This week, a unique erotic historical fiction film that has completely slipped through the cracks.
Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Aug 3rd 2003
DVD: [Season 5 Box Set] Martial Mayhem
A long-time fan favorite anime series, Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma ½ is now readily available in season box sets. Recently released, the Martial Mayhem set gives fans the chance to own the fifth season in a handy five-disc collection, able to satisfy any marathon desire that might crop up. With four seasons (and approximately one hundred episodes) preceding it, though, the question has to be asked whether or not the show is starting to get tedious, with the same few jokes and plot twists adorning every few episodes. After all, only so many trivial adventures can be had, and since the character relationships don't appear to be changing at all, the story is stuck on the same record track. After awhile, it's just not funny anymore.
However, this isn't to say that all the episodes are dull and repetitive. Scattered within the fifth season are some true gems, like the third episode, a cute story about a ghost cat who possesses Ryoga's body and exploits his feelings for Akane by proposing to her. While viewers are treated to several adorable and quirky scenes of Ryoga pouncing around and indulging in other feline characteristics, they also get the rare chance to see the characters' inner emotions surface. Certain feelings like jealousy, confusion, fickleness, and others are enhanced, providing one of those moments when you think the story might actually budge to another location. Not surprisingly, it's these dramatic episodes that prove to be the most interesting and attention-grabbing in the season. They manage to stand out from the generic ghoul/legend/hot-spring-story episodes that surround them, adding flavor to an otherwise bland series. Sadly, for every meaningful serious episode, there are five trivial and blatantly un-funny episodes to balance it out.
Ranma is just one of those shows that, when watched with a very large group of people (four or more), can seem outrageously funny, and then be completely blasé when seen in a more solitary setting. For example, the first two episodes in the season cash in all of their humor chips on the fact that the “bad guys” look like, and fight with buns. After the first comical shock of seeing the antagonists, the rehash of jokes, lines, and animation sequences just gets incredibly old very quickly. With 25 minute episodes, it's rather disappointing to see five of those minutes devoted to arguing about whether something looks more like a bean bun or a pork bun. The one entertaining thing about the episodes was a character caricature that featured a face whose features were replaced by the kanji symbols (i.e. the kanji for “eye,” “nose,” etc). Unfortunately, there were no soft subtitles on this, or notes of any kind to describe the amusement to those less kanji-inclined, which is a pity. As far as other humor goes, though, a special commendation must also be given to the last episode of the second disc for eliciting the one out-loud laugh from me for the entire season, with the introduction of three of the most effeminate, ridiculous looking male rhythmic gymnasts the world has ever seen.
Unluckily, those were also the only unique characters that were introduced in the season. Although Takahashi's character designs are easily recognizable and well admired by her fans, the fact can't be hidden that everyone looks largely the same. The facial expressions vary between angry and happy, with nothing in between to set apart the different emotions felt by the characters. The eyebrows seem to always be in a state of unnatural anguish, and the different age groups are lumped under the same stature and facial types. While this may be expected for all the side characters that come and go, it's a little disappointing that the main characters should have to suffer the same fate. Fortunately, even though the character designs and facial expressions may leave something to be desired, the animation is done rather nicely. Given the length of the series, and even the age, the actions are smooth and consistent. The fight scenes are pretty hokey, but with the majority of the series being focused on comedy rather than fighting, this can be excused.
Of course, where the visuals lack in bringing out character feelings, the Japanese actors do a good job of expressing. The tiny nuances are brought out wonderfully, replete with the exasperation, the sighs of resignation, and all those subtleties that the human voice can bring to a person. Alas, the English dialogue track isn't as wonderful. While most of the actors do a good job delivering their lines, some of the more minor characters have the tendency to deadpan their roles. To make it worse, the English script is altered from the original. It's not bad enough that the story is entirely changed, but some of the more trivial aspects of the plot are gone, such as myth details, curses, and the like. Perhaps the worst parts about the audio, however, are the sound effects. There are some moments when the sounds chosen simply don't make any sense. For example, the sounds of a clashing sword will be used when a rubber ball and a piece of cloth are hit together. The series is supposed to be a comedy, yes, but logical faux pas like that are just ridiculous.
The music in the series is also a mixed bag of quality. Whereas much of the music consists of tinny sounding pieces that sound like they were lifted out of a Neo-Geo fighting game, there are rare instances when the music will be delicate enough to actually enhance the scene rather than hamper it. This is apparent mostly during dramatic interludes when the background music will switch to soft instrumentals, such as piano and violin duets, and light marimba melodies. It is tracks like these that make the music in the series bearable. Even with these pieces, though, Ranma ½ isn't a series that will prompt casual fans to rush out and buy the soundtracks. This is especially the case for this season, where even the vocals are less enjoyable than the preceding seasons. Both the opening and ending are generic and lifeless, which is a stark contrast from some of the other more well-known Ranma themes.
Over the years, Ranma ½ has managed to stay popular, amongst people just getting into anime, and even long-time fans. It's a series that almost everyone's seen an episode of, and with the release of such season boxsets, fans can buy their favorites and watch them time and time again. It's a shame that out of an entire season, only a few choice episodes here and there are worth watching more than once. After all, with five seasons stowed away—it just starts to get a little old. At least the price isn't too hefty to pay; otherwise I wouldn't even consider it for non-die-hard fans.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Nice animation for such a long series
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