Ranma 1/2, Volume One collects the first fourteen chapters of Rumiko Takahashi’s best-selling manga. This volume was first published in Japan in 1988, Gerard Jones and Matt Thorn’s English adaptation of Volume One was published in 1993.
Soun Tendo surprises his three daughters with the news that long ago he agreed to marry one of them to Ranma, the son of his good friend (and complete stranger to the girls) Genma Saotome. This marriage will secure the future of the Tendo family dojo and the indiscriminate grappling school of martial arts.
Soun and Genma’s contract did not specify which daughter would marry Gemma’s’ son, Ranma. Soun is happy to leave that detail to his daughters. Oldest daughter Kasumi and second oldest daughter Nabiki graciously agree between them that they should grant the youngest daughter, Akane, this precious opportunity. Akane is shockingly ungrateful.
As soon as Genma and son arrive at the dojo, the sisters notice previously unmentioned details that could well complicate the betrothal. Genma is a large panda. Ranma is human … but also a girl.
The situation is not quite as clear-cut as it seems. True, Genma is a panda and Ranma is a girl when the Saotomes arrive at the dojo, but these are temporary conditions. Thanks to his father’s bold decision to train in China’s Jusenkyo springs, a region famous for its many cursed pools, Genma has been cursed to transform from human to panda whenever he is doused with cold water. Similarly, Ranma turns from boy to girl when splashed with cold water. When splashed with hot water, father and son revert to their original form.
Even if her first encounter with Ranma had not left Akane with the impression the sixteen-year-old was an obnoxious pervert, Akane would have been unwilling to marry him. She is quite cool on boys in general. Upon accompanying her to school, Ranma learns why.
Akane has a hopeless, unrequited crush on an older man, Doctor Tofu.
Classmate Tatewaki Kuno, self-styled “Blue Thunder of Furinkan High” and Akane’s would-be suitor, has decreed that nobody may court Akane without first defeating Akane in battle.
The boys of Furinkan High seem to be a bunch of fools who do NOT learn from experience. Almost every morning. Akane has to curb-stomp a few suitors. This is no problem (Akane being a well-trained martial artist and all),but the effort has left her with a jaundiced view of boys.
Tatewaki Kuno is confident Akane will eventually realize she must be in love with a young man so handsome, rich, skilled, and modest as the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High. The news that she is betrothed to some stranger who is not Kuno is unwelcome news. Someone will have to pay. That someone will be Ranma.
Kuno attacks Ranma but finds himself grappling with a teenaged girl (whose name is also Ranma, a coincidence to be unravelled at some later time). Where Akane is feminine perfection, this boisterous teen displays tomboyish charm. Kuno is smitten. This does not mean that he has withdrawn his undying love for Akane. Kuno sets out to take both Akane and Ranma for his own.
I wonder if the Jusenkyo guide fell into the Cursed Pool of the Man Whose Warnings Were Ignored? The guide is quite diligent about warning visitors about the hazards of the region, but nobody ever seems to listen to him. Perhaps at some point the Chinese government should consider erecting protective railings1.
Ranma 1/2 is strictly PG with some casual nudity and inappropriate prodding by people with boundary issues. Put aside whatever risqué scenarios came to mind when reading the above. Neither Akane nor Ranma seem particularly inclined to go as far as chaste hand-holding with anyone their age, let alone each other. Ranma’s sex at any given moment isn’t a factor. As well, Takahashi doesn’t really explore issues of gender or sex in the series; Ranma is a boy regardless of shape and his shape-shifting is useful to the author mainly as a source of comedy.
Like a lot of comedy, Ranma 1/2 is fairly horrific in its implications. Try not to think about how Akane has been targeted for daily violent assault by a legion of boys or the complete disregard for their childrens’ feelings and well-being displayed by Genma and Soun. If you cannot take these things in stride, you might want to bow out on the rest of the series; it only gets worse.
By its end, eight years later, there had been 407 chapters in thirty-eight volumes in the Ranma series. Ranma turned out to have a remarkable talent for accumulating fiancés and would-be fiancés. Both Ranma and Akane displayed an astounding inability (even taking into account that they are teenagers) to admit their feelings for each other. Complication followed complication. As I have not read all thirty-eight volumes, I don’t have any idea how Takahashi unravelled it all or even if she did. Unravelling may have been impossible, given the complexity of Ranma 1/2’s Love Dodecahedron.
Volume One is comparatively uncomplicated. It introduces the situation and the characters, and expands on some of the characters. Ranma is brash, Akane understandably irritable, their fathers are self-centred fools, Kuno is a pompous idiot, and Nabiki is a sensible capitalist of the sort who sells illicit Polaroids of Akane and (female) Ranma to their abhorrent admirer . Expect lots of sudden martial arts battles (with impressive levels of collateral property damage nobody particularly seems to mind) and lots of slapstick comedy.
Ranma 1/2, volume one is available here (Amazon). It does not seem to be available from Chapters-Indigo. That or Chapters-Indigo’s crappy search engine failed me.
1: Or perhaps the government could sell access to the pools. After all, there must be a great many people who want to turn into pandas or fit young girls. Or into a man, black piglet, cat, duck, octopus, twins, pious man, child, warrior goddess, Buddhist priest, frog, pteranodon, sabertooth tiger, and the ever popular Yeti-riding-Bull-carrying-Crane-and-Eel.
2: My memory says oldest sister Kasumi could be seen as an unflappable paragon of domestic perfection or, alternatively, as a supremely manipulative monster who made Kasumi at her worst look like a naïve tyro.