Samurai Ranma

I just finished the Three Urns arc and had a total blast. Why am i enjoying this? Steven meanwhile is having buyer’s remorse, arguing that there just isn’t enough plot to fill a series of this length. However, i think that the plot staples of hair matches and treasure hunts works well enough. What was great about the Urn arc was that a lot of characters made a return, we got to see Ryoga interact with Kuno, for example, and Kodachi square off against Mousse (who played fowl). Brief, to be sure, but still fun. I also think there’s a lot of ground to cover in fleshing out Ryoga, who is clearly destined to be Ranma’s ally and friend. The arc of how he gets there is a long one no doubt. The ensemble cast is large enough that all the characters might end up with a role to play. I certainly hadn’t expected Shampoo to stick around this long. And of course with N characters there are N^2 possible pairings in terms of conflict or alliance. 2*N^2 if you allow for both.

As far as the treasure hunts go, I’m cool with knowing they are destined to fail. The suspense is not if, but how. The ending to the Urn arc was awesome, it had that whole meta, Douglas Adams vibe to it. And I also speculate that there’s no way that Ranma will ever lift his curse (I may be wrong, don’t spoil me). So the purpose of the treasure hunts are more for Ranma’s acceptance of his fate, than for my need for plot resolution. And they provide just wonderful backdrops for all the minor characters to shine, and interact.

For some reason I am reminded of Samurai Jack. Here too is a series where the basic plot is recycled: treasure hunts, or liberation of group/race X from Aku’s clutches. And here too I have my doubts as to whether samurai Jack will ever succeed – his goal of going back in time to stop Aku would just be too much of a reset. All the suffering that Aku has inflicted on Earth is real. Can it be washed away? I don’t see how that squares with the idea central to the series that one man makes a difference. If Jack resets the world, then all of his own efforts in the future also become meaningless.

Ranma plays the hero for laughs, whereas Jack plays it for drama. But in the end, the two of them have the same general problem. In trying to solve it, they drag reality along, and it’s in their wake that the real stories are told.

a continuity issue

odd. I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons Shampoo’s entrance weighs so heavily on Akane is because Ranma had defended her honor as his fiancee during the skating championship. But that doesn’t happen until after the 1st Shampoo arc. However, Akane flashbacks to it anyway! Here’s a screen grab from Akane’s flashback in the Shampoo introduction episode as proof.

akane flashbacks to the future

Pretty sure that’s the ice skating rink. Wierd.

Kuno the impermanent

I decided to start Ranma over. I hadn’t been taking the first disc seriously, and then I really only got into it around the second disc, so I felt like I had missed out. On rewatch it all hangs together much more, you can actually see that the long term arc of Ranma and Akane is fairly well planned even if the episodic rhythm verges on manic. For example, we needed the absurd martial arts competitions to establish the pair’s emotional bond, which fully culminated in Ranma’s declaration taking “ownership” of Akane’s honor (during the skating championship). Only then could Shampoo’s arrival cause such emotional havoc (physical destruction notwithstanding).

I’m up to the review episode after the Shampoo arc, and in the flashbacks involving Kuno, was struck by something about the rhythm of his strange poetry that he uses when making an entrance. The first time around i just thought it was just his own arcane poetry, full of sounds but meaning very little. But on second watch, the words suddenly felt like they meant something. So I googled them, and in hindsight I should not be surprised at all that these words Kuno speaks are the opening lines to Heike monogatari, the Tale of the Heike, an ancient epic from the Japanese medeival period. These opening lines are:

The sound of the bell of the Gion Temple tolls the impermanence of all things, and the hue of the Sala tree’s blossoms reveals the truth that those who flourish must fade. The proud ones do not last forever, but are like the dream of a spring night. Even the mighty will perish, just like the dust before the wind.

I do not lay claim to being even a fraction of a connoisseur on Japanese history and culture, but it occurs to me that for Kuno to speak these lines, given his character, is supremely ironic.

UPDATE: Japanese Culture by H. Paul Varley, apparently a well-respected text, is online at Google Book Search and discusses the Heike in much more detail. I just might have to buy this book.

vengeance upon den Beste

you know the reason I started this blog was because a certain someone got me addicted – and I mean ADDICTED – to Haibane Renmei. Steven wasn’t content to hit me with that alone, though – I also got a triple bolus of Sugar Snow Fairy and Someday’s Dreamers to course like crack through my fledgling otaku mind.

Now he has done it again. I was actually done with Ranma. I suffered through the first disc and swore off it for good. Then along comes SDB, reviews a few episodes, and i decide well, maybe, just maybe I should give it another chance.

Behold what his machinations have wrought. I actually enjoyed the Martial Arts Figure Skating arc. I thought Asuza was hilarious. I thought the plot of the Ramen / Delivery Martial Arts episode was clever and was genuinely surprised when (and this is no spoiler) Ranma has to step in for Akane. I am 5 minutes into the Cat Phobia episode, and realized I was enjoying it far too much for any reasonable standard of sanity. All of this, while SDB actually claims burnout! Diabolical fiend!

What the hell. I’m going to find some manner of revenge. I’m going to get Steven to watch Robotech. You’ve been duly warned, old man.

Ranma disc 2

Steven and I are eerily in sync on Ranma. I just finished the Martial Arts Gymnastics arc yesterday. In a nutshell, what he said, especially about the telegraphed (spoiler) plot development. Still, while Kodachi was a waste of screen time (imagine Greta from Sugar, but without any of the redeeming qualities, and a violent streak), I had to admit that the development of the love “hypercube” (as SDB put it) was fascinating. Oh, and the conversation of the St. Hebereke gymnastics team while, ahem, under cover, was hilarious.

I still don’t quite get why Ranma doesn’t expose Ryoga, but I suppose this will become more clear.

rethinking Ranma

I was not impressed with Ranma – I barely made it through the first disc. But Steven’s enthusiasm is somewhat infectious. I wonder if I approached it from the wrong perspective; it seems more like a recurring romantic sitcom than a genuine story arc-driven plot. If I treat it at the level I would, say, Three’s Company, then maybe it will work for me. It probably also helps that Steven started in season 2, where presumably the writers had long since hit their stride. Pete theorizes that this might be the best way to approach a long-running series (and they don’t get much longer than Ranma). So, I think I will give Ranma another chance.

UPDATE: Steven discusses the plot structure:

It’s more comedic and slapstick than Maison Ikkoku but the characters are far better conceived than in Urusei Yatsura.

One thing becomes clear at this point: the series is constructed of a sequence of multi-episode story arcs. There’s an occasional one-off ep (like the “Ramen Delivery martial arts” story) but what you mainly have is arcs that cover 3-5 episodes. And that really does work pretty well. If the series were constructed entirely of one-ep stories it would come off as rather vapid. This way the stories are more deep. It keeps me coming back.

I think “vapid” and “slapstick” accurately describe my impressions of Ranma after watching disc 1 of season 1. All the more evidence that Pete’s theory is generalizable to long series. The writers simply take time to mature into their characters and flesh them out. I know I still wince whenever I see an episode from season 1 of Star Trek: Next Generation…

Ranma

It was horrible. I suffered through the entire first episode, and even gave the OAV five minutes. What’s wrong with it? The overall style reminded me of cheesy Bollywood flicks from the 70s. There’s way too much gratuitous nudity of underage girls played for laughs (and the same gag, mind you, not even a new one). Not a single character has any meaningfully distinctive personality, apart from the lead girl who is described as “sweet, but violent” and hates boys. I already know how the series will end. The Chinese were drawn with the most atrocious stereotype of pursed lips and wide eyes that I’ve ever seen. I could go on, but I’m done.