Rumiko Takahashi: Ranma 1/2
One of the manga and anime that most marked my childhood is definitely Ranma 1/2: a funny and sometimes zany satire of the stereotypes of what we define as "traditional Japan". Result of the great intelligence of Rumiko sensei, Ranma 1/2 is well scratched in the imagination of many (especially those of my generation), as well as having the merit of having approached more than many other Japanese products (in my opinion) Western spectators in the Rising Sun.
Rumiko Takahashi is the author of this very successful series, as well as other highly successful titles.
Born in Niigata in 1957, Takahashi san showed a great passion for manga from an early age, debuting for the first time in 1978 with Katte na Yatsura (which she later developed into Lum). At the age of 18 she the author she had moved to Tokyo to attend university: during that period she attended for six months a technical course for the manga of the famous writer Kazuo Koike (from which she was strongly influenced).
In 1987 she ended Maison Ikkoku and, in the same year, she debuted Ranma 1/2 - destined immediately to become one of the most popular manga in the world. In 1996 then started the publication of Inuyasha, whose success was also planetary.
Takahashi san's fame precedes her: in 2008 it was recorded that over 170 million copies of her works were sold in Japan alone and in 2017 she was declared as the mangaka who has sold more than all female manga authors in absolute.
In 2020 she received the Purple Ribbon Medal of Honor from the Japanese government.
The success of Takahashi san lies not only in his overwhelming ability to make people laugh but above all in his simple, effective, unique and iconic style: his tables are immediately recognizable, since to draw he uses the brush and not the nib or the ink pen.
The merit of him is also that of knowing how to mix shōnen (manga dedicated to a male audience) and shōjo (manga dedicated to a female audience) characteristics within the same work.
Also referred to as the "queen of manga", Rumiko Takahashi is the most famous and influential mangaka in all of Japan.
Published between 1987 and 1996, this manga has been based on two souls of 161 total episodes, two OAV animated films and one animated film for television.
The plot is known: Ranma Saotome is a martial arts boy who, during a trip to China with his father Genma, falls together with the latter in the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyo. Anyone who falls into one of these springs in contact with cold water turns into an animal or person who died there hundreds of years ago.
In Nerima, Soun Tendo (Genma's friend) arranged the marriage of daughter Akane to Ranma to secure the future of the Tendo dojo.
The characters that make up this work are numerous and extremely characterized. All have a very specific cultural reference and correspond to a caricatured social stereotype. The entire manga is a satire of Japanese customs and traditions, with great reference to martial arts, food culture and traditional Chinese and Japanese clothing.
Ranma is precisely the seventeen-year-old protagonist of the manga, his name in Japanese means "confusion" or "reckless horse" and can be used for both males and females. In contact with cold water she transforms into a woman; he nevertheless has a strong heterosexual identity, which is why he, too, as a woman, feels uncomfortable in front of naked women. One predominant feature of her is a tiny little braid - which earned her the nickname "girl with a pigtail" when she transforms. Her duality and gender fluidity is expressed in the title of the work using the "1/2".
His fighting style is a mix of Chinese and Japanese techniques, while his clothing is predominantly Chinese, more precisely he wears the changshang. It is a traditional Manchu men's dress, introduced in China by the Manchu Qing dynasty (between the 17th and 20th centuries). During the Chinese Civil War this dress was abolished, although it remained etched in the collective imagination and today it is worn during ceremonies and important events.
Less frequently, Ranma can be seen wearing a Maoist uniform.
Akane Tendo is the co-star of the series. She is violent, stubborn, jealous and proud, she does not fit into anything traditional female canons (unlike her older sister, Kasumi).
During the fighting she wears the keikogi, the training uniform of Japanese martial arts (budō) that appeared at the end of the 19th century.
She also wears 80s-inspired women's dresses (very reminiscent of the otome style) with wide skirts, large collars and rouches or you can see her in pajamas or kimono.
She often wears the female high school uniform, consisting of a white shirt with long or short sleeves and an aquamarine dress.
The students instead wear the classic gakuran, consisting of a dark jacket with long sleeves and short collar, a white shirt and matching trousers.
The female counterpart of this male uniform in Japan is called "sailor fuku".
The Japanese school uniform is modeled on European naval uniforms and came into use in the Rising Sun at the end of the 19th century. More specifically, the garukan derives from the uniforms of the Prussian army: "gaku" (study) and "ran" (Netherlands or, more generally, the Western world).
Shampoo is a Chinese girl originally (along with her great-grandmother Cologne / Obaba and Mousse) from the village of Joketsuzoku, or "village of the Amazons".
Her hair is called odango, consisting of two large chignons - in mass culture it is a very popular Japanese hairstyle, found for example in Sailor Moon. Naoko Takeuchi herself used to style her hair like this during her time at university.
The Chinese counterpart is called niújiǎotóu, the same as Chun-Li from Street Fighter.
Shampoo, in addition to the restaurant's work uniform, wears traditional Chinese clothes (matching blouse and trousers) and above all the qipao: also called cheongsam, it is the female counterpart of the changshang (worn by Ranma). It is a one-piece women's dress, snug and sensual due to the two deep side slits. The model she wore is the one designed in the 1920s in Shanghai.
It is known in the West above all thanks to numerous films such as Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The World of Suzie Wong (1960) and In the mood for love (2000).
Not to mention the numerous references to high fashion, such as Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano for Dior (later worn by Kim Kardashian), Prada, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Ryoga Hibiki lives in Nerima, although he leads a life of a wanderer. His name means "good fang", referring to the pronounced canines. He famous for his total lack of sense of direction, when wet with cold water he transforms into P-Chan, a black pig.
Tatewaki Kuno, characterized by an immense ego as well as being the leader of the high school (he comes from a wealthy family), is the captain of the school's kendo club, whose uniform he wears. It is a form of budo (Japanese martial art) that derives from the evolution of the fighting techniques with the katana used by the samurai. Takewaki in fact means "to wield the sword", in reference to the sword that he always carries with him, the bokken-used as a white weapon in training.
Nabiki Tendo is Akane and Kasumi's 17-year-old sister. Among all the characters she is the most extravagant and with the greatest sense of fashion (obviously from the late 80s).
Her name comes from the Japanese "nabiku" meaning "to bend, give way or influence", referring to her devious habits of hers.
Kasumi Tendo is Akane and Nabiki's 19 year old sister. After the girls' mother dies, she runs the house by cooking, mending and cleaning. She is the archetype and stereotype of the angel of the hearth and of the Japanese woman par excellence. Good, submissive, often stupid to the point of unbelievable, romantic and big-hearted, Kasumi is the "perfect" and devoted woman.
Her name means "fog".
In contact with cold water, Mousse becomes a duck, Moo Moo - it is no coincidence that his name has an assonance with "goose".
Cologne (or Obaba, meaning "grandmother, old lady or honorable witch") is Shampoo's great-grandmother. She is part of the Chinese Joketsuzoku tribe and is Happosai's eternal rival. She too dresses perpetually in traditional Chinese clothing.
Happosai is a martial arts master, maniac, pervert, and women's underwear thief.
This character refers to the lingerie thieves that really exist in Japan: this fetishism was above all in the past so widespread that there were numerous used underwear shops (such as Rope), as well as real coin machines.
In Japan there are numerous terms that refer to the world of women's panties, such as "panchira" (the glimpse of panties - much appreciated since in the Rising Sun there is censorship on the private parts) or "misepan" (referring to people who wear clothes that let you see the panties).
The cases concerning the disappearance of panties from the clothesline in Japan are many (especially in the 80s and 90s), as well as voyeurism: in 2002 it was therefore decided not to remove the noise of the photo shooting from Japanese cell phones, so that maniacs cannot take unwanted photographs without being heard and discovered. This problem, concerning women's panties, is recognized so much that there is a law that provides for jail and a mega fine when the act of stealing underwear is considered perversion.
Happosai isn't the only character who embodies the panty maniac in Japanese manga production. We can find another subject of this type also in Dragon Ball: Master Roshi..
Ukyo Kuonji is an okonomiyaki cook, as a child she worked in the street-food kiosk with her father. Her name means "to the right of the capital" in reference to Kyoto; a name that is anything but casual since okonomiyaki is one of the most popular street-food dishes of the famous Japanese city. When she fights, Ukyo uses a huge okonomiyaki spatula among other things.
As already announced, and as can be found by the latter character, food is one of the most represented elements in Ranma 1/2. This has allowed Western readers and viewers to familiarize themselves with the Japanese and Chinese gastronomic culture, forcefully entering the collective imagination. Okonomiyaki, onigiri, sakura mochi are just some of the dishes that have aroused the most interest.
The same name Happosai in Chinese is 八寶 菜 "babaocai", which could be translated as "eight courses of treasures". It is a popular Chinese dish in Japan based on fried vegetables and seafood, dating back to to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).
Related to food there are also places where to find and consume them, as well as being a reason for aggregation between the characters or even combat weapons.
Okonomiyaki Ucchan's is the small place where Ukyo works just as an okonomiyaki cook, while the Cat Café is the ramen-ya (where Chinese food is also served) run by Shampoo and Cologne.
In addition, more trendy and contemporary venues are sporadically shown where female protagonists consume large sundaes of ice cream.
Surely, however, the image that many of us have most impressed is that of the room used for lunch in the Tendo family's house: this is where Kasumi refills the bowls of gohan (steamed rice) directly from the steamer on the ground, where Genma Saotome sips tea once transformed into a panda or saké with his friend Soun Tendo.
In the manga and anime, "tendo gym" refers to the home of the Tendo-Saotome family. Although the name suggests the dojo, it actually includes the whole house complex, including the garden - where you can admire the pond with the "koi" carp, the stone lantern (tōrō) and the tilting bamboo cane (shishi odoshi).
The house is exquisitely traditional: arranged on two floors, it has all the places of the classic Japanese house such as the genkan (small space at the entrance where you can leave your shoes) and the bathroom with the typical Japanese tub where you can relax (furo).
The young protagonists also spend a lot of their time at school, at the Furinkan high school: this name is also that of the Nerima district (Tokyo). The story therefore takes place in an area of the capital that actually exists and where it is still possible to see some of the places where Ranma and Akane move.
Ranma 1/2 has a huge number of fans around the world and is widely recognized as one of the most beautiful and hilarious manga and anime ever.
In 2018 the opera turned 30 and for the occasion they opened three temporary Ranma 1/2 cafes: Ikebukuro (Tokyo), Osaka and Nagoya. Inside it was possible to order and consume a series of drinks and dishes inspired by the work of Takahashi san.
The world of Japanese animation and comics is dotted with references to food: I wrote about it in an article including recipes.