Here begins the tale of a massive fan favourite. With a mass of material for Ranma 1/2 these first two seasons are the place to start if you have the time and money.
The cursed Jusenkyo springs; a training ground in which each spring has itís own tragedy, and itís own bizarre transforming curse to bestow on anyone unlucky enough to fall it. Ranma is that unlucky, and his fatherís stupidity it good enough to make him eligible. And so the pair of martial artists change when splashed with cold water, and change back with hot. For Ranma, raised to be the opitomy of manhood (read macho chauvinist) turning into a girl isnít what he want to be stuck with, and his father turns into a panda, which actually seems to suit him! On top of all that Ranma has to deal with being engaged to Akane Tendo, a tough bull headed girl, thanks to a long time deal between their respective fathers, as well as rampaging Chinese amazons, a boy with a severe grudge and no sense of direction, and his father's old master, the most perverse little old man that ever walked the earth.
This show would be a regular anime romantic comedy with some martial arts thrown in if it werenít for the bizarre premise of the curses. Strangely once you get used to the idea it does work very well and provides plenty of material for Akane and Ranma to spark of each other, often with violent results. The cast is massive and even in these early series there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but each of them is very memorable and entertaining in their own way. I must admit I donít think of it as highly as many do, but it is overall very entertaining. The episodes here blend into each other a little to make a pleasant whole, but they tend not to stand out without some key point to go on. Unfortunately it is something of a one trick pony and while it does its trick very well it does get stale after a while. So to remedy that they introduce another character every now and again. With a total of seven seriesí of TV this adds up to a staggering amount. However in these first two series we have some of the best Ranma 1/2 material there is since we get to see it fresh wile the central character do actually get some character development.
The reason for this is the way the show is structured. With so much running time it relies on the situation to carry it, so things canít change. We canít get any resolution. As such the only character development a character will get is in the series that they are introduced. After that they have their roles and donít get to break out of them much. This is a major failing but the series manages to work very well with it thanks to the cast and the fact that this setup is actually a good one. Its only by the end of series two that you can really start to feel the repetition and established scenario set for good, and over that time there is some great material to be had, from Ranmaís fear of cats and the bizarre results of that to new curses being bestowed on new people. Itís very stereotypical, but this show is one of the reasons these stereotypes became so popular in the first place.
There are a few last niggles though. Firstly is the crazy idea of making the last episode of the first series a re-cap! That was plain stupid! Secondly Happosai is a good character but they use him and his panties stealing obsessions as a quick laugh too often when they have no other ideas. Itís cheap and gets old fast when itís used that often. Thirdly, and this is the only major one really, the second series brings with it some things that just feel out of place. The idea of the bizarre in a show like this is to be expected, but there is a level of acceptable bizarre that most of the show fall into, being fun, silly and generally fitting with the themes itís set up. Then every now and then they pull something stupid out of the bag. For example, we have all sorts of mystical goings on and over the top martial arts, but when the old matriarch of the amazons summons and animates a bear made of snow I wanted to skip to the next episode. It was just too unbelievable, even for Ranma 1/2. Much of the strangeness has at least some shred of supernatural explanation (or itís taken on faith because itís central to the concept!), but we have to accept that this amazon can make a flying snow bear just because sheís that badass at martial arts? Go on, pull the other one, itís got bells on!
That said though for the most part this is a good show and incidents like that arenít common. With regard to general content there is a LOT of violence in this show. Granted itís pretty much all comical, but still thereís a lot of beating up going on, most likely Akane thrashing Ranma for something that probably isnít all his fault. Akane is like that. Sheís not on my list of top characters here! There is also plenty of mild to moderate nudity since Ranma can change into a girl and has no feminine modesty. And they just like giving fanservice here! Teens and up, or maybe sensible older kids.
On the visual side itís showing its age but doesnít look too bad. The animation is often a little simple and they know how to use their shortcuts well. The character designs Iím not a huge fan of, especially when they try to look cute and smile. Itís a little scary seeing their closed eyes like upside down ĎUís! Still, during the occasional series introspection scenes they can look alright, and the style is a popular one if Rumiko Takahashiís general popularity is anything to go by! Every now and then however theyíll have a short scene or fight that is superbly drawn and animated, often for a meaningful bit of thought. Maybe only one or two per series, but theyíre great when they appear.
The dub here can be pretty cringe worthy at times, but it also has some good highlights. Nabiki and Kuno have great voices while Kodachi just canít get the manic laugh right (it is possible, watch Naga in the Slayers OAVs!). On the down side Ranma and Akane have some trouble with their deliveries, even if their voices fit reasonably well. Ryoga has the shy side of his personality down well but just sounds too weak (vocally) when in his rages. And as expected from such a variable dub most of the incidental characters sound horrible. There are few constant reasons to bother with the dub but it does have its high points.
If you wan to get into this show properly be prepared to wade through a lot of anime! This is long! Still the first season is a must have of the Ranma 1/2 anime and season two brings in lots of good central characters. After the first youíll have seen the best of it, but there may well be enough to keep you interested in the TV seriesí beyond that.