Rumiko Takahashi article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 3, No. 7, June 2000
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
You have to have been living under a rock if you haven't heard of Rumiko Takahashi, or at least some of her stories. She's been creating comics for over twenty years, and there are few artists who have equaled her success. With three world-famous series and a fourth currently running, there can hardly be a manga fan who hasn't come across a Rumiko Takahashi title; over one hundred million collected volumes have been sold! Naturally, with such successful manga, there has also been animation --tons of it. More than four hundred fifty TV episodes, two dozen videos, and twenty films have been based on her manga. Ranging from romantic comedy to horror, her work demonstrates that she is not only a highly talented comic artist, but a diverse one as well.
THE BIG FOUR
Urusei Yatsura (Lum*Urusei Yatsura) is the story which made Rumiko Takahashi a star. Debuting September 1978 in the comic anthology Shonen Sunday, this hilarious boy-meets-alien comedy gained young Takahashi a nomination as Shogakukan's New Artist of the Year. By October 1981, the story had its own TV show. Since then, countless fans around the world have become hooked on anime and manga because of this series and its most recognizable character, Lum. Anyone who has ever read or watched it can see the appeal. Not only is our heroine sexy, sweet and full of fire (well, OK, lightning), but she is surrounded by a supporting cast of uniquely crazy characters.
Having always been a fan of science fiction, it's understandable that Takahashi would have lots of it in her first title. Drawing on Japanese mythology for "those obnoxious aliens" was a fairly unique idea at the time and broadened the possibilities for unusual plots like nothing else could. The episodic stories meandered from historic Japan to outer space and everywhere in between. The single-minded determination of Lum's quest to get Ataru to admit his feelings for her, combined with the humorous new spin on Japanese traditions and life, has made this story a permanent home for itself in the hearts of fans.
"Taken as a whole, Maizon Ikkoku is the best romantic comedy in comics history." This is what comic writer and columnist Tony Isabella wrote in issue 1373 of the Comic Buyer's Guide, and he is not alone in that opinion. Arguably the best of Rumiko Takahashi's titles, Maizon Ikkoku was written for an adult audience and has none of the elements of fantasy or science-fiction found in most of her other work. This is one of the aspects which makes the series so endearing to fans, for no lightning bolts or magic are required to make its characters appealing and convey its comedy.
In Maizon Ikkoku, we see that, to find quirky characters, you don't have to look any farther than your own neighborhood. The idea for this story came from Takahashi's speculation as to what kinds of people lived in the boarding house next door. The "wacky hijinks" of impoverished wannabe college student Godai slowly evolve from vain attempts to fulfill boyish fantasies to the more meaningful struggle to earn a living while reaching for his goals of a stable career and winning manager Kyoko's affections. Godai almost never gets a break, and misunderstandings abound. Not only does Takahashi make this story funny and engaging without other-worldly elements, unlike the rest of her series (so far), Maizon Ikkoku actually has a real ending! This is yet another reason why, if you're only going to read one Takahashi series, this is the one you should get.
Five times Anime Expo attendees have given the SPJA award for best male character to Ranma, so he's gotta' be doing something right! With the end of both Maizon Ikkoku and Urusei Yatsura in 1987, there was some speculation as to whether Rumiko Takahashi could produce another smash hit. Fans of Ranma ½ might well wonder how there could have been any doubt. After all, Takahashi is one of the most industrious comic artists of all time, seeming to thrive under the grueling pressures of her publishing schedule.
The new story in Shonen Sunday was an immediate success. With a willful main character, who changes sexes with water, unwillingly engaged to a tomboy who hates guys, how could it not be funny? With both lead characters and more than half the cast skilled in martial arts, how could it not be action-packed? Add to that the exotic (if stereo-typical) element of Chinese culture, and you've got quite a combination. So it's not much of a surprise that Ranma ½ is Takahashi's most successful, longest running manga.
Voted the best manga at 1999's Anime Expo, Rumiko Takahashi's current big series, Inu Yasha, introduces us to yet another unique story idea. Instead of aliens, whether from outer space or China, Takahashi turned to Japan's historic Warring States period to bring unusual characters into the life of our heroine, Kagome. Magic, not martial arts or science fiction, provides the source of action and motivation in this story.
Kagome, the current eldest child in a long line of priests, is pulled into the past. There, she and the dog demon Inu Yasha set out on a quest to gather the pieces of the shattered Shikon no Tama*, which gives great power to super-natural beings. Less episodic than its Shonen Sunday predecessors, in this story Rumiko Takahashi finally gets to use her talents with horror on a regular basis as well as thrill us with her well-honed skills for depicting action. Full of strange characters and dramatic battles, Inu Yasha has also become a fan favorite. The TV series, due out this fall, has been eagerly anticipated by fans since the comic began.
Besides her four big titles, Rumiko Takahashi has also published a diverse collection of shorter series and compilations. The Mermaid saga is a cult favorite, both here and in Japan. It follows the dark tales of Yuta (long u), a man made immortal by tasting the flesh of a mermaid and living to tell the tale.
Less familiar to U.S. fans is Ichi Pondo no Fukuin (One Pound Gospel), the story of Kosaku, a boxing hopeful and the nun-in-training who tries to have faith in him. Published in Young Sunday, this story has been written now and again for more than a decade, with the third compiled book released in 1996.
Almost unknown to U.S. fans is the one-book series Dasuto Supato!! (Dust Spot!!*). Published by Pocket Comics in 1980, this obscure tale about an unusual trio of crime fighters is one of Takahashi's earliest works. Yura is a beautiful girl who's the muscle of the team. Tamura has the ability to teleport from any source of trash to any other source of trash, and Sekoi, a dead ringer for Maizon Ikkoku's Yotsuya, is the team's connection to the secret HCIA organization. If this combination sounds familiar, that could be because five Dust Spot!! stories appeared in one of the Rumic World collections published by Shonen Sunday Books.
The three Rumic World manga showcase a wide variety of short stories, ranging from slapstick to horror. Three of those stories, Fire Tripper, Super Gal, and Warau Hiyoteki (long o) (Laughing Target) were turned into videos in the mid-1980's and remain fan favorites to this day. More recently, there have also been P no Higeki (P's Tragedy), 1 or W (One or Double) and Senmu no Inu (The Conductor's Dog), Takahashi's 1990's trio of short story manga. The stories range from the trials and tribulations of housewives in unusual situations to love beyond the grave. These latest compilations reveal even more facets of Takahashi's creative skills. Fans can only hope a few of the new tales will be made into videos in the future.
THE ART OF COMICS
So with all these different stories and characters, what is it that makes Rumiko Takahashi's work so popular? While she has comedic genius and a knack for creating appealing, distinctive characters, there's much more to her talents than the cute girls and laughs normally associated with her. Quite simply, she is a master of graphic story telling. Whether she's writing about fuzzy little fox spirits or man-eating mermaids, the timing and flow of her stories, from one page to the next and one panel to the next, grabs hold of her readers and pulls them into her many entertaining worlds. This woman knows how comics work!
Inu Yasha's powerful, mystical Shikon no Tama* is introduced to the reader with an emotionally-charged, tragic opening. Kagome receives the talisman with an appropriately dramatic close up, but when the reader turns the page the charm has been reduced to a tiny speck as Kagome, unimpressed with the bauble from her grandfather, uses it as a cat's toy.
In Ranma 1/2, when Akane, thinking to bathe with her female house guest, discovers Ranma really is a boy, the slow, quiet two-page experience happens without words. This only emphasizes the extremely loud, frenetic reaction from Akane which follows. It is this kind of well constructed layout which adds impact to Takahashi's stories and humor.
Rumiko Takahashi is equally skilled in portraying romance, action, and horror. Who could forget the build-up to Godai and Kyoko's first kiss? Eight panels of alternating framed and unframed lip shots which grow gradually more close-up. It's enough to drive a reader nuts! And it makes the "accidental" kiss two pages later all the more exciting.
Almost all of Rumiko Takahashi's comics have action in them, most of it done with fantastic perspective, speed lines and choreography. Take the fight between Kuno (long o) and Ranma in Ranma 1/2, chapter 7 "Soon You'll Know."* Because Ranma is repeatedly portrayed as smaller and in a weaker position (plus Kuno actually lands a few on him), the reader share's Akane's anxiety that Ranma might be beaten. Kuno's bokken menaces Ranma with lots of powerful, fast-moving motion lines. Then, with a turn of a page, everything changes with one, big, beautiful panel, where Ranma lands multiple kicks, before casually hopping away. The precision of those kicks --standing out against a solid black background, with hardly a motion line-- highlights Ranma's calm control and fighting prowess.
Some of Rumiko Takahashi's best examples of horror are the Mermaid stories. The dark, quiet, expansive shots in the beginning of Mermaid's Scar accentuate the contrast between the orderly mansion and the sprawling figure of Masato's "mother" as the boy cleans up the bloody floor. The last of the four, equal-sized panels which close the scene shows Masato sitting small in the center of the huge, unlit room, saying "Mother" to the body beside him. This four-page sequence of images, punctuated by that one phrase, is arranged to put the reader off balance and set the tone for the creepiest, most chilling of all the Mermaid stories.
THE PRINCESS OF MANGA
With so much success and talent, it's not surprising to find Rumiko Takahashi's work has had a big influence on manga in Japan. Since Urusei Yatsura, the theme of other-worldly girls becoming infatuated with average earth guys has become a staple of the industry, with numerous other fan favorites, such as Tenchi Muyo!, Ah! My Goddess and Video Girl Ai, repeating the pattern. Countless other artists have echoed her style.
The success of her manga has also affected the anime industry. Not only has copious amount of animation been based on her manga, but Takahashi's work has been animated by some of the best in the biz, including such greats as director Mamoru Oshii (Patolabor, Ghost in the Shell) and artist Akemi Takada (Kimagure Orange Road, Patolabor)*.
Rumiko Takahashi has also had an impact on U.S. comics, drawing many new fans into manga and anime and inspiring creators like Ben Dunn (Ninja High School, Warrior Nun Areala)*.
Thanks to the popularity of Takahashi titles, more manga and anime is now available in English than would have been without the success of her U.S. manga. Also, her work has inadvertently taught her foreign readers much about Japanese culture. Tatami mats and okonomi-yaki are no longer strange to her fans, and the contemporary meaning of the word "ronin" is now known to people around the world. All this from a petite woman, born in the modest capital of Niigata, who grew up to make it big in the Japanese manga industry. Add to it that she's done it all as a woman in a man's world, and you have more than a talented artist, you have a legend.
According to the 1997 Writers of Comics in Japan, in the 1980's Rumiko Takahashi was "the first female artist to become a yardstick for shonen manga." Since she made it to the top, she hasn't looked back. Her popularity refuses to wane, neither in Japan nor abroad. She's said she wants to write shonen manga until she dies, promising years of new entertainment to her fans across the planet. As the result of two decades at the top of the charts and tons of talented effort in the field, Rumiko Takahashi has been dubbed by some as the "Princess of Manga." Long may she reign!
Sorry, I don't know the VIZ name for Shikon no Tama.
I always thought the title Dasuto Supa-to meant Dust Spot, but if you prefer something else, or VIZ has published any of it, please use that name.
Is "Soon You'll Know" the name you used for Ranma ½, chapter 7?
If you can pull any more famous types who've worked on Takahashi stuff out of your hat, please do! I prefer doing things like that in threes.
Any other Takahashi inspired U.S. comic artists would be cool, too.