Rumiko Takahashi – Ranma ½ Volume 4 (1988/2003)
I know I JUST reviewed a Ranma book, but Takahashi is so much fun, I wanted to read another one! Plus, I read Vol. 4 BEFORE I read Vol. 3 because I thought I’d already reviewed #3, but I hadn’t! So I read Vol. 3, wrote the review, then RE-read Vol. 4 AGAIN so I could write this review after reading the book in proper order, and I didn’t even mind! I really enjoy reading these books—and a LOT happens in each one, so it doesn’t hurt to reread them a few times! With that said, I recommend that YOU go back and read my first three Ranma reviews (1, 2, 3) before taking this one on, as the series builds from volume to volume, and it might be tough to follow the plot if you don’t have the full story.
In this volume, we are introduced to Gosunkugi, an underclassman who is obsessed with Akane Tendo (the female lead for the books.) Gosunkugi is constantly taking photos of people, without their knowledge or permission, and he’s into VOODOO. He’s a creepy stalker type, really, but somehow this comes across as more funny than horrible in Takahashi’s hands. (Honestly, this whole series could be played for horror, if one chose to pursue that direction.) Eventually, Gosunkugi teams up with Kuno, one of Ranma’s many rivals for Akane’s affection, and the two “villains” decide that they’re going to try to discover Ranma’s weakness. It’s pretty silly—but leads to some fantastically bizarre sequences. (I’ll keep hush about them, just in case you want to read them for yourself!)
Also in this volume is the return of Shampoo, the Chinese Amazon warrior who original wanted to kill Ranma, but who now wants to marry him instead. When Shampoo decides to move from China to Japan to be closer to Ranma, her 100+ year old great-grandmother, Cologne, comes with her. Cologne, who Ranma calls “the ghoul,” is also a master martial artist, who tests and taunts Ranma to make sure he is “worthy” of marrying her great-granddaughter (who Ranma isn’t interested in marrying.) The battles between Ranma and Cologne are epic, with the supposedly invincible Ranma usually coming out on the short end of the stick.
There are a few other new characters in this volume, and some more strange martial arts challenges, like the “martial arts melon splitting race,” in which all the participants try to get to the finish line without letting the watermelon that they are carrying get smashed by the other contestants. In traditional Takahashi fashion, the race gets out of hand and completely farcical, ending with a wicked cliff-hanger and Ranma and Akane about to be killed by Cologne, who is riding a giant shark! Again, the story is bizarre and funny and absurd, but surprisingly endearing at the same time.
I’m half tempted to read the NEXT volume just to see how the cliff-hanger is resolved (it’s been long enough since I last read Vol. 5 that I can’t remember what happens next), but I’ve got other books and comics to get to, so I’ll refrain (for now.) Like always, there is some cartoony nudity in this volume, but it’s nothing hardcore. There is also a certain creepiness to some of the characters introduced in these stories, particularly Gosunkugi with his constant stalking, peeping, and taking pictures of everyone, but again the TONE of this series is more upbeat and humorous than dark and creepy, so I don’t THINK anyone is going to be too bothered. (It might be a trigger for someone who has lived through being stalked, so I thought I’d mention it.) Overall, however, the series is just a brilliantly silly transgender martial arts romance comic. You know, one of those… And I, for one, remain a dedicated fan!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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