I'm on a manga kick lately, in case anyone hadn't noticed. This is partially because they're easy to read and the past couple of weeks has been so busy outside of reading that my concentration is fairly shot. I'm hoping that will change, but until then I'm getting to visit with some creative stories and fun characters that I'm growing very fond of... Scott Pilgrim, and as today, Ranma and Akane and their absolutely nuts and ever-increasing cast of supporting characters.
I was thinking earlier that this series is very much a guilty pleasure for me. In the "I know this is seriously not politically correct -- Akane keeps getting made fun of for not being womanly enough -- but I love it anyway for some reason" way. But as I was reading Volume 7, I realized something that I am incredibly dense for not realizing before. More on that in a moment.
So to catch everyone up a little... in Volume 6 we meet Happosai, Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo's master, the true master of the School of Indiscriminate Grappling. He has decided that Ranma will be his heir and he shows up at the Tendo Dojo to stay, much to the horror of Genma and Soun. We soon learn why. He is the epitome the word "lecher" and his panty-stealing exploits, not to mention laziness and gluttony, combined with absolutely astonishing martial arts powers, spell trouble for everyone.
In Volume 7 there are various plots, starting with a drama club production of Romeo and Juliet, moving to a plot where a Japanese "Spring of Drowned Man" is discovered -- underneath the girl's locker room at the high school. Finally, the last episode is a plot involving deadly cookies and incriminating photographs. The first two main plots in this volume bring us back to the overarching storyline, of Ranma trying to find a way to stop turning into a girl, and the last brings back the over-the-top villainess Kodachi Kuno (hooray!) as well as the "Akane can't cook" running gag.
So. My revelation came when I realized that almost all the parts that make me cringe -- usually gender-roles related -- come from the mouths of characters we can't possibly take seriously. Soun Tendo is clearly one lightbulb short of a chandelier, and Genma is usually a panda. The part that made my jaw drop in Volume 7 was Kuno's pronouncement that a woman's sole source of happiness was in her husband loving her cooking. I actually physically winced when I read that. And then I realized, this is Kuno. This is the character who is possibly the least likeable (although not the most irritating) and who is also always wrong. Thinking more on it, I realized that the only reason Akane's massive lack of cooking skills matters to Ranma is because it matters to her. He couldn't care less, except that she does; and it's pretty clear that the main reason she cares is because she can't stand to let the cookies win.
As well, Akane as Juliet inspires a battle royale for the position of Romeo. This is Akane, who is supposed to be a tomboy, who would just as soon kick a boy than kiss him, who can't cook, and otherwise displays very little in the way of traditional "women's skills." And yet she has four men fighting over her.
I'm not suggesting that Ranma 1/2 be read as some sort of treatise on gender roles. Akane still needs rescuing a bit too much for my liking, although she does some of the rescuing and lots of quick-thinking in these two volumes herself. But it's subversive, and often hilarious, and the romance is really quite sweet. It's easy to read this manga very quickly without paying attention to the issues that Takahashi is poking subtle fun at, but I'm going to try to pay a little more attention when Volumes 8 and 9 come in at the library because I think it will enhance my own enjoyment.