Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ranma 1/2 Live Action Special

If you were a geeky, awkward teen in the 90s or a wee kid who used to put off doing homework in the late afternoons to watch some t.v., then you're probably one of those people who got seriously hooked on an anime series like Sailormoon, Slamdunk or Ranma 1/2 (if not one of those equally addictive yet heart-wrenching Nippon Animation productions based on a literary classic). Only a few may have managed to finish any of the three series mentioned above, but for sure anyone who's seen a good number of episodes as a child can attest to hours of worry-free entertainment. And it was probably with fond memories and the pursuit of that childlike joy that readers of the manga and fans of the anime alike looked with eager anticipation to last year's Ranma 1/2 Live Action Special... only to be acquainted with the fact that the show might be too light and zany to carry much substance.

For years, television producers and executives have turned to popular manga titles to fill up their daily programming schedules to the point that it has become a well-used but reliable crutch.

The list of hits and duds continues to expand, as more and more illustrated works get their live action adaptations. Some become widely successful (e.g. Hana Yori Dango and Nodame Cantabile), while some get hammy (GTO, Gokusen, Rookies) and/or extremely weird on you (Arakawa Under the Bridge, One Pound Gospel). There are also others that fall flat and fail to meet expectations (Honey and Clover, Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge); and still others that would catch you by surprise for being unexpectedly watchable, if not actually good (Suzuki Sensei, Ouran High School Host Club).

It was only a matter of time until Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma 1/2 got its own live action incarnation; it was only a matter of time until a studio or network would pick up such a well-loved series and roll the dice to see if they could come up with television gold.

After all, this manga turned anime series about cursed water springs, martial arts and the complex love connection between people who may or may not turn into an animal or girl with a splash of cold water was a hit with the last generation of Shōwa babies. As such, it had a built-in audience who would tune in out of curiosity, eager to relive its characters' crazy antics, and a vast potential to attract a new audience made up of today's youth who would maybe take to the story, if not, just tune in to see a cute girl and/or a buxom beauty. Getting the green light to do the special was no doubt an easy pitch, but creating a live-action rendering on a story that's lightweight and silly is about as practical as getting nutrition from a stick of gum.

High on camp and low on narrative, fans of the original series can at least rest assured that the special got the preliminary set-up of the story right sans the welcome mayhem brought about by characters like Ryoga, Shampoo and Happosai. True to the serial, the special opens with the arrival of Akane Tendou's (Aragaki Yui) fiancé in the person of Saotome Ranma (Kaku Kento)---the son of her father's long-time friend, who coincidentally has the dilemma of morphing into a girl after falling into a cursed spring while away on a training expedition.

As expected of any prearranged match, the relationship is met with some resistance as the female heir-apparent of the Tendou dojo continue to fight and bicker with her betrothed, while a throng of her male admirers, led by Kendo club president Kuno (Nagayama Kento), duel each other in the belief that the last man standing will win a date with the elusive girl. Joining the fray is a gang composed of leather-clad members of the third sex led by a sickle-wielding okama draped in gossamer scarves, holding court around a snazzy marble table. 

Jam-packed with colorful characters, cheap gags and less-than perfect action sequences, the special is bogged down by the kitschy search for a hidden mystical spring---one that would cure Ranma of his gender-bending predicament and would realize the villain's diabolical plot to rid the world of the female population as foretold by the Weather Girls smash hit, "It's Raining Men".

Far from being clever, the special is fun and flaky, and a total waste of time, marred by the politically incorrect, if not embarrassing, portrayal of members of the homosexual community. Though surely not intended to cause any offense, this slight mishap in the formulation of the special deserves very little laughter, doing absolutely nothing to elevate the show's status as an in-between seasons filler.

Most of the cast managed to bear some physical resemblance to the manga characters, however, the utter lack of a story and over the top acting make it difficult to relate to this special beyond a superficial level. Gender sensitive topics would have to take a backseat to frivolous adventures, petty spats and panda suits, as screen writer Izumi Yoshihiro stays true to the mangaka's vision of mining the comedy derived from the untimely transformation of the show's characters from man to beast (or in Ranma's case male to female) and vice versa.

There were standout moments where the special seemed like it had a hairbreadth's chance of achieving the cheekiness needed to make it a solid adaptation, but all hope is dashed by the poorly shot action sequences where actors Aragaki Yui and Kaku Kento end up tipping audiences to the ill-timed execution of their fight scenes and forced encounters. Furthermore, in no way can the absence of chemistry between the two be more palpable, as Aragaki Yui's Akane failed to exhibit the same rapport and charm with the male Ranma as she did with the female version.

All in all, the special can be likened to a low budget tokusatsu that one might see on Sunday morning television; the only difference perhaps is that the former does not have the benefit of time to build on a story-arc. I mean, the live action version of Pretty Guardian Sailormoon might have been a tacky 50-episode affair but past the meanderings of a slow-witted teen and moon magic was an epic love story that not only defied time, it also destroyed civilizations. Sadly, Ranma 1/2 does not come equipped with the same revelations, neither does it have an endgame at sight given the repetitive quality of its episodes. Its strength lies in its unapologetic regard for non-stop action and hilarity free of subtext and rhetoric, the downside to it is that it's something that's easy to outgrow and dismiss.

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Speaking of Sailormoon, I've been trying to place where I've seen one of the villain's henchmen before... and then it dawned on me that the said guy with the blue streak as shown above was no other than Shibue Joji---the actor who played Prince Endymion/Tuxedo Mask in the 2003 Pretty Guardian Sailormoon  live-action series. Damn, from throwing roses to using a sickle with a raised pinkie...  


  1. i did watch this because of Aragaki Yui eye candy. after 30 minutes, i decided i should better watch the anime instead.

    anyway, the new season of Wilfred started well but it seems redundant. Well, it's only 2 episodes so far. i'm tired of downloading these days. hehe..

  2. Good call, because this one sucked. I remember E.G. sending me a text message just to rant about it. And as cute as Aragaki Yui might be, the girl can't throw a punch.

    Just caught the 4th episode of Wilfred. Season 2 isn't as dark as the first, Ryan seems to be coping well now minus the part about talking to a man in a dog suit. And yeah, it's a bit troublesome to download stuff nowadays... I still have a lot of stuff that I haven't watched.

    Btw, what happened to your blog?

  3. really bad. hehe.. isnt that cute that she cant throw a punch? but yeah, it has to be a bad ass.

    iv heard that kim dotcom from megaupload was released and now he's back. all hell breaks loose.

    i hope i can get back with Wilfred.

    there is a new hbo show The Newsroom with jeff bridges. it's actually good. and... a new breaking bad season, it's good enough to keep me from going back to downloading

    i closed my blog. i cant maintain it anymore. too lazy and im kinda busy these days. hehe..

  4. Saw a blurb about The Newsroom in one of those magazine shows, unfortunately, I don't think it's being shown on HBO Asia at the moment since True Blood 5 is still on. Haven't even finished Boardwalk Empire...

    As for the blog, I know what you mean about being too busy and lazy. Heck, my blog's like 3 months behind. Lol. Still, you should have left your blog up and running even if you don't get to update it. People can still stumble upon it and get info and show recommendations like I did. :)