Ranma ½ : The Movies 1 & 2 Review

If you are not familiar with Rumiko Takahashi’s long-running manga or the numerous episodes of the never-ending Ranma ½ TV anime, there are a few things you need to know before watching Ranma ½: The Movies 1 & 2, since there is no recap of the backstory or the characters and no concession made for first-time viewers. Ranma Saotome, while perfecting his martial arts training with his father in China, fell into one of the cursed springs of Jusenkyo – the spring of the drowned girl. Ever since then, he lives under a curse, turning into a female whenever he comes into contact with cold water. This happens more often than you would think and usually under the most embarrassing circumstances imaginable. Application of hot water will turn him back into a boy - those boiling kettles of hot water that pop out of nowhere come in pretty handy. The fate of his father Genma is similarly embarrassing, since he fell into the spring of the drowned panda meaning that… well, you get the picture…

Ranma and his father are resident then at the Tendo School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, where Ranma is engaged to be married to Akane on account of an old promise made between the two fathers in their youth. The only problem is that Ranma and Akane can’t stand each other. Akane is a bit of a tomboy, a tough-nut who is more than a match for Ranma’s exceptional martial arts skills, and probably the worst cook in the world. Despite the deep-seated mutual enmity, they love each other really, wouldn’t you know. The love-hate relationship and Ranma’s embarrassing curse usually sees them embroiled in farcical situations of confusion, mixed identities and love-stricken suitors where they have to battle in specialised and often wacky forms of martial arts based around cookery, gymnastics, flower-arranging and so on. The formula is a quite repetitive one, but often very funny, thanks to Rumiko Takashi’s brilliance at inventing new characters, new complications and new martial arts.

Big Trouble in Nekonron, China
The first Ranma ½ movie then throws the viewer into the middle of this strange universe populated by wonderful characters that have been developed over many episodes, each of them with their own particular characteristics. There’s Happosai, Ranma’s father’s old teacher, a panty-stealing old pervert who just happens to be one of the most powerful and experienced martial artists in the world. There’s Ryoga, who is in love with Akane, but has the worst sense of direction you could imagine, there’s Ukyo, the cookery expert martial artist, who has a bit of a thing for the male Ranma, and Kuno who has a thing for the female Ranma – the pigtailed girl who keeps appearing when Ranma is around (he hasn’t figured the curse thing out yet) and there is Shampoo (my favourite), a hot Amazonian babe from China who thinks she is also engaged to Ranma, and the short-sighted Mousse, her former intended. Most of these characters also seem to have passed through the haunted springs of Jusenkyo and are likely to turn into various cute animals at the first contact with water.

I mention this because you are “introduced” to all these characters (and quite a few more!) in the first few minutes of Big Trouble in Nekonron, China. Don’t worry if you don’t follow at first, you’ll soon catch up – things are quite complicated in Ranma ½, but they are repetitive enough for you to soon see the patterns emerging. The familiar situation in the first Ranma movie involves Happosai, and one of the scrapes the wrinkled old pervert got up to in his younger days (and that would be a long, long time ago). Having stumbled across a mysterious Chinese organisation in Nekonron, China practitioners of the Seven Lucky Gods Martial Arts with plans for global domination, he has stolen their precious scroll, or at least half of it, and given it away to a lady in a restaurant in return for food. The scroll has been passed down to Lychee all the way from her great-grandmother and now she arrives at the Tendo household with a bone to pick with the old man, complaining that the rewards it promised have never materialised.

No sooner said than Prince Kirin turns up, looking for the person with the other half of the scroll, who will be his bride. The scroll at that moment just so happens to be in the hands of Akane, but she has no intention of being a blushing bride, nor of eating the Seven Lucky Gods Martial Artists traditional diet of pickled vegetables and rice. Ranma isn’t having any of this either and takes off with the rest of the cast to rescue Akane – or maybe rescue Kirin from the terrible fate in store should Akane start cooking for him – but he will have to battle each of the Seven Lucky Gods Martial Artists first…

If not the most true-to-character Ranma episode, Big Trouble in Nekonron, China is at least zippy, fast moving and action packed. Trying to keep all of the huge cast of characters involved in the storyline however, it’s perhaps a little too packed and frantic, and it seems to be at the expense of squeezing out the humour, sense of timing and the running jokes that Rumiko Takahashi takes care to develop so well over the course of many episodes. In this way it does feel appropriately like a big screen outing of a TV series – upping the ante slightly, placing the action on a grander scale and giving it a bit more dynamism. Unfortunately, there’s not much to distinguish this kind of adventure from one of the tasks in Dragonball Z and some of the character of Ranma ½ is consequently lost in the process.

Nihao My Concubine
There are no such reservations about the second Ranma ½ movie, which not only manages to more successfully retain the fun and sauciness of the manga series, but it even manages to make better use of the characters and their idiosyncrasies, and it does so in a shorter running time of only 60 minutes.

The cheesecake factor is turned up to the maximum right from the start, the cast having been reduced to bathing beauties on a deserted island – all at the mercy of Happosai - where they have been shipwrecked when Kuno’s yacht ran aground. There is something strange about the island however – first Kasumi goes missing, then Shampoo, Nabiki and Ukyo, all seeming to be swallowed up by a black blob that leaves only a peach behind. With the female Ranma reluctantly used as bait, they set out to uncover the malefactor.

That turns out to be Prince Toma, who is gathering bridal candidates on Togenkyo Island. The plan backfires and he makes off with Akane also, leaving those remaining with no alternative but to go to their rescue. Or perhaps it’s more to do with the threat that the island has waters that can turn anyone permanently into a man – news that is more of a lure than a threat to all the form-challenged men. Moreover, being treated like princesses the women are in no hurry to leave, at least until the time that Prince Toma makes his choice of bride. Inevitably, this involves a Martial Arts Marriage Contest to judge the candidate with the best qualities…

Much more in the spirit of the original’s Anything Goes Martial Arts action, Nihao My Concubine is by far the better of the two films here – thought perhaps you need to be male to fully appreciate it. With lots of slapstick, wacky hi-jinks, romantic comedy and busty Amazonian women running around scantily clothed in bathing suits and revealing outfits, it’s more compact, makes better use of secondary characters than Big Trouble in Nekonron, China, the animation flows much more smoothly and it’s just funnier all around.

Ranma 1/2: The Movies 1 & 2 is released in the UK by MVM. (Credits indicate that these editions were prepared by Madman in Australia). It collects the previously released Big Trouble In Nekonron, China and Nihao My Concubine as a 2-disc set. The two single-layer discs are PAL format and are encoded for Region 2.

The video quality is pretty much the same on both films and while neither are particular stellar, they are adequate, with few serious flaws. The transfers, both original 4:3, are relatively stable with only a few marks or scratches visible here and there. Colour levels are decent and tones are clear, though there is a certain level of softness in the image. This could be a consequence of the standards conversion from NTSC to PAL, which causes the familiar issues of interlacing, making movements look a little juddering and causing a certain amount of blurring. Neither would seem to be an improvement on any previous editions.

The audio tracks are similarly unexceptional, but suit the purpose reasonably well. The original Japanese and the English dub track is included, both as Dolby Digital 2.0, the English tracks on both films having a slight edge in clarity and brightness. I watched one film in the original Japanese, the other in English and, for a change, found the English dub functioned just as well as a perfectly acceptable alternative to reading the subtitles.

The subtitles are in a bright yellow font and are of course optional. They are thankfully not dubtitles.

There is little of great interest in the extra features, though first-time viewers will certainly find the descriptions of the Characters accurate and useful. The Original Japanese Ending is included for the first movie, which is squished on the English version to allow the song lyrics to be displayed below. A few Conceptual Drawings are provided for each film, showing character sketches and outfit designs. Trailers are included for other MVM titles.

Although there are similarities in the plots of the two Ranma ½ movies, this would tend to reflect the repetitive, running-joke nature of the series, constantly recycling ideas, but making them bigger, more ridiculous and funnier each time. That’s the case with the films here - Big Trouble in Nekonron, China pushing the limits of the series into big-screen action for the first time, but perhaps being stretched too much to include all the characters; Nihao My Concubine settling into a familiar groove with much more ease and a greater sense of fun and parody. They might not seem the best introduction for first-time viewers, but as an alternative to embarking on the Ranma ½ TV series sets, they should certainly be considered as representative of the kind of classy, fun entertainment you can expect from the prolific and reliably consistent Rumiko Takahashi.

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