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.

Difference's between US high school and Japanese Schools

I've seen quite a few fanfics where the series takes place in a high school. Personally I don't have much problem with this type of fic provided it makes sense, i.e Ranma, Sailormoon, Azumanga Daioh; not Slayers or Bubble Gum Crisis. Even when it does make sense for the series it often annoys me because the fic is supposedly set in Japan not the USA and the high school described in the fics generally do not resemble Japanese high schools.

Some points I want to make:
Japanese upper secondary school kōtōgakkō is roughly equivalent to 10-12 grade in the US. Ninth grade would still be part of Junior High school (chūgakkō -which is 7-9 grade).

Japanese high school is not mandatory so no truancy officer would stop the kid and bring them to school.

High school in Japan is not free parents have to pay to send their kids there so parents generally care if their kids are doing well, unlike in the USA where some parents just don't care and only send their kids there because the law says they have to.

School hours are from 7:45am to 3:50pm (of course this does vary some between schools but that is a common time frame and there are after school activities). School is generally around 8 hours.

Most schools have school uniforms. A summer and a winter Uniform. You do not get to decide whether to wear the summer uniform or winter one just by if you are cold or not. There is a day called "koromo-gae" (changing of the clothes) where everyone in Japan changes from winter to summer uniform or vice versa. Most schools do not allow accessories and if they do it generally has to be a solid color.

When students get to school the first thing they generally do is take off their outdoor shoes and put on indoor slippers. This is followed by going to their lockers and putting in or taking out books for class.

Students then go to their homerooms in which they will spend most of the school day in, unlike the USA where the children walk from classroom to classroom. In Japan the students stay in one class room all day (baring a class requiring another room like gym or home economics) and the teachers change classrooms. When a teacher enters the room the students are supposed to stand up and then bow to the teacher, they are also expected to bow at the end of class when the teacher leaves. Between classes there is a roughly 10 minute time period which, if the student doesn't have to go to the bathroom or switch classes, is basically free time. The students can play cards, read manga, fix their hair, talk to their friends, wander to another class and talk to a friend in that class, etc.

Lunch is usually brought from home in boxes called Bentos. Bento's usually have rice and a couple side dishes. Appearance is important people because people will comment on how nice it looks or how bad it looks. Schools generally sell some foods like bread on school grounds if you want to buy a lunch, they also are likely to have vending machines which the students can buy a variety of things like tea or coffee. Lunch is usually eaten in the classroom but most schools allow you to eat them outside on school grounds if you want. Lunch time varies by school but is generally around 45 minutes long. Some schools do not offer lunches, in those schools all meals have to be brought from home.

At the end of the day 15 minutes or so is spent on cleaning up the school. It is the students job to clean the classrooms. During the begining of the year the class is divided into groups and whatever groups turn to clean does it. Every few month's there is a big cleaning of the school where the students clean the toilets, library, bike parks, weed the lawns, hallways, clean the Head Master's office, etc.

Japanese schools do not have proms.

There are quite a few after school clubs and activities that students are encouraged to join. There are various sports clubs like Kendo, Volleyball, Swimming, etc., as well as non-sports clubs like drama, band, or manga.

After school and after school activities many students go to Juku (cram school) to prepare for exams, get tutoring for classes, or take another class not offered at school like piano lessons but not all students do this (this like high school is not free).

Girls and guys are separated for sex education in Japan. Girls are taught by a girl, guys by a guy. Gym class is also divided between guys and girls though the teacher can be either male or female. Easily seen in Ranma where Akane is playing Softball, Ranma wasn't. Home economics used to be a girls only class but is now required by everyone.

Generally you take from between ten to fourteen classes at one time, but not every day the classes rotate. Ex. Monday may have English, Tuesday at that time could be History.

Schools have regulations that can extend beyond the school time for example some school do not allow students to have after school jobs, have required haircuts, or have curfews for the students (in the case of curfews a couple teachers will go to places students hang out and send them home -can be seen in the movie Zebra Man).

School starts in April. Summer break is not until near the end of July so students are usually given assignments to do over the break (summer does not divide the school years it's during the school year). Summer is usually around a month long, not multiple months.

Once a year the schools do a cultural festival usually in the fall. It is a big festival put on by the school, where you sell tickets and let people off the street in. Money raised goes to the school funds. It lasts from a few days to a week. During this time the whole school is decorated, and each class and club puts on an event. The events are basically food shops, exhibitions, games, or sales. This can be seen in Azumanga Daioh.

Once (some schools have it twice) a year there is also a sports day where the school is divided into teams. Usually divided into 4 teams (more or less depends on number of students in the school). Various sporting events take place like running races or cheering competitions.

It is common to see students in the hallway or skipping class in Japan because most teachers do not take attendance or really care if you aren't in class. If you miss the stuff taught it's your problem.

During the final year of high school (also Junior High) students take a class trip to a famous place or occasionally a foreign country. These are meant to be a learning experience, either to view great places in Japanese history or expose the students to a different culture.

In older anime you will see kid punished by holding buckets of water in the hallway. This is rarely done anymore.

Possible origin for Techniques

Recently I started wondering about the possible origin of the techniques i.e. where did Rumiko Takahashi get the ideas for them from. Here is my theory on some of them:

Kachü Tenshin Amaguriken and the Bakusai Tenketsu are quite likely based on and possibly a tribute to Hakuto Shin Ken (Fist of the North Star). The techniques are very similar and Tetsuo Hara (creator of Fist of the North Star) and Takahashi were colleagues at Kazuo Koike's art school. Though the Breaking point should by this reasoning work the way Ryoga thought it would and blow the opponent up.

Martial Arts Cheerleading techniques are based on the fighting style of the Sun Wukong (known better as the Monkey King) seen in the Chinese epic novel Journey to the West. One of the bystandards even makes a comment about this (though in the VIZ version the comment was changed to be a reference to Dragon Ball Z which is also based on the Monkey King). Primarily the extending baton and the many pompoms resembling a cloud.

Anything Goes Martial arts is at least partially based on Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do since in an interview Takahashi stated that she used to watch Bruce Lee movies specifically stating Enter the Dragon in an interview in Animerica.

Jackie Chan early movies are likely a large influence on the fighting style as well. Quote from interview: "I used to watch a lot of Jackie Chan movies. There is also, of course, Bruce Lee and Enter the Dragon" Ranma's using anything like paper fan and pinwheels as weapons are likely based on early Jackie Chan movies. One particular style seen in the manga is definitely based on his movies. During the Romeo and Juliet arc girl form Ranma gets drunk and uses Drunken martial arts which is quite likely based on Jackie Chan's movie Drunken Master.

Ranma's sitting style (hanging on walls, sitting upside down) and comments (insults in battle) are likely based on Spiderman who Takahashi said in an interview (Amazing Hero's 1990) that she really liked during her junior highschool years (also that she collects the comic Animerica Vol. 9 No. 6). Lucky (Happosai's friend) has a technique where he mixed ink with glue that had a similar effect to Spiderman's webbing.

Ninjitsu is also seen by several characters. Ranma for instance uses trading place with an object technique several times, used a smoke screen to get Miss Hinako away from some boys while she was unconscious, etc.. Multibody technique is seen by Konatsu.

Kuno's style is Kendo.

Basically Ranma's fighting style is likely a mix of Jeet Kune Do, Ninjitsu, spiderman style, Jackie Chan movie style, and a bit of Fist of the North Star.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Showa Day (Showa no hi)

Today April 29 is the national holiday Showa day in Japan. It honors the birthday of Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito), the reigning Emperor before, during, and after World War II (from 1926 to 1989). The official purpose of the holiday is "To reflect on Japan's Shōwa period when recovery was made after turbulent days, and to think of the country's future."

Before the Emperor died in 1989 is was a day to celebrate the Emperor's Birthday. After he died the day became Greenery Day which has been moved to May fourth in 2005 (so Ranma time this would have been Greenery Day).

It is part of Golden Week. Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays within seven days. In combination with well placed weekends, the Golden Week becomes one of Japan's busiest holiday seasons. This Year the weekends fall in a way that results in a Golden Week consisting of an isolated public holiday (Today) and a 4-day weekend (May 3-6).

Monday, April 14, 2008

Save the Earth

The statement "Save the Earth" which is used by some environmentalists, annoys me. The reason I dislike it is because the Earth is in no danger. There is nothing people can do that would damage the Earth beyond it's ability for self repair. They are not saving the Earth. What they're doing is keeping the Earth habitable for humans. We could pollute the world as much as we want and the Earth will continue just fine. We'll have wiped ourselves and countless species of animal/plant life out but the world and life of some type will continue.

Environmentalism is really just keeping the world fit to live in, maintaining our way of living. I'm all for environmentalism. I think we should try and take care of the planet to the best of our abilities so that future generations have many of the things we have. If we don't though life will continue. It's unlikely that even humanity would be wiped out. Sure millions maybe even billions of people may die (depending on what particular calamities occur). People would likely adapt and survive in some fashion. We are a fairly creative species and are capable of altering our environment to suit us at least on small scale. If/when global warming does occur it's not likely to kill off humanity, just a percentage of humanity.

Samurai from Space

Samurai From Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation by Antonia Levi

I recently read this book. Overall it is a pretty good and fairly informative book though I do not agree with everything it said. This is an older book so some of it was out of date for example buying sub vs dub since most anime is now released on DVD with both dubbed audio track and subtitles. Though it is interesting on how anime fans differ from now and the the time the book was written.

Since I mostly write on Ranma ½, I think I'll stick to telling what the book said about it. The book credits Rumiko Takahashi (creator of Ranma ½) for things she actually wasn't involved with. Sure they were her characters but she had very little involvement with the anime and the movies (as far as I know she was only consulted for a few of the very first episodes). For example; The first movie was written by Shuji Iuchi and the second movie was written by Ryota Yamaguchi. I've heard rumors that the second movie is a parody of the Asgard Saga in Saint Seiya but I haven't watched Saint Seiya and don't know if it's true or not.

The book mentions that Takahashi sees that ninja has no place in the modern world citing Sasuke as an example. She did not create that character the anime writers did. As for having no place in the world I don't know about that Ranma at least in the manga frequently uses ninja techniques.

The book does do a pretty good job explaining religion in Japan which isn't that easy to do. It also did a fairly good job in explaining the Sempai-Kohai relationship between Ranma and Tatewaki Kuno. Basically Ranma doesn't comply. Since Kuno is Ranma's upperclassman Ranma should show Kuno respect regardless of personal merits something Ranma does not do. Kuno as Ranma's upperclassman is basically allowed to boss Ranma around, but Ranma doesn't like people doing that.

Something that I found interesting is that it made mention of Ranma learning about being a girl. In particular it mentions receiving unwanted male attention (Kuno and Mikado) and discrimination for being female. This is true Ranma does encounter that but I don't think Ranma sees those as being solely problems females have after all Ranma also has unwanted female attention (Kodachi and Shampoo) and has been discriminated for being male (Akane amongst others has done so). Ranma also will use the positives of being female to his advantage as well for example, If he wants to do something that is socially unacceptable for a male to do he'll turn female.

The book mentions something blatantly wrong. It says “it is Ranma's support that allows Akane to make her first statement of individuality by cutting her hair short.” Akane did not cut her hair out of some statement of individuality, she didn't cut her hair at all. It got cut accidentally during a fight between Ranma and Ryoga then was styled by Kasumi. The reason it was cut is I think two fold. Reason one: It's a pun something Takahashi loves. The pun is the words "kega nakatta" (she wasn't hurt) and "ke ga naku natta" (her hair went away). The second reason is in Japan when a girl gets her hair cut it is a sign that a girl was dumped by her boyfriend in this case it symbolizes she's going to give up on Dr. Tofu.

She mentions how Japanese mothers rule the household and generally bring order to the house hold and is the backbone of a family. This is one of the reasons so many anime have dead mothers and useless fathers. Using Akane's mom as an example would be ok since the mother is not there to bring order to the household. Problem is she use Ranma's mom. Stating how Ranma's mom brought order to the household. While my view of Ranma's mom is based on the manga and not the anime so it maybe true she brings harmony to the tendo house in the anime. In the manga, not so much her presence just brings a different type of chaos which can be easily seen if you look at the pill box fiasco and the plan to make Ranma look manly in her eyes (having Ranma sneak to view Akane bathing).

Overall the book is an alright read and what it talks about culture and history is pretty accurate. What it says about anime or specific animes is not so accurate. Part of why the view on comparing anime with the american viewpoint is not accurate is simply because of how the american view point changed and her choice of anime. Personally I feel the book would have been better if it talked less about fandom and western viewpoints. It should have stuck to explaining Japanese culture and history and how it effects anime.

Sailor Ranko

I've been listing things that reference Ranma ½ for awhile now. This time it's more than just a reference or cameo. The Sailor Ranko webcomic is entirely about Ranma. It is based on a fan fic series by the same name. The fan fic that this is based on is pretty good though does contain more fanon than I would like and is more anime based than manga based. The comic itself is alright though I dislike the page where Ranma is being tutored in basic multiplication since he must be quite a bit more advanced than that just to be in the grade he is in.