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Ranma 1/2 and The Performance of Femininity

“When the constructed status of gender is theorized as radically independent of sex, gender itself becomes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and femininea male body as easily as a female one” –Judith Butler

Due to a dip in a cursed spring in Jusenko, China, the main character of Rumiko Takahashi’s hit manga and anime Ranma 1/2 changes from male to female through the mechanism of different temperatures of water. Cold water turns Ranma into a girl; hot water produces the male body. Ranma-chan (or “cute Ranma”) refers to the female version of the character that was born male. This “curse” allows for a unique investigation of gender; Ranma-chan is a male’s performance of femininity.

At the risk of sounding redundant, Ranma-chan’s performance of femininity is, well, cute. This invokes a specific set of characteristics that one would classify as “cute”: wide, batting eyes; a flirtatious demeanor; and posturing that includes shrugged shoulders and inclining the head to one side. When trying to gain the upper hand, Ranma-chan is animated with sparkling, exaggerated eyes, will obviously feign innocence, and bring a hand to the mouth. One specific example would be at the beginning of the second full-length movie, Nihao My Concubine, Ranma-chan antagonizes another character about his alternative form due to the same Jusenko curse, and tries to avoid the ensuing fight by saying, “you silly Ryoga. Don’t get mad. C’mon!” This is done in a suggestive manner, both hands up to the mouth, with big, sparkling eyes. While it doesn’t award Ranma the reprieve s/he was aiming for, it is a “cute” performance of femininity.

Ranma repeatedly demonstrates that s/he understands the power dynamic of the cuteness of femininity; in male form, he is controlled by the cuteness of other women. S/he is unable to fight with women, saying simply, “I don’t fight girls.” They are awarded a place that is, arguably, higher than men. This invokes the tradition of Elizabeth I who sat in a position of power and controlled male violence by putting herself on a Petrarchan pedestal: creating an image of being the unattainable, cold mistress. Many of Ranma’s troubles revolve around the manipulative flirtations of Shampoo and Ukyo. They offer gifts of food and seek to go on “dates” with him/her. Their styles of flirtation vary: Ukyo gets giggly and overwhelmed when Ranma shows any sign of affection, while Shampoo actively tries to hug and kiss Ranma (no matter what sex Ranma happens to be at that time). Both are considered examples of being “cute,” and infuriate Akane, Ranma’s fiancé. Ranma claims innocence in these situations; the “cute” women are the ones that have power over him/her.

Akane, Ranma’s fiancé and “true love,” is set apart from the other women in Ranma’s life by her aggressive “uncuteness.” (“You are so uncute,” is repeated in the show so much that I have learned the Japanese phrase.) Despite Ranma’s protestations of innocence, Akane assigns blame to him/her and will hit him/her (sometimes with a mallot) rather than the other woman involved. Akane exhibits many “masculine” traits: she trains in Kenpo, is a terrible cook, and maintains that she “hates boys.” It was the fact that Ranma is “part-girl” that led to Akane’s sisters pushing for her to be the one their father arranged to marry to Ranma. Ranma-chan is much “cuter” than her and more successful in his/her performance of femininity, despite his/her stock phrase, “I’m a guy!” Akane presents a balance to Ranma’s femininity: a performance of masculinity.

Ranma 1/2 is, overall, rather queer, but the relationship between Akane and Ranma is, debatably, the gayest. The role-reversal of the “boy” Ranma performing the “feminine” act and the girl Akane demonstrating the “masculine,” is a shift in the pre-established power dynamic of women controlling men through “cuteness.” Akane is unaffected by Ranma’s “cuteness,” and Ranma maintains that Akane is “uncute.” They have equal power in the relationship. The attraction between Ranma and Akane is deeper than any performative act, any gender binary. The series repeatedly sets up circumstances where Ranma will have to save Akane (as both a male and a female, further complicating the masculine/feminine roles), and in that act he unfailing declares, “she’s MY fiancé!” which is, for Ranma, an admission of love. This love is gender-blind.

 

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  1. goddoorq says
    November 16, 2010, 2:47 am

    I loved watching this series back in the 90s. Thanks for review, I had forgotten about it. I should go back and check them out again

    Reply
  2. goddoorq says
    November 16, 2010, 2:47 am

    At first Ranma refuses to wear girl clothes, (like the leotard in the rythmic gymnastics fight with Kodachi) and then later on in the show begins to wear more girl like clothing like for example in the date with Kuno she actally wears a skirt. But before, like around the time Ryoga makes his first appearance she doesn’t want anything to do with girl clothes at all. It seems now though that Ranma’s actually starting to get used to the girls clothes. He actually at times seems to be even more feminine than Akane herself . . . which is really strange since Akane is a real girl! (Or at least born a girl) To me, she actually seems even more “macho” than Ranma. I think it’s just strange about that.

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  3. goddoorq says
    November 16, 2010, 2:47 am

    Akane’s totally more of a guy than Ranma IS!!!

    Reply

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