Ranma 1/2 OVAs 1-6

Before I get into the specifics of the new OVA/Movie set, I wanna say this:

The Blu-Ray remasterings of Ranma 1/2 are some sort of gift from the gods.

Seriously. These things are beautiful. You can see the brushstrokes in the coloring and little mistakes in individual frames. At times it’s like watching a painting in motion. It’s all so tactile and alive in a way they never were on VHS or DVD. Even when an episode is just kinda meh, it’s a visceral pleasure to see something so “real” on the screen. They’re awesome.

Anyway, the movies and OVAs hold a special place in my Ranma-loving heart. The first Ranma thing I ever saw was the first movie (which I won’t go into in this post, since I haven’t revisited it yet on Blu-Ray). I was thrilled to see something Ranma-related on the shelf at the local video store back in high school, so I didn’t bother with sequential order or anything like that. Soon after that I picked up another Ranma tape, not realizing that it was the first two episodes of the post-TV OVA series.

It was with those two episodes that Ranma “clicked” with me. That first movie was fun and all, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time. But the two episodes from that OVA tape made my mind grasp what it was about the show that made it so cool. Not that I really understood the particulars or whatever, but the gist finally struck me.

So yeah, I was pretty excited to rewatch them (and the other OVAs, all of which I say before seeing most of the TV series proper) for the first time in at least 15 years to see how they hold up? I knew that original magic or whatever wasn’t gonna be there, but I was at least hoping they’d be those “best of the best” episodes I always pegged them for after consuming the series in its entirety.

I wouldn’t go that far, since out of the six episodes (the ones on the first disc) I’ve seen so far they’ve been a mixed bag, but they’re all pretty worthwhile in their own way.

A lot of it has to do with changing tastes. Ranma’s at its best when it’s adhering to its sitcom formula– the characters get into a wacky situation, and their conflicting personalities make it fun and goofy and all that. That’s the inherent strength of the sitcom. It isn’t about resolution or development, it’s about having ready-made characters who you can toss into what you hope is an amusing story and let things play out to their inevitable conclusion based on said personalities. If things don’t change at the end of the episode, good. That means you can do it all over again next time without having to worry about dynamics changing. It’s the expected unexpected– you’re guaranteed to be surprised and you know it. That’s the hallmark of good sitcom composition.

The two best episodes out of this batch do just that. The first one, which appropriately enough was the first Ranma episode I ever saw, deals with Shampoo getting a brooch that twists around her personality. While wearing the brooch, her obsession becomes indifference bordering on hatred– those things that once made her head over heels for Ranma now annoy her to the point of violence. And not the sort of tsundere-level violence of Akane, just outright malevolent, “I’ll kill you if you look at me wrong” violence.

This annoys Ranma to no end, and it’s brilliant.

Ranma doesn’t like Shampoo romantically, but he’s a bit of an asshole and kinda enjoys the fact that she obsesses over him like that. Once Shampoo stops fawning over him, Ranma feels like he’s lost something, and he’s willing to go all out to remedy his broken ego. Stuff happens, Cologne tries to use this to her advantage and trick Ranam into marrying Shampoo, and all sorts of other funny stuff goes down.

This is the perfect example of how the sitcom formula can develop a character without needlessly furthering the plot past a point of no return. We get to see a side of Ranma that we can deduce is there based on his past actions– that he really enjoys the harem aspect of his life despite protestations– but this revelation doesn’t fundamentally change the dynamics at play. Ranma and Shampoo don’t sit down and discuss this and resolve their relationship, but now we have more fodder to play with in future scenarios where their (non)relationship is at the forefront. The audience’s opinion of the characters has been developed, and in a sitcom that’s more important than actual character and plot development. It’s all about the audience changing and finding new ways to appreciate the formula.

The other “best” episode is the one where a child-like teacher gets a job at the gang’s school, and she has the ability to drain away peeps’ battle auras and use them against them. When she does that, her body transforms into a shapely woman. This one isn’t as dynamic as the previous episode, but it’s amusing to see Happosai kinda sorta give a damn about a little kid in the flashbacks where he teaches the girl how to use said aura-draining powers. Happosai’s a perverted rat bastard, but he has a soft side when he isn’t stealing panties. Sometimes. It was all about stealing panties in the end. So yeah, he’s just a rat bastard.

There’s a two-parter that deals with two girls who believe Soun Tendo is their adopted father. Akane gets a lot of the spotlight in this one, since these new girls challenge her role as heir to the Tendo Dojo, and because of that we get a good deal of the over-the-top martial arts fighting stuff. The best bits are where Shampoo and Ukyo pretend to help Akane in her training, but both are secretly thinking about how to keep Akane from winning in hopes of Akane’s engagement with Ranma is broken. The new girls are OK, but they’re essentially themed challengers-of-the-week that you see a lot in the TV series. It’s a pretty typical “serious” two-parter story you’d see sometimes in the series, but far from being as good as, say, The Golden Pair.

The other two episodes on the first disc are the “mixed bag” of the bunch. One deals with a Christmas party that starts off amusing enough, but about halfway through starts to deal with Ranma and Akane’s relationship. It’s one of those “they kinda sorta admit their feelings, but not directly and not in a way that resolves anything” bits– fan service for those who really care about them hooking up, but staying at that level of teasing. It felt like the creators of the OVAs weren’t sure how many more of these things they’d get to do, so they wanted to get this in there before it was too late. It just didn’t do it for me, and dare I say it, felt “forced.” Yeah, it’s a lame term, but I’m gonna use it here. I wanted to see more of Shampoo, Ukyo, and Kodachi chasing Ranma across rooftops, dammit!

That episode and the other remaining one give Kasumi a little bit of the spotlight. It’s Kasumi who arranges the Christmas party that’s the backdrop of the episode, and that might be why the episode disappointed me. Ranma and Akane took away from what could have been Kasumi’s fun. The same thing happens in the other episode. It deals with Kasumi finding her dead mother’s cookbook, but soon enough it becomes an “Akane sucks at cooking” episode. It even has the audacity to have Akane learn how to competently boil water! That’s far too much development for a Ranma episode! Learning how to boil water? Totally implausible! Eh, it’s a cute enough episode, but definitely the weakest of the bunch. The bits where Ranma and Genma change into their alter egos to avoid Ranma’s mom/Genma’s wife are amusing though.

The best part of all of this was simply zoning out and pretending I was some dorky teenager seeing these things for the first time. Between the cool opening and closing songs and the old school anime aesthetic, it was easy enough to enter that delusion for a few hours.

And yeah, that ending credits song is awesomely bombastic and ridiculous. Ranma as opera or something like that. I love it. Totally clashes with the series’ style, but that’s the charm. Seeing the screen pass over someone like Happosai while this hymn-like stuff is playing is the height of absurdity.

 

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