By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.
Ranma fandom these days is a different beast from where it was in the halcyon days of 1996-1997. Then it was striding the anime world like a colossus, at least in North America, and not even Sailor Moon seemed to have quite as many people discussing or writing fanfics about it. Nowadays it’s a small fish in a big pond, somewhat forgotten but retaining a nostalgic glow. This has, however, allowed some newer aspects of fandom to infiltrate, notably the BL fandom. Back in the day there was BL, but it seemed to get drowned out by all the male fans arguing about which girl Ranma should end up with. The idea that the best man for Ranma might be Ryouga is something that is dealt with in this volume, albeit not in a serious way.
Ryouga comes across yet another magical item that will help him to win Akane, this time a fishing rod whose mark on a body leaves it with ever-increasing feelings of love. To be fair to Ryouga, he does seem to have moral qualms about using such a device to win Akane over. To be unfair to Ryouga, he tries it regardless. And when it hits Ranma, Ranma starts feeling very friendly indeed towards Ryouga. It starts off as washing his clothes and cooking for him, But as the mark expands, things get more serious, to the point where Takahashi feels obliges to urn Ranma female for the rest of the story. Akane, of course, becomes convinced that Ryouga is using the rod on Ranma because he can’t confess to him. Not exactly progressive, but honestly, this is exactly the sort of plot hook that many a BL story could work with. It’s also the best story of the first half of the book, which otherwise deals with annoyances such as Pantyhose Taro’s return (boring), Akane’s cooking (very boring), and Gosunkugi winning an enchanted suit of armor (really super boring and bad).
Luckily, the second half of the volume, is fantastic, and consists of one long story – indeed, there’s a cliffhanger, so it will carry over to the next volume. Herb is a villain who gives Ranma a challenge that he hasn’t really had to face in a long time, and his goofy yet deadly sidekicks Lime and Mint are just as dangerous – Ryouga is even brought to the point of death, though thankfully is able to triumph due to his super-depression. It allows Ranma to be clever and analytic again, one of my favorite sides of him, as he’s unable to see how Herb’s martial arts works – and how it’s actually LESS powerful than expected – without knowing the secret – like Ranma, Herb changes to female in cold water. This is the first time we’ve seen someone with the same exact curse as Ranma, and it helps to showcase their different styles – Herb has modesty, for one, something Ranma does not care about a bit. We also briefly see Ryouga and Mousse work together with Ranma, even if they have murderous motivation at the start. They make a good team.
Ranma sometimes seems a bit hoary and sexist (and homophobic as well) compared to some of the more popular works today, but Takahashi’s creativity usually shines through, and fans of the series will find most of this omnibus highly rewarding.