In a time when martial arts manga was becoming popular, Rumiko Takahashi-sensei (future creator of Inuyasha) enters the fray with a martial arts manga of her own—with a twist. The story is about Ranma, who after falling into a cursed spring while training in China, is cursed with a body that becomes female when exposed to cold water, and reverts back to male in hot water. Now in Japan, he is told to marry Akane to ensure the passing of their father’s martial arts and dojo. But, is Ranma male or female? As the plot progresses, there are many more quirky characters, also cursed by the springs in China.
I read this manga for two reasons: the first is that I am a big fan of Takahashi-sensei’s newer work, Inuyasha, and the second, is because this the first manga read by many of my friends—I wanted to see what all the excitement was about. What I got was a comic action manga that strayed away from stereotypical gender blenders. Ranma never questioned what his sex was; he knew he was male despite his physical alterations. This differs greatly from other manga in the genre where the main character often questions his/her identify or falls in love with someone of their self-same sex. Although Ranma falls in love and is chased by men and women alike, the story’s focus is more on action and comedy.
The plot is fairly formulaic; but what drives the manga are the characters. Each character has a past and different relationships with each others’ character. Their behaviors are often complex but never change. For the most part, the characters are static—this is good and bad. With such a large cast of already complex characters, making changes to the them might have made the manga confusing or overwhelming. On the other hand, static characters are static characters. Dynamic characters grab the reader’s attention and don’t let go. With static characters they might seem interesting at first, but they quickly grow boring as they don’t change.
Ultimately, though I enjoyed reading Ranma ½, I didn’t enjoy it enough to read the entire series. But, on the bus ride to Baltimore for Otakon, this series provided some much needed entertainment, and I’m glad I got to explore this famous and oft-cited manga. My advice is to read the series even if it is only so you can understand other manga’s references and jokes.