Who Do? Voodoo
Ranma ½ is a still popular anime and manga series both in Japan and here in the US, although it has essentially been finished. The show ran 7 seasons and spawned a series of OVA (sort of direct to video films) and two feature films. This gender-bending mix of slapstick humor, romance, and martial arts has remained one of my favorite anime series, and now there is a lot more of it to find on DVD. Here is Random Rhapsody, which was actually the sixth season of the series. The season is split up among eight volumes of Random Rhapsody and is now available. Pioneer and Viz Video are also releasing the earlier seasons in box sets, which is certainly better than getting them piecemeal. If you're new to the series, it's probably better to start at the first season box set, but those familiar with the series at all will suffer no ill consequences for jumping in here. I'm happy to get a new fix of Ranma, but bare bones discs with three episodes on each isn't my preferred way to get the series. It isn't Shakespeare, or even Ghost in the Shell, but I've always found it an innocent pleasure and pastime.
Facts of the Case
Ranma Saotome and his father Genma are training in martial arts near the cursed Jusenkyo springs; waters cursed to turn anyone who falls within into whatever drowned there last. The curse changes the person's form when dowsed with cold water, and back to normal when hit with hot. Both fall in, and Ranma is now cursed with the form of a hot looking young girl, while Genma gets to turn into a panda. Returning from China, they go to the Tendo residence in Japan. There we find that Soun Tendo and Genma are old friends and have betrothed Ranma to one of the Tendo daughters in an arranged marriage. Akane, the youngest daughter, gets engaged by default when her sisters refuse the arrangement. Ranma and Akane don't get along from the start, and each get several suitors determined to break up the engagement. Somehow, the unlikely pair stay together through the most unlikely of events.
Though some dub the Ranma series a "soap opera for kids," there is plenty to enjoy as the romantic entanglements are played for humor rather than the endless string of romantic combinations the real sudsers portray. Akane has a prospective lover, Ryoga, who also fell into the springs (many clumsy people going to Jusenkyo these days) and turns into her pet pig when doused. Somehow, she never realizes that the guy she won't give her love is willingly put into her bed at night as her pet. I always get a laugh out of that no matter how many times I see it. There really isn't a serious bone in the show's body (does a show have a body?), as slapstick humor intrudes on any romance that has a chance. Akane is often too busy pounding Ranma over the head with her instantly-appearing hammer to show any warm and fuzzy feelings.
It's all very innocent, without much of the fan service (topless cartoon girls) I've seen elsewhere. Kids are the primary audience in Japan, though adults have taken to the show as well and it seems to have a larger following in the US than most anime. Basically, Ranma follows themes around and around, apparently endlessly, as season six is still following some of those that we saw years earlier. Either we're seeing Ranma face another martial artist with a weird style that he has to figure out, or we're harping on Akane's abysmal cooking, or somebody needs rescuing. The good news is that this makes season six easy to jump into with a minimal knowledge of the series. The bad news is that it can get repetitive after awhile.
In Volume 1 of Random Rhapsody, we get the first three episodes of the sixth season. In Episode 1, "Dear Daddy…Love Kodachi" we get the abrasive father of the Kuno clan coming home from a long absence, and expects to take over the household. For some reason his topknot is a little palm tree growing out of his head. Seems like a genetic trait like that would have been passed along, but nobody else has one and no one seems to think it's weird to have plant life growing out of your skull. Episode 2 is "Enter Gosunkugi, The New Rival?" introduces the weird little guy who uses voodoo instead of martial arts. Of course, he falls for Akane and is jealous of Ranma. Finally, Episode 3 is "Ranma's Calligraphy Challenge!," another "weird martial artist kicks Ranma's butt until he learns the new style himself" entry. None of these represent the best episodes from the show, but they are fun in their own way.
Volume 2, The Way We're Not, continues with the next three chronological episodes. "The Secret Don of Furinkan High?" reveals a black market school store. The principal (the guy with the palm tree growing out of his head) wants to get rid of him. "Back to the Way We Were…Please!" shows Ranma and friends trying to find a cure for their shapeshifting curse. Only one of them has the right one, and the three don't trust each other to share and share alike. "Ryoga Inherits the Saotome School!?" is just what it says; Genma disowns Ranma and wants Ryoga to take over the Anything Goes dojo, and he might just get Akane's hand in the process.
Volume 3 was my least favorite of the three volumes, but continues on with the sixth season episodes. This disc is entitled "Watermelon Beach." In the first episode here, "Tendo Family Goes to the Amusement Park" has the two fathers spending all their money and now they must win a go-cart race. "Case of the Furinkan Stalker" has a man harassing the girls of the school, and Ranma is the chief suspect. "The Date-Monster of Watermelon Island" has Kuno interrupt a rare romantic moment between Ranma and Akane by washing up on shore wearing a watermelon on his head. He has no memory of how he got there. This was the most fun of the three episodes on this disc as we get some girl Ranma moments around Kuno, who is in love with the "pig tailed girl" and hates boy Ranma.
The discs are bare bones, and in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Picture quality is adequate or perhaps a bit better. The source elements date to the early '90s, and there are some print wear and scratches which are noticeable but not particularly distracting. Colors are well balanced. Some ringing (rainbow halos) is evident and the image is rather soft, which is the almost a contradiction. Edge enhancement is also noticeable on the hard subtitles, used during credits and for some sign translations. I'd be harder on the image quality except for the fact that this was never reference quality stuff to begin with. Sound quality is better, with stereo tracks in both Japanese and dubbed English. They are largely center channel based, with some sound effects making it into the front main channels. The dialogue is clear and easily understood, at least on the English track. Many prefer the Japanese track with subtitles, and this sounds equally clear, though my lack of understanding of the language makes intelligibility hard to determine.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're a serious fan, then you probably already know if Ranma ½ is your cup of tea. The show makes a stylistic choice to stay close to it's manga roots, and the animation is poor compared to standouts of the genre such as Akira or Ghost in the Shell. The bug-eyed look of much anime is in evidence, especially on the package which attempts to show just how bugged the character's eyes can get. Fortunately, it isn't as prevalent during the show itself. I've always found it interesting that anime characters have profoundly large, round eyes and don't look oriental except in dress. Someone with more knowledge than I could possibly explain the psychological reasons behind it all.
It seems Pioneer started releasing the series on DVD toward the end rather than the beginning, probably in an effort to keep people who are already versed in the world interested. I found it frustrating, however, to see this season split up into eight separate purchases, split apart over months in their release dates. All eight discs that make up the season are now available, but I only own the first three before I tired of buying each one as it came out. The first season is now out as a box set, with the second season box set due out right about now. Unless I get review copies of the rest of the Random Rhapsody set I'll likely switch my purchases to those box sets. I should also mention that these discs, like most anime, are not cheap. At an MSRP of $29.95 for each of the eight discs to make the season set, many might find the cost excessive. My last gripe with these discs are the lack of Volume numbers on the packaging. If you want to watch the episodes in order, you just have to know that "The Way We're Not" comes after "Who Do? Voodoo" and before "Watermelon Island."
This review is probably unnecessary for the legions of Ranma ½ fans, as many of them will buy each and every disc that comes along. For those less experienced with the show, or those looking at the price tags, the season box sets are a better place to put your money.
I give the Random Rhapsody season discs leave to go, but extra content, more attention to picture quality and edge enhancement, and labeling the volume numbers would be appreciated. The series itself is acquitted for the many hours of laughs I've gotten over the years.
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