By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.
It’s not an ironclad rule, but in general, the longer the story arc in Ranma the better it ends up being. And this is good news for this volume, which wraps up the Herb arc from the previous omnibus, introduces a new character who brings a lot of silliness to the table, and has what may be the strongest arc in the entire series, where Takahashi learns that even though her series desperately need to be static and unchanging, sometimes you have to have the occasional character development. (Admittedly, we haven’t seen her learn that lesson with Rin-Ne just yet, but hey.) The Shinnosuke arc also manages to be strong simply by reversing the usual plotline of many a Ranma story, as this time it’s Akane who meets the stranger with a mysterious connection to her past.
Indeed, Akane is comparatively calm and peaceful compared to previous situations, possibly as, instead of dealing with a supposed errant fiancee for Ranma, she now has her own love troubles to deal with. Shinnosuke saved her when she was a child, at great cost to his own self, and has grown up to be a handsome young man who looks a bit like Ryouga. (Too much, IMO – especially when the actual Ryouga shows up, it can be difficult to tell them apart.) The trouble is that Akane loves Ranma, and even though she’ll never say it or think it she knows it as well. Thus on her end she feels an obligation to stay and help because of a life debt. Ranma, who is playing the Akane role this time around, can only see her getting cozy with this new guy. He goes through various stages of jealousy, and as ever with Ranma, the worst argument, where you know things are really bad, comes from when Ranma and Akane STOP hitting each other.
There is another half to this volume, of course. We wrap up Herb in a quick but satisfying way, and Ranma once again proves unable to sacrifice even one of his worst villains. We also meet Hinako, who is another character who transforms from one form to another, though for once it’s not due to a cursed spring but rather due to a failed attempt at a good deed by Happosai, of all people. The Hinako storyline is not going to give you the depth and romance that you see in the Shinnosuke arc. Instead we get pure comedy, as Ranma, in order to defeat the teacher, has to essentially grope her pressure points – which are exactly where you’d think they are. Oh yes, and Hinako’s transformation from bratty immature kid to statuesque stunner makes no sense except as comedy. But that’s Ranma for ya.
In short, Ranma has now turned the corner and is entering its twilight years, but can still turn out some classics, and this volume is overall excellent, provided you don’t mind some fanservice. There’s even actual romantic progress at the very end, which I won’t spoil except to again say that the real tsundere in this series is Ranma, not Akane.