Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Darkness of Ranma ½ – A matter of Perspective

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot --Charlie Chaplin.
Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people --Angela Carter.
I have seen on multiple forums the question (or a question very similar to this): Would you like to live in the Ranma Universe? My answer to this question is no. While Ranma ½ is a comedy it is more than a comedy. It is also an action series, a drama, and in many ways a horror story. It does fit the definition of tragicomedy - a story having both comic and tragic elements. This is particularly true if you lessen the comedic exaggeration or view it from the characters point of view.

The Ranma universe is at least as dark as the real world and in many ways darker. Sure having access to magic and being able to achieve super human powers would be cool but it really isn't worth the risk.

Power in the Ranmaverse is not free it comes with a price. Ranma, Ryoga, etc., spent the majority of their life training through hellish conditions to gain it. The training to get power requires what would be by most people's standards torture (and in some cases I doubt anyone wouldn't view it as torture). The Neko-ken for instance is something that you'd expect in one of Lovecraft's books. Means of getting the fear is bad enough, being repeatedly thrown into a dark pit tied up wrapped in salty stuff that would burn as it rubbed into your wounds caused by creatures trying to eat you alive, and worse yet it is being done to you by a person you trust and is supposed to care for you. The fear caused by that is beyond horrible. It's beyond scary movie fear, beyond a phobia like being afraid of spiders, it's beyond piss your pants scared, he's so afraid that his mind snaps and he loses everything that he is and becomes in mind the very monster that he fears so much. Sure the Neko-ken is the most extreme and even in manga is said to be insane or extremely stupid to use but other techniques are still pretty bad. For the body of ice Ranma had to feel as if dead, breaking point required massive physical pain as rocks slam into you, armaguriken required that you repeatedly stick your hands into fire, etc. The Shishihadoken is mastered by letting darkness and depression consume you in exchange for power. Even the quick power ups had a price the super soba for example made you grow whiskers as one of it's first symptoms (likely there were other symptoms but it is unknown) and the strength was not controllable (or at least very difficult to do so).

Death is underlining most of the manga. Someone nearly dies several times (Ranma nearly died, Lime nearly killed Ryoga, Akane came close to death a few times, Saffron did die, etc.). Most of the cast has lost family members, either through death or by having being taken away from them. Some martial arts styles were created for killing, One of the moves from the Yama-sen-ken is a technique designed to tear someone's heart out (Ryu's dad died training in them). Many of the magical items are deadly and had killed people. The previous cursed painting had killed, the swimsuit has killed - dragged people to the bottom of the ocean drowning them, etc. Murders had been planned in the manga. For example, Shampoo planned on killing Akane in a way that would make it look like Taro did it. Ranma had been put through many type of torture. He knelt praying for Ryoga in a grave meant for Ranma, was buried alive by Happosai with chains and concrete, Densuke put sleeping powder in Ranma's drink and was planning on raping Ranma-chan, etc.

If you place yourself in most of the characters positions the Ranma manga is a very dark place full of despair, problems with no possible happy ending for everyone, and false hopes (possible friendship only to be taken away with insults and pain, old friends found only to end up enemies, possible cures when found do nothing, a found mother who at first looks like she will be nice and bring happiness to Ranma's life only to learn that she's going to hold a death threat over him). It's full of tragedy, abuse, loneliness, it is a place where an object can totally control your mind, body, or emotions, and just about everyone has lost their mother.

Unlike in real life where the most that can happen to you is to take away your freedom or your life. In the Ranmaverse you can lose a lot more. Free will can be taken from you. These items all can take away free will to varying degrees: hypnotic mushrooms, Suggestion incense, phoenix eggs, Pink and Links flower, pressure point used by shampoo to control Akane, love pills, koi rod, umbrella of love, glasses of invincibility, wishing sword, paper people, fighting incense, etc. Memories aren't safe since things exist that can suppress or alter them; Shampoo's Shampoo (there are things that can do this in real life to varying degree's as well). Your physical form can be taken away from you or altered drastically (Junsenkyo curses, doll that switched places with Akane, tree that possessed Kuno, oni). Not even your dreams are safe since some people can enter and alter your dreams; an old man had the ability to alter dreams.

Most of the cast have not had very happy or even somewhat happy lives. Ryoga, Ranma, Ukyo, Konatsu all had very hard and fairly unhappy lives. There is no way that everyone will have a happy ending.

Many of the storylines can be turned into really dark drama's or outright horror if you change the perspective. Ex. Koi rod storyline from Ranma's view point wondering what is wrong with himself that he suddenly starts liking Ryoga and angsting about what happened under its effects afterwards (like trying to kill Akane or kneeling in a grave waiting for someone to kill you). Ranma's loss of strength from Ranma's point of view. All the boys attacking Akane from her point of view and her imaging of what they will do to her if she loses. The neko ken from Ranma's point of view. Some of the storylines are horror stories. In the manga, Scary Books (Japanese title: Kowai Hon) by Kazuo Umezu the first story is extremely similar to the mirror clone storyline in the Ranma manga.


Anonymous said...

Just asking, as it has been some time since I read the story in question, but weren't the guys who painted the cursed scrolls shown (Oni & Spiderhead) and then died in their 90s? Or is that an anime difference (I think they were 96 and 97 years old there, definately over 90 years in age)?

antimatterenergy said...

In the manga the grandfather and father are not shown and age of their death is unknown. We are told that after drawing the painting his grandfather died, within the year. Then when his father drew one he died within a few years as well (I believe it said died within the year of drawing of the one and within two years for the other). He was worried about the seal being broken because he thought it would come out and kill him. The thing is his was poorly drawn and was of a harmless nature unlike his father and grandfather. The other two were not freed in the manga that only happened in the anime.

md.knopp said...

Which is why it is so easy to take Ranma in a dark direction for fanfictions. I have seen several people complain about dark fanfiction because they see Ranma as a pure action/romance/comedy. However, it has a lot of very dark underlying elements to it.

Actually, I have said before and I will repeat here. Every major character in Ranma is certifiable. Every major character has some major mental defects.

They are flawed characters in a flawed world, that is what makes the comedy and lightness of the series so interesting, in my opinion.

It always made me wonder just how much the Mermaid series affected Ms. Takahashi. Since she started working on it all of her major works have had a touch of that darkness, with Inuyahsa and Rinne having a bit more than Ranma.