to Kodachi. It's amazing just how many tropes Ranma 1/2 would go on to standardize going forward, including the 'Oujo'... though this prototype example is different from most later varieties since she's both hands on, and the exact opposite of a tsundere. She also rivals Kuno as worst reoccuring character, fitting since they are siblings.
The episode starts with Ranma learning not only that he can cover his embarassment trying certain things by 'hiding' in his girl form, but that he can take advantage of it by getting free treats from vendor stalls by acting cute. While this is pretty morally dubious, it does mark a small change in his perspective on his ability to transform. There are benefits, and he's allowed to do and act in certain ways that he normally wouldn't because of how the world views men and how men are supposed to act (obviously the term toxic masculinity isn't used here, but it's pretty clearly implied). While Ranma 1/2 never fully addresses this topic, throughout the series Ranma does become more and more comfortable expressing himself as female Ranma, even if that is sometimes used against him by his rivals. But that's to be covered much later, for right now this was an interesting 'first step' that was clearly and totally his own that I found intriguing.
But the main point of this episode is that Kodachi, the Black Rose, is an awful cheating cheater who tries to remove her rivals from competitions before the matches start. Her school is undefeated simply because she makes every other school they compete against forfeit. Now she's aiming at Ranma and Akane's school mates. They are injured and Akane steps up. It's here we learn that while Akane practices martial arts, she's not very graceful to the laughs of many. Ranma inadvertently saves Kodachi from falling as she escaped an attack on Akane, only for her to fall madly in love with Ranma and it's at this point that we're now fully committed to this show being a Harem. (For the record, Akane, Kuno, Kodachi make up Ranma's current harem, once you escape the triangle and go 4 or more sides, you're in a harem)
A Woman's Love is War! The Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics Challenge: Akane formally accepts the challenge against Kodachi, and the stakes are upped with Ranma being the prize. Much tsundere follows, as well as a training montage where Akane inevitably gets injured. "Where are we going to find someone who's good at Martial Arts, knows gymnastics, and looks good in a leotard?" Another training montage ensues, with Ryoga 'training' Ranma, but really trying to intentionally injure him so he'll lose and be forced to give up Akane for Kodachi. He fails, and the match begins the next day.
A Tear in a Girl-Delinquent's Eye? The End of the Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics Challenge!: Everyone is dumb. Ranma announce (in girl form) he's Ranma, and all of the students from both schools don't figure out that Boy and Girl Ranma are the same person. Not just the Kuno siblings... my god, so dumb. The rest of the episode is just an enjoyable silly fight. Making up a good 15 minutes or so of the episode, and easily the longest single fight so far in the series. Of all of the fights I remember, this one probably has the best mix of cool choreography, unique moves, and just funny moments. Later Ranma episodes tends to separate out the action from comedy, but here we have a beautiful blend of the two.
So there we are, the first 13 episodes and roughly half of the first 'season' of Ranma one half and I got to say, the first episode not-withstanding, it's a sloooooooow start. The first episode knew to keep moving, giving a good blend of the action, comedy, world building, etc but everything else up to the introduction of best boy Ryouga is a slog and even his arc would have worked as a 2-parter instead of being stretched out over 3 episodes. I've watched a bit beyond this point (up to about episode 28) so I'll probably knock out the second half of season one sometime in the next few days and it gets much much better.
Once you get over that hump though, it's still an enjoyable watch. Lots of this series does not hold up to modern social standards, but for the time it wasn't anywhere near the worst. There is certainly a large element of "look at me! I'm a boy! We couldn't date because you are also a boy!" when it comes to Ranma and Kuno. Nibiki too taking near-nudes of an asleep Ranma to sell are pretty icky though it is dulled a bit by what I was saying earlier... every character in Ranma 1/2 has issues and nearly all of them are morally bad people and it makes their comeuppance all the more hilarious when it happens. That said, outsides of that instance Nibiki is a joy to watch. Her dubbed voice is perfect aside from a couple awkward line readings to try and better match the lip flaps. Perfectly capturing that snark.
Back to the social topic though, there is something to say about the fact that the family unit that the Saotome's and Tendous form. While there is a lot of teasing all around, everyone there cares for each other and aside from Genma being an awful dad to Ranma, the rest of the household's teasing of Ranma is pretty minor and they accept him completely for who he is (even Akane, in her own Tsundere way).
Obviously I've got a lot more episodes to go, but taking just these 13 episodes, I'd say it's all worth a watch. I'd almost recommend skipping over episodes 3-6, but they do provide some context and story elements for Ryouga's arc so I'll just say, know it gets a lot better.
Some things to look forward to in the next batch: Ranma's first kiss, Pelvic fortune telling, the introduction of a lot of people's favorite character; Shampoo, Cat-Fu, and the first fully anime original episode (heads up, it's bad, and sets the template for 98% of all future anime original episodes).