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Ranma ½

Before the legendary manga artist Rumiko Takahashi created the insanely popular Inuyasha series, Ranma ½ was also extremely popular as both a 38-volume manga series and a massive 161-episode television run.  Actually, the television run was split into two series, one with an 18-episode story arc and the other with 143 episodes (known as Ranma ½ Nettohen).  The entire run lasted from 1989 to 1992. 

Ranma ½ is a mix of many ideas that are unique in anime culture.  Firstly, the genre’s most important female writer wrote it.  Takahashi is something of a pioneer of mixing gender issues in with her work.  None of her series are male-dominated action shows.  While her works do include quite a bit of martial arts, their main focus is always on femininity as it relates to Japanese culture.  Throughout Ranma a number of important cultural elements are also mixed in, making the show an excellent primer on some of Japan’s more interesting cultural ideas.

The story of Ranma ½ begins with Genma Saotome who brings his son, Ranma, to a cursed training ground in China to practice martial arts.  Despite the warnings, they begin sparring on the training ground and things soon go awry.  Ranma knocks his father into one of the many pools that dot the grounds.  Out of nowhere, a gigantic Panda explodes out of the water and begins attacking Ranma.  He quickly loses the fight and gets knocked into one of the other ponds below.  The story takes a turn when Ranma surfaces from the spring only to find that he has been turned into a girl.  Let the gender swapping begin!

You see, each of the little ponds on the training grounds is cursed by whoever or whatever drowned there during ancient times.  For Genma, any time he is splashed with cold water he reverts to an aggressive Panda.  Ranma has the dubious honor of being cursed in a pond that drowned a young girl.  Any time Ranma touches cold water he reverts to a young female.  The only way to reverse these changes is with a splash of hot water.  This storytelling device is fairly unique in the anime genre.  It makes for some hilarious hijinks throughout the series.

The story meanders quite a bit as the due of Genma and Ranma wander Japan meeting other cursed beings.  All throughout, Ranma must try to make a life for himself by going to school and dealing with his arranged marriage.  Yes, that’s right, Ranma is already engaged to a daughter of Genma’s good friend Soun Tendo.  They promised each other a long time ago to marry one of their kids with the other’s.  Though the three daughters are taken aback by Ranma’s female appearance, once the curse is figured out they elect the youngest daughter, Akane, to be the wife.  The two don’t exactly hit it off.  From the beginning Akane thinks Ranma is a pervert after he catches a glimpse of her fully undressed.  Ranma, on the other hand, is annoyed with Akane’s angry outbursts.

This is but one of the ongoing stories in the series that causes havoc with all of the characters.  By the end, you’ll probably be a bit confused with who is in love with whom, or who wants to beat up whom, but the overall the Ranma ½ series is wild, entertaining, silly, action-packed, and sexually charged.