Ranma 1/2, Vols. 29-30

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

There’s a lot I could discuss with this omnibus of Ranma 1/2, which is a strong one. There’s Nabiki’s 2nd and final focus story, where she meets her match in a man dedicated to making others spend money on him. It’s nice to see Nabiki actually tricked once or twice during this arc, and Ranma and Akane watching the debt rack up are hilarious. There’s also the story with Pink and Link, where Shampoo once again doesn’t seem to realize that the whole thing could be solved by her not being a violent jerk (to be fair to her, this applies to most of the cast as well). There’s also an amusing story that quickly turns bittersweet, as Ranma tries to turn a cold that temporarily stops his curse into an excuse to finally meet his mother at last. It’s a strong book.

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But a lot of these reviews have been about my own experience with Ranma back in the 1990s (this is why I still use the old-fashioned romanization), and therefore it would feel wrong if I didn’t talk the rest of this review about Akari Unryuu. I was never a big watcher of the Ranma 1/2 anime, preferring the manga and fanfiction. And in any case, the Ranma anime had ground to a halt right about Vol. 26’s material, meaning that the last 12 or so volumes weren’t animated. And I never really got the popularity of the Ryouga/Ukyou pairing in fandom either, because I hadn’t seen the anime do a much bigger job of putting them together. And, given I liked Ryouga and wanted him to be happy, I always hoped something would come along.

Now it has, as we meet a young girl and her farm of sumo wrestling pigs. Make no mistake about it, Akari’s introductory story is as ridiculous as all the other Ranma stories, and I admit if she’d never showed up again it wouldn’t be all that different from, say, the story earlier in the book with Pink and Link (who indeed never show up again). Akari is looking for a husband strong enough to defeat her champion sumo pig, and has been massacring the males of Nerima as a result. Ryouga, naturally, flips the pig into the air with his umbrella. It’s love at first sight… if only Akari wasn’t so devoted to pigs. Every time she mentions them Ryouga twitches, to Akane’s confusion (a reminder that she never, ever does figure out Ryouga is P-chan) and Ranma’s frustration.

Ranma asks here, and the fandom asked constantly, whether Akari would simply fall in love with anyone who beat her pig. But Akari really does seem to have fallen for Ryouga himself, to the point where, when she mistakenly thinks he hates pigs, she has her sump pig beat her up till she can hate them herself and solve the problem. (This does not solve the problem. But then, if you’ve been reading Ranma 1/2, you’d have guessed this.) And tellingly, at the end of this short arc Ranma decides to solve the problem by exposing Akari to Ryouga’s curse – something that, as I’ve said above, never happens with Akane. So now Akari has the best of both worlds – she loves Ryouga, AND he turns into a pig.

I won’t deny, 20 years on, that Akari as a love interest is a bit flat. but then again, most Ranma characters are more two-dimensional than Fandom makes them out to be. She’s also introduced towards the end of the series, clearly as a love interest – go see ‘Pair the Spares’ on TV Tropes to see how this upsets people. But I still don’t really care, and Takahashi clearly didn’t either. Akari was popular enough that she gets a cameo at the end of this book, writing Ryouga a letter (which promptly gets destroyed, because that’s the kind of series this is, but hey). And she’ll show up again next time. In any case, this volume of Ranma 1/2 is excellent, and even if you don’t like Akari as much as I do (few do), you should still pick it up.

Haikyu!!, Vol. 1

By Haruichi Furudate. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

For a genre that has a reputation for not succeeding in North America, there have been quite a few sports manga released over here, most of them connected in some way or another with Weekly Shonen Jump. There’s been Slam Dunk, and Whistle, and Eyeshield 21. It’s a classic and established genre in Japan, with its own cliches and foibles, and I’ve read enough of them to know what to look for and to be surprised when something I expected didn’t happen. The type of sport shown doesn’t really matter – basketball and soccer are always popular, though not baseball – Jump avoids that, possibly as Sunday and Magazine are so well known for baseball titles. And now we have Haikyu!!, which tells us about a down-on-its luck high school volleyball team trying to make it back to the finals with some promising but troublesome rookies.

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Our two heroes are on the cover, although it’s possible that the dark-haired guy is more of an anti-hero. Hinata is a very typical Jump hero – short, overenthusiastic, filled with amazing athletic abilities that no one has ever been able to hone, but also prone to overconfidence and lack of experience. Kageyama, at first glance, appears to be the classic polar opposite to that sort of character – stoic, always frowning, experienced and unlikely to make the sort of rash decisions that Hinata would. But, as it turns out, this is just a fakeout, and was possibly my favorite part of the book. For Kageyama is actually an arrogant guy with a very hot temper, who expects to be the star and is rather frustrated that this is actually a team sport. Seething ball of rage Kageyama is a very interesting character, and I look forward to seeing more of him.

If you don’t know volleyball, no worries – Hinata barely knows the basics as well, so we get a lot of explanations. We also get a whole lot of characters, typical for a series like this – a team needs players, after all. There’s 2 third years who play good cop/bad cop, and an overzealous 2nd year who matches the rookies’ enthusiasm. There’s a tall, arrogant first-year whose face every reader will want to punch, and I can’t wait to find out what kind of situations he’ll have to go through before he stops being a complete jerk (he’s on the same team as our heroes, so will no doubt have to stop at some point). Oh yes, and the female manager is cool rather than cute.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, though as I said I was surprised and pleased by a few of the character choices. It’s just a sports manga, well-told. It’s 20+ volumes in Japan, which means that Viz is going to be releasing it every month for a while, so get used to these guys. And it’s the start, hopefully, of a sports manga renaissance, as now that Slam Dunk has finally finished, Viz is also picking up Kuroko’s Basketball as well. Can Touch or Major be far behind? (Well, yes, they can. Far, far behind.) In any case, Haikyu!! is a fun and energetic sports manga in the classic Jump tradition. You’ll enjoy it.

Princess Jellyfish, Vol. 2

By Akiko Higashimura. Released in Japan in two separate volumes as “Kuragehime” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Kiss. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

Princess Jellyfish is turning out to be a difficult but worthy read for me. I spent much of this omnibus being irritated by the majority of the characters, either for making stupid decisions, being horrible people, or having the self-awareness of a gnat. And of course, that’s what the whole point is. It’s where the majority of the comedy comes from, and also the character development. Without Tsukimi’s introvertedness and low self-esteem, without Inari’s blackmail and vampishness, and without Kuranosuke’s amazing unself-awareness (though he’s above the majority of Amars, to be sure), we wouldn’t have anything to read about. And all of these aspects are in this volume in abundance.

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Tsukimi is our heroine, of course, and so she gains the most depth here, even as she takes a few steps back as well. I’m still not particularly happy with Kuranosuke’s constant attempts to get her to do things and be more outgoing, but it does lead to a few nice moments, particularly when they’re designing dresses based on types of jellyfish and Tsukimi unleashes her inner fashion designer. (I also appreciates the fact that, while she does have untapped talent, things weren’t perfect right off the bat and the first attempt was totally wrong.) Sadly, she alsp sees the guy she has a crush on with another woman, and has no idea how to deal with it, even as she’s unsure what her feelings are. She equates love as something that makes her a ‘normal girl’, something to be truly feared.

And while the residents of Amars may not be normal girls (though they show surprisingly more aptitude at attempting it than Tsukimi does), Kuranosuke and his family prove to be just as screwed up. Inari is trying to tempt Shu using sex as a weapon, but he’s repressed (as we discover here, he seems to have been traumatized by walking in on his father as a young boy) to a point where she’s actually thrown off her game. Inari is at her most interesting when she’s like this – the idea of Shu being a genuine innocent virgin almost horrifies her a bit – but I’m unsure how long the manga can keep this plot going. She certainly has staying power, I’ll grant you. As for Kuranosuke, he may be the most interesting character so far, even if I keep waffling between liking and disliking him. He’s amazingly selfish most of the time, and, just like Tsukimi, seems horrified at the idea of falling in love like a normal guy.

It’s the tension that keeps me going as a reader, seeing how far the author can take all these plot points – Kuranosuke’s secret that he’s actually a man, Inari being terrible, etc. – and actually have them collapse. And, of coruse, there’s the fashion design, which I suspect is going to take up more and more of this manga’s time. It’s not perfect, but it’s the flaws that make Princess Jellyfish so fascinating.