Ranma 1/2 The Movie 2:
Nihao My Concubine

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Our rating: three lava lamps.

No information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably heard of the art of Japanese animation (properly called anime -- pronounced "an-im-ay"). And if you've paid any attention to its growing popularity in the U.S., then you've probably heard about Ranma 1/2. Ranma 1/2, commonly referred to simply as Ranma, is a martial-arts-mystic-romantic-comedy television series. Wait! Don't run! This will all make sense when we're done.

Ranma (the male version).
The lynchpin of the series is the fact that Ranma Saotome, a young man, fell into a cursed spring while on a martial arts training trip to China with his father, Genma. Now Ranma turns into a beautiful young girl (but not that young, if you get our meaning) whenever he touches cold water. Hot water changes him back, at least until the next time it rains, or someone throws a pail of water at him. Over the course of the series, many other characters have turned up who have similar curses -- his father turns into a panda, his romantic rivals turn into pigs or ducks, and one of his many would-be fiancees turns into a cat. Each of them fell into a spring of cursed-this or cursed-that, and now they must live these double lives, searching for a way to lift the curse.

His bride-to-be, Akane.
Ranma is betrothed to Akane, the daughter of Soun, one of his father's friends. Both older men are martial-arts masters, with their own schools of thought and styles of fighting. Needless to say, everyone in the show is a martial arts master, but these two men have the power to arrange their children's marriages. Ranma and Akane dislike each other immediately, although over the course of the series they just might be falling in love.

Each episode of the tv series follows a standard course. Ranma and Akane pretend to hate each other, but someone invariably tries to woo one or the other against their will. Ranma always ends up in the nearest pond, and in a big showdown fight at the end of each show, battling for the hand of Akane under the pretense of getting in some martial arts practice. Urequited love, misinterpretation, and mistaken identity are the show's stocks in trade.

All of this brings us to Ranma 1/2 the Movie 2: Nihao My Concubine, in which Ranma and his gang of hangers-on (including Happosai (Soun and Genma's evil and lecherous master), Akane and her sisters, the two fathers, and a couple of would-be suitors each for Ranma and Akane) are marooned on a tropical island. How they got there is immaterial, of course. Something about a boat. Who cares? The real story begins when the young women begin disappearing.

Genma, Ranma's father, as Panda.
It soon becomes clear that the women are being kidnapped by the inhabitants of a mystical island of men. There are only men on the island because (you guessed it) a cursed spring contains water that turns everything it touches into a man (even dogs, cats, birds, lobsters, etc.). So of course, all of the cursed men in the group have a second reason to pummel the prince of the island -- they want the water that will turn them back into men permanently.

Ranma himself comes up with the sneakiest plan to get next to the island's illusionist/prince, Toma, and steal some of the magic water. He changes into a woman and enters a contest, the winner of which will become Toma's bride. And like all competitions in the Ranma 1/2 universe, it turns out to be a martial arts marriage contest, and Ranma pulls out all the stops in his attempts to become the prince's new bride.

The success of any Ranma 1/2 story depends on how well it can shift from gag to gag, and from fight to fight. If this series ever took itself seriously for more than a few seconds, it would probably collapse under the pressure. Accordingly, Nihao My Concubine is a riotous collection of sex jokes, hand-to-hand combat scenes, and comical attempts by the characters to achieve their misguided goals. It doesn't distinguish itself much from the series that spawned it, and that's probably for the best.

Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat.
Because this is one of the Ranma 1/2 theatrical features, the animation is quite good, and the fight scenes are really creative. The story also has a certain epic quality to it, with lots of derring do and and running about. The only thing that gets in the way of this is that we know that neither Ranma nor any of friends will actually get cured because Ranma 1/2 exsists in so many other forms (the original comic book, TV shows, etc.) that no permanent change can be made to such well-known characters. The ending, therefore, is pretty much predetermined.

Ranma veterans will notice that some of the focus is shifting from the various individuals and their cursed afflictions to the evolving relationships between the characters, notably Ranma & Akane, and Shampoo & Mousse. This forwards some of the overall continuity, but not by much. There are a few tender moments between each couple, but these can't stay long in the face of the explosions and gags which inevitably must follow.

The best things about Ranma 1/2 are the gags, but there is more to it than that. Ranma combines the sensibility of Japanese comics written for girls, with all their romance and relationships, with the sight gags and bizarre logic of Looney Toons. It's just darn fun, and the fact that the characters interact with each other in such interesting ways makes the whole Ranma 1/2 experience very addictive -- and Nihao My Concubine is one of the best Ranma 1/2 stories.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 3/4/97

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