Ranma 1/2, Vol. 13
Ryoga Hibiki has only two ambitions: Defeat his arch-rival Ranma Saotome, and win Akane's affections. Both of those come into jeopardy in the thirteenth volume of Rumiko Takahashi's "Ranma 1/2," where Ranma must deal with magical swords, old enemies, and less-than-festive goings-on.
Ryoga is wandering in the mountains when he encounters a wacky old hermit. The old man gives him the "mark of the battling god," which will make him the strongest man on earth -- except that it's a goofy smiley face. He can only erase it if he's defeated, and Ranma takes up the challenge immediately. But can he figure out how to defeat the world's strongest man, before Akane figures out Ryoga's darkest secret?
Christmas is less than merry when a pair of little kids, who believe Happosai is Santa, begin following him on his underwear raids. And Kuno wins it big when he gets a magical sword which grants three wishes -- and Ranma seizes the chance to be all man again. He goes on a date with Kuno (with Akane lurking around to make sure Kuno doesn't get frisky), and is about to get the final wish -- but only if he kisses his most loathed classmate.
Finally, an old enemy from Ranma and Ukyo's past returns: the Gambling King, who cheated little kids ten years ago, and whom the two kids defeated. Now he's come to demand payment for what Ranma bet and lost. Problem is, it's the Tendo dojo; Soun promptly kicks Ranma out until he can win it back, which he's determined to do. Problem is, Ranma is really lousy at gambling.
Ranma has always made enemies easily, and now we find out that he's been doing it since the age of five or six. And of course, the teenage martial artist has to deal with his frequent foils -- kendo-mad Kuno; Happosai, who makes his life a misery; and Ryoga. The ending of the Christmas story is a bit weak, but is made up for by Ranma's final line.
And this has some very fun (and tense) moments, like when it seems that Akane has discovered Ryoga's secret (he's really her pet pig). On the other hand, Takahashi throws in some funny physical humour, like Ranma scouring Ryoga's stomach, Kuno's assorted wishes, and poor Ryoga doing an unwitting striptease in front of a ladies' club.
One nice touch is the deepening of the Ranma-Ryoga relationship, which has always hovered somewhere between rivalry and friendship. Ranma admits this out loud, when he offers to help Ryoga because "you're the only man I consider my rival." Nice touch there. And of course, we discover that Ranma is a lousy gambler, and that there are things (kissing a guy) even he won't do to undo his curse.
Un-merry Christmas, same-sex smooches and stomach graffiti provide plenty of smiles in the thirteenth volume of "Ranma 1/2."