Friday, March 26, 2010

Anime Industry Then and Now Section 1: The VHS Era Part 2: My Love Affair With Rumiko Takahashi

Back in the day (1993) I was very much into video games. Being a big fan of the Super NES and Genesis I was always keeping up with the latest gaming trends. The popular (now defunct) video gaming magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly had a section that interested me about Import Games. I was drawn to the wacky visuals and strange artwork from games that would never seem to make it here. One game for the Super NES stuck out in my eyes, Ranma ½: Hard Battle. EGM did a two page spread on the game using anime art for all the different characters and little did I know that this would begin my love affair with Rumiko Takahashi. I mean, c’mon, the game had a GIANT PANDA and a monster names Pantyhose Taro.

With that two page spread the seed was planted and it wasn’t fertilized until I went to my local comic book store and saw an issue of the comic book from Viz Comics. I picked it up and immediately began making associations with the video game. I knew that Ranma was a boy that turned into a girl but the other characters stories I had no inkling about. The comic I had picked up was already way past the introductory point so I later on rented the game and pieced together the characters stories (it was funny assuming that Ryoga was an amnesia victim 24/7 instead of just having no sense of direction).

Then the promised day had come. The day my comic book store began stocking the Ranma ½ VHS tapes starting with the first movie Ranma ½: Big Trouble in Nekonron China. I bought the tape for the nice price of $34.95 (now think how this much could by you an entire 26 episode series these days) I popped it in when I got home and within the first 10 minutes of the movie I was hooked. To explain, the first 10 minutes of the movie began with Ranma chasing after Happosai, the local pervert. Akane, his fiancé follows suit wielding a giant mallet and blaming everything on Ranma. Everything escalates into the humongous chase scene where EVERY character introduced in the series was chasing Ranma.

With the random assortment of ghosts, cross dressers cosplaying as mundane objects, giant cats, and various weirdoes I was piqued as to how things got so weird for this series. The movie also began my position on the then epic Dub vs. Sub debate as I bought the movie in English and I was beyond impressed with the dub version. Dubbed by Ocean Studios most famously known for dubbing Inuyasha it was one of the early dubs that stood out as being very good quality and Viz actually put thought into how each character was voiced (this is pretty commonplace now but back in 1993 this was a feat!).

The plot of the movie was very akin to a lot of martial arts films released during the 70’s where Ranma had to rescue Akane who was whisked off to China to marry a martial arts prince (this happens quite a bit in both the Ranma ½ and Urusei Yatsura movie series in case of the later often causing intergalactic wars). In the last third of the film you have Ranma and his friends fight off various foes to reach their goal where everything is a one on one with the main character and the main antagonist. The series, while is sometimes like this, is mostly a high school comedy. Still, this kicked off my love for the series and when I heard how long the series was (161 episodes) it did NOT deter my interest.

About a month later the first volume for the TV series came out and thus began my foray into anime fandom as I vowed to collect the entire series (a goal that was not reached until 10 years later when Viz released the final volume on DVD). The next month I got the first volume of the OAV series and here kicked off another curiosity, the difference between a television series and an OAV (or OVA, original video animation). These days there is not a huge difference between a TV series and OAVs (as OAVs are rarely full blown series but “extra episodes” for TV show usually with slightly more risqué material that could not air on TV) but back then OAVs were like small series and extended episodes with movie-quality animation. OAVs were the backbone to anime coming to America as companies back then were more willing to license a small 6 episode OAV series than commit to an 100-something episode TV series. Only Viz (Ranma ½) and Animeigo (Urusei Yatsura) were so bold to invest in a full TV series, but it was here where Viz had a better marketing strategy.

Ranma ½ was originally two connected TV series in Japan. The first series titled Ranma Nibbonuchi (or simply, Ranma ½) was composed of 18 episodes and covered the first 3 volumes of the manga. Despite having an above average budget the series was canceled prematurely (mainly because it wasn’t making the ratings Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku had which preceded it) to be retooled. This resulted in one popular character’s introduction to be pushed up earlier (resulting in a controversial flashback to an arc that had yet to happen) and said arc being postponed until the second series. After a time slot change Ranma ½ now had the subtitle Nettouhen (which roughly translated to “Chapter of Hard Battle”) and a reduced animation budget but it ran for its remaining 143 episodes. Now Viz took those episodes and separated them into 22-24 episode “seasons” (divided by when the OP/ED changed). These seasons are titled Anything-Goes Martial Arts, Hard Battle, Outta Control, Martial Mayhem, Random Rhapsody, and Ranma Forever respectively. This guaranteed that instead of seeing one long series people could invest into the series a season at a time.

Finally, after my Takahashi foundation had been established a real friendly guy at my comic book store recommended a few more titles for me to read. Those manga titles were the Mermaid Saga series, The Return of Lum* Urusei Yatsura, and Maison Ikkoku. This began my love for all things Takahashi as I was exposed to her range of storytelling, artwork, and characterization she even pioneered many of my early comic storytelling abilities.

Up next: Anime on TV and my further decent into two other franchises (take a lucky guess which ones!)


  1. Its funny but I remember "Ranma 1/2" when it was a brand new series on TV in Japan. *lol* Robert always watched it but the thing that made it really stand out in my mind was this nuttiness of the man becoming a giant panda when water was splashed on him and the boy becoming a girl under the same conditions (remember, I had no translations so I didn't know names or anything). I was also stunned by the topless nudity and remember remarking to Robert about that, since there is NO way a kids cartoon playing in the afternoon/evening (I can't remember exactly when it aired) would show nudity of any kind.

    Years later when I got into anime, I did seek out "Ranma 1/2" because (1) I remembered it from my Japanese days and (2) I learned that it was created by the creator of "Inuyasha," which I happened to have gotten into thanks to Adult Swim. It started off strong for me, then got almost unwatchable as the TV series ended (thankfully the OVA's were really good).

    "Maison Ikkoku" I got into next, mainly because people said it was a great love story and that it actually had an ending. I watched the anime first, then bought all of the flipped manga. I loved it but after finding out that Viz had removed a few chapters from the manga AND had some poor translations of the manga, I got rid of it. If Viz ever redid the manga and brought it up to the standards they've shown with "Hayate the Combat Butler" or other newer title, I'd buy it again.

    As for UY, well one has to continue the learning process and since I knew of Lum from my Japanese days as well as the anime/manga being considered a classic in Japan, I had to at least watch it, though it is taking me much longer to do so than I expected.

  2. On the issue of the Maison Ikkoku translations and removal of chapters Viz did go back and re-release the series with the skipped chapters and flipped in Japanese reading order. The problem is they update some terms to fit todays standards so in the flipped books you had a reference to VHS players in the unflipped books it changed to DVD (rolls eyes). The only other translation issue that changed as the series went along was how the main character refered to Kyoko as "Karinrin-san" (manager) and only used her name in very specific personal situations. This was kind of glossed over in the early chapters of the English version but used a lot by the end. Still, I own all my flipped volumes (because the skipped chapters don't really affect the story that much) and the 1st unflipped (because it has the skipped chapters in a collected format) and the series is a true delight to read from beginning to end. Before I started reading a majority of manga Maison Ikkoku tells a realistic and beautiful love story and show Rumiko Takahashi is capable of crafting a simple and direct series.