Gender panic situations are nothing new in entertainment. Both humorous situations and serious cultural introspection can be achieved through gender panic, either through a cross-dressing or sexually ambiguous character. The titular character Ranma of the manga Ranma ½, a character who is male but sexually ambiguous, is surprisingly very different from Napier’s view of a gender panicked character. He has a very firm idea of exactly what he is, even when other non-cursed characters around him are horribly confused, understands the shortcomings associated with each sex he can become, and even seems to use his sex-changing curse to his advantage. He is clearly far from panicked, if not downright comfortable with, his position. Ranma’s fiancé Akane, on the other hand, matches Napier’s description of masculine panic perfectly, though her violence and treatment of Ranma and other male characters.
Gender panicked characters, especially those used as social commentary, have been common in Japanese literature, especially since, as Napier claims, “both [Japanese] men and women increasingly question their assigned roles in society” (119). These characters range from two separate individuals of different genders/sexes having connected bodies (Seiji and Midori of Midori Days), two separate souls of different genders/sexes sharing one body (Lia and D’Eon in Le Chevalier D'Eon), or one person who changes between sexes (Randó in Pretty Face). Regardless of the situation, one thing remains the same; a good portion of the manga is concerned with the awkwardness that the sex-changed character(s) feels for changing sex, often deliberately putting said characters into situations that compromise their identity to get a ‘rise’ out of the character. Bathhouses, physical exams, and other cases that may provide a ‘reveal’ to others or remind the character that ‘the sex they appear may not be the gender or sex they actually are’ are common situations for these characters.
Ranma, while often ending up in the same clichéd situations, never seems to be uncomfortable with his other sex body. At the beginning of the manga, he has had his curse for no more than a few months, however, he is seen multiple times walking around Akane’s dojo topless- even in his girl form! He is so comfortable with both bodies that he even makes jokes about his female endowments at Akane’s and her sisters’ expenses. Even at the outset of the manga, when he is introduced to Akane’s family as a girl, he does little to correct the situation, and is left undiscovered until Akane goes to join ‘her’ in the communal family bath. While it is apparent through his desire to rid himself of his curse that he prefers his original boy form, he doesn’t mind walking around as a woman.
In contrast to many other manga characters whose sex or gender is compromised, Ranma also seems to understand the limitations and expectations of his female body. Unlike his general ambivalence towards his outward appearance, he has a very clear understanding of how strong, nimble, and fast he is while having a female body. In multiple fights, such as the one that spans through chapters twelve and thirteen, Ranma fights his former classmate Ryoga as both a male and then a female, and must change his fighting style when he becomes a girl. Strangely enough, his fighting style while a boy is quite acrobatic and feminine, while his fighting style as a girl is more aggressive, possibly to make up for the lack of strength he has in that form.
What is most interesting of all in Ranma ½ is Ranma’s use of his girl form. While he does not exploit his feminine body until much later in the series for favors from men, he does do more than use his feminine side for jokes at Akane’s expense. Especially when it came to interacting with Kuno, Ranma was able to understand and use the fact that Kuno fights against women quite differently than he does against men. In chapter five, he uses this fact to throw Kuno off guard and steal his bóken with ease.
As much as Ranma, the young boy with a sex-changing curse, does not fit Napier’s description of gender panic, Akane does. Her handling of violence and treatment of men showcase her panic. Napier mentions this panic as the “Japanese masculine psyche stripped of a coherent, integrated sense of identity and bereft of meaning and purpose” (144). Ranma has purpose- he wants to remove the curse he has from his body. Despite having none of the physical confusion that Ranma has (and deals quite well with) Akane has all of the mental confusion that Napier’s stereotypical panicked character has.
The visible manifestations of Akane’s panic come in the form of extreme tension while in contact with men. When she first meets Ranma when he is a woman, she wishes to befriend him and have a friendly sparring match where her moves are simple and fluid. Upon discovering that Ranma is really a man, she begins to be on edge towards him. Every joke from Ranma (or even a look in her direction in the bathroom later in the evening), leads her to lash out, typically in the over-the-top beastly manner with violent punches and hurling massive pieces of furniture. This double standard is a clear indication that Akane herself has an identity crisis. Her panic towards men seems to belie her own insecurity of what it means to be a woman, possibly because she sees herself as more of a male than female in the social sphere. To her, Ranma is a freak precisely he is something that she feels that she would like to be. He can be physically a woman, retain the mind of a man, and the body of one, and switch back and forth at his own convenience.
This lack of gender fluidity and panic shows itself not just in Akane’s interactions with Ranma. An even clearer indication of this bestial panic occurs for her each and every morning. Upon arriving at school, she is beset by every single male student, attacking her, trying to win against her in a fight to take her out on a date. She has the acrobatic ability and speed to run straight past them all and into the school (Takahashi, 125) but, for one reason or another, chooses to fight them each and every morning, roundhouse kicking and jabbing with intense ferocity. It is almost to the point where she is trying to make up for the fact that she is a woman by fighting. Of all the characters of Ranma, she is certainly the most confused in her gender role in society.
The only notable exception in her treatment towards men is her treatment of Dr. Tofu. To her, he is a different sort of man, solving violence in lieu of creating it, unlike any other man Akane seems to come into regular contact with, as even her own father is an esteemed martial artist. This sort of healing as almost feminine, as Dr. Tofu has subtle ways of subduing his patients (Takahashi, 157), rather than the aggressive, even brutal, forms of martial arts the other men practice. His body is slender and meek, too, and Akane seems to relate to, even love, him. It appears to be a heterosexual relationship with Akane in the male roles and Dr. Tofu in the female.
Ultimately, it is Akane, not Ranma who has the most gender-role instability, despite Ranma actually having a physical affliction affecting his sex. While Ranma has adapted to his unusual situation extremely well, Akane, who never had the opportunity to see what the other side of the gender and sex line is like, can only speculate, pretend, and remain insecure.
Napier, Susan Jolliffe. Anime from Akira to Howl's moving castle: experiencing contemporary Japanese animation. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print.
Takahashi, Rumiko. Ranma 1/2. Vol. 1. San Francisco: Viz, 2008. Print.