There are plenty of manga creators who are one-hit wonders. Creators of multiple successful titles are harder to come by, but one such person is Rumiko Takahashi, a woman who has created many popular works since the 1970s and is still going strong today. Her most successful series, which was also turned into an anime, is the subject of this article.
Ranma ½ ran as a manga between 1987 and 1996. It was first turned into an anime 1989 with the series running to 1992, but it has had many specials, straight-to-video releases and both anime and live-action movies since. The series mixes martial arts with romance and fantasy, but despite the battle aspect Takahashi deliberately aimed the series to be popular with female readers and with children too.
The story is mainly set in Nerima, Tokyo, at the “Anything-Goes School” of martial arts owned by Soun Tendo, where he lives with his three teenage daughters: kind and mature eldest daughter Kasumi, greedy middle daughter Nabiki, and grumpy martial arts exponent youngest daughter Akame. Soun tells all three that he has arranged a marriage between one of them and prominent martial arts student Ranma Saotome, whose father Genma is an old friend of Soun’s. But when Ranma turns up they find that she is a girl, accompanied by a giant panda. But the Tendo family get a bigger shock when they find a boy that looks like Ranma in the bath. In fact, the boy is Ranma Saotome, and the panda is his father.
It turns out that while the male Ranma and his actually human father Genma were training in China they fell into some cursed springs in Jusenkyo (guarded by a man with a dodgy Chinese accent). As a result they are both are now cursed. Whenever they are splashed with cold water Ranma turns into a girl and Genma turns into a panda. Being splashed with hot water returns them to normal. With that cleared up, it is decided that Ranma should be engaged with to Akame, but they both hate each other.
But the curse and the arranged marriage are just the start of Ranma and Akame’s problems as both find themselves the subject of various suitors wanting to marry them and martial artists wanting to kill them. These include among others Tatewaki Kuno, the head of the kendo club at Ranma and Akame’s school who is in love with Akame and later falls for the female Ranma too; Ryoga Hibiki, a guy with the world’s worst sense of direction and who blames Ranma for all his ills; and Shampoo, a Chinese Amazon girl who due to tribal custom has vowed to kill the female Ranma and marry the male Ranma, not realising they are the same person.
To make things even more complicated, many of Ranma’s foes have also fallen into the same cursed Chinese springs. Ryoga transforms into a pig when splashed with cold water. Akame adopts him as a pet, naming him “P-chan”, refusing to believe Ranma’s claims that the pig is also Ryoga. Shampoo meanwhile turns into a cat, which is the one thing in the entire world that Ranma is scared off.
To this day Ranma ½ is one of the most popular anime and manga series made. It is not just the best-selling of Takahashi’s works, but this series has been sold worldwide. It is probably the most popular Japanese anime in China, despite the whole thing with the man with the dodgy Chinese accent. Look at this way though, someone from Japan doing a Chinese accent is probably no more offensive than a British person doing a French accent. It does feel dodgier when the series is dubbed into English.
However, Ranma ½ still remains popular in the People’s Republic. This is mainly because of this mixture of comedy and kung-fu was translated into lots of local languages. Also, because the plot is mainly about romance and battles, there is little of the communist Chinese censors to object to.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is this. Due to Ranma’s “gender bender” nature, this is one of the few TV shows where both the male lead and the female lead have just about equal billing: because they are both the same character. Plus, because there is only one title character, there is no debate about which character gets more prominence in that respect. Also, while you do see both versions of the character topless, there is no real sexual intent. After all, if you see Ranma topless in his male form it would be hypocritical not to show her topless in her female form.
The first two Ranma ½ films, “Big Trouble in Nekonron, China” and “Nihao My Concubine” are released on Region 2 by MVM Films. The TV series is being released on Region 1 by Viz Media.