The Movie 2: Nihao, My Concubine
Copyright: © 1994 Takahashi Rumiko / Shogakukan Inc / Kitty / Fuji TV, © 1994 Viz Video
Length: 60 minutes
Rating: NR, Parental Guidance Suggested
Format: Dubbed (VHS)
The wealthy, if not somewhat obnoxious Takewaki Kuno graciously invites the Tendou household on a short vacation, about his new luxury yacht. The unfortunate travellers get caught in a most unexpected storm, and find themselves shipwrecked on an apparently deserted and uncharted island.
As it turns out, the island was not deserted after all. One by one, the women from the hapless group are kidnapped, and the men are getting worried. Ranma discovers that the leader of the island, Prince Toma, has kidnapped the girls so that one could become his bride... but there's more: there are no women on the island, as it is home to a magical spring -- a spring that turns anything doused in it into a male!
To put it bluntly, Ranma ½: Nihao My Concubine, is one of the most offensive big-screen adaptations of a popular series, anime or otherwise, that I have ever seen. It takes Rumiko Takahashi's wonderfully affectionate farce and over the course of 90 minutes twists it into a piece of shallow exploitation that is the antithesis to everything that made Ranma the series so enjoyable and endearing. Whereas Takahashi used her ingenious premise comment on gender roles the film uses it to maximize gender stereotypes, and the results are truly repulsive on all accounts.
For the uninitiated, Ranma ½ is the story of Ranma Saotome, a young martial artist who is cursed to change into a woman whenever he gets wet. The show, adapted from Takahashi's manga, ran for several years and sported a large cast of characters including Akane, Ranma's "tomboy-ish" fiancé, her family, and a host of other people who all had it in for Ranma in one way or another. The show typically revolved around Ranma and Akane's often shaky relationship as two people who were betrothed to marry, but were dead set on hating each other. The movie, more or less, involves this as well, although it exhaults it to the level of such ludicrously contrived exaggeration that it nearly succeeds in sinking the entire series.
The show and the manga, even with their farcical elements and martial arts action, always maintained a connection to the real world in one way or another. Plots typically involved domestic situations and dilemmas such as school, housework, or daily outings, and the ridiculous action and bizarre characters seemed to be comic exaggerations of real people. In this movie, however, they are exaggerations of exaggerations. Any connection with the subtlety and domestic arena of Takahashi's work is left behind as we are given a ludicrous plot that strands all the characters on a desert island where, one by one, all the women are kidnapped by a rogue prince as potential brides and the men are left to save them. Yes, that really is the plot of this movie.
Put simply, Nihao My Concubine is like a bad Ranma fanfic that somehow got to backing and budget to be a feature-length film. The animation, by general standards, is commendable. It is far superior to the TV series, the first movie, and even the OVA's (which is ironic since I still prefer the low-rent animation style of the TV series)... as evidenced by the fact that Ranma's breasts as a woman have never been so "dynamic" as they are here. The plot moves a long at a fairly quick pace beginning with lame farce and cycling through sheer inanity until it climaxes in overblown comicbook tripe. Ranma must save Akane from the prince by turning into a woman to seduce him away from her, but then he realizes that the prince guards a secret spring that can lift his curse. After this the rest of the movie involves recycled comic situations leading to a climactic action sequence reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as Ranma fights the prince for Akane atop speeding minecars.
The reason why the movie is so offensive is in the way in which it chooses to approach these situations. Takahashi used the gender-bending hyjinks of the show to find touching and hilarious ways to at once undermine and reaffirm Ranma's masculinity. Ranma's curse was, indeed, a curse, and it frequently got the better of him as he would try to exploit it to gain the upperhand in a situation but end up horribly embarrassed in the process. This movie, however, sees it as some sort of "superpower" at his disposal that can be effortlessly switched on and off like a lightbulb. Also, in the series Ranma was never shown to be weaker as a woman than as a man, and much of the comedy came from him acting out of his role as a woman. Here, though, his female form is clearly shown to be inferior to his male form. For example, there is a scene where he has been tied up as a woman as bait for the prince. When threatened he screams and cries to be turned back as if he is incapable of fighting as a woman. When he finally does become male again he is suddenly able to break out of his ropes and defeat the enemy. This lobotomized "Popeye" version of Ranma's curse is a long way from the multi-layered implications it had in the show.
Indeed, the way that this film sees women is fairly offensive especially if you are familiar with the show or the manga. Even though nearly every female character is a martial artist in this movie they not once seem to take advantage of or even remember the fact. Naturally, it is Ranma and his buddies who must save all the helpless females who have been neatly dressed in skimpy attire. Furthermore, the film achieves total contempt for women when it shows them helpless even when compared to Ranma's resources as a woman. It is as if the film is saying Ranma is better at being a woman than the actually women are at being women.
In the end, it is Ranma who is endowed with all the power of both sexes as we watch him parade around kicking ass and reinventing his womanhood as yet another cheap device of his mancho ego. He is simply a contemptible character in this film, and bares only the most superficial resemblance to the hapless vision of gender contradictions he embodies in the show.
Would I recommend this movie? Obviously, no. However, I do admit it could perhaps have some entertainment value as a film unto itself. As I said, it is paced well enough, has eye-pleasing animation, and enough action to keep your attention for its length. However, I personally cannot ignore the unforgivable atrocities it commits to what the series and manga stood for. Takahashi's work was all about besmirching gender expectations in a lovingly exaggerated version of adolescent reality. Nihao My Concubine, aside from being a really bad movie title pun by Viz, is about watching unlikable caricatures do ugly things in a franchise vehicle that has no real curiosity or respect for its potent themes.
- WM, 1999.12.05
café rating (dubbed):
The basic plot is as follows: Ranma and Co. are shipwrecked on a seemingly deserted tropical island. All the women are kidnapped by Toma, the prince of the island who is looking for a bride and also guards a sacred spring that could turn Ranma back into a man for good. Ranma and Co. go in to save the women using various wacky, gender-bending hyjinks in the process until they eventually save the day. As I explained at length above, this plot, in a word, blows. It utterly lacks the ability to rise above its inane cliché, and compared to the witty, domestic plots of Takahashi's original work it is embarrassingly lame.
The animation direction itself is at least competent. The plot, inane as it is, moves along briskly enough, and it contains isolated moments of appealing animation and comedy.
The performances are decent enough, I guess, considering that limited material that the actors had to work with. They do seem exaggerated and out of character most of the time, but I would contribute this to the writers rather than the actors. For a real hoot, however, try the dubbed version of this film since Viz's horribly miscast actors are what this plot really deserves.
If there is one aspect of this movie that I cannot really criticize it is the animation quality. It is nicely done, and generally pleasing to the eye (although it seems to have been suspiciously designed to be more pleasing to the male eye, if you get what I mean).
As I am sitting here now writing this, I cannot even remember a single tune from this movie, and anything that forgettable can't be very good.
The translation quality I'll have to admit is decent enough since it accurately preserved the badness of the story.
The bottom line: there are worse movies out there (Lily C.A.T. anyone?), but on a level of sheer writing Nihao, My Concubine manages to drag itself pretty low. Some may enjoy the animation and ridiculous situations, but anyone looking for the touching gender comedy that Ranma became famous for will feel extremely ill.
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