Ranma returns

via Ubu, a new Ranma short is in the making:

The “It’s a Rumic World” exhibition of manga creator Rumiko Takahashi’s original artwork opened in Tokyo’s upper-class Ginza shopping district on Wednesday with both the previously announced special 30-minute Inuyasha anime short and a new Ranma ½ anime short. The Ranma ½ short adapts the Akumu! Shunminkō (Nightmare! The Incense of Spring Sleep) story from the manga. This is the first Ranma ½ animation produced in 12 years.

I have a feeling that it’s going to be a “period” piece, occuring during the mainstream chronology rather than show us any evolution in Ranma and Akane’s relationship. kawaii-kune, indeed.

Ranma and longevity

I am about a third of the way through Ranma’s sixth season now and I think I’ve identified what keeps me interested in the series even though others find it repetitive. That is, that the fundamentals of the character relationships are why we watch, so changing them would by definition ruin it. Steven pointed out a while back that Ranma is enmeshed in a web of obligations, from which there is no escape, so ultimately Ranma simply avoids resolution and proceeds on his own path, which is to continue to master and innovate in martial arts. The entirety of the character evolution is not what the characters do, or changes in their lives, but in how they feel, and on that basis you can differentiate the characters:

Primary characters: Ranma, Akane. The emotions towards each other do grow each season, though there is ultimately a plateau. There will never be public reciprocation of emotion from Ranma towards Akane as long as Ranma remains bound by his web of obligation, and Akane will never act on her (often transparent) feelings for Ranma due to her own sense of insecurity. Ultimately, they are both forced to wait. However we do see that they have evolved over time. I think by season 6 both are as far as they can go, which is fine because there’s still plenty for both to deal with.

Major characters: Ryoga, Nabiki, Kasumi. All have had episodes where they are the focus, and they have to act out of type and be challenged in a way that they didn’t expect. They do return to their usual behavior afterwards, but those episdoes do demonstrate that they have depth when required.

Minor characters: Genma, Tendo, Mousse, Happosai. All are one-note strings thus far, but it only takes one focus episode to graduate them to the Major status. Happosai did actually get a bit of treatment in season 5, but he is needed to play the eternal joker, so I don’t think he will ever escape. We have also had tantalizing hints of more from Moose, but thus far he hasn’t had his own breakout.

What keeps the series going is that they have a large ensemble cast to gradually graduate from minor to major, and balance that out with incremental evolution of the primary characters. The continuity between seasons (slow rate of change) is probably why the series retained its longevity without ever jumping the shark – there’s a formula, and the show sticks to it, with the innovation not from the basic structure, but rather the details. One example of how the series keeps things new is in the varied forms of martial arts tha Ranma encounters: french cooking, calligraphy, chess, race kart driving, etc. Some of these warrant more episodes than others to explore (in particular the Pate Fois Gras arc, which was brilliantly demented).

It’s interesting to see that the manga industry is worried about what happens when its audience in the US grows up. I think Ranma avoids this conundrum by simply staying the same, so that every new generation gets attracted to it for the same reasons. Whether or not you outgrow Ranma is immaterial; if you like it, you will probably keep on liking it.

the beginning of anime

My very first foray into anime was Robotech, and it hooked me so badly during spring finals week of my freshman year of college that I spent virtually all of my time between final exams in the TV room at the dorm with my stash of VHS tapes. Apart from watching Akira and Ghost in the Shell sometime afterwards (neither of which I remember particularly well), my next exposure to anime was Grave of the Fireflies, which left a bad impression, to say the least. It wasn’t until just two years ago that Steven got me addicted to Haibane Renmei, which as you may have noticed left something of an impression on me. Since then, my anime strategy has been a predilection for series that are, in Nick’s words, “emotionally tiring” (like Dennou Coil), or epic in scope (like Twelve Kingdoms or Escaflowne). I also enjoy series which have a unique take on technology (Last Exile), or adopt a philosophic and surreal bent (Kino’s Journey, Mushishi) . I also am drawn to certain styles of anime, where the story is of course important but also the manner in which the story is told (Samurai Jack, The Place Promised). Above all, I like a series that has interesting characters, who are human, flawed, and honorable, who charm me and make me care what happens next, even if I sort of already know the answer (Ranma, Shingu, The Cat Returns, The Girl Who Leapt). Of course, I am also heavily into the kawaii scene (Sugar Snow Fairy, Totoro), primarily because of my daughters. This list barely scratches the surface of what I have seen, and the list of what I want to see next is even longer still.

I am partly responding here to Steven’s “end of anime” post in which he laments the lack of interesting material to be excited about – I think that the point where any one of us runs out of anime is when we exhaust the pool of what we like. There are very few truly original series out there, so everything in some sense is an echo of what comes before. Limit ourselves to our safe pond, and over time it is certain to dry up. And yet, inspiration to try something new often strikes from unlikely places. Take Ranma as an example – I’d tried it once, and recoiled due to excessive ecchi. It was solely due to Steven’s enthusiasm for it that got me to give it another shot, and now I am hooked, while ironically Steven’s interest has sagged (season 5, btw, has been superb, easily equal to the high points of seasons 2 and 3). Ranma is new ground for me in anime, with plenty of casual ecchi and fan service, a focus on martial arts, and a love dodecahedron as the primary plot driver. And yet, I have fallen for it in a sense, because over time you get to know the characters, even if they don’t grow that much, who they are is plenty enough. I am sure there are plenty of frontiers (relatively) for me to explore yet, not just on my watch list but also things like Evangelion, Haruhi, Ah My Goddess, Mahoromatic, etc. which all represent a significant departure from my usual fare, even more so than Ranma.

All I am really trying to say is that anime is vast. Even if the industry were to die tomorrow from evil fansubbers or a withering of imaginative energy or displacement by Korean animation studios, there’s already a corpus of work that spans decades for me to work through, and I am limited only by my taste (stop snickering). I fully understand why Steven is at the end of anime, but for me, it’s just the beginning. And I owe that to him.

As an aside, if anyone has discs of series that I’ve mentioned above that they’d like to sell, let me know. I am especially interested in buying Ranma or Kino.

service industries

I have to agree with Author that fanservice is a term whose definition brooks no hijacking. The examples he gives of others abusing the term might better be phrased as “brainservice” and “engineerservice”, respectively. Pedantically, it’s [thing whose base needs is being serviced]-service. This is why I invented geekservice as a term; I think the song “it’s good to be a geek” is disturbingly accurate in it’s exploration of the primal forces that truly motivate our kind:

Belonging to multiple categories myself (geek, fan, intellectual, etc) I may be catered by various types of -services in different contexts. For the most part I tend to refrain from fanservice, though with my Ranma viewing entering season 5, I’ve pretty much caught up on my quota.

Ranma season 3, 4

I am halfway thru season 4. It got a LOT better. In retrospect season 3, while often repetitious and tiresome, was critical backstory for a lot of the secondary characters who really are all given their own chance to shine and even mature – even Kuno, and Happosai. There has only been one worthless episode thus far in season 4, and it’s no coincidence that a certain psychotic kawaii-obsessed figure skater made a return appearance therein.

Unfortunately the discs I was watching, which were lent to me, only go 1/2way thru season 4. I also have the discs for the OAV and its pretty good (though i do like season 4 better). There *is* a discontinuity in Akane/Ranmas relationship between season 4 and the OAV, in that its clear that they are closer – for one thing, Akane gets hurt by Ranma’s insensitivity a lot more deeply than before. So clearly there was a lot of growth in between (season 5 – 7) that I have missed out on. I am going to have to download fansubs to continue.

And Ryoga. Ranma is cool, but Ryoga at his best is who I want to be. Minus the pig part, that could be a bit problematic for me in particular. Unfortunately watching the OAV has dashed my hopes of an Ukyo-Ryoga matchup.


Starting season 4. Season 3 was a lot of one-off episodes, but season 4 is beginning an arc again and it’s really much improved. The Akane-Ranma relationship still doesn’t seem stuck in neutral, it’s clear that it is proceeding, but even more interesting is the evolution of almost everyone else. Ryoga and Ukyo still are my favorites, though.

And this arc in season 4, with the Blast of the Heavenly Dragon, is truly suspenseful. I wish the art would catch up to the writers, but I’ve seen some clips from seasons ahead so I know it gets better. Patience, grasshopper!

obligatory Youtube remix of Kung Fu Fighting:

and this one seems drawn from the OVA, set to the tune of Mortal Kombat. It has me quite eager to get through the slog of these intermediate seasons because it is clear that Shampoo, Mousse, even Kuno have a lot more evolution ahead.


Steven, there were a lot wierder scenes than that one!

I’m enjoying the introduction of Ukyo. I can’t wait for Ukyo and Shampoo to square off now. The parade of suitors is far from wearing thin in my opinion, if they can continue the novelty factor. And the novelty of Tsubasa pretty much takes the cake.

Why did Ranma try so hard to compete with Tsubasa, and take the “dog” insult so hard? My theory is that Ranma on some level was reacting in competitive manner as a male. In a sense, Ranma’s objection aside, they really are into the same stuff.

I’ve now completed the first disc of season 3. The episodes with Ukyo, Ryoga, and Tsubasa were as good as anything in season 2. Gotta agree with Ranma – Ukyo is way more kawaii than Akane. The episode with Shampoo was boring. The episode with Happosai was garbage.

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.