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Through Otaku Eyes / Love Conquers All, and Takahashi Proves It

by Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
October 3, 2008

Who is the artist who played the greatest role in the "globalization" of Japanese manga?

It might be Akira Toriyama, whose Dragon Ball became synonymous with manga. Or it might be Katsuhiro Otomo, who showed his skill at precise description in Akira, or Naoko Takeuchi, who excited enthusiasm among girls across Europe and the United States with her Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. Or maybe it's Fujio F. Fujiko, as there can hardly be a child in Asia who doesn't know Doraemon.

All these names are necessary when talking about Japanese manga's foreign expansion.

But I'm beginning to think it may be the works of Rumiko Takahashi that showed the world the essence of manga more widely and deeply in and after the 1980s.

I am sometimes surprised by how widely her works are known while talking with people in the manga industry abroad. Pascal Lafine, editor in chief of Tonkam, a publishing company in France, told me about his considerable feeling for Takahashi's hit manga series, Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku. Lau Wan Kit, a Hong Kong cartoonist who won the top prize in the second annual International Manga Award contest hosted by the Japanese Foreign Ministry for artists based overseas last month, said Takahashi is one of the mangaka he respects. Russian Japanologist Ivan Sergeevich Logachov loved Takahashi's Ranma 1/2 so much that he finally translated it into Russian.

There may be mangaka who have sold more copies abroad than Takahashi has, but in many cases a certain title or artist is especially popular in one area and not so much so in others. Takahashi is a rare case in that her works are evenly popular over many parts of the world.

According to Shogakukan Inc., her works have been published in 25 countries and in about 30 languages. It is mainly because Takahashi has kept on creating hit manga for the 30 years since her debut, and many of her representative works have been adapted as animated television programs and her works appeal to all age groups.

But I think there is more. Takahashi, who debuted as a mangaka in 1978 with Urusei Yatsura, was the first mangaka to apply a woman's touch to manga for boys magazines, adding sparks of love to her stories. The move created a romantic comedy boom in the 1980s in boys' magazines, highlights of which included Kimio Yanagisawa's Tonda Kappuru, Mitsuru Adachi's Touch and Hidenori Hara's Sayonara Sankaku.

It was a time when an increasing number of boys began openly enjoying girls' manga, showing the so-called otome-nization of boy readers, which referred to boys enjoying feelings that used to be expressed only in manga for otome (girls). The birth of otaku and the emergence of moe (pronounced "mo-eh")--which literally means "budding" and describes the sensation of being blissfully overwhelmed by cuteness or attractiveness--must have not been unrelated to the trend.

Through meeting manga fans in foreign countries, I have found the great charm they too find in manga is the feeling of sparks of love. Lau succeeded in the world of Hong Kong manga, which had been dominated by kung-fu action stories, by bringing a love story into it for the first time. In France, there is a female mangaka who creates a romantic school comedy with a Japanese mangalike atmosphere. The changes in sensitivity that occurred among manga readers in Japan in the 1980s now seem to be spreading among young people around the world.

So you will understand the greatness of Takahashi if you reflect that she is the person who launched this trend. I almost believe that the globalization of manga is actually the globalization of the feeling of sparks of love. (Oct. 3, 2008)


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