Oh Ranma. How do I love thee? The hilarity and insanity continues...
The fourth and fifth books are both much better than the third. There's still a lot of indiscriminate grappling, but the plot gets furthered too; in fact, I'd say in the fourth volume, the balance is nearly perfect. With the arrival of Shampoo's grandmother Cologne, we begin to see Ranma's first really big challenge; she's way better than he is, and she's determined that Ranma shall marry Shampoo. This sets up all sorts of hijinks through both volumes 4 and 5, which Ranma seems to manage to get out of largely by the skin of his teeth, and often with a little help from his friends. Mostly Akane.
I have to say, it does irritate me that Akane always seems to come out last. Well, last of the characters we know, anyway -- she's better than the average onlooking population, but we're not invested in any of them and so it doesn't count. She's never quite good enough, and sometimes this leads to her needing rescuing by Ranma. At least this time she didn't sprain her ankle before the battles began in 4 and 5. I really like Akane, but if she really wanted to prove how good she is, maybe she should get some training in? Anyway. I want to see Akane be really good at something that saves the day, rather than just saving the day by throwing herself in harm's way. I don't know if that happens, but I'll be watching for it.
One of the things I do enjoy about Ranma is that, for all his tough exterior, he really can't stand to see a girl cry. Even if that girl is Shampoo, who is a constant thorn in his side (and the reader's too, actually; she's as irritating as Ryoga, but she's meant to be), he has to find a way to make it better. This gets him into all sorts of trouble as people seem to walk in at the wrong moment and draw completely wrong conclusions, in the longstanding tradition of romantic comedy. There's also a couple of scenes where he's trying to get up the nerve to apologise to Akane that are quite sweet. Akane is truly terrifying when she's angry.
Kuno, the man who cannot possibly decide between Akane and female-form-Ranma, makes his return and is predictably melodramatic and hilarious. I look forward to seeing him again. Ryoga's still around, too, and it looks like he's not going anywhere soon, but I actually found him far less annoying this time around. Maybe because there was just the right amount of him, as opposed to an entirely Ryoga-centred volume.
So! Volumes 6 and 7 are on order at the library now. It's going to be a while before I see either of them, but that's okay. I've got a stack of things to read before I get there.