iSugio

Ranma 1/2 – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Akane is the youngest of three daughters for Soun Tendo. Her father Soun Tendo runs a dojo for martial arts. Akane hopes to carry on her father’s dojo into the distant future. Meanwhile, Akane has been selected to marry Ranma, the son of her father’s long time friend Genma. Akane and Ranma’s relationship has developed into a love and hate relationship. Also, Ranma isn’t your typical boy. While on a training journey Ranma fell into the Spring of the Drowned Girl and now changes into a women whenever cold water is splashed on him. Warm water will allow him to revert back to a male. Problems arise when Akane’s father declares that the successor to their dojo must be a male. Now, Akane and Ranma must find a secret spring that can cure him of his curse.

As a longtime fan of Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma ½ manga series and subsequent anime adaptation, it was exciting to hear that a live-action television special was in the works. Granted, having read all the manga volumes and seen anime series in its entirety, the inevitable question arose pertaining to how exactly a live-action Ranma ½ could be brought forth and effectively realized; how would a 38 volume manga and 161 television episodes fit within the confinement of a two-hour television adaptation? As anyone who is somewhat familiar with the premise of Ranma ½, its episodic nature could certainly be applicable towards creating a one time live-action television special, but would it be sufficient enough to appease longstanding fans as well as provide some insight to new viewers as to why Ranma ½ has had such a strong following today as it did a decade ago? Perhaps the existence of this television special is more than enough proof as to the steady popularity of Ranma ½ as franchise? With a cast consisting of Yui Aragaki, Kaku Kento, and Natsuna Watanabe, the live-action adaptation of Ranma ½ has all the necessary elements to be an exceptional homage towards the original manga series, but the true question remains—does it succeed in doing so?

In many ways, this adaptation can be viewed as a proper, nostalgic nod towards fans of the original source material more so than its attempt to inform unfamiliar viewers as to why the source material has still remained popular to this very day. With a focus towards showcasing many of the nuances that longtime fans will instantly realize (i.e. Akane having to fight a sleuth of male peers asking her for courtship, Ranma and Gemna’s constant bickering, etc.), many unfamiliar viewers will also discover the same unique charm of the series albeit in a drastically diminished fashion. For a two-hour television special, Ranma ½ sadly befalls the same fate as most singular adaptations of long running series do—it doesn’t necessarily try to enhance the original premise in any way but rather safely remains within the margin of simply appeasing the already established enthusiasts out there. The plot doesn’t fare much better in that it can be viewed as unnecessary filler akin to a uninspired episode found within the coinciding anime series, where ridiculousness is abound and character development is constantly halted for the sake of humor, a decision that would have played out better if this wasn’t a single television special. In this diluted form, Ranma ½ presents a rather lackluster adaptation in both narrative and character development, two areas that while not advocated as strong elements within the source material, appear even weaker in this adaptation due to its compressed nature. There are noticeable changes to the way the characters are perceived as well, a major one being the interaction between Ranma and Akane. While the manga detailed Akane’s initial distaste of Ranma—which usually were resolved in Ranma facing bodily harm in some hysterical fashion—the special never really explores this aspect, instead dictating that Akane like the girl form of Ranma more than anything, a departure that may dissatisfy some viewers accustomed to the original manga. Additional weaknesses stem primarily from the absence of crucial characters as well as pivotal events explored within the manga and anime series—key elements that made the previous incarnations stand out.

Besides these rather unfortunate decisions, one area the special does relatively well in is it casting choices. With the gender duality of Ranma’s character remaining a prominent part of the series, both Natsuna Watanabe (female Ranma) and Kento Kaku (male Ranma) do a formidable job in their respective roles, especially that of Watanabe. Reflecting the tomboyish attitude of Ranma’s female half, Watanabe does a fantastic job of balancing out the feminine qualities that were highlighted within the source material without over being too overindulgent. While the narrative doesn’t necessarily allow her to showcase the sexual prowess of her character as much as in the manga—this is a television special after all—there is just enough to parallel our understanding of her portrayal of the character here with that her manga counterpart. Perhaps the most striking performance here though belongs to Yui Aragaki, who plays the tomboyish Akane Tendo. Conveying the dutiful yet fragile nature of Akane as a character, Aragaki displays a resilience that is key towards bringing Akane to a fruitful depiction, an excellent casting choice that should please fans of the source material as well as viewers who simply adore her as an actress. The remaining cast do an exceptional job too, visually adhering to their manga counterparts and bringing forth their mannerisms, and while the special may not focus as extensively on them as the manga or anime series does, they provide adequate enjoyment to an otherwise mediocre plot.

In conclusion, how should one view this live-action adaptation of Ranma ½? While the special expresses the atmosphere of the original manga and anime series, it also doesn’t promote its characters or narrative outside the realm of simply being viewed as an elongated—and worse—filler episode. While the cast is both visually and characteristically devoted to their manga counterparts, the special is aimed at satisfying the longtime fans more so than new viewers, but even then it stumbles in its execution. It would be best to say that Ranma ½ would have worked out much better as a standard live-action drama series within a multitude of episodes rather than concentrating on creating one sole two-hour special, a move that isn’t surprising but is detrimental to the expansive material offered up through Rumiko Takahashi’s work. By enlarging the scope of the television special, perhaps it would have made for a better-rounded viewing experience, but for where it currently stands, the live-action adaptation of Ranma ½ will undoubtedly go down as a missed opportunity and unnecessary adaptation—even for the most dedicated of fans.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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