Ranma 1/2 was the second manga series I started buying (the first was 3x3 Eyes), and I must admit I have a soft spot for Rumiko Takahashi's overlong kung-fu comedy. I approached this film in the way most Japanese viewers would have - basically I've read most of the 35 manga volumes and watched most of the seven anime series and 12 OVAs of Ranma 1/2, so I know who the characters are, what they can do and what has happened in the story so far.
Unfortunately however, Ranma 1/2: Big Trouble in Nekonron, China is the first Ranma 1/2 release in the UK, and this film is not the best introduction to the franchise.
As a brief overview, the titular Ranma Saotome is a prideful young martial artist who falls into a cursed spring and now turns into a girl whenever he's splashed with cold water, and back to a boy with hot water. His father Genma (cursed in the same way to turn into a giant panda) has betrothed Ranma to one of the daughters of his old friend Soun Tendo, so not only does Ranma have his water problem but he is also supposed to marry Akane, a tomboyish martial artist who doesn't like him. In to this will they/won't they story comes a huge supporting cast of rivals and suitors, some of whom are cursed to turn into various animals, which leads to one epic action packed romantic comedy that is guaranteed to entertain anyone.
Big Trouble in Nekonron, China is a spin-off film which really starts (after a huge chase sequence) with the arrival of Lychee, a Chinese girl who wants revenge on Genma and Soun's perverted old master Happosai. It seems that Happosai gave her family half a scroll which a handsome prince who had the other half was supposed to come and marry the bearer of. Now years have passed and no prince has come, so a particularly miffed Lychee travels to Japan and during the ensuing fighting the scroll falls into the hands of Akane, who happens to be holding it when the prince finally turns up! The prince sweeps her off to China and it is up to Ranma and a group of other regular characters to follow and battle the 'Seven Lucky Gods' martial artists in order to rescue her.
Ranma 1/2 is always enjoyable and this film, despite not being the best Ranma outing, is no exception. Action comes thick and fast throughout, and there is plenty of comedy for even those new to the franchise to enjoy, ranging from pure slapstick to plain silliness. The animation and design is pretty old school but it's not bad and the music and voice acting is good too, although Lychee's Chinese accent in the English dub will cause a grimace. The story is pretty standard fare for Ranma, basically being a pretty formulaic excuse for a load of fighting, but there are some great set pieces and like the manga there is enough fun to make up for the predictability. The problem is that viewers new to Ranma will be a bit perplexed as to who all the characters are, particularly during the opening chase when nearly every character to ever turn up in the series joins in. The film really makes no concessions for new viewers, no back story is introduced for any character except Lychee so you are expected to know about the character relationships and various curses and oddities that afflict them. Obviously the film was originally made to appeal to existing fans, which is why it is a shame that it is the first Ranma release in the UK.
The film is not bad, but it will hold far more appeal to existing Ranma fans than to the uninitiated. However, even for the casual viewer there is still plenty of fun to be had and there is an essential character guide included as an extra on the DVD, which will go some way to explaining things. In fairness the film is a bit cheesy in places and there are better films of a similar action comedy style available, but Ranma 1/2: Big Trouble in Nekonron, China is nonetheless an entertaining film which is worth a look if you are a fan of kung-fu and comedy.