Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi

Most recently challenged in 2008 in a Kentucky public library for nudity, Ranma ½ is typical of manga, a cartoon book form developed in Japan. Manga helped to revive the graphic novel format after a long period of suppression in the US. In the early 1950s, Dr. Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist who worked with troubled children, observed that his clients were avid fans of comic books. Wertham concluded that comics, especially crime comics, made the kids into criminals and illiterates. His book Seduction of the Innocent very nearly destroyed the American comic book industry. That censorship campaign is dramatically retold by David Hadju in The Ten Cent Plague: the Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America.

Most parents today don't worry that comics will condemn their children to illiteracy. In fact, in Parents Who Love Reading, Kids Who Don't, Mary Leonhardt assured parents, "A kid who loves comics, and then magazines, and then newspapers will probably be a reader all his life." But even if the "speech in bubbles" format is no longer thought dangerous to young minds, many people still believe images have more impact than words. And since manga comes from a different culture, images considered suitable for young readers in Japan may surprise parents in America. The Librarian's Guide to Anime and Manga states “Nudity is not too unusual in some anime and manga, even TV shows and manga for children. This is a result of a different culture's views on naked bodies.” Manga also has a tradition of “fanservice,” essentially sexy illustrations that serve no plot purpose.

Ranma would just be another teenage boy trying to excel at martial arts if it weren't for an accident that left him cursed to transform into a girl whenever he gets splashed with cold water. The same incident cursed his father with the form of a giant panda. Fortunately, hot water restores them to their original bodies. Ranma's father hopes he will marry into a family who operate a dojo for "Anything Goes" martial arts. The girls in the family are not at all pleased with this prospect, but a variety of other girls do have designs on Ranma. And he attracts yet more unwanted admirers when in girl form himself. Meanwhile his transformations must be kept secret from other characters including his own mother, adding complications to his hectic teenage life as he searches for a solution to his curse. This comedy of identities is enhanced by the eccentricity of the many characters whose misadventures may be enjoyed throughout the 34 volume Ranma ½ series.

If you would like to try other manga stories on the theme of transformation, Fruits Basket follows a family cursed to become animals of the zodiac when hugged by a person of the opposite gender. A teenage girl stumbles on their secret and gets caught up in their story which was reviewed here last year. Inu Yasha, by the same author as Ranma ½, tells the adventures of a modern girl who is pulled into the feudal past of her previous incarnation where she must cooperate with an immature, loud-mouth half-demon still angry at that previous incarnation.

Our global economy has increased the mixing of cultures and today's children are often more accustomed to cultural diversity than their parents. But in the library, parents who choose to do so can guide their own children away from the cultural elements they consider unacceptable. A Parent's Guide to Anime can help families with choices. However, if library staff were to anticipate parents’ choices and remove materials, we would deny parents the right to broaden their children's understanding of different cultures.

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