Ranma 1/2, Vols. 21-22

By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.

I discussed in my last review that the reader of Ranma 1/2 has to hit that sweet spot of caring enough about the characters to want to read more, while also not caring enough about them to take them too seriously. Nowhere is that more evident in Ranma than with how Takahashi deals with parents. She’s always had issues with parents, especially fathers, being mined for comedy, and even today in Rin-Ne we have one of the worst fathers she’s ever introduced, which is impressive in a career that’s give us Mr. Fujinami and Genma Saotome. So when we have the opening story here, where we’re meant to wonder if Genma really does have deeper emotions and feelings, it doesn’t quite ring true for us, as we’ve seen 20 volumes of him being a gigantic uncaring ass.

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And of course that’s exactly what she wants us to think. She’s going for humor, and having the characters believe that Genma might care about his son while having the reader know better is why we’re here. What we’re left with is a fairly standard Ranma comedy arc of about three chapters, but you are reminded that Ranma lived almost his entire life on the road with only Genma to teach him, which explains much. It sets up the best story in this collection, which is the introduction of Ranma’s mother, Nodoka Saotome, who has come to the Tendos in search of her long-lost husband and son. Naturally, they are still long-lost because (say it with me) Genma is an ass, and Ranma is getting dragged into it with him.

Nodoka is a new character, and gets a more serious introduction than what we’ve seen before (witness the introduction of Mariko in the cheerleading arc, which is pure 100% silliness from moment one). There are signs she could be used for comedy, mostly based around her somewhat disturbing tendency to carry around a sword in case she has to decapitate her husband and son for being dishonorable. But for the most part Nodoka herself is treated seriously, and the comedy comes from Genma’s increasing efforts to hide Ranma’s male identity from her. Indeed, Ranma reflects on the fact that he never even knew he had a mother, and Nabiki, of all people, reminds him that the Tendos will never have the ability to see their mother again, so he should reach out more. (Takahashi immediately undercuts this with Nabiki charging him for hiding his identity, but we’re used to that from this author.)

Sadly, this wonderful arc is followed by one of my least favorite. It’s not that it’s poorly written – on the contrary, Ranma is painfully in character. Everything about the ‘reversal jewel’ arc plays into Ranma’s biggest weakness, his pride and his ego, and thus he cannot stop trying to get Shampoo to fall in love with him again, even when everyone else realizes “you idiot, this solves your problem!”. It also has a lot of Mousse, which I also tend to dislike, but at least he’s been dialed back to desperate here, as opposed to madman, and we’ll see more of that in the next volume.

But this is life with reading Takahashi, and Ranma in particular. Every arc you like that shows off the sweet, heartwarming sides of our characters is followed by showing off their petty, vengeful sides. Never grow, never learn. We’ll see if that keeps up with the next omnibus, which features one of the most beloved arcs (by the old 90s Ranma fandom, at least) of the entire series.

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  1. Pata Hikari says

    The Reversal Jewel arc is pretty much Ranma’s single lowest point in the entire manga.

    It’s also why I find all the fanfics and fanon going on about “poor Ranma stuck in this awful situation” to be a load of bull. It’s very clear that Ranma *likes* the status quo of the series and will, in fact, go to efforts to maintain it if he feels slighted about it. Ranma could have let Shampoo go (Probably wouldn’t have worked long term, she’d just stop wearing the jewel), but he had to make himself feel like a big man.

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