By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.
Takahashi has settled into a groove by now, and it shows in these two volumes, which have some of the strongest combinations of comedy and action in the entire series. Unlike the last omnibus, there’s no real serious plotline here – indeed, several of the plotlines are best known for their complete and total ridiculousness. But that just allows Takahashi to mine them for ridiculous and hysterical comedy, and show you why she had such an amazing reputation back in the 1990s. And it also shows off a bit more Ranma and Akane not-romance, for those who watch for that.
We start with ludicrous right off the bat, in the form of the Gambling King. (Well, OK, there’s a story with Kuno getting a sword that grants wishes, but it’s the weakest in the book, so let’s skip it.) The King is not unlike your typical Ranma one-shot villain – grossly egotistical, somewhat thick, tends to cheat in order to gain temporary victories – but of course what makes the comedy truly work is that he looks exactly like the King on a deck of playing cards, and therefore there’s always a comedy visual dissonance when he interacts with anyone. Add to this Ranma’s laughably awful attempts at a poker face, and you have a definite winner. (It was also nice to see Nabiki take on the King – she was winning handily till he cheated – though she’ll need to wait for the next omnibus to finally get her turn in the spotlight. It’s also fantastic whenever Kasumi and Nabiki emit ‘giant scary auras’, which they both do here.)
Next we see why Ranma always has his hair tied in a pigtail, and it again involves comedy villains (more pathetic than anything else) who look ridiculous – this time they all look like dumplings. This has some nice Ranma and Akane interaction, but also plays up a man’s vanity for laughs. The strongest story in the volume, though, involves a Hot Spring Resort that is doing a contest, the winner of which can travel to any spring in the world – including Jusenkyou. If you guessed this content involved an increasingly ridiculous series of obstacles that can only be defeated by martial artists, you are 100% correct. We also have the three ‘main’ fiancees present and correct (sorry, Kodachi), and they’re all thoroughly pissed off at Ranma, while also trying to help him. Even at this point, still not quite halfway through the series, everyone unconsciously knows if Ranma is cured, life will move on and he’ll have to decide who he likes once and for all. Takahashi’s final joke, of course, being that this never happens.
Possibly the most terrifying of the stories here – if only for the grotesque faces – sees Ranma taking on Picolette Chardin II, a master of martial arts eating, helped along by the fact that his family all have giant, stretchy mouths. Again, in a situation where the laughs come from the premise, all you really have to do is drop the cast – here Ranma, Akane, and their two fathers – into it and have them be themselves. So Ranma is stubborn and determined to be the best at this because it is a martial art, Soun is determined to ensure that Ranma remains engaged to Akane by the end of it, Akane stands to the side making deadpan wisecracks and occasionally helping when Ranma doesn’t insult her, and Genma eats.
So, for Ranma fans, this is pretty much the classic period. It maintains its high quality next volume, too, as we see Nabiki finally emerge as the amoral shyster she remains the rest of the series, and are introduced to possibly *the* most bizarre enemy of Ranma’s ever, Pantyhose Tarou.