Sometimes, just sometimes, the kids get their interests from me. Among other things, this is why Simon is one of the world’s only seven-year-old Postmodern Jukebox fans. I’ve inherited some things from my own mother, a few of which I passed on to them. This, on the other hand, isn’t one of them; I adore this show, and I’m not sure my mother has ever watched any anime at all. But my kids have two parents who like anime, so it’d be shocking if they didn’t come to like any at all. This is definitely one I share with the kids, even though their father won’t watch it because it’s “silly.”
I mean, he’s not wrong. Ranma Saotome (mostly Richard Ian Cox in the dub, which is the version we watch) and his father, Genma (Robert O. Smith), have spent many years wandering the Earth, training in martial arts. In the first episode, they return to Japan to the Tendo Dojo, where Genma’s best friend and training partner, Soun Tendo (David Kaye), is waiting so Ranma can marry one of the three Tendo girls and inherit the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts. The oldest, Kasumi (Willow Johnson), is sweet and motherly. The middle one, Nabiki (Angela Costain), is shrewd and obsessed with money. The youngest, Akane (Myriam Sirois, the only actress to appear on every episode), is herself a martial artist and tomboy. Because of that and because she and Ranma are the same age, Kasumi and Nabiki agree that Akane will marry Ranma.
There’s a snag. Shortly before arriving at the dojo, Ranma and Genma were training at Jusenkyo, a Chinese “training ground” featuring a hundred cursed springs. Each one has had a different thing drown in it. Now, anyone who falls into that spring now becomes that thing, whatever it is, when they are splashed with cold water, and they return to their natural form when splashed with hot water. Genna fell into Spring of Drowned Panda, which isn’t so bad, especially because he legitimately seems to enjoy being a panda. Ranma . . . fell into Spring of Drowned Girl.
Yeah, okay, the gender stuff in this show tends toward the Not Great. Ranma is repeatedly called a pervert—and you try explaining that word to a seven-year-old—for his transformations. He’s also continually shaming Akane for not being as attractive as he is, which is just weird. I’m not sure Ranma himself knows how he feels about his own transformations. He also tends to use his female form to get boys to buy her things, something that happens to her a lot more often than it ever has to any actual woman I’ve ever known.
On the other hand, we later meet Ukyo Kuonji (Kelly Sheridan), and she’s constantly dressed in boys’ clothing without being shamed for it. She’s mad when Ranma turns out never to have realized that she’s a girl, but there’s only one storyline where she starts dressing in a more feminine fashion, and it’s to woo Ranma and doesn’t actually work. And, yes, Tsubasa Kurenai (Saffron Henderson) is considered weird and turns out to be a boy who dresses as a girl, but he’s also a boy who dresses as a vending machine, so he is weird, and his dressing as a girl is mostly ignored in that assessment.
Likewise, there’s a long conversation to be had—and I have—about issues of consent on the show. Because it isn’t just the arranged marriage between Ranma and Akane. Genma also promised Ukyo’s father that Ranma would marry Ukyo when they grew up (they were something like six at the time) in exchange for her family’s okonomiyaki stand. We meet a girl at one point to whose father Genma traded Ranma in exchange for a fish. “He also threw in the bowl of rice. And two pickles!” We don’t know how many other girls there are out there to whom Genma promised Ranma, but it is frequently implied that it’s a lot of them.
And then there’s Shampoo (Cathy Weseluck). She is from a Chinese Amazon tribe. Between the Jusenkyo incident and the Saotomes’ arrival in Japan, they came across her tribe. And “girl-type Ranma,” as Shampoo calls her, beat Shampoo in battle. Which meant Shampoo gave Ranma the “kiss of death.” Only then “boy-type Ranma” beats Shampoo, which means she has to marry him. And later, she too falls in a Jusenkyo spring, the Spring of Drowned Cat. Cats, we find out, are the one thing Ranma’s afraid of, and in fact they send him into a fugue state.
Because Ranma and Genma are not the only ones to fall into Jusenkyo springs, and quite a lot of plot involves characters’ trying to find cures. There’s Ryoga (Michael Donovan), in love with Akane and even before then rival to Ranma, who fell at one point into the Spring of Drowned Pig. Getting back to the consent issues, when he is a pig, he is Akane’s pet, P-chan, and she doesn’t know he’s Ryoga. And then Mousse (Brad Swaile), also of Shampoo’s tribe and in love with her, fell into Spring of Drowned Duck which is somehow a thing. We eventually get Spring of Drowned Yeti Riding an Ox While Holding a Crane and a Slippery Eel. Jusenkyo is weird.
I am nowhere near done describing major plotlines and important characters. And for the record, I asked Simon if he knew who various characters were—the only one he didn’t know by name was Cologne (Elan Ross Gibson), Shampoo’s great-great grandmother, and he was able to identify her when I gave him that information and knew that Ranma calls her “the ghoul.” Irene, who is three, is not as good at it, but she will definitely sit and watch Ranma if it’s on. And she is not on mysterious errands of her own, of course.
If nothing else, this is a good conversation starter for Simon when it comes to the things the show doesn’t always handle well. Our conversation about the word “pervert,” for example, involved a discussion of aged underwear thief and martial artist Happosai (Paul Dobson) and what exactly is wrong with his actions. Why it’s not okay to shame Ranma for his body, even when it changes—because he doesn’t control that. Why it’s not cute and funny for Ryoga not to tell Akane he’s P-chan and then sleep in her bed. And why you should never stalk your romantic interest while disguised as a parking meter.