Ranma ½: Nihao My Concubine Review
The second 'feature-length' film in the Ranma ½ universe, Nihao My Concubine, sees our heroes catapulted into yet another crazy (albeit highly entertaining) adventure, although the core premise bears a distinct similarity to the first movie... namely, Akane gets captured by a 'prince' looking for a bride, and Team Ranma swings into action to rescue her. (Naturally, the writers have introduced a few new wrinkles this time around, but the formula remains recognisable underneath it all.)
What's the story? Well, somewhere in the depths of the (legendarily-brutal) Tokyo summer, Tatewaki Kuno gets the brainwave to invite Akane and 'the pigtailed girl' (Ranma in his female form, for those not in the know) out on his family yacht. Of course, lacking the good sense granted your average toaster, he makes this announcement at the Tendo dojo, in front of both of their families and various passers-by (Shampoo, Cologne, Mousse, Ryoga, and Ukyo, would you believe?), who all blithely invite themselves along for this little holiday excursion as well.
Cue a quick splash of classic Gilligan's Island plot device and the entire crew ends up shipwrecked on a stereotypically-tropical island somewhere off the coast of Japan... and it's not long before all of the females start disappearing one by one. It doesn't take the gang long to think of using Ranma as bait to solve the mystery, and when they do they learn that the elusive abductor is none other than Prince Toma, a spoiled brat from another nearby island who has been kidnapping girls from all over the region in order to find himself the perfect bride via forced competition.
As if the lads needed any more encouragement than simply recovering all of the missing women, there is also the small matter of a secret spring Toma appears to be in possession of which converts anything/one into a man. While Ranma, Genma, Ryoga, and Mousse predictably assume that this could cure their Jusenkyo-cursed alternate forms, the real question is why anyone would risk it after clapping eyes on some of Toma's bizarre loyal retainers (Wonton, Sarutoru, and Toristan... created from a dog, a monkey, and a bird by the same magical waters).
I could just leave it at that, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the other thing – aside from the actual story – that this particular film is most known for... and that is the truly epic amounts of fan service the animators have enthusiastically inserted. For those of you out there who have been dying to see all of the young females in the core cast (well, save Kodachi, who predictably didn't get an invite from her older brother) bouncing about the beach in skimpy swimwear that often reveals more of their buxom figures than it conceals, well, you're in for a treat. On the other hand, if that's not your thing you may find it vaguely distracting to watch, if not a little silly.
As with every last scrap of Ranma ½ animé ever produced, this second film is presented in the standard television (4:3) aspect ratio. However, even though it wasn't produced all that much later than its predecessor (1992), the video quality seen on this DVD really is noticeably superior to that of Big Trouble in Nekonron, China and in fact rivals some of the nicer bits from the TV series. Not only is the animation more fluid and the colour palette a bit less dark and dingy than what we saw in the first movie, but there's significantly less print damage in this video. (Sure, there's the occasional scratch here and there, but you really have to look for them this time around.) Of course, some things never change, and Viz' predilection for always encoding their Ranma ½ DVDs from the dub masters is one of those. (So you'll just have to live with the hard-subbed signs, etc.)
Like the vast majority of animé DVDs released by Western distributors, this is a bilingual disc, featuring both the original Japanese language as well as the English dub produced by Viz when they first brought Ranma ½ to the USA. Both audio tracks are presented in fairly standard Dolby Stereo, and neither really exhibits all that much directionality. However, all of the dialogue comes across as crystal-clear and the incidental music and sound effects are all nicely rendered.
The menus on this DVD are definitely a major step up from the ones on the Viz release of the first Ranma ½ movie. Not only are they not ugly (hey, someone had to say it), but they're fully animated in a pleasant, not-over-the-top kind of way in addition to the usual cheerful music playing underneath. About the only strange behaviour witnessed on the main menu, in fact, is how it turns itself off if you don't make a selection within a minute or so. Access times seem speedy throughout, and the options available include 'Start Movie', 'Languages & Subtitles', 'Jump to a Scene', 'Extra Stuff', and 'Viz Product Information'.
The 'Jump to a Scene' sub-menu (apparently forgotten completely on the first movie disc) provides an ample 16 chapter breaks for this 60-minute film... each named and numbered in the liner notes booklet included in the Amaray case, which by the way also includes a nice selection of stills from the film in its inner pages.
'Viz Product Information' here adopts the now-standard radial layout seen on their current DVDs, with each spoke linking to a page about a different branch of Viz Communications, including video, comics, magazines, graphic novels, and other merchandise... not to mention the usual links to their websites. This sub-menu also features about the only thing on this disc that could be considered an 'easter egg'. (Alas, it's just a brief scene you'll have already seen in the film itself, so it's not much of an extra. Nor is it precisely hidden or anything, so you won't have any trouble finding it.)
'Extra Stuff' actually features a decent selection of special features, including 'Characters', 'Love Battles', 'Crew & Credits', 'Trailer', and 'Conceptual Drawings'. The English trailer is really short and not terribly exciting. On the other end of the spectrum is the 'Cast & Credits', which is unexpectedly thorough at 12 pages of information, the first 10 of which are devoted solely to the Japanese cast and production staff. It's rare to see a Western animé DVD that bothers to provide all of this data in one place like this, so good on Viz for making the effort.
The 'Characters' section is nicely done and will be particularly appreciated by any newcomer to the world of Ranma ½. In contrast to the way the character info was presented on the Big Trouble in Nekonron, China DVD (which had each text blurb accompanied by a video clip of that character in action), this time around Viz chose to provide a static image underscored by a brief sound clip of that character's voice. One handy feature of this is that all of the Jusenkyo-cursed characters (with the exception of Shampoo, oddly enough) get two pictures... one of them in their 'normal' bodies and one when transformed by cold water. All in all, a good 17 characters are covered here. Nice.
Also amusing and semi-useful is the 'Love Battles' screen, which provides a simplified breakdown of some of the affections and rivalries relevant to this particular Ranma ½ movie. Each connection in the overall diagram links to a video clip demonstrating that particular relationship, which is fun for newbies and seasoned Ranma ½ fans alike. The only quibble with both this section and the one above has to do with how sloppily most of the video and sound clips were cut... but this slight drawback won't stop you from enjoying these features nevertheless.
Plot-wise, Nihao My Concubine may well be the slightly weaker of the two Ranma ½ 'movies' distributed by Viz, but in terms of production quality this is a somewhat stronger disc than its predecessor. The DVD features solid video, decent audio, nice menus and a good spread of extras. Lots of physical humour abounds, although this particular show has fewer really memorable comedic lines. And if fan service is a determining factor in your animé purchases, be advised that this film has tons of it.