published in Empire No.81, Sydney
Back in the late 80s, Rumiko Takashi was one of the most popular and famous manga artist/writers who developed a distinctive meld of comedic melodrama. Some info on Takahashi’s historical role in modern anime may help those coming to these movies for the first time. Eschewing the expected ‘shojo’ girly-girl stylistics of stars and flowers, Takahashi’s work stylistically belied an even gender balance. Almost neutral, her characterizations became the prime substance of her stories, whether they be comedic or tragic.
Ranma ½ is one of her seminal works which laid the ground work for numerous hyper-wacky comedies of errors in anime. You see, Ranma is an obstreperous immature boy training in martial arts with his grandfather in China where they accidentally bathe in some spiritual springs. This leaves an interesting side effect: whenever the grandfather gets wet, he transforms into a giant panda; whenever Ranma gets wet, he turns into a girl. Welcome to the wide world of gender reversal in Japan. Takahashi juices this premise for all its worth, providing enough gags for multiple TV series and OVA series, plus a clutch of telemovies, the first two of which comprise this double-feature of Ranma ½ movies: Big Trouble in Neconron (1991) and Nihao My Concubine (1992).
As these films come well after the other series, the characters, their relationships, their feuds and their exploits have achieved overdrive comedic momentum. The opening scene of Big Trouble in Neconron proves this. It’s like the introduction to a ribald theatre production where each person is infatuated with a person who is infatuated with someone else who is … and so on. The speed and intensity of this set-up is a classic Takahashi gag, and defines the terrain for the consequent misfired love directives and martial arts love battles. Nihao My Concubine continues with more of the same with equal hilarity.