The second half of the Ranma OVA set is just as good-looking as the first, but I have to say something in particular about the episode-length movie that’s bunched in with these episodes. Not only was this my first time seeing the Phoenix bit in HD, it was my first time seeing it in its proper aspect ratio. The old VHS letterboxed it so you saw the whole picture, which was fine in those tape days, but I’d never seen blown out to its proper theatrical perspective. That alone made this box set worth getting. Like if somehow every single other OVA totally sucked, it would have been worth the $40+ I paid just for that one episode. Hey, that isn’t even $10 more than what I paid for that VHS back in the day, so that isn’t nearly as extravagant to me as it may seem.
HD Theatrical-Ratio Ukyo is Awesome.
The back half of the Ranma OVA run is one of my favorite batches of episodes in the entire series. There isn’t a bad one in the bunch, and even when a given episode isn’t absolutely wonderful (like the doll one), it’s still pretty solid.
Something I noticed this time around was how the series “ended.” The final two episodes– said doll episode and the ogre episodes– both deal with possession. While the ogre episode was actually third to last, the original US VHS tape and the Blu-Ray set have it as second to last, so my connection here isn’t too valid, but I have a feeling Viz probably noticed this too and slapped them together in their initial release. It’s a weird note to end things on, with two of the three Tendo sisters being possessed by malevolent entities. While watching them, I was wondering if the people behind the OVAs chose these episodes deliberately. Is this some sort of comment on the nature of the Jusenkyo curses? Do they see these things not as curses that physically turn you into something else, but outright possessions by an outside force? I kinda took it as the alter ego complementing the character’s personality, and the transformation simply allowed certain aspects to rise to the surface– Genma’s a lazy, sneaky bastard, so he lets go of all pretenses as a panda, that sort of thing. Maybe they the OVA peeps thought there was something more to the curses– that they brought personality traits along with physical changes– and these characters were literally different people when they transformed. It’s a silly theory that totally runs counter to everything shown in the series, but the very act of placing these episodes as the series’ denouement feels deliberate.
The doll episode is the weakest of the bunch, and I don’t have much to say about it. But the episode where Kasumi is possessed by the ogre is by far one of my favorites in the entire series. There’s a lot of humor to be mined with how Kasumi’s evil urges manifest themselves in passive aggressive, housewife-like ways. It all comes out as resentment rather than hostility. She gives Soun a back rub, but makes sure she digs her devil claws into his shoulders to make it as unpleasant as possible. A violent impulse results in her slicing up paper dolls out of someone’s blanket. The greatest evil she commits is spending far too much money on extravagant take-out– disregarding her own home bound duties while also depleting her dad of his meager funds. I took it as her having on real dislike of the actual duties, it’s just that deep down inside she resents having to do all of this for her father rather than a potential husband. Like, say, poor neglected Dr. Tofu, who was kinda forgotten as the series progressed. That makes this another little metatextual jab at the way the series played out, because Kasumi’s romantic interests were hindered not by plot but by the actions of the writers, and now she’s taking it out on her father. And given how a good chunk of the OVAs focused on her, I think there’s a bit more legitimacy to this theory. They really went out of their way to give Kasumi interesting things to do. It’s a shame Nabiki didn’t get similar treatment.
The Phoenix episode is great slapstick, and there are some awesome animation moments since this had the care and attention of a theatrical release. That scene where Ranma and Ryouga run through the hot and cold water spurts, darting about half-transformed, is a clever visual we never got to see in the TV series. Not much else to say about this one– it’s the Ranma formula distilled into something pure and wonderful, but it’s lacking some of the odder divergences of the other OVAs.
I’m not surprised that the Orochi two-parter didn’t quite do it for me as much as it did when I first watched it. I still have a lot of affection for that story, since it was the first anime VHS tape I purchased ($35 at Suncoast using money from my first college job), and I must have watched those two episodes at least 20 times just within the first week of owning the tape. Wake up and get ready for class? The tape’d be on in the background. Winding down for the night. Orochi. The relationship dynamics really worked for me at the time. That was my Ah My Goddess phase, and the romantic comedy stuff was really guiding my anime viewing choices at the time, so the way the two-parter had Ranma and Ryouga face the idea of Akane genuinely leaving for someone she might actually have real feelings for really did it for me at the time. I got my fix of that and the crazy battle where all the guys crossdress in order to distract the Orochi so Akane could scrape moss off of its back. The visual of Ranma dressed as a girl while still a guy is perfect. I still dig these two episodes this time around, but the love dodecahedron stuff, when taken with this degree of seriousness, just isn’t the sort of thing that clicks with me anymore. Still, for that sort of Ranma episode, I far prefer this to the Christmas episode from the first half of the OVA batch. It’s integrated into the story and feels like the sort of thing you’d expect in a late game OVA scenario like this. There are stakes rather than just some fan service teasing.
And speaking of romantic entanglements, my all-time favorite Ranma episode, OVA or otherwise, happens to be the Tunnel of Lost Love. The gang goes on vacation to a cave famed for the spirits who dwell within who thrive on breaking up couples. The locals who run the cave guarantee that any couple that steps inside will have broken up by the time they exit. It takes a certain type of person to want to go to such a place with a loved one– the type of cocky, never meant to be couple who dates for the sake of dating rather than actual love or whatever– or the sort of person who lives to see couples suffer. Given the fact that most of the cast of Ranma is the latter sort of person, this is a perfect situation for them. Ukyo and Shampoo work together to get Ranma and Akane to go through the cave together so as to break them up permanently. Given the fact that this is the final episode in the OVA series where the “other” fiances work to break up the main characters (the doll episode doesn’t really count in that regard) it’s interesting that the “final word” on Ranma and Akane’s relationship in that regard is them bickering to the point that the spirits within the cave give up on trying to do anything to them. That is the perfect statement on Akane and Ranma’s relationship. They may end up together in the end, but it’s a struggle rather than something that’s “meant to be.” They weren’t arrogantly tempting fate here, so there was no fate to disrupt.
But what really does it for me is how Ryouga and Ukyo get a lot of the focus. They’re my favorite characters from the series– Ryouga for being the put-upon sap he is, and Ukyo for being the most “normal” of all the fighting characters in the series. Like, yeah, Ukyo fights with a giant spatula and cooking ingredients, and she’s always a part of the schemes to break up Ranma and Akane, but she’s still this down-to-earth working class type. Her schemes are usually more of the “I’m gonna make Ranma like me more” variety rather than Shampoo’s “beat the shit out of Akane” antics or Kodachi’s psychotic murder game schemes. They’re awesome in their own right, but Ukyo brings a different, more subdued side to it all. And she has that spatula.
Yeah, it’s all about the spatula.
Everyone ends up pairing up, because you have to go into the cave as a couple, and Ukyo ends up enlisting Ryouga as her “date.” They work together beautifully. This isn’t Shampoo and Mousse ineffectively because of their one-way relationship, or Kodachi bossing around her manservant Sasuke. This is two equals working in tandem, but they click with each other all too well. Even with Ryouga reluctant to neglect helping Akane, they’re able to pull things together and keep at their plan, and Akane and Ranma notices this and take it the wrong way. They’re completely convinced that Ukyo and Ryouga are secretly dating, and they concoct their own scheme to make sure their friends get some alone time. It’s the show doing its own little bit of fan fiction and shipping– taking two characters that don’t interact much, who kinda seem “right” for each other, and letting things play out. Even the spirits start to buy into them being a couple, forcing the pair to fight for their lives in order to get out of the cave. That only makes the spirits that much more determined to break them up– it’s fandom feeding into its desires to see characters go down the path fandom’s chosen for them, no matter the protestations of the characters themselves.
But yeah, Ryouga x Ukyo 2gether 4ever. That’s the only ship I’ve ever sailed.