JAPANESE WOMAN FANTASY: AKANE TENDO
The Chinese translation was completed long before the English translation, in consequence of which I have the entire series of 38 volumes in Chinese, but only a few volumes in English.
It's a good read. Especially when you realize that the author is a woman, writing for a largely female audience. That might not be immediately apparent, as many of the readers in the United States are teenage boys attracted by the clever illustrations of curvaceous insane girls.
Nominally it's about martial arts, but that is merely a story pretext. It's actually a piercing send-up of young Japanese women's self-images and their ideas about men.
Consequently the core characters are all female and (eventually) fully developed people, whereas the boys are often mono-dimensional, and have certain set behavioural patterns from which they barely deviate.
Except, that is, for the boy after whom the series is named: Ranma Saotome.
Who, a large part of the time, is actually a girl.
An extremely shapely girl.
[Explanation: Ranma and his father both fell into cursed pools that changed them into whatever drowned there a long time ago. Consequently when we first see them, Ranma in girl form is fighting with a large angry Panda. Being doused with hot water changes them back to their original shape. The accidental splash of cold water that transforms Ranma and his dad is a recurring comic motif - especially once ancient master Happosai, who is a dessicated old pervert of phenomenal proportions, arrives on the scene.]
"A VERY SWEET GIRL"
Ranma's relationship with Akane Tendo is the crux of the story. The two of them are, unwillingly, engaged to each other as per an agreement between their fathers.
Ranma at times is an insensitive clod.
And, in Akane's opinion, a pervert.
Akane is the one character without whom the story would have far less appeal. She's warm-hearted, intelligent, and capable, but she's also vulnerable and stubborn. As well as extremely short tempered, flying off the handle when irritated. Forcefully so.
"She's really a very sweet girl. She's just a violent maniac."
Everyone else in the series can be seen as tangential to her, she's the central character. Ranma's zany adventures and periodic gender-switching always either revolve around her or interact with her.
That is something that you would not really understand if you were reading the work for the frequent bits of voluptuous nudity - a worthwhile pursuit on its own, as it is very nicely drawn - but without Akane as the lynchpin there really is no story.
This is especially noticeably when you contrast Akane's central role with the comedic interludes that feature Shampoo, that being a young lady who precisely and approximately represents the quintessence of every male teenager's sex-bombe fantasy.
Shampoo, the most over-the-top voluptuous of the many attractive female characters, is absolutely predictable. In every episode in which she appears, she will at some point throw herself at clueless Ranma while entirely naked. Given how she has been drawn, those pages are undoubtedly the most treasured of a young boy's possessions.
Not surprisingly, she is the most avidly sought-after of action-figures among the entire cast of the story.
Probably not coincidentally, Shampoo is also one of the most violent, devious, and ethically limited of the characters. Unlike Akane, Shampoo has no compunction whatsoever about using dirty tricks and blackmail to achieve her goal, that ultimately being marriage to Ranma.
She is likeable, admirable even, but 100% a loose cannon.
It says a lot about the Japanese that the most sexual of women in this work is also the most psychotic, conniving, and extrovert.
What says even more than that though is that Shampoo is not even Japanese.
Being Japanese means having limits; being foreign implies freedom from constraints.
That, and the operatic cartoon violence in every episode - obviously how the author and probably many other Japanese women would LIKE to react to the simple minded males that surround them - indicate that on one level this is by no means just another manga harem comedy with luscious fan service to keep the attention of the masculine reader, but a complex farrago of repressed urges and frustrations to which the characters react, or that they perforce act out.
The tale is, in that sense, one of release.
On an entirely different level, it is also about female courage and steadfastness. Those two traits are fundamental to an understanding of Akane. While the males demonstrate all their weaknesses and irritate the spit out of the women, the females show strength of character and true spirit - despite, at times, clobbering the males or kicking them through the roof.
The males are flighty and (at times) deviant, the women are resolute and strong.
Female empowerment humorously writ in every episode.
With appealing visuals for perverts.
There's nothing like it.
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