Reviewby Carlo Santos,
For years, young martial artist Ranma Saotome has been afflicted by a curse where he turns into a girl if splashed with cold water (and becomes male again in hot water). At last, Ranma and his friends have returned to the Jusenkyo springs in China, where his malady first originated, in hopes of reversing its effects. However, Prince Saffron of the nearby Ho'o tribe has blocked the water supply to Jusenkyo and intends to use it for his own selfish needs. Ranma and company's attempt to kick-start the water flow leads to dire circumstances when his temperamental fiancée Akane ends up shrunken and unconscious. Now Ranma must defeat Saffron, save the girl, and—maybe, if he can find the time—reverse the Jusenkyo curse once and for all.
Here's a quick hint to all you instant-gratification readers: the cover of this volume totally gives away the ending. But Ranma ½ has always been about the wacky and winding road to love, not the actual destination, and this installment promises an epic finish to Ranma's quest for gender stability. Every dimension of Rumiko Takahashi's storytelling skills come into play here: comedy (see the fight between Ranma and Shampoo), romance and introspection (the final revelation between Ranma and Akane), and of course, high-flying fantasy martial-arts action. With all the plumes of steam, fire and water whirling about, it's easy to get lost in the final battle of the series, but the fluid lines and quick wit eventually lead to an ending that reminds us—in every sense of the phrase—that love truly is a battlefield.
Charge into Page 1 of this volume, though, and you might be wondering if you arrived at the battlefield too late. The opening chapter jumps right into the middle of a story arc, so readers might want to brush up on previous volumes. From there, however, getting into the action is a breeze: the short chapters force the story into rapid-fire pacing, so wild acrobatics and combat are guaranteed at least once every 16 pages, if not more. Ranma's first attempt at turning on the water supply, along with Akane's incident, bring the tension up and set the stage for things to come.
A mid-volume interlude where Ranma battles wily acrobat Shampoo returns to the series' comedic strengths—the fight is essentially slapstick, despite its graceful motions, and the intervention of other characters like Ryoga and Mousse adds to the humor. All this for a bunch of magic eggs? (Their importance is explained in the plot, but it doesn't take away from the silliness of the device.) Things quickly get serious again, however, when Saffron emerges with revamped powers, and Ranma must battle him for control of Jusenkyo—and for the fate of Akane. It's easily the most memorable fight in the entire volume, a cavalcade of kung fu attacks and magical weapons and the dogged determination of one guy to save a girl he's not even sure he likes. If there are any faults, it's that the final battle gets so pitched that the action sometimes gets lost in all the special effects and tricky angles.
As the fighting draws to a climactic finale, the last few chapters of this volume are of course filled with emotion; extreme peril brings out the best in both Ranma and Akane to produce a truly heartwarming moment at the end. But just to avoid getting too weighty, the epilogue provides a wrap-up of the secondary characters, along with a lighthearted finish for Ranma and Akane, reminding us that the road to love is forever under construction.
Takahashi's fluid artwork helps to keep this twisting, ever-changing storyline together with slick action scenes and an impeccable sense of layout. Even in the heat of Ranma's final battle against Saffron, rectangular panels still prevail, but with size and positioning varied to maintain the excitement. Within those panels, the detail sometimes gets confusing, but the linework itself is uniquely Takahashi's, going for smooth, flowing curves rather than bold, spiky lines. Imagine water, steam and fire rendered in that way and you can see how the final fight is so memorable, not just in a story sense but in a visual sense. And of course, a word or two must be said about the iconic character designs; great facial expressions and distinctive features always make it easy to tell who's who, even with the large cast. With the series being as old as it is, however, the art does look a little aged, if only due to the technological limitations of toning and inking at the time (no computer touch-ups here).
The translated dialogue in this volume is simple and easy to follow, although the literal translations of the characters' special attacks reveal just how silly the names are. The approximation of a "Chinese accent" among some characters also gets irritating, seeing as Chinese speakers like Shampoo and the Jusenkyo guide figure heavily in this installment. All sound effects have been replaced by English equivalents—some more effective than others, depending on the size and style of the lettering—and in a strange decision that was probably grandfathered in from the original release, the book is printed left-to-right despite being in "second edition" format for the series. The flipped format does cause an embarrassing moment in the final chapter where a sign in Japanese characters is mirrored. Binding and print quality are respectable, especially considering the age of the artwork, although the paper could probably have been one shade brighter.
Fans who have been following Viz's releases of Ranma ½ will find everything they love about the series in this final volume: action, comedy, and a romantic conclusion that still manages to leave a hint of uncertainty. It's a soaring, epic finish, one of magical martial-arts combat and deep personal sacrifice, but some sweet and lighthearted moments as well. With the emotional balance just about right and the loose ends just about tied up, this is about as satisfying as they come, even if it's not the most momentous. Sometimes all you expect from a master storyteller is to end the story well—and this is one series that does just that.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ A satisfying finish that blends action, comedy, and romance—everything we love about Ranma ½.
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