The legendary mangaka Rumiko Takahashi’s birthday is October 10, and as it approaches, I thought it might be a great time to chat about my favorite Takahashi manga: Ranma 1/2.
For me, Ranma 1/2 is more of an upcoming experience – it’s an epiphany. This work not only challenged so many prevailing (and rather depressing) thoughts and philosophies about being trans – but made it as a manga.
Briefly, Ranma Saotome is the martial arts dude who trains with his father in China. There, while sparring on some of the bamboo stakes that fictional martial artists are so fond of sparring, Ranma’s father falls for “Spring of the Draced Panda” and takes the form of a giant panda. Surprised at this, Ranma slips and falls into “Spring of the Drown Girl” and the same thing happens – except instead of the giant panda, the Chinese girl.
And that’s all. Takahashi doesn’t ask us to think hard about it. It’s China, and there are the cursed “Springs of Underwater With Something-or-Other” and you fall and you’re there. Oh, and somehow the curse is reversed when hot water is poured and re -transformed into cold water …
Like I said, not much to think about.
I know some people have asked if Ranma Saotome is really transgender – Ranma was unintentionally changed, not by intent. Point taken. But honestly, I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Hello world, I plan to be transgender!” either too
Being transgender is never about being transgender. I’m just trying to understand myself, improve myself-be myself, and SPLASH! I was suddenly startled and wide awake and … oh well … now what am I going to do? I’m not sure if I’d call it an accident, but like Ranma’s fountain, the move really felt like something I fell for.
And now? So … my life will be waaaay more complicated than I thought.
Sadly, unlike Ranma, I don’t have Rumiko Takahashi to write the rest of my life. Instead, I started reading TG / TS / TV (transgender / transsexual / transvestite) articles and visiting TG / TS / TV websites, as well as TG / TS / TV listings on passersby for on the Internet at that time.
This was not my happiest moment. Most of what I found scared me, both physically and emotionally. There is an emphasis on how transsexuals always dress in drab colors to avoid being noticed. Another group met over the weekend and modeled themselves after Alcoholic Anonymous. And then there are descriptions of operations with a lot of blood — not just vaginoplasties focused on the genitals, but of circular saws and shaved into the facial bones.
Verification operations do make the lives of many people better – and to be clear, the methods themselves are not the issue all. Yes ay so frightening is the lack of choices, the lack of choice. That this is ang way to be trans. Fill out this questionnaire and go to this therapist, then see this endocrinologist and this surgeon … here is your road map. Keep a low profile and don’t talk to strangers until you’re new.
But remember … if they find out you’re trans … So shhhhh …
What I find refreshing about Ranma is that the transition process — the part that seems to dominate so much trans literature — is not a big deal.
Instead, it’s, “Okay, I’m a woman, what now?”
With Ranma 1/2, the move is no great mystery. Takahashi positions going from male to female as another off -the -wall thing that happens as you try to live your life.
To put this in perspective, even though Super Saiyans were introduced in 1991, no female Super Saiyans were shown in the canonical Dragon Ball multiverse to Caulifla in 2017. Clearly, Akira Toriyama couldn’t imagine what a super Saiyan woman would look like. For 26 years.
Think about all the weird shit going on Dragon Ball, and Toriyama is flirting with a female Super Saiyan?
But with Takahashi? Sex happens. Life goes on. When there is so much centered literature focused on changed, Takahashi focuses on what has been preserved. Whether it is a woman Ranma or a man Ranma – Ranma is Ranma.
And I can still be ako. There is no river of Sex that will cross and leave my former life. Rejection letters in journal literature? I’m at the kitchen table today, and they’ll be there tomorrow. My life has changed of course, but it’s still my life.
Takahashi focuses on slice-of-life, not slice-of-genital. If Hedwig and the Angry Inch (which one could argue is not a trans story, either) has become similar Ranma 1/2, there will be no surgeon, no blood – the film will be about an expensive, arrogant musician, perhaps a lazy furry for a father, and various false adventures centered on confused groups and whether the band will have a front man or front woman for the concert that night.
And, most of all, because Takahashi rarely portrays Ranma as a victim – and never as a person of pity – we were free to laugh. When Akane meets Ranma in the bath, first as a girl, then a boy, then later confused because even though Ranma is already a woman, Ranma has also become a man…
Yeah… there, done. Still wrinkled.
And beyond humor, sometimes Takahashi gets something just stunning right.
For example, I am a martial artist. Not as defeated as Ranma Saotome – but after more than four decades of training, competition, and coaching, I think I’m very good. Being trans has nothing to do with my love of martial arts. All my techniques are there. In fact, I’m probably better off now with some of them. However, after taking hormones for many years, I lost excess energy. Yes, I am still practicing. I am even stronger than many people. But without my former power. Not even close.
So, when I saw the boy Ranma fighting the very strong Ryoga, then Ranma was turned into a girl – I love how she didn’t become weak or scared. Yes, she seemed confused as to why her techniques weren’t having the same effect … but instead of stopping, Ranma started working on her body and its abilities.
I felt so seen.
There are many, many ways to express transgender, to define transgender, to be transgender. It has never been a single road. Yes, the information on those listerv was important-some of the best and brightest intentions we had at the time-and the writers and activists who posted there saved many, many lives.
But to someone from an Asian family who has been beaten and trying not to draw attention to himself, so much of that information is frightening, limiting – even incorrect.
By writing Ranma 1/2, Rumiko Takahashi gave me an alternate narrative, an external data point. There was this character who was a man and then a woman and even though it was crazy in places (there was a panda and eventually a piglet), Ranma’s story gave me space and permission to consider – perhaps at first opportunity in my life – How much gender is cultural, personal, and variable. Maybe even liquid.
Being Ryka isn’t always easy – I have no regrets, but I’ve lost close friendships and so many close friends. I still lost pieces of myself – in a moment, hormones became impossible for me to write.
However, in those times, in many ways, Ranma 1/2 helped me believe that I could walk this path and still be me.
And Ranma’s story inspires me to this day.
So, with this, I would like to wish a very happy birthday to Rumiko Takahashi – may many, many more come!
Thank you so much for creating Ranma 1/2.
Ryka Aoki (she) is a poet, composer, teacher, and novelist with accompanying books A Song of Hilo and two finalists of the Lambda Award, Seasonal Fast at Why Dust Does Not Have to Live in This Soul. Ryka’s work has appeared or been identified in accompanying publications Use, Elle, Bustle, Autostraddle, PopSugar, and Buzzfeed. Her poetry was featured at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and she was honored by the California State Senate for “exceptional commitment to the visibility and well -being of Transgender people.”