Ukyou And Tarou

Ranma 1/2, as may be expected of a gag sex comedy manga that ran for a decade, has a huge cast of characters. There are a host of characters who show up for exactly one story, such as some of my favourites, Herb, Shinnosuke and Ryuu Kumon, even if their appearance stretches across multiple issues. I guess I should mention Rakkyosai at this point because hey, remember Rakkyosai? No? Just me? Anyway. Technically, the near-final arc of the story, the Phoenix Mountain Arc, features a bunch of one-hit-wonder characters too like Kiima and Saffron, and oh, hey Pink and Link are in that basket too. If you haven’t read the manga, you must trust me this is a kind of impressive, like I’m doing some strange kind of wheelie on a type of vehicle you don’t understand.

When you limit the cast of the show to just the characters who showed up in two stories or more, the characters that show up the least tends to start indicating some obscure ones. You might be surprised how rarely Kodachi shows up, for all of her significance to the anime in the early periods, or how often Gosunkugi does. Some ‘major’ characters in terms of the end-game romantic options, like Akari and Konatsu live in this space, too, where they never really ‘belong’ to the cast, but they show up at least twice to make sure you know the author didn’t forget about them. Tsubasa Kurenai is here too, in this ‘almost minor’ characters, as is the series’ weird Sexy Child Hinako Ninomiya.

These characters are great fanfodder because they both show how big your brain is when you know these relatively-obscure characters and because their appearances usually mean they have enough of an idea to do something with, but they’re also not so fleshed out you know everything about what interests them. They’re both defined and open, and that makes them great for shipping, in the way that Ranma 1/2 presented a world here you can treat every character as some component of a complex love dodecahedron. Inevitably, you look for a major character who can be, like a molecule in a specific reaction, connected to some other character with a strong enough bond that doesn’t interfere with the major players you were looking to bump into one another.

One of the most challenging characters to attach somewhere is Ukyou Kuonji, because she has both multiple obvious options (Konatsu and Tsubasa) and good reasons for not wanting to end up with either (a seemingly obvious lack of interest and he’s a shithead respectively). That leads to browsing all these other obscure characters trying to find someone Ukyou has a pre-established relationship with which would be interesting, or better yet, someone who has no relationship to her. Ukyou is a really great character, she’s long-running, you see her in a lot of circumstances, and she’s both a handsome boy and a pretty girl. In the great love triangle structure of Ranma 1/2, Ukyou was created, it seems, to be a reasonable alternative to Akane, because she’s not uh, some variety of stupid (Ryouga) or evil (Shampoo).

It is in this space my favourite Ranma 1/2 character appears; the boy whose name is an insult, the slur-popping knuckle-cracking shapeshifting monster boy, Pantyhose Tarou. Tarou for you who don’t know, is a… villain? Let’s say villain, who shows up in three stories: first time he shows up, he kidnaps Akane in an attempt to lure Happousai to him. Second time, he tries to douse Happousai with the Spring of Drowned Samaritan, but it’s actually Spring of Drowned Twins, and so Ranma fights him there to stop him from making Happousai an even bigger problem. Third time, he shows up being chased by a young lady named Rouge, who is also a Hindu god (… is this racist?), blowing him up, meaning Ranma and he have to team up to fight her. They defeat her by giving her medicated back pads, because six arms means you have at least twice as many shoulder problems.

All these adventures, especially the focus on getting Happousai is tied to the twofold problem that Happousai is dangerous as hell, and because he wants to convince Happousai to do something consensually: He needs Happousai to change his name. Which is, as I said, Pantyhose Tarou. Because Happousai is the one who named him, and it’s an obscure rule in his obscure Chinese village. And I get that, I understand wanting to change a name away from something that sucks. The challenge he gets presented with here is that Happousai is a dude who absolutely sucks, and that means that convincing him is only ever done with extreme applications of pressure, which are hard to bring to bear because Happousai is also one of the five most dangerous physical combatants in the whole series.

Of course, you could make the case that Tarou is probably up in that same space, that same kind of immensely powerful dangerbeast, because in addition to being just an immensely skilled martial artist, he’s also got the Jusenkyou curse of the Niuhōmanmaorennīchuan, or the spring of drowned “yeti holding an eel and crane while riding an ox.” Which, as I said before, yes, just glosses over ‘yetis are real’ but what it is, essentially, is a gigantic minotaur with wings that can (somehow) fly. Then he adds to it by getting another curse (drowned octopus), which adds in that if you get cursed while you’re cursed, the curses combine, so now he’s a gigantic minotaur with tentacles that can shoot ink. That’s! Sick! As! Hell!

Aaaand uh, of course, there’s also the fact that he’s an antagonistic asshole who disdains Ranma, despite being perceived, at times, as being more aggressively fem than Ranma. With uhm, some slurs? That’s… not great, that’s not ideal. Yes, it was a different time (the 1980s) and Japan has a different relationship to language but it’s a bit… rich to try and claim it’s not in the same space as a dude who throws around slurs to be edgy. Tarou is a character I have a real fondness for, despite realising as I grew older, what a big dumb shithead he is. It’s not that I’ve changed in my general take on the character – the fact he’s a competitive dipshit is an important part of his character after all!

For a long time I’ve had it in my head that Tarou, a gender-noncompliant prettyboy goon who hated his name and had a bad relationship with his dad could work well in a relationship with Uykou, a gender-noncompliant handsome girl who has a bad relationship with her dad (and also Ranma’s dad). We also don’t know how they think about one another, and in a sex comedy idiot-fest like Ranma 1/2, there’s always room for a first meeting that creates a context that lets two characters form a relationship based on whatever you want. Ukyou is into Ranma, Tarou thinks Ranma is an idiot, but Tarou also is an idiot, as might be indicated by his choices of name changes being extremely stupid. Ukyou’s someone who knows what it takes to construct a new identity (her crossdressing alter-ego), so she has a ground to at least be able to help Tarou get a handle on his relationship to his name and gender, and that’s interesting to me.

On the other hand, we also know they never meet one another, and while Ukyou’s taste in men includes at least exactly one immense idiot (Ranma), that’s based out of a very long term relationship that she’s had to reconcile through multiple stages of life. The reason these two characters can work is because their ability to work together is completely undefined. Essentially, this is a relationship of negative spaces.

This is, as best I can put it together, a ship that I have had in the back of my mind as ‘a good idea’ for nearing on twenty years. It’s detritus from old arguments on USENET newsgroups and half-read rememberings of a pre-translation version of a manga that I only now have begun to read as a whole text, and I think I probably owe quite a lot of my thinking around it on to basically one guy I haven’t spoken to in like ten years.