Ranma 1/2For a long time I’ve been an avid reader of Rumiko Takahashi’s “Inuyasha.” I originally was reading it in Japanese, but there was just a bit too much that I had to “bleep” over; since it mostly takes place in 16th century Japan, the old language threw me off. So I’ve been reading Viz’s English version in trade paperback form. But until now I hadn’t read any of Takahashi’s older stuff.

For reading during my vacation I picked up the first book of her “Ranma 1/2” (and also the “Evangelion” I reviewed earlier). Ranma, which ran in Japan (in Shonen Sunday) from 1987 to 1996, focuses on the relationship between the titular boy character and Akane. Their fathers have decided that the two teenagers should be married, but neither particularly likes the other.

The twist is that Ranma, during martial arts training in China, fell into a pool which was cursed after a young girl drowned in it. When Ranma is hit with cold water, he becomes a girl; hot water changes him back to a boy.

Obviously, he gets hit with cold water at all kinds of inopportune times. Some writers would play this predictably for “Three’s Company”-style “misunderstanding” yawner plotlines, but Takahashi does more interesting things with the device.

While there is some sexual titillation to this, including some exposed breasts, the main point of the series seems to be exploring gender roles and expectations. While Ranma physically becomes a girl, Akane has sometimes been chided for acting too much like a boy. At the same time, she’s jealous that female-form Ranma has a bigger bustline than she does.

I laughed out loud a number of times at the first volume. This is more of a comedy than the tense adventures of Inuyasha. While I still enjoy Inuyasha, I’m definitely going to be picking up more Ranma!