By Rumiko Takahashi. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.
The difficulty with these omnibuses is that they can feel very unbalanced. This volume contains one of the strongest emotional and physical battles in the series… in its second half. To get there, you have to wade through Vol. 27 first, which features far more Mousse than is really recommended, Principal Kuno returning when no one wants him to, more possessed inanimate objects, and Hinako falling for Soun Tendo, a storyline that was a bit creepy when it was first released in the 1990s, but now reads as SUPER CREEPY today. Hinako may really be in her 20s, and have the body of a statuesque woman when she sucks out ki, but she looks (and acts) like an 8-year-old most of the time, and that fact makes the entire sequence a bit beyond the pale. Fortunately, Soun is totally oblivious to her, still being very much in love with his late wife.
However, the 2nd half of this omnibus is top-notch. Ryu Kumon’s backstory, once revealed, may be played up a bit for comedy purposes, but it does feature his only parent killing himself by accident, leaving him alone. As a result, even though he is trying to trick her, Ryu is drawn to Ranma’s mother, who mistakes him for her own son, and he realizes that he can bond with her in ways that Ranma, who is cursed to always be female around her, can’t. This leads Ranma to be more emotional than ever, as his desire to be a good son for his mother, fear of the promise to kill an “unmanly” child that she made, and rage at this upstart taking over his life all coalesce, leading him to be a bit more serious than usual in the ensuing fight.
It helps that Ryu is a top-notch martial artist. As ever, Ranma gets the floor wiped with him till he can figure out how Ryu is fighting and the way to counterattack. It helps that the actual “Martial arts _______” fight this time is one of Takahashi’s all-time cleverest, revolving around entering and leaving a house, and you’d be amazed at how much that can translate into fighting techniques. Of course, the trick is that it’s not a tool for fighting at all – which is why Ryu’s father, who thought it was, inadvertently killed himself trying to use it. As always, Genma and Soun are there to provide running backstory, and Genma seems to be at fault, but for once it’s only accidentally his fault. And the action sequences are really good, Takahashi has found her groove here.
Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention the “Cursed Tunnel of Love” storyline. The anime softened this considerably in terms of Ukyou and Ryouga, the manga doesn’t bother. Ranma and Akane mistakenly think the two are a couple, but the idea is meant to be hilarious – the fights between them are nothing like the fights between Ranma and Akane, they’re just simply Ukyou’s frustration at Ryouga being Ryouga. That said, we’re coming near to wrapping up the series, and it would be nice if at least one of the harem candidates (on either side) got paired off. Oh Ryouga, if only there was a girl out there for you…