The Ranma 1/2 Subreddit is Repeating History

When you get older you start to see cycles. Things that are new and horrifying to you, later in your life, you can recontextualise those things compared to other new things. I saw the Soviet Union collapse and I saw 9/11 happen within ten years of one another, and uh, that prepared me for basically nothing. Bad example. Oh the financial crash of 2007, which led to a financial crash of, uh, you know what maybe I picked some bad examples. But you know one thing that’s cyclical in a way that can be appreciated and not a huge bummer?


A screencap from the anime Ranma 1/2. It depicts Ranma, Soun, Shampoo, Ryouga and Mousse. They are just posing.

Platforms come and go and when platforms are convenient to build on, fandoms will form and reform on platforms. Old cliques and ideas be fled and new societies will bloom around the same core texts and they will always differ, they’ll always have their own varieties and peculiarities, but some things, some things will endure.

Like Ranma ½ discourse.

I first arrived on the internet fandom spaces through newsgroups. Newgroups were a purely text medium that could produce huge amounts of information because it eschewed a lot of what you consider standardised formatting, and access to images and file transfer (and yes Decay, I know you could do file transfer on USENET but it wasn’t convenient), but the point was that if you wanted a content pipe in the late 90s, websites were slow and the real avalanche of media, the real Infinite Scroll, was the newsgroup. And the newsgroup had its drama and its threads and its trends and one thing it didn’t have a lot of was institutional memory.

You know how on tumblr, you can pin a post to the top of your feed so anyone who checks in on you can see the thing you think is most important as a reference document? Or you can link to things? Yeah, USENET  didn’t really have that. It didn’t have nothing, there were FAQs and links and people would save text files on online storage spaces like Crosswinds (four whole meg of free ad-less storage), but that was routing around it, and there were people – genuinely – mad that the solution to this lack of memory involved booting up a second application, because,

And I swear this is an opinion I saw,

‘There’s no good internet browser yet.’

A screencap from the anime Ranma 1/2. It shows Ranma fighting with an evil doll.

Anyway, and one of those mega-fandoms that existed across multiple newsgroups was Ranma ½, in the spread of spaces with names like rec.arts.anime.fandom and rec.arts.anime.misc and to this day I have no idea what the difference between those two is. These spaces would talk about all kinds of anime of the day, with oldies and not-goodies and all sorts of different conversations, but also, overwhelmingly, any given conversation could wind up at talking about Ranma ½. And of that community, a number of them were straight boys, and still are!

There are conversations, in this time, that we had. Then we had them again. Then we had them again. Over time they got refined through repetition. That refinement discarded old points, routed through optimal ways to explain them until by the time I stopped checking USENET, there are some points which we handled in a very ‘oh yeah, the time knife’ way, which was incomprehensible to newcomers.

And then I fell out and I understand that those social groups moved on to other platforms. I assume that when twitter, when tumblr, when all of those ilk started to make their own spaces, then inevitably, whatever Ranma ½ fandom exited formed there and found its own patterns. I know that fanfiction websites would fight each other over Ranma ½ and there are places with different trends. You might imagine that fanfiction sites aren’t a place for discussion, but they are places with incentive systems, so you can get praise or comments on your fanfiction, there’s a way the audience can express the character of a place. Basically, if one place has a bunch of Ranma ½ fanfiction that’s all about Ryouga’s cooking troubles, that’s probably because there were more people with a drive to make that there, and felt they could make it there, and people could not adequately discourage it through their feedback options.

There are some ideas in Ranma ½ that are now, thanks to this early period of my life, kind of codified and obvious. Like just for example:

  • Akane is probably straight, given she expresses minimal interest in women and her interest is mostly isolated to Ranma
  • Ranma isn’t the best fighter in the series; he’s actually more often than not, a loser, with about ten recurring characters who clean his clock consistently
  • The anime constantly makes up new stories that can be wildly contradictory and shouldn’t be considered any kind of truth, while the manga tends to be more consistent
  • Akane hitting Ranma is pretty low key and largely only ever in response to meaningful infringements on her wellbeing
  • If you think Ranma’s curse seems really easy and manageable, you should look up the idea of informed consent gender care

Are these things true?

A screencap from the anime Ranma 1/2. It depicts Ranma holding a coin.

Probably. Maybe. I haven’t reread Ranma ½ in years! I want to – I actually planned to do a reread or something, like a podcast or video series? I don’t know. But the point is, there’s, in my mind, this sort of settled conversations from years and years of history and of these old arguments are done.

Now imagine how it feels to look at the Ranma ½ subreddit, and see as people who were born in this century are learning about Ranma ½ and asking the question:

“Hey, why didn’t Ranma just do this to make his curse more manageable?”

And some of the things are kind of obviously time-based. I don’t mean people are saying ‘why don’t they just use smartphones?’ but also things like ‘why do people react to a crossdresser like this?’ where the answer is oh my god you have no idea how homophobic Japan was in the 80s. And sometimes it’s new spins on old conversations, like how Ranma’s gender is masc, and so whether or not his body complies with that shape doesn’t change anything, and that means Akane is definitely straight, as long as Ranma considers himself masc even in his femme body. Because that’s a thing that really happens.

The discourse around Ranma ½ is wonderful and silly in hindsight because of how much of it wound up accidentally including a lot of really meaningful history and cultural context, just as a byproduct of who it attracted. If you liked the manga in the 90s, you were downloading fan translations or scans, you were probably having to contextualise text, or buy imported goods. A body of people invested in Ranma ½ were obviously trans people who hadn’t yet necessarily learned about or brought that full knowledge to bear, and so as they learned about it, they started integrating that knowledge into this conversation, which meant that a lot of us who weren’t reading Gender Trouble were getting a filtered version of it through conversations about whether or not it was gay to want to see Herb’s tits.

And now, it’s happening all over again, but on Reddit, with reddit’s strange dynamics, and also, there are weirdo ancient internet folks like me, going: We doing this? Are we doing this? We are doing this.

What the heck.