Mitsuru Adachi article published in Animerica Vol. 10, No. 9, September 2002
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.Mitsuru Adachi's name is synonymous with sports manga, especially baseball stories. He's been an MVP in the weekly Shonen (first o long) Sunday comics anthology since the 1980's, and his longest running titles, Touch and H2, are two of the best loved sports comics of all time. Of course, there's more to Adachi than just his remarkable ability to draw sports in action. When he does write about sports, they are often used as a backdrop for the characters' lives, the stage on which the stories are set. It's the subtlety and humanity with which he writes his stories that make him a master and worthy of more recognition outside of Japan.
Let's get something straight right off the bat. One of the characteristics which distinguishes Adachi is his ability to work both within and outside of the genre which made him a star. Take for example Niji-iro Tohgarashi (Rainbow-colored Peppers). Although Adachi swears it takes place in the future, the setting is similar to Japan's Tokugawa Era (about 200-300 years ago), and it includes environmental themes and bloody fighting. Itsumo Misora (Always Misora) is a strange, amusing, supernatural tale of a girl destined to be the first Japanese actress to win an Oscar. The comic Jinbe (long e) revolves around the complicated relationship between Jinpei Takanashi and his adopted daughter. In Hiatari Ryoko! (both o's long) (Wonderfully Sunny!), the heroine moves in with her aunt who has four male, teenaged borders! It's the perfect set up for a sitcom, but Wonderfully Sunny! focuses more on the characters and romance, as the often bickering leads learn to appreciate one another. So never doubt that Adachi can do more than sports stories.
Adachi can do humor. The situation in Rough finds the romantic leads, who used to know each other as children, meeting again in high school only to realize their families run rival confectionary shops. Slow Step's Minatsu has to lead a double life in order to hide from the yakuza (Japanese mafia); this results in romantic confusion when both she and her secret identity get admirers! The heroine and hero of Wonderfully Sunny! meet in a method which will remind any Ranma ½ fan of that famous first ofuro scene (Wonderfully Sunny! predates Ranma ½ by eight years, by the way).
Although he leans toward light-hearted stories, Adachi can also do drama. Anyone who's experienced Touch can never forget the heart-breaking event which completely changes the feel and direction of the story and its characters. Or try the perils of the seven half-siblings of Rainbow-colored Peppers who must cope with extra-terrestrial imperialists and a power hungry uncle who'd prefer them dead. The emotion-packed story of Jinbe (long e) is so compelling, they made a live-action TV drama out of it.
Another great Adachi quality is that his heroes are never the cool, together, good looking characters. After all, who can relate to that? Instead, his leading roles tend to be more average and usually have everyday flaws. Because of his childhood desire not to outshine his younger twin, Tatsuya from Touch turns into a teen who has an inferiority complex and lacks focus. H2's Haruka is sweet, sincere and a terrible klutz, making it difficult for her to get people to take her seriously. By using imperfect characters, Adachi makes them more appealing and accessible to a wider audience.
One of the other creative aspects which makes Adachi's work so wonderful is the simple fact that he seldom tells us how the characters feel. Instead, he shows us...or not, depending on what will make the story more interesting for the readers. In Touch, we are as uncertain as the twins about Minami's romantic preference. It is with the subtlest of expressions that the hulking, fearsome Sakamoto reveals to Wonderfully Sunny!'s Yusaku (first u long) (and the audience) his secret infatuation, transforming Sakamoto from a would-be antagonist into a sympathetic character. The title story for the Short Program anthology, as with many of the stories in the collection, has a surprising twist at the end when the true nature of the leading man is finally revealed. It is this sense of not knowing, of slowing learning about the characters as the story progresses, which is likely the most addictive quality of Adachi's work. Like people in the real world, Adachi's characters are usually complex, three-dimensional individuals, people you can not get to know too well after just a few pages. But his work is so subtly compelling that just a few pages is all it takes to get his readers involved and wanting to know more.
Adachi's characters live closer to the real world than those of many other artists. His teenaged protagonists do not exist in an age vacuum, where all they come in contact with are other teens or the occasional token adult. Adachi's characters interact with parents, teachers, coaches, neighborhood kids, and even pets; they are surrounded by regular, everyday people. Neither are all the characters beautiful, as happens in too many manga. His characters come in every size, shape and age. He enjoys playing off of his audience's preconceptions. By doing so, Adachi reminds us people are seldom what they seem on the surface, bringing humanity and realism into even his most fanciful stories.
In 1969, Adachi began his career at the tender age of 18 while working as an assistant for Isami Ishii (750 Rider). Since his debut in 1970 with the short story Kieta Bakuon (The Boom That Disappeared), he has published over 125 collected volumes composed not only of shonen (long o) titles, but shojo (first o long) and seinen stories as well. He has crafted lengthy series and short stories with equal skill, taking everyday life and turning it into wonderful tales which are usually as thoughtful as they are entertaining. All you have to do is flip through one of his manga to appreciate his artistic talent, to see he is a master of gesture, expression, and layout, but it is his skill as a story teller, his quiet insight into human nature which elevates him above the crowd.
For those of you who still doubt Adachi's genius, who question how stories without flashy, exaggerated characters nor life-and-limb situations can be addictively engaging, just pick up an English copy of Short Program. A picture is worth a thousand words, and Short Program will tell you much more than this article can about why Adachi's one of the most beloved manga artists in Japan, and deservingly so. For those of you who already appreciate Adachi's genius, you have something to look forward to--a translation of Short Program 2 will start running in Animerica Extra this September!