Ranma 1/2 Martial Mayhem:
Tea for Three

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

Ah, another Japanese show,
another Iron Chef joke.
If an American television network were to try to release an animated series like Ranma 1/2 (for more on Ranma, see our review of Ranma 1/2: The Movie 2), the protests would start immediately. The idea that a boy could change into a girl and back would be seen as perverted, and the show's obsession with breasts wouldn't go over very well either. Yet Ranma 1/2 is not primarily concerned with sex, but more with gender. In the US, we automatically equate gender and nudity with sex, but in Japan that connection runs a distant second to the comic possibilities of gender switching and the romantic entanglements that result.

Ranma 1/2 was very popular in Japan in the early 90's; a couple of movies and two series of television episodes were produced. Viz Video's recent release of Ranma 1/2 Martial Mayhem: Tea for Three contains two unrelated episodes from the second, much longer TV series.

Oh my God! They animated
Shakes the Clown!
In the first episode Ranma, in his female form, is abducted by a young man named Shintaro. Shintaro is the last male master of the martial arts tea ceremony, and he's looking for a wife. Considering that he's the master of such a wussy martial art, he's going to need all the help he can get. After Ranma reveals to Shintaro that he is man, Akane (Ranma's fiance by an arrangement of their fathers) shows up. Shintaro thinks that Akane may be able to challenge his grandmother for the ability to choose his own bride. Precisely whom Shintaro's grandmother wants Shintaro to marry is never clear, though we do have vague memories of the original manga (comic book) this episode based on, and we're pretty sure that there was a monkey involved. As a matter of fact, the monkey is pictured on the box art. But this version is much simplified.

In any case, Akane is the worst cook this side of C-Ko ("Look, if you want to risk your freedom on Godzilla making tea, go ahead," Ranma tells Shintaro), so Ranma takes on the challenge in his female form, just because Ranma can't resist a challenge. Ranma has to learn the intricacies of martial arts tea ceremony, an art that involves staying in a sitting position and battling with tea preparation apparatus, including poisoned tea leaves and stirring sticks.

"This is a really lame violin."
This episode is a fairly standard "Ranma can't turn down a duel, especially when there's a marriage on the line" story, coupled with the strange desire Ranma's creators have to portray old people, particularly grandparents, as evil little people who want to destroy the lives of their descendants. If this grandma were a grandpa, she'd probably be a perverted little freak with the hots for Akane and cotton underwear, but as a woman she's merely a control freak. This probably has as much to do with actual Japanese family dynamics as Scooby Doo has to do with the way private detective agencies are actually run in America, but all the same, we'll take the talking dog and the meddling kids.

The second episode on the tape is not based on any manga story. Ranma runs across two masked men who are experts in martial arts based on old children's games. Meanwhile back at the Tendo family dojo, Akane is goaded into a duel with a little girl who uses martial arts based on nostalgia. Akane loses, and Ranma and Akane hunt down this clan that uses the trappings of childhood's past to defeat their opponents.

"Damn Beta Capsule misfire!"
This is another basic Ranma plot, spiced up only by some pop culture references. When the clan tries to demonstrate a game of marbles to a bunch of kids, they all leave to go watch Pokemon. (Actually, this little bit of dialogue is from the dubbed version Viz has released, and can't be from the original language version because this show aired before Pokemon became a TV series.) And the head of the nostalgia clan wears an Ultraman mask, though he never once wrestles a rubber monster.

These two episodes are only mildly amusing, which is probably representative of the second Ranma TV series. Sadly, this series was made on the cheap. There isn't much movement, and some action scenes are conveyed by showing us what boil down to comic book panels. There are numerous cheats to make the animation process easier, most notably the masks the nostalgia clan wears. Sure, the Ultraman mask is funny, but it also means that the character can talk without actually animating his mouth. If you're a Ranma fan already, you might want to pick this up for the sake of your collection's completion. But if you're a Ranma novice, start with the first TV episodes (which are much funnier), or the comic book.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 6/21/00

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