Watson Watches: Ranma ½

ranma 1/2
Welcome to the fourth article of Watson Watches (the Retro Edition). If you’re reading this and have no idea what I’m talking about, this is the follow-up series to a bunch of interview-style articles published in 2014. The idea was to introduce Watson – who at that point was completely new to anime – to some specific titles and then ask him some potentially interesting questions. We’re doing the same thing this time around but with one important difference: all the anime I’ll be getting Watson to watch were released before 2000.

Just for fun, we’re also going in reverse chronological order. Previously we tackled the 1992 magical-girl fest Sailor Moon, and this week we’re going further back in time with 1989’s Ranma ½. As per usual, Watson watched everything on his own without looking anything up online and the following questions were given to him afterwards.

Let’s try something a little different this time around. Rather than telling you when Ranma ½ first aired I’m going to have you guess a rough estimate. Based on the show’s sound and art style, around what time do you think it aired and why?

Purely from the haircuts I would guess the 1980s, sometime near the end of the decade. There are other things that indicate that (see later) as well, but given the above question I would point specifically at the art style. The colours are more basic and less sharp than what I’ve seen in other shows; I would say they’re more muted and almost pastel in places. There are more curves, and definition and detail also seem reduced – but actually that’s not quite true, is it? The native resolution looks like 400×300, which would be about right for TVs of the 1980s. It also forces different techniques to be used for showing details in a screen area that is small by modern standards. Technology has moved on since then of course, so the art style does have a somewhat dated look. I do wonder what something made today for the same resolution would look like.

As for the sound, it is similarly less complex. There seem to be fewer sound effects at any one time and they seem more “natural”, for want of a better phrase. As I mentioned in the Sailor Moon article there is also a noticeable difference in terms of clarity and crispness, which I associate with older shows. I don’t think that does the show any harm mind you, but the lack of complexity in sounds does take a bit of getting used to.

In comparison to the stereotypical early/mid-90s anime art style of Sailor Moon, do you personally find Ranma ½ to be more or less visually appealing?

More appealing, simply because we’re avoiding the bold and garish special effects. The backdrops and characters could look quite good in Sailor Moon but the rest of it headed for a sort of visual overload at times. In Ranma we get the same almost painted-looking backdrops and characters, but we aren’t assaulted by transformation sequences that make eyes bleed. Nothing of value was gained by that, in my opinion, so I’m glad we’ve gone back to a time before it happened.

In terms of actual content, was there anything else that dated the series for you?

When the date of a show is relevant (like it was in Kuroshitsuji), I’m usually on the lookout for how objects are portrayed. Technological objects such as vehicles or communication devices are a good way of telling when something is set, and so are the styles used for buildings and signs. The presence or absence of written material and its style can also tell you a lot. Stepping back a bit, all of those things will influence the world that is portrayed in the show too. So the attitudes of the characters when they encounter them can also be quite telling.

I feel uncomfortable saying those things are content, however. I would usually think of content as the story that’s being told, or the experience being created for the audience. With this particular question I suppose we can go from there to “can I imagine this show airing today?”, and the answer is no. HELL no. Even if we think of it as something intended purely for adults, I still can’t see it getting any traction. The sexualisation and gender transformation of characters renders it unsuitable for kids, and how those themes are portrayed wouldn’t be acceptable for adults in today’s world either.

ranma 1/2 girl ranma nudity
Which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing, now that I think about it. Ranma ½ treats these things as a bit of a joke, playing them for incidental comedy value… but in a weird sort of way that actually feels fairly inclusive, given the context it operates in. Everyone is being played for comedy value so it doesn’t really stick out. These days I can’t imagine a gender-swapping character appearing as anything other than a hero. But not everything needs to be a paean to how marvellous these people are or what wonderful qualities they have; and constantly putting them on a pedestal does a disservice if inclusion is our actual aim. As I mentioned before in the comments on Kuroshitsuji, sooner or later we have to treat people as people, and if equality means anything then we also have to accept they can be flawed, provide comedy material, and generally play the same roles as anyone else. A sort of dreadful po-faced earnestness which cannot tolerate certain portrayals of its favoured groups does no-one any credit. So while Ranma ½ probably wouldn’t get made today (probably, this is Japan we’re talking about after all), it’s almost refreshing to see these ideas used so openly.

Ranma ½ mixes a lot of genres: at times the focus is on action and martial arts, at others it switches to bizarre slapstick comedy, and romance plays a hefty role here too (to say nothing of the fantastical gender-bending). Do you think all this works together, and what were your favourite and least favourite aspects of the show?

This might come as a surprise, but I didn’t actually think half of those genres applied. Maybe it’s just the episodes I saw but the martial arts, while they appear central to the whole conceit, are in my opinion just an exotic form of window-dressing. They don’t drive the story, they aren’t what the main characters are occupied with day to day, and while they do form a kind of conflict source they don’t actually resolve anything. To me they seem more incidental to the show than anything else despite how much people talk about them, and were included only to add an air of exoticism. Perhaps I’ve just been desensitised to casual violence by decades of TV and movies, but they just didn’t seem that important to the show.

Nor was the romance obviously playing a hefty role in the show, although to be fair I could see signs that it might be going to ramp up as time went by. However, it looked like while it might be a major subplot it wasn’t going to be the basis of the whole thing. That basis in my opinion was going to be comedy. There was plenty of slapstick comedy, yes, and I thought the gender-bending was going to be played in that way as well. Ranma changes from one gender to the other at an inopportune time, people rush around to conceal the truth, amusing misunderstandings arise, hilarity ensues. It’s a script we’ve seen for centuries, going back at least as far as Shakespeare, and it never fails to get a laugh. Community theatres around the world have benefited from it at their Christmas pantomimes (to our eternal sorrow), and it would surprise me not in the slightest if it was used here as well. What I really thought I was watching though was some sort of precursor to the slice-of-life comedies. The weird guests, school setting, and casual attitude towards unrealistic violence and manipulative behaviour all made me think it was going be something like another comedy anime set in a school (although I certainly wasn’t expecting it to reach the same high standard).

ranma 1/2 school fight
Does it all work together? Eh… kind of. We’re at the point where we’re essentially seeing ideas flung at a wall to see what sticks, and these are the ones that didn’t fall off. They don’t conflict with each other, and if it really is a comedy then they could provide a valuable palate-cleansing between scenes – no-one would be expected to take it seriously in any case, so why not throw it all together? But by the same token they don’t exactly complement each other, and if Ranma ½ is expecting to be taken relatively seriously as a coherent whole then they’re not doing it any favours.

My favourite aspects of the show were the comedy elements – I have a weakness for humour of the absurd, and the combination of that with slapstick comedy worked pretty well for me. I didn’t think much of the sexual elements of the show, though. The nudity and revealing clothing didn’t do anything worthwhile for it, and there was no need to have Ranma get groped periodically. That was tasteless at best.

As I’m sure you noticed, Ranma ½ involves a lot of casual nudity. Did this surprise you and were you in any way offended by it?

Yes, it really was a surprise. For one reason or another I think of most anime as being made for minors, and seeing this casual nudity came as quite a shock to me. And I have to say I found it a bit offensive, too. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it was treated matter-of-factly, as a sort of natural element of the setting. Naked bathing is a thing in Japan and other places, so it doesn’t have to receive leering attention. But it did – in fact, it was sexualised. Whatever the show is trying to be (and as I said above that issue is yet to be determined), that was unnecessary. What is it for? Adding some mindless titillation for viewers? The kids who I presume were the intended audience wouldn’t get anything from that, and anyone who is “mature” enough to enjoy those elements and yet watches a kid’s show for that purpose must have a rather disturbing psyche. I just couldn’t see why it was included, and the fact that it was just exasperated me.

ranma 1/2 nudity
As always, who was your favourite and least favourite character, and why?

This was actually a very difficult choice. Soun Tendo, the girls’ father, was a very appealing character. He might not be one of the main characters but he is a good comic element, casually stirring up trouble for everyone else with a sort of blithe unconcern. He’s quite a troll, and I like that he also seems to genuinely care about his daughters as well. However he is beaten in the comic-relief stakes by Genma Saotome, who spends most of his time as a giant panda. To be fair I would too if I could, and even just his presence in a scene makes it take a step towards the humour of the absurd that I find so appealing. When he actually starts doing things I found it almost impossible not to laugh. So Genma gets my vote for best character.

Worst character was also a bit of a contest. Tatewaki Kuno took the lead early on, being a complete dickhead in practically every way it is possible to be one (seriously, take another look at his haircut). His monstrous arrogance may in fact be his single redeeming characteristic, as it renders him incapable of believing anything that goes against what he has already decided must be the case. That led to some amusing moments as the show progressed. So I was all set to nominate him as least favourite, when suddenly Nabiki Tendo out of fucking nowhere. Nabiki had always looked and sounded a bit sly, but a few episodes in she abruptly showed what a manipulative and exploitative little baggage she is. She went as far as taking revealing pictures of both Ranma and her younger sister Akane to sell to Tatewaki, sending her bitch-score skyrocketing, and somehow Tatewaki and Ranma ended up taking the blame for it. Nabiki definitely takes the ‘least favourite’ character award, and I can only hope she gets some sort of comeuppance later on.

You watched 5 episodes of this. Will you be going back for more?
My immediate response was “ha ha ha, no”, but for a moment I was seized by doubt. Did I like Genma enough to see more of his panda-antics? Would Soun’s trolling make the show bearable? And is the prospect of Nabiki getting her richly-deserved smackdown sufficient to keep going and see where it all ended up?

Ha ha ha, no.

ranma 1/2 panda dad
Question of the post:
Got any other questions for Watson, or just any general comments? Let us know your thoughts! As always, anything aimed specifically at Watson will be replied to by the man himself.

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21 thoughts on “Watson Watches: Ranma ½

  1. Wise choice. Ranma was a long runner, and rather than advance the core romance, Takahashi kept adding characters to complicate the dynamics. There’s a reason Ranma 1/2 is (or used to be, I haven’t checked in a while) the page image for Love Dodecahedron on TV Tropes.

    I stop at S1 (18 episodes), and just treat it as light comedy up to that point. But, yeah, Nabiki is evil.

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    • I watched all of the first season some time ago. It’s also a series I’m willing to treat as nothing more than light comedy, since the show really doesn’t hold up to being anything more. That and if I did try to take it more with any degree of seriousness whatsoever, I might be tempted to be more offended than amused, which is definitely no fun. (I do like the completely un-PC nature of the series though. In a lot of ways, the 80s were a much simpler time.)

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      • Agreed. It could have held up to more. There’s a spot around episodes 7-10 where the romance between Ranma and Akane could really have taken off… but instead we got Shampoo and the cavalcade of other characters.

        And that was the pattern for the rest of the series AFAIK. So, meh, treat it as light comedy for one season and ignore the rest.

        (And it must be said the first Shampoo episodes are HILARIOUS). 🙂

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        • Yeah, the introduction of Shampoo was pretty great. Though it must be said that my favourite Ranma character has always been Ryoga – not because of the whole pig deal but because of his truly amazing sense of direction. (I can relate.)

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          • The permanently-lost guy? Yeah, seems fair. 🙂 Incidentally, having lived on Shikoku I loved the way it was portrayed in his introduction episode. Farmers and wild boar having meetings about tourism potential, this is 110% accurate.

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  2. Ahhhhhh, Ranma. I read so much of that series in middle school. Which I’m convinced is about the prime age at which it can be enjoyed without the clunkier elements getting in the way (I think you could have a great comedy series playing with concepts of gender, but it certainly wouldn’t be written by Rumiko “ha ha, let’s dedicate an entire story to Ranma quite sincerely trying to ‘fix’ a lesbian” Takahashi.

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    • One issue I had with Takahashi’s writing style is her tendency for repetition and status quo maintenance. Take Inuyasha for example, where main bad guy Naraku would always escape by the skin of his teeth to be fought again in the future.
      A more daring mangaka, I think, would’ve killed off Naraku and introduced more epic villians, prefably with even more earth shattering ambitions and evilness (and were using him as a pawn in their centuries old scheme for continental domination).

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    • Yeah, I definitely get the middle/high-school vibe as far as prime demographic goes. I know the show was enjoyed by an incredibly wide audience range, but I’m pretty sure the main target audience when Ranma first came out was teens, which makes a lot of sense to me.

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      • Definitely – it was the right age to enjoy the slapstick and be able to gloss over the more gross elements of the series. Though I have to admit, as a trans kid I suffered a fairly constant confusion of WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO CURE THIS. YOU ARE LITERALLY LIVING THE DREAM.

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  3. I did hear Takahashi Rumiko was listed as the richest female mangaka in Japan a few years ago – does anyone know if that record still stands?

    I know it’s unlikely, but a Ranma remake would be really interesting to watch, particularly if Takahashi allowed the anime staff to revamp her slapstick humour for the modern anime viewer. Like the characters using smartphones and tablets, Happosai abusing online dating sites to meet beauties, and perhaps new types of comedy routines like the overt parodies of Japanese culture found in series like Gintama or Osomatsu-san. (Ex. Gintama parodying the crying Japanese politician who embezzled public money.)

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    • That may be. Someone else will have to try and answer this question though since I’m not really up to speed on the manga industry. Anime’s always been my main interest.

      I don’t know, most of the appeal for Ranma as far as I’m concerned is in the fact that it’s so utterly politically incorrect, and in this way it’s very much a product of the 80s. I’m not saying a lot of the gags couldn’t be updated quite well, but because of censorship and what’s now considered socially acceptable/unacceptable to show on TV, a remake would automatically lose a lot of its charm for me.

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      • The censorship would be one of the bigger hurdles for something as un-PC as Ranma, although I don’t think that’s stopped anime studios from adapting titles with even more overt nudity and weirdness than Ranma.
        Like this season’s super-lewd Masou Gakuen HxH – the MC has to make girls orgasm through various means to make them power-up so they can fight evil aliens. There’s both a censored and uncensored version of it (uncensored airs on cable apparently).

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  4. I love Rumiko Takahashi. Ranma, Inuyasha, and I had begun reading her latest Rin-ne before the Tsunami back in (was it 2011?) messed up the stnchronized online release. One major thing I notice though is she seems to have a limited catalogue of limited character designs.

    Pantyhose Taro evolved into Naraku. Ryoga certainly bears a similarity to Kouga. Ukyo and Sango. There’s a character in Rin-ne that’s a Miroku look a like, and yet another Pantyhose/Naraku incarnation.

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    • Takahashi’s characters certainly have a very distinctive look to them, yes – I’d probably recognize them anywhere, even if I didn’t know the actual show that well.
      Not a fan of either Inuyasha or Rin-ne personally, but I can understand why they’re so popular.

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  5. I remember this being super popular when I was a kid. I think I was 13 or 14 when I picked up the manga at a library (I’m pretty sure the only reason they allowed someone my age to check it out was because they had no idea what was inside). I recall hating it because it was just one misunderstanding after another and I found it both pointless and annoying. I never looked into the series again after that. Probably best as the show seems to have never left the misunderstanding-hotel anyway.

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    • I never read the manga, but I enjoyed some of the show at least. The main problem for me is that I don’t usually like really long-running shows, so just one season of Ranma was plenty enough for me. Generally I get tired really quickly of anything over, say, 50 episodes.

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      • Same! When I look into any show people are raving about and see it has 40+ episodes, I click away. I don’t have time for that! Not to mention the stories are usually horrid monster/case/misunderstanding of the day types. Ugh. Horrid.

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  6. I’m replying way late, but what the hell, Ranma was my obsession for my early teen years. Looking back, I’d say season 1 was the show’s peak in terms of quality. I don’t mean just in terms of animation, though it probably is the show’s best season for that aspect, but mostly for how the show actually had something interesting to say about something besides pratfalls (and to be fair, I thought that shit was goddamn hilarious back then).

    Takahashi herself has stated that she wasn’t deliberately trying to address gender issues, merely that such things were in the zeitgeist; even so, however, Ranma 1/2 does raise questions about attitudes toward gender that are surprisingly thoughtful for a slapstick comedy. I mean, there are the three sisters with three different modes of femininity – the maternal, the man-eater, and the tomboy, the premise that a girl who refuses to conform to gender stereotypes is romantically linked against her will to a boy who cannot conform to gender stereotypes, the way the exact same person acting the exact same way produces opposite reactions from the other party based purely on the actor’s gender (i.e., Ranma beats up Tatewaki as a boy and earns his hatred, but then beats him as a girl and earns his love), the implication that Ranma acts like a sexist pig in homophobic fear that his curse makes him gay, the rather subtle way in which Akane becomes more passive the more strongly her feelings for Ranma become (i.e., she becomes more traditionally feminine and ends up getting rescued more over time). I even wrote an analysis of the show for a women’s studies class way back in the day.

    Anyway, I admit that part of my admiration is for the show as it could have been, not as it was, since many of these plot threads and themes were never satisfactorily addressed or even completely ignored in later installments. Takahashi knows what brings the money in, having already created Maison Ikkoku and Urusei Yatsura, so she stuck to the slapstick, put in a light coating of romance, and completely ignored the gender themes she inadvertently brought up.

    Speaking of the comedy parts, though, I have to say I liked how much of an asshole Ranma was. I know if he was an actual person I knew then I would hate his guts, but since he’s a fictional jerkhole I can laugh at his crass stupidity.

    Regarding a lot of the female toplessness, though, I don’t think the animators or Takahashi ever meant it to be fanservice at all. I think anime has become more regressive toward female nudity over time, as nowadays naked breasts are invariably sexualized in contemporary shows as opposed to the artlessness toward most of the boobies in Ranma 1/2. Which was touched on in the post, of course.

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    • I don’t think I ever made it past season one myself, but that’s not because I disliked Ranma – mostly I just don’t like extremely long-running shows. Though I should probably also mention that I never watched Ranma at all until… mid-2000s I think. My impression of the show would probably have been vastly different if I’d watched it too much earlier.

      I do definitely agree that anime as a whole has become more regressive toward female nudity over the years. Fanservice as we know it now really only became a significant issue at all starting in the 90s and while Ranma has plenty of nudity, it’s a far less sexualised show to my mind than many of its contemporaries, which often depict no nudity yet are positively laden with fanservice.

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  7. Pingback: Watson Watches: Dragon Ball | OTAKU LOUNGE

  8. Pingback: Watson Watches: retro wrap-up party | OTAKU LOUNGE

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