Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ranma 1/2 Volumes 6 and 7 by Rumiko Takahashi

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.


emaki said...

Maybe I am over-simplifying, but Ranma 1/2 is a comedy about gender.

Main joke throughout: Lout Ranma is forced to live (randomly) as a woman; comfortable with his natural gender role, he is tortured by his supernatural gender. The mirror joke is Akane, also disphoric in her (natural) gender role. Her conflict is more complex and more traditional, really.

So, it makes sense to cast this pair into a sea of sexism, no? If you think about it, almost all (or all?) of the secondary characters are comfortable in their roles, gender and otherwise. These roles often centre around gender and are taken to the extreme.

Kuno with his chivalry, Soun with his honour, Happosai with his insane lechery. The interesting thing to me (and I'll admit, my experience here is from the Anime, not the Manga) is that the comedy isn't so much from the conflict between these role inhabitors and role-disphorics, but more in the contrast. Ranma oscillates between honourable and dishonourable, chivalrous and cad. And Akane between... kick and kiss?

Maybe I am reducing. I am comfortable in my role as a reductionist.

Unknown said...

Other than the Akane kick vs. kiss oscillation, I agree with you. Although I'm not entirely certain Ranma is a cad; "cad" to me suggests deliberate callousness where I think Ranma is a rather charming combination of unlucky and just too nice (which is why he gets caught in compromising positions too often.)

Re: Akane -- I rarely ever see her in the "kiss" phase. What she does oscillate between is wanting to impress others and not really caring what others think. I'm not quite sure what usually wins out.

emaki said...

I didn't say he was a cad (rather a lout), but that he is periodically caddish. He is cold (and somewhat mean) to Akane on purpose. He's clearly not always chivalrous, what's the opposite?

Akane has her moments of girlish affection, which is what I mean by "kiss". Think P-Chan here.

Unknown said...

I think he's more immature, perhaps. Perhaps clod is more accurate. He does like to tease, and in a very 10-year-old-boy way. Which can be mean.

Speaking of P-Chan, where does he fit? Does being a cute little piglet undermine Ryoga's manliness? He's certainly willing to take it when it gets him what he wants. Although, Ranma will do the same thing when being a cute girl will get him what he wants. Such as food.

Anonymous said...

Huh, I should check out Ranma. Recently I read Naruto 1 and I liked it, I guess. I found it really crazed and manic in its story. Is Ranma like this? Where the story is shoved around a lot?


Unknown said...

Uh... yes, crazed and manic would be a good description, but it's followable (which I'm sure is a word). There are a couple of overarching plots -- the romantic plot, and the quest to return Ranma to his original state -- but in general it's pretty episodic. There are different villains to beat up, challenges to overcome, usually several stupid (and funny) battles a volume.

I haven't read Naruto so I can't compare. Ranma's extremely tongue-in-cheek and it's really only any good if you are prepared to suspend all disbelief. I really like it, but I suspect it's certainly not everyone's kind of thing. I'd recommend trying out the first two volumes, though, before making any decisions either way -- the first two volumes will give you a pretty good idea of how the series goes.

emaki said...

I'd have to read more to be able to deconstruct Ryoga/P-Chan, but I am unclear whether this is a worthwhile pursuit. Also I lack an English degree.

My vague feeling is that Ryoga, like Genma, more or less just -is-. Not happy about the transformations, but not existentially addled by them. He has the joke/extreme that he gets lost all the time.

All of these secondary characters are... well, cartoons.

Unknown said...

Sigh. I don't have an English degree either, but I'm still reviewing books. I did take that one Literary Appreciation course, which ended up a bit of a disaster, but that wasn't my fault.

Apparently (according to subsequent volumes) Ryoga's getting lost all the time is genetic. You know, I just realized that these characters all come from families, and those families show up to different degrees throughout the series. Shampoo's got a grandmother, the Kunos are siblings, and so forth. And now Ryoga has a family that gets terribly lost.

Unknown said...

I just mention this because in many of the other manga I've read, family is either completely background, or absent entirely.