Viz has started to re-release one of the all-time classic anime series, Ranma 1/2 with newly remastered video on Blu-ray, and they got everything right. While other anime companies struggle to get their signature series released in HD in a way to appeal to both fans and casual viewers alike, often irritating the former in the process, Viz realized that their main audience is otaku who want the series in the original form. This release boasts the episodes in the original order, with the original aspect ratio, and a gorgeous transfer. What more could you want? Oh yeah, the choice of either an English dub or the original Japanese track with optional subtitles! You get it all with this excellent release.
Where do you start talking about a classic anime series created by one of the legends in Japanese comics, Rumiko Takahashi? With the creator I suppose. Rumiko Takahashi is the biggest selling female comic artist in the world, who has created not one or two, but several mega-hits over the corse of her career. She burst on the scene in 1978 with Urusei Yatsura (aka Lum) and while that series was going on also created Maison Ikkoku. While those two series are enough to gain her status in the top echelon of manga creators, she didn't stop there. She also created Mermaid Saga in 1984, Rumic Theater in 1987, and in 1996 started her longest work, the wonderfully fun Inu Yasha. Arguably her most popular work was a title she created in 1987: Ranma 1/2.
Ranma 1/2 ended up running 38 volumes, selling 53 million copies in Japan alone, and spawning movies, video games and, of course, and anime series that ran 143 episodes. So why is this series so popular? Because it's funny, romantic at times, and has some great action, but mainly because it's filled really enjoyable characters that are a lot of fun to spend some time with.
The story revolves around Ranma Saotome and his father Genma, a man who has devoted his life to training as a marital artist. Genma is a master in the "anything goes" school, and he's trained Ranma since birth. Once Genma felt that he had learned all he could in Japan, he took Ranma to China (they swam there!) to train at the legendary facility at Jusenkyo. What he didn't know (and he was in too much of a hurry to start to listen to the guide who was trying to warn him) is that the 100 springs that make up the training camp are all cursed. Anyone who falls into one of the ponds takes on the form of the last creature that drowned in that particular spring. Genma soon falls into the Spring of the Drowned Panda and emerges as a giant bear. This startles Ranma so much that he falls into... the Spring of the Drowned Girl. Now whenever Ranma is doused with cold water he turns into a girl. The only way for Ranma or Genma to change back is to become drenched with hot water.
After making their way back to Japan, Genma heads to the dojo of his old friend Soun Tendo who is also a practitioner of the 'anything goes' school. Years ago the two friends agreed that their children would marry, so when they arrive Ranma, who is a sophomore in high school, is promptly engaged to the youngest of Soun's three daughters, Akane. She's the best fighter of the family, and she's attractive, but she's also very headstrong. Neither Akane nor Ranma want their parents to choose their mate, so it's hate-at-first sight, even though the two are very well suited for each other.
Akane is very popular in school, and Ranma starts attending with her. Every morning as she tries to get to class Akane has to fight, literally, all of the boys who want to date her, and it's a lot. The rumor has started that the only way to get a date with her is by defeating champion, and that's not easy. Her main challenge is the upper-classman Kendo champ Tatewaki Kuno. Once Kuno learns that Ranma is Akane's finacee, he vows to defeat the new student.
Of course Ranma wants to keep his sex-changing ability a secret. What teenage boy would want everyone to know that they can turn into a girl? While Akane and the rest of the Tendo family know, he doesn't want anyone at school to find out.
This first collection of episodes shows Ranma's first adventures fighting with Akane while also protecting her from suitors and rivals, while also introducing some of the foils that will appear in the series. In addition to Kuno, there's an enemy Ranma made who has been chasing him all over the globe: Ryoga Hibiki a young man with the worst sense of direction in the world, but a vey strong fighter who also has a secret. Ranma also got in trouble with a tribe of Amazon warriors from China, and one of them, Shampoo, has vowed to kill the female version of Ranma. Unfortunately for her, she's also decided that the male Ranma is the only man for her and wants to marry him.
This is just a fun, fun show on several levels. The thing that will draw most viewers in is the fact that the show is very funny. There are several funny gags and jokes in each episode and a few really good belly laughs sprinkled through this collection. Some of the jokes are so absurd it's hard not to laugh. In one scene Ranma is arguing with Kuno and out of nowhere he, and only he, is doused with water. The scene cuts to a man chastising his wife: "You shouldn't throw that water out the window!" Then back to Kuno, staring at the female Ranma, and wondering out loud where his foil has disappeared to (and ogling the attractive lady standing in front of him.) You also have to like that Genma seems to prefer his Panda form, and even gets a job assisting the local doctor, Dr. Tofu, always showing up to work as a bear.
The action is decidedly off kilter too. There are a couple of big competitions/battles in this first set, the first being a gymnastic martial arts contest where two contestants fight, but they can only attack each other with gymnastic equipment. That rule is very loosely defined however, and Ranma's opponent using a lot of weapons that aren't usually thought of as relating to gymnastics, like a steal pole and baton's with spikes.
The characters are what really pull viewers into the series however. Akane and Ranma dislike and mercilessly tease each other, though they also get jealous when someone else shows interest in the person they profess to hate. In between the bickering, there are a few heartfelt moments between the two that really ring true.
The supporting cast is great too. Dr. Tofu can't concentrate whenever Akane's oldest sister is around and Nabiki, Akane's next oldest sister, is a cut throat opportunist who is always trying to turn every situation into a money making opportunity, just to name two. They're funny but also fill out the show nicely.
This first Ranma 1/2 collection arrives on three Blu-ray discs that are housed in a single-width BR case. This is housed in a very attractive and sturdy chipboard artbox. Packed with the discs is a nice booklet (see the extras section for more details on that).
Viz has done a great job with the technical aspects of this release. FUNimation take note: This is the way a classic anime series should be presented in the 21st Century. The 1080p, MPEG-4, AVC encoded discs look amazing, and Viz wisely kept the original aspect ratio (1.33:1). See, that wasn't so hard. The image has been remastered from the original 16mm film, and it looks impeccable. The colors are strong without being overly boosted, the definition is amazing, and they left the original grain in the picture instead of smoothing it out with digital tools (which smooth out other aspects of the image at the same time). Part of one of the extras has a short comparison between the original DVD release and this Blu-ray set and the difference is like night and day. It's a huge improvement. Since it is coming from 16mm film, the image isn't as crisp as 35mm film would have been, but that's just a limitation of the way this anime (and most others from this period) were created.
If you're wondering if it's worth an upgrade from the old DVDs, the answer is "yes."
The show comes with a choice of the original Japanese language track or an English dub, both in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, and there are optional English (and sign-only) subtitles. Once again Viz gets everything right with this release. They give fans the original product without trying to 'improve' it artificially. That means that they didn't use the original stereo track to generate a fake 5.1 track. There's just stereo, the way the creators originally made it.
As for the sound quality, it's pretty good. I alternated audio track for the first handful of episodes before deciding I liked the original Japanese track better. (That's what usually happens, but I like to sample the dub for my reviews.) That's not to say that the dub is bad, it is good. I just preferred the Japanese case. There aren't any really impressive aural parts, but the stereo effects are decent and the sound is clean and clear. The only real problem I had was with the subtitles: there are a few signs that are not translated (like the ones the Chinese guide holds up when Genma and Ranma fall into the cursed springs). This was a minor error however.
Viz includes a couple of video extras with this set, most of which was recorded at the 2013 New York Comic Con. First up is the Ranma 1/2 panel from the con, where the members give a history of Ranma and talk about the restoration (including some side-by-side comparisons between the original DVD release and the remastered HD version... it was filmed in HD so you can tell the difference). It runs a little over half an hour and there's a lot of good information included.
Next up is a ten-minute talk with Viz editor Hope Donovan who is handling the new, remastered release of the manga in two-in-one omnibus editions. I really enjoyed this piece, as it's clear that the editor loves the manga and seeing some of the differences, both in image quality and translation, was very interesting. There is also a 3 minute reel of cosplayers dressed as Ranma characters from the NYCC, all of the 'next episode' previews strung together, some trailers, and a clean opening and closing.
Packed in with the discs is a nice 64-page booklet. This glossy-page flip-book has the first chapter of the manga on one side (the newly restored version) and on the other it has an episode guide and full cast credits for the English production. A very nice bonus.
One of the classic series, this is a must-watch for every anime fan. It's funny, exciting, and has a surprising amount of heart. Viz also gets everything right with their Blu-ray release, presenting wonderful looking discs that stay true to the show's origin. You can't go wrong with this collection. DVD Talk Collector's Series.