Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Both Sides Now

Rumiko Takahashi's manga, Ranma ½, tells the simple story of a young martial artist who's cursed to change sexes upon contact with water. (OK, maybe it's not so simple.)

Both Sides Now

BOOK REPORT for Ranma ½, Vol. 1 by Rumiko Takahashi

Cover Story: Optimus Prime
BFF Charm: Yay × 2
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: Larger than Life
Arty Art: Classic Manga
Bonus Factors: Martial Arts, Love Polygon
Relationship Status: Rekindled Flame

Cover Story: Optimus Prime

Oh, look! A pair of siblings wearing matching outfits, with their pet panda and piglet! Except TOTALLY NOT, 'cause there's way more than meets the eye.

The Deal:

After an arduous journey to China for martial arts training, Ranma Saotome and his father arrive at the Tendo family's dojo in Tokyo. You see, the dojo's going to be Ranma's one day. Thanks to his dad, Ranma is engaged to one of the Tendo girls. (Which one? Doesn't matter!) Someone he's never even met before. Oh, and the Saotomes came back from China with matching curses of cold water transforming Ranma into a girl and his dad into a panda, with hot water reverting them to their original forms. NOT AWKWARD AT ALL. 

If this sounds like cray-sanity, IT IS, AND IT'S SPECTACULAR, DARLING. I had only watched the anime and read some of the manga back when I was no more than six (far too young, in retrospect). But Ranma ½ left such a big impression on me that I just had to see how it holds up, now that I'm a cranky curmudgeon. 

BFF Charm: Yay × 2

Needless to say, Ranma's life is complicated. But no matter which form he takes, Ranma's smartassery stays the same, i.e., BFF-worthy. 

Since Akane is Ranma's age, her older sisters stick her with being his fiancée. Underneath Akane's prickly, headstrong exterior is a sweetheart that I'd love to befriend. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

The enemistry is strong with Ranma and Akane, but this is a long, LONG game -- 38 total volumes! -- with plenty of other love interest options for both parties (more on that later). 

There's also a sliiight (and by that, I mean considerable) sketch factor with Dr. Tofu being in love with Akane's sister, Kasumi. She's nineteen now, but he's been in love with her for YEARS, going back to when she was younger than nineteen and he was still a grown-ass adult. Dr. Tofu must hail from the Japanese version of Rosewood

Talky Talk: Larger than Life

Unsurprisingly, this madcap manga is populated by a bunch of vivid characters. It's light and goofy, and it just exudes fun.

One thing I did pay extra attention to is how it handles gender. Obvi, needing a son-in-law to carry on the family business sucks, esp. when the daughters have enough technical proficiency and business acumen to do so without any menz. And Ranma's way touchy whenever his manhood is questioned. But after the initial shock wears off, everyone's just like, "WELPZ, your fiancé sometimes looks like a girl, Akane". I wouldn't exactly consider Ranma ½ to be LGBTQ, since real gender expression isn't like an on/off switch. Although the series is not not LGBTQ, either. But it also doesn't angst over murky gender definitions, so I guess I shouldn't, either.

Arty Art: Classic Manga

I'm def. no manga historian, but Ranma ½ gets the classic label because it's one of the essential manga from my youth. And Rumiko Takahashi is essential to a lot of people; she's only best-selling female comics artist in history, HOLLA! (She also wrote and illustrated Inuyasha, another master class in enemistry.)

I should also note that this contains (female) nudity. Not like that's a big deal, as echoed by Ranma below, but just so you're aware if you happen to be reading this on, say, public transpo like I was. 

Bonus Factor: Martial Arts

Everybody's kung fu fighting!** Ranma's kicks are fast as lightning! Pretty much everyone can open a can of whoop-ass. Akane, for instance, starts each school day by literally beating off suitors -- head, get out of the gutter -- who want to prove themselves worthy of asking her out by defeating her in a fight. (She always wins, obvs.)

** Kung fu's actually Chinese, but there probably aren't exact IRL equivalents to these fighting styles anyway.

Bonus Factor: Love Polygon

Pfft, measly little love trianglesRanma ½ scoffs at your vertex deficiency! Ranma and Akane are involuntarily engaged, but they hate each other (or do they?!?!). Akane has a crush on Dr. Tofu, who's hopelessly in love with her sister, Kasumi, while Upperclassman Kuno lusts after both Akane and Ranma's girl form. And those are just the relationships established in the first volume!

Casting Call:

I'm just going to go with the actors from the live-action TV special, since I trust it more than myself to pick an all-Japanese cast. And I so appreciate the commitment to re-stage an image so precisely, even if it includes a terribad fake panda.


Relationship Status: Rekindled Flame

Reunions are tricky. Sure, this book looks the same as ever, but what if our relationship just isn't the same after such a long time apart?

And you know what? Damn right, it isn't the same. I can actually understand and appreciate all the jokes that went over my head when I first met this manga. Our relationship might be restarting as a reunion hookup, but I can't wait to find out what I've missed over the years.

FTC Full Disclosure: I borrowed my review copy from my friend months ago and only got around to reading it now because I'm the worst. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). Ranma ½, Vol. 1 is available now.

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.