Ranma 1/2 continues on itís course, and while still entertaining it becomes obvious here that things are getting stuck in a rut.
The eternally macho aqua-transsexual now has to deal with a long lost friend from his past (who turns out to be another fiancee!), Akaneís cooking, Ryouga and Mousse working together against him, Happosaiís wrath, Amazon magic and some serious trouble in keeping Akane from finding out about P-chan.
Here in series three we get the introduction of my favourite character from the show: Ukyo. Sheís the long lost friend, a crossdresser, chef and generally an interesting female that doesnít become as much of a stereotype as the others do. Season three is in general a good solid series. While Akane and Ranma are now just going around in circles the Amazons get some good episodes here, as does Ukyo since this is her debut and as such most of her character development is here. There are also some more of those more stupid premises coming up here, such as the super-soba, but by now you should know that sometimes you need to suspend a bit more disbelief than you might usually when it comes to this show. Happosai also turns up a lot as comic filler, but when they actually concentrate on him properly for an episode rather than just throwing him in for fun he shows he can be a decent character. Also, as seems the norm for this show, the last episode is fairly atrocious filler.
For season four you can actually feel the whole thing slowing down and becoming a real episodic series. Whereas in the last three seasons there was a feel that, while repetitive, life was actually flowing along, it now seems just to be running around in circles. All pretence of time passing and things evolving are gone. Thatís not to say there isnít good material here, even if we are now firmly embedded in the rut. There are some great episodes here, many being better than the ones in seasons two and three, but by that same token there are some real stinkers too. We get the whole Hiryu Shoten Ha plot when Happosai saps Ranmaís strength, which is finally great character building for him, and Ryoga gets some wonderful episodes as well. Unfortunately to go with this feast we get the ghost cat and the gambling king, both of whom are not just uninteresting and badly thought out but also look nasty compared to the rest of the artwork. A note must be made of the new cast member too, the Furinkan High headmaster, a Hawaii and hair obsessed nut who often speaks in broken English and makes life hell for his students is the most bizarre ways. His episodes, along with a few of the others, fill the middle ground when it comes to the enjoyment factor of this series.
The content remains the same with plenty of comic violence and nudity.
Visually this is also exactly the same as the last, with aging art that very occasionally shines for a moment of beautiful artwork and animation. As mentioned though some of the incidental and episode specific characters can look bad, from the partially intentional single stuck expression of Happosaiís apprentice to the annoying one of the ghost cat, and the gambling king looks plain nasty. True, he is supposed to look like the king on a pack of cards, but he still looks crap. He just doesnít work.
The dub is mostly the same as before, so if you liked (or could put up with) the last two series the same applies here. Ukyo does a good job with her character and Kuno as usual gets some fantastic dialogue thanks to a little script tweaking. Again it isnít a strict translation but it doesnít suffer for it for the most part. The one change here is in season four, where male Ranma gets a new voice actor. Sarah Strange played him with a good macho feel, and she got his underused sensitive side to work very well too, but when she left male Ranma got played by Richard Ian Cox. He seems to have a harder time making Ranma sound as confident and sure of himself and he rarely manages to sound as angry or put out as Sarah Strange did. He now sounds a bit more Ryoga-esque and not as manly as he did.
This is as far as I am prepared to go with the televised Ranma 1/2. Iíve enjoyed it, but I can see that itís beginning to get stale for me and intend to remember it for what Iíve liked, not for having to trudge trough another three series of more and more mediocre material. Iíve seen everything I feel I need to see while still being able to enjoy this, but your mileage may vary somewhat depending on how much you end up liking this lot. For me the first three seasons were the essential ones, and four rounded it off nicely with some good new martial arts techniques and some good character pieces.