The Mantis Saga Appendix and Notes
Actually, just a way for me to shoot off my big mouth.
Okay. So I want to share my ideas. It may seem awfully arrogant to presume that you care what I think, but:
Acknowledgements: Credit where credit is due: Thanks go to Rumiko Takahashi for the obvious. I owe a lot to Evil Nabiki and Shade because without the New Ranmascan Project, I wouldn't have gotten to enjoy this bizarre world. Thanks to Wandering Oni for agreeing to be my pre-reader and letting me pester him endlessly. Thanks to my favourite authors for teaching me how to write and such. And finally thanks to Garrotglace for writing Ranma vs. the World, which inspired this fic. I'm not gonna blow sand up your arses and say that the above was the greatest or best written fic, but it did display martial arts, and did it well.
Theme: You see, the real reason I like the Ranma series is the way it displays the martial arts — the fighting. I am obsessed with martial arts, and the series has duels and challenges, plus all the things in martial arts history I've always been fascinated with. You may all say "Who cares? There are other martial arts series!", but Ranma is one of the few that got the balance right. Dragonball? Nice series, but when darn near all of the characters have the power to destroy planets, you've gone too far. Fist of the North Star? Too many exploding heads. Ranma had the mix of duelling and techniques with enough fantasy ki techniques for interest — but no universal damage. My favourite episodes are the one were he fights tough opponents like Herb, Ryu Kumon, and Ryoga with the Shishi Hokodan.
Ranma vs. the World blended Ranma with the only other series that got the balance right, Street Fighter. It had Ranma chasing Ryu to learn a new technique and improve his skills. The training, fighting and improving fascinates me personally, maybe because as a real person in the real world I can't do that. Also, all the great true-life historical masters felt the same way, and took trips and fought duels. Wong Fei Hung, Yip Man, etcetera. So I decided to write a martial arts Ranma fic. I wanted to use Ranma ½ to explore the martial arts in a way I haven't seen in fics before. So I came up with the premise of Ranma and Ryoga travelling the world searching out challenges and learning techniques. I wanted to show Ranma get stronger and better instead of having him disappear and then return super-powerful as many have done.
I also felt that sort of thing is what Ranma would want to do; after all, he loves challenges and can't just wait for people to come to Nerima. But he was tied to Nerima by fiancées and school, so I had to do something dramatic to make him feel the need to leave and to improve. Enter Loaf and Nodoka.
Anyway, as I wrote this fic I began to think about the virtues important to the master martial artist in Chinese culture, but especially in Japanese history – that is, the ideals of the Samurai. I thought of the past masters: Funakoshi, Ueshiba, Choki Motobu, Bruce Lee and Chan Heung. All very different people, but all said to be obsessed with learning and improving as well as being very honourable people. Honour that concept particularly fascinated me. What is it to a warrior, and what is its place in the modern world? So I really wanted to explore that theme. Honour and Pride, two conflicting but essential virtues of the true martial artist. Although he means well and is true to his code, Ranma's sense of honour is misguided. By having Nodoka question his beliefs, the narrative could show how his ideals change as we explore what honour is.
So there is a point to all this drama, and there are things I'm trying to do with this fic. One of the main things is originality — something that is running thin with so many Ranma fics out there. And there are a great many readers that degrade all attempts to play with the characters in new ways or to portray anyone but Akane as other than scenery
Characters: Well, obviously you're a fan of Ranma otherwise you wouldn't be reading this. In fact, why are you anyway? I'm babbling!
The fact is, Ranma ½ is a comedy story; which can be quite a shallow genre. Everything the Ranma characters do is geared to slapstick comedy; that's why hitting your fiancé with a mallet is not considered abuse, why thinking you're a samurai does not get you locked up, and why Genma has not been arrested for child abuse. However, this does not create developed characters (Yes, I said it. I'm going to get stoned, am I? And not in the funky, hallucinating way). Except for Ranma and Akane, the other action figures are cardboard cut-outs with weapons. However, if you want to write a well-rounded story, you need three-dimensional characters — especially if you're a writer like me who likes to get in people's heads. To do that, you have to fill in the blanks while still being true to the character.
The way I see it, the characters have a general behaviour and an inner behaviour That is, the general behaviour is the way most people see and portray the character, but sometimes in certain situations in the manga, an inner self shows. For example, Ranma's usual attitude to Genma is one of anger, but in the Hell's Cradle issue, we see he does care for the old git. So for the guy who said I don't read the manga, I do, and use them to delve deeper into characters. Unfortunately, you can't see all the pieces in the anime and manga, so you have to use your judgment and try not to let wishful thinking lead you astray.
Just my little philosophy on the portrayal of Ranma characters. Below are my thoughts, and why I wrote the characters as I did.
Ranma: I freely admit Ranma is quite out of character in this fic, but Ranma is an optimistic, happy-go-lucky, confident character but the plot of the fic did not really call for that yet. First, he was depressed at the lack of challenge, then at his loss to Loaf, then bitter at Ryoga's comments, then unsure of himself after the talk with Nodoka, then guilty at hurting the girls. Not really the Ranma we're used to, but we did see his normal personality begin to return towards the end, and hopefully the second book will be more light-hearted and we'll see that more.
As I said, Honour and Pride are the two greatest parts of a martial artist's personality. And for those people who I count as such, these are the two main drives I wrote for them Ranma especially. His pride gives him the desire to challenge himself, to become stronger and better, which also makes him a little arrogant — but hey, he's learning. Honour is really vital to him; it defines his way of life as a martial artist and always makes him want to do the right thing, but he doesn't want to hurt anyone, thus complicating matters especially where his fiancées are concerned. But the problem is that he's no longer sure what honour is, and it's not really a cast-iron concept, so he's a little baffled. He wants to do the right thing, but is not sure what that is. And that's the dilemma.
Ryoga: Well, I haven't had much opportunity to really get into Ryoga's head, but I will write what I think of him. Ryoga is a nice guy, and he wants to do what's right by his own sense of honour. But his problem is his passion: it runs away from him. He always takes things to extremes, like swearing vengeance for a minor insults, professing his undying love after receiving a random act of kindness, etcetera. But deep down, he's just a shy, sensitive guy. I think he is as proud of his skills as Ranma is, but insecure about everything else. He wants challenges and improvement too, but thinks such things are petty, so makes a big deal of everything to justify himself. He's also a complete fool where girls are concerned. His relationship with Ranma is kind of brotherly; they have moments when they seem to be good friends, but the rivalry between them often clouds all that. Each will always consider the other the benchmark by which to measure their skill sort of like a friendlier Goku/Vegeta thing.
Nodoka: Well, what's to say? Tradition and austerity sums it all up. I think of her as a mix of Samurai and eighteenth century upper-class English gentlewoman. Old fashioned to fault, and obsessed with duty. Duty is the essence of honour, but to her it leaves room for nothing else. She feels that as his mother, she knows Ranma's duty better than he, and will not rest until he fulfils it. She cannot see outside what she feels Ranma's obligation to be (that is, to marry Akane) and thinks that things like love and free will are just obstacles to what is ultimately for the best. A shame, really, because she obviously loves her son very, very much, but happiness is second to honour. The biggest criticism of my work came at Chapter 8 with the whole seppuku debacle. Most people seemed to think that Ranma should have told her where to go and that he was too strong to be cowed by her. Unfortunately, this is where wishful thinking comes in to play, and it has often been the cause of out of character portrayals. We all want Ranma to do that, but the manga shows that Ranma is quite weak where his mother is concerned. He loves her deeply, and wants nothing more than her approval; he yearns for it. To have her act so ashamed as she did in that scene is bound to make him react strongly. Or at least I think so. †
Well then, we come to the fiancées. This is going to get bumpy.
Unfortunately, since Akane was always intended by Rumiko Takahashi as the "true fiancée", the other girls are only occasionally depicted as anything other than stereotypes, whose only purpose is to hassle Ranma until he finally tells them to sod off and marries Akane. In some cases, they were matched up with other throwaway characters. It wouldn't take a very good writer or a lot of time to write a convincing reason why Mousse and Shampoo would end up together. But the characters are supposed to be people with feelings, so I wanted to get inside them and rumble about.
Shampoo: Okay First, she's not a bimbo. There have been several indications that show she has a brain, not least being her imaginative schemes. But like Ryoga, she is very passionate and lets her heart rule her head most of the time. And her heart wants Ranma. It would be easy for Shampoo to fall for someone like Ranma; a man with his spirit and skill would be very attractive to someone like Shampoo. Also, Ranma's battle prowess probably arouses her quite a lot as I hinted at. Her culture is different and I tried to show that. It seems obvious to me from the manga and anime that she has no qualms about sexuality. Her physical desire for Ranma is undeniable. Her culture has made her quite happy with showing this, but her emotional desires are something different. It is quite easy to imagine in a society where women marry men for breeding quality and strength; sex would be quite open, but romance would be next to nonexistent. Real love is something their culture would have little of, so when the depth of her feelings for Ranma become known to her, she would be blown away and would have no idea what to do with such feelings. Nor would she know how to express them, and thus we fall back on the physical because she understands that. Honour and pride are important to her as a Nichieju warrior, but not in the same way. Although I'm sure she would enjoy competition and rivalry as much Ranma — that's why she was the village's champion — her sense of honour is different. Her beliefs mostly focus on strengthening the tribe by any means, and it is her first loyalty and the reason behind some quite reprehensible antics. But her love for Ranma can never be doubted. Shampoo is a great example of culture clash, and makes her quite interesting.
Ukyo: The Joey to Ranma's Dawson, the classic best friend romance, which is one of my favourite plot lines. Anyway, Ukyo strikes me as opposite to Shampoo in a way: she never hides how much she cares for Ranma, but more physical displays are embarrassing to her, as does having to say those three words that Shampoo says all the time. She is more quiet and slow with Ranma, knowing that he'll always be a good friend until he finally picks her. She is more a case of quiet yearning, a dreamer. She'll work in her restaurant, serve the people, and fantasise about her pigtailed knight. But in the real world she is his friend before being his fiancée, and uses that position to gradually bring him around to her side through more subtle means.
Akane: The default Ranma girl. There are two main portrayals of her, corresponding to the two main camps of Ranma fans. To the Akane lovers, she's a sweet, innocent-but-independent girl who is just misunderstood, and as soon as Ranma admits his love they'll skip hand in hand to the sunset. What crap! The other idea is that Akane is really a bitter, recriminating, cruel bitch who hates Ranma and rejoices in making his life miserable That is, the female lead of Ranma is Attila the Hun in skirts Not likely.
Akane is by no means perfect, but she's not a monster. I see her as a mass of contradictions. On the outside, she is strong and independent, a stubborn girl who always tries to help but takes no crap. But on the inside, she's a scared little girl. Tough but vulnerable, brave but frightened, confident but insecure: that's Akane. Those who don't believe me, think of the movies. She acted all strong by slapping Kirin and dumping the pickles, but when he became interested, she just sat and pined for Ranma. A contradiction.
As for her feelings for Ranma; I think at the start she did not like Ranma, but as she got to know him she fell for him. A classic Pride and Prejudice romance, a novel which instilled the idea that if two people act like they hate each other, they must love each other. Nope! I think that the reason Akane still treats Ranma with such anger is that she's scared of her feelings, and the distrusting and violent routine is a safe and familiar haven. It took Ranma's leaving to make her break the cycle but will it stay broken? I'll just say that for an A/R relationship to work, it would take a lot of effort and a lot of time to develop trust and respect, because sometimes love ain't enough. A challenge for any author, and I like challenges (is that a hint, or am I trying to throw you off-guard?)
Something I want in this story is to keep the reader guessing who Ranma will end up with, until I start the true romance and spring the answer.
Martial arts: For those of you who are familiar with the martial arts, I thought I would just outline the ones to be used primarily. Ranma's style will mostly be a mix of Japanese arts, like Karate and Jiu-jitsu, with some elements of Wing Chun and Tai Chi. It's a style that will mostly focus on speed and technique. Ryoga, by contrast, is more about power and strength. His style will be a mix of various international styles to reflect his wandering. These will include Southern style of Kung Fu, Hung Gar and Tiger Claw, also Choy Lay Fut, Muai That and various forms or wrestling such as Greco-Roman, Pancrase and Submission. The other characters I'm not sure of yet, but Shampoo will probably have White Crane Kung Fu mixed with Eagle Claw, and Ukyo a style based on the Japanese halberd art Naginata-jitsu with some Ninja-style use of weapons.
Well, that's it. I've babbled, shared my thoughts, and mostly dissed and analysed the crap out of the Ranma fanfic genre. I probably offended a lot of people, but get used to it. Well, I'm off to get a cup of tea, a beer, and then hit the hay. Nighty-night.
† Editor's note: Just a quick comment that I personally disagree with his assessment of Nodoka and Akane. I really do think that he has both of them pegged the wrong way, but it's his story, so that's the end of it. Just think of this postscript as a "the opinions expressed do not reflect the policy of the management" notice.
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