Ranma 1/2: Digital Dojo Season 1 Box Set (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2001
Release Date: Tuesday, November 20, 2001



What They Say
It's not easy being teenaged martial artist Ranma Saotome, but it's even worse when your martial-artist father Genma takes you from home at an early age to go on a decade-long training mission. He doesn't speak a word of Chinese, and yet he insists upon bringing you to the cursed training ground knows as Jusenkyo, where falling into one of his many springs there instantly turns you into whoever - or whatever - drowned there last. And then, the two of you have this little accident...From now on, a splash of cold water will turn your father into a giant panda, while you...well, you turn into a red-haired (and problematically well-built) female version of yourself. Hot water will reverse the effect, but only until the next time. What's a half-guy, half-girl to do? 18 complete episodes.

The Review!
The first season of Ranma 1/2 can arguably be called the best 18 episodes that the series managed to produce, with the remainder of it falling into formula. Having not seen anything from seasons 2-5 and only a few episodes of season six, this doesn't sound too far off.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. With the first season airing back in 1989, there's not a lot to expect from the soundtrack here. It's your basic mono track that the show was originally recorded in, so directionality and whatnot is out the window. The audio level was a bit lower than most other discs we've seen lately, but this is something we've noted with a number of shows that are older. Dialogue is nice and clear though and we didn't notice any dropouts or other distortions during regular playback. The English track, since it was mixed in the mid 90's, does provide a stereo format for, so that will sound a fair bit better.

Video:
As with every other incarnation I've seen of this show, this release continues to carry the soft look that Takahashi was looking to do after some of her more sharply drawn series such as Urusei Yatsura. The soft look is really amplified with the pale coloring style used for the backgrounds and things such as the schools sailor suit uniforms. There's a minor amount of grain throughout the show, but it's pretty negligible on our setup. There's some speckling in a number of places with this being an older print as well. The presentation overall is pretty good, but this isn't something where you should expect a revelatory experience. And yes, this was done using the masters that were used previously for the dub VHS run, so there are hard subtitles for the opening and ending songs as well as for various signs throughout. Odds are this bit of cost-cutting kept the price of the box set down, but I would much rather have wanted a fresh clean print and soft subs for the signs.

Packaging:
This is a nice slick feeling little box set that sets things up for these disc to be released individually in the future (and I do hope they get released individually in the future). The box itself is a nice slick cardboard that feature male Ranma on the front, highlighting the fact that it contains 18 episodes and proclaiming it the Season 1 box, giving hope for a nice matching set of boxes at the end. The back side gives a brief rundown of the features and then a summary of what the show is about. The individual keepcases each feature a great shot of an individual character; female Ranma, Akane, Ryoga and Shampoo, and each disc is clearly labeled with a volume. The back gives a rundown on the episodes as well as the numbers and titles of each and a full listing of features and specs. The inserts provide the chapter listings.

Menus:
With all the discs except for the last one being the same, just stuffed with episodes, the menus are pretty basic but nicely done. The main menu is a nice piece of animation of the DVD flying into the screen with each one having a different cast member. Selections are quick to access and moving between menus is a breeze. Surprisingly, language selection defaulted to Japanese with subtitles for us (our player doesn't allow presets). Again, while not flashy, these are solid nicely designed menus that get the job done with a minimal of fuss.

Extras:
There's not much in the way of extras here, but the inclusion of what is here is pleasing to be sure. The first, one to concern of many, is that since the dub masters are used for the video, there's no Japanese voice credits. This and other credits are supplied on the last disc in a couple of static menu pages. There's also four textless openings and endings. The one opening and three different endings are all presented separately, but no optional subtitles provided. I'd hoped for romaji since there was no romaji during the series itself, those episodes being hardsubbed.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In the twelve years since this shows original release, a heck of a lot has gone on with fandom. When Ranma was released in the US, the amount of controversy over it on the online newsgroups was immense, especially since the subtitled tapes would be following behind the dubbed tapes, due to the extra episode on it (three episodes as opposed to two on the dub tapes). Many hardcore subtitle fans gave in early on and tried the dubs when it came out. And there was much more, ahem, discussion to follow.

Even I remember vividly coming home from the comic book store with a dub tape, eagerly wanting to check it out along with my mother, who had become a passionate fan of the fansubs we had seen back then. While she thought it was a good effort, I was less than impressed, but I've admitted many times to not be fond of dubs in general.

Unlike my other Takahashi love affair with Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2 isn't as deeply enmeshed in Japanese culture and mythology, making it much more accessible to people. And while still containing her trademark wacky style, it wasn't as extreme as Lum and company. Ranma's something that you can give to newbies to edge them into less US TV mainstream properties. It's got some culture, but it's got fighting. It's got some romance, but it's got wacky martial arts.

The show focuses around the title character of Ranma. We're introduced to him early on in an unusual fashion; we see him as a her, and she's being chased through the streets by a large Panda. Through their back and forth, the panda eventually wins, and takes the girl off to their destination; the Tendo Dojo of Anything-Goes Martial Arts. The Tendo's, a family of four (one father and three girls), are awaiting the arrival of the fathers old martial arts friend, Genma Saotome.

It's while they're waiting that he informs his daughters that Saotome is bringing his son with him, and that they in their youth arranged a marriage between the two families, and the son would take over the dojo. Naturally, in this day and age an arranged marriage does not go over well. The eldest daughter, Kasumi (the stereotypical good polite Japanese woman) isn't sure about all of this. The middle daughter, Nabiki (the conniving money hungry one) is definitely not sure about this while the youngest, Akane (the tomboy), refuses to have anything at all to do with it.

This is when the panda arrives with the girl in tow, who introduces herself as Ranma Saotome. And that's followed up by several low key apologies "about all of this". We're then introduced to some background, where we see the training that Genma and his son Ranma were on, and how they swam across the sea to China for more intense training. It's while in China that they came across Jusenkyo, a rather mysterious area that has a tour guide. Each of the ponds scattered around this area has some bad karma attached to it. A pig died tragically in one 1200 years ago, a cat in another, a duck here, a panda there... a girl over here...

It's during their training over these ponds that both Saotome men fell into different ponds. Ranma was cursed in the pool of the drowned girl, and his father with the panda. Now when both are splashed with enough cold water, their bodies change into the other form. And, of course, hilarity ensues.

With a weird curse such as this, the two older sisters thrust Akane into Ranma's arms and proclaim them engaged. The two want nothing to do with it of course, but over time you start to see things change between them, as is only natural as Ranma and Genma now live with the Tendo's. The show then progresses with the two being fairly antagonistic with each other by moving into other venues, such as school where many boys want Akane and to the local doctors, where Akane wants said doctor.

We also get a wide variety of other mainstay cast members introduced. If anything Takahashi keeps things up with a large cast much like Urusei Yatsura. The poetic yet terminally thick Kuno who lusts after Akane and then begins a long burning passion for the "pig tailed girl" of female Ranma, Kuno's sister who falls in love with male Ranma and has a vengeance against the female one. And probably my favorite from early on, Ranma's nemesis of Ryoga, a fellow boy at his last school who is on a quest of revenge against Ranma. There's just something about Ryoga.

The show sets things up fairly early with a variety of minor romantic interests that move the characters in fairly predictable ways, but with such fan-friendly characters, viewers are quick to get into their favorites and root for them. This certainly isn't Shakespeare, but it's pure fun entertainment. The first season does a great job of introducing a lot of characters and situations and keeping them all well balanced with a fairly tight plot. By the time this box is done, most people will come away with a favorite character or a favorite transformed character.

Previous to this box set, the last time I had seen the TV series was probably the second subtitled tapes release back in the mid 90's, probably a good six years ago. When queuing up the DVD's, the first couple of episodes felt a bit shallow and gave me concern that there wasn't going to be a lot of replay value in this season for me since I had seen a fair portion of it previously as well as having read the domestic manga translations. But as the episodes progressed, I found myself getting back into the mood and feel of the show and by the time Ryoga was introduced, I found myself laughing just as much as I did the first time.

Barring a few minor problems, this is a pretty nice release that'll please most people. Other than the hardsubbing, there's not much I really feel there's worth complaining about, and for the price of the box set, it's definitely a good value. This release gives me a great hope for a decent fan-friendly release of Maison Ikkoku, and that alone earns it points. Very recommended for Ranma fans and a solid recommendation for those wanting to try it out. And definite recommendation for Viz to re-release these discs individually later on to get those who don't buy box sets sight unseen.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Textless Ending(s),Separate Credits Menu

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 99.98
Running time: 450
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ranma 1/2