Rumiko Takahashi


<< Back to Profile

A Look Through the Tinted Glass

Taken from conducted by Luis Reyes

A couple who has infected their son with an experimental virus continually use the youth's medically manipulated bone marrow in their avaricious attempts at alchemy. But instead of conjuring gold, the mad scientists conjure the seven lucky gods of Buddhism who end up being extremely unlucky for the family of modest means now expected to house and feed the playful deities. All the while, the fiery pre-teen longs for his parents' attention.

Rather than playing into cliches or expectations, manga artist Rumiko Takahashi ("Ranma 1/2," "Maison Ikkoku," "Urusei Yatsura") has based a career on bringing non sequiturs into the realm of sincere human emotions. The preceding synopsis of "The Golden Gods of Poverty" from Takahashi's "Rumic World Trilogy Vol. 2" at once illustrates her concern for social issues, her cynicism about man's base motives and her perverse treatment of the sacred. Takahashi's idiosyncratic wit continues to stand out in the field. This probably accounts for the host of producers, cameramen, interviewers, bright lights and big smiles shoehorned into a decoratively carpeted meeting room at the Hyatt in downtown San Diego on ComicCon weekend. Under the watchful gaze of understandably litigious administrators and scampering personnel, Akadot's Luis Reyes and Sandy Yang spoke with Takahashi.

Akadot:So the first question I have is something you've probably been asked a lot, but what do you feel is the wide appeal of your work?

Takahashi: I really can't say what the exact reason is. But I think maybe it's that the art style and the storytelling in my comics are very straightforward and easy to understand, especially genres like comedy, such as "Ranma ˝." I think this slapstick sort of comedy is universal. It just transcends any sort of borders, so I guess that might be the reason why it's so popular here.

Akadot:What about your darker work, like the "Mermaid" series and things like that?

Takahashi: Is that popular?

Akadot:Well, it's popular with me. I'm just interested in it.

Takahashi: I really can't say. I don't know (laugh).

Akadot:Ok, we'll get into more specific questions rather than worrying about these kinds of surface level issues. A lot of your fans and articles about you focus on your unique and in depth use of characterization. So I wanted to look at some of your characters and maybe try to analyze what is appealing about them. To start with, do you have a general comment about your characters? What makes you like one of your characters?

Takahashi: In developing most of my series, I think of the basic frame in which the whole story will take place and, within that frame, I think of the main character of the story, the hero and the heroine. And then, coming up with periphery characters, I try to come up with characters that will build up and bring forward the two main characters in that storyline.

Akadot:Do you ever find that sometimes those side characters become so interesting and so completely fleshed that they eclipse the central relationship?

Takahashi: It's happened (laugh).

Akadot: Specific examples?

Takahashi: Oh, for example, one of the characters in "Urusei Yatsura" called Ryunosuke. Umm…she just sort of ate up other people's characters (laugh). Took on many fans, I guess.

Akadot: Is it usually the comic characters that do this? Has there ever been a circumstance in which a dramatic character has actually eclipsed the main storyline?

Takahashi: What do you mean?

Akadot: Instead of a comic character doing it, someone who's going through a rather deep, emotional experience or something like that.

Takahashi: Just speaking generally, I don't think I've consciously ever created a character to eclipse another character. But there was an instance in "Maison Ikkoku" in which Mitaka and Godai both love Kyoko. Mitaka, however, eventually falls out of love with Kyoko and gets together with another woman. And during that whole sequence, I had a lot of Mitaka in the comic, and the readers had a great emotional response to that because they wanted to read more about Kyoko and Godai rather than the storyline about Mitaka. They complained, "Why are you drawing him so much? Why don't you concentrate on the main story?" But otherwise, I don't personally, consciously try to do anything to eclipse another character. In the process of storytelling, readers might interpret it that way.

Akadot: Well, what about a character like Godai, with his incessant pursuit of the girl he loves. What makes him a sympathetic character versus just a pathetic character? What do you feel makes him sympathetic?

Takahashi: Oh god, what a difficult question. I never thought of Godai as being a pathetic character. He's a ronin, which is basically a high school graduate who failed to pass the entrance exams for college. That is very common in Japan. So I think that the situations he gets into, all of "Maison's" readers have experienced one or two of them themselves. He's like the embodiment of a typical teen trying to make it in the world. Sure it's a comedy and a love story, so some of it is more exaggerated or deformed, but I think he is never a pathetic character, but more of a character you want to encourage or help.

Akadot:How has venturing into several genres allowed you to tackle similar themes in different ways? Are there certain themes you gravitate towards that, through different genres, you have been able to explore in different ways?

Takahashi: Do you mean several themes in a title and then a comedy or...

Akadot:Yeah, accepting the idea that each genre has its own specific vocabulary through which you express certain things in a certain way. Have you found that in each genre, you gravitate towards similar themes, like maybe forlorn love or things like that.

Takahashi: I'm not sure what you mean. 'Cause the whole question is do I see similar themes in all of these works?

Akadot:Yes, I'm sorry. I guess that is the question. Are you using similar themes and through the different genres, are you able to come to different conclusions about them?

Takahashi: I've never really thought about it. I just come up with stories so there might be similarities, but nothing real conscious.

Akadot:Well, what's your favorite genre to work in then?

Takahashi: Well, I guess I have to say that the easiest to draw would be a love comedy, but the genre that gives me a great deal of enjoyment is horror because I don't get to do it very often.

Akadot:Are you going to explore that genre more now?

Takahashi: My current series, "Inu Yasha," is definitely not a love comedy. It's my first time doing a long series about monsters and whatnot. I'm really having a good time with it and enjoying myself.

Akadot:Do you consider yourself more a storyteller or a visual artist?

Takahashi: If I were to choose between one or the other, it'd definitely be the stories.

Akadot:I know you've written a lot of manga short stories, but have you thought about maybe producing something that isn't visual based.

Takahashi: I don't think of myself as a novelist. I'm a manga artist, and I think story is the most important element in a manga, but that story also has to work with my art, so what's important to me is a story that can be visually told and relate to others. So I don't think I want to do otherwise.

Akadot:Among your inspirations, you've mentioned "Spiderman," you've mentioned "Bewitched," things like that. What literary and mythological eras do you usually reference in your work? What non-visual media are you drawn to as inspiration for your work?

Takahashi: I guess it's a bit of a bad answer, but everything gives me inspiration. Old old stories. Stories that every kid would have heard as a child in Japan. And folklore that everybody always hears. And in titles like "Urusei Yatsura," anything goes, so I have so many sources for inspiration for that title.

Akadot:Do you receive fan mail from your American audience?

Takahashi: I get some.

Akadot:What kind of things do they note as exciting about your work?

Takahashi: Most of the fan letters have the Japanese name of the title that they're writing about and they're kind enough to write in simple English all the way through. But most of the letters seem to be saying how much they love my work and how they enjoy reading it. That's the majority of the letters I get from the United States.

Akadot:What does the manga style do that the American comic book style doesn't do? Or vice versa?

Takahashi:Originally, when the "Spiderman" manga came out in Japan, it was written by an American person and just illustrated by a Japanese artist and I didn't think that the story worked all that well. And I also have a few copies of the American "Spiderman" comic and I can't read any of it, but I look at it from panel to panel. It seems very light and bright, light-hearted maybe. But when the Japanese writer came in to do "Spiderman," it became a much darker and gloomy story and I found myself really interested and drawn in by it. Maybe that says that Japanese manga readers like gory stories (laugh). I don't know.

Akadot:What is different between the light-hearted Japanese stories, like your "Ranma 1/2," and the American, light-hearted stories. What freedoms does manga allow that perhaps the American comic books tend to restrict?

Takahashi: Well, I can't really say since I'm not all that familiar with American comics, but in Japanese comics, manga, I find that most of the main characters are teenagers, usually from 10 to like 16 or 17, hardly ever any older than that in most instances. And I think most of the readers, being kids, can identify with characters of these ages. Whereas in the typical American comic, most of the characters are adults. Or if they're not adults, they're extremely young, or they're not even human at all. So, I can't say for sure, but I think that might be one of the differences.

Akadot:Yeah, I really like that. You've inspired a whole bunch of questions that I'll hopefully be able to ask at another time. Thank you very much.

Takahashi:Thank you.

--In this short and somewhat hurried interview, Rumiko Takahashi - surrounded by protruding floodlights and bustling camera crews- took the time, even after raven-like producers swooped down in consultation, to sign Sandy's "Ranma 1/2" and "Maison Ikkoku" English manga. This may be a small gesture, but it's still a testament to Takahashi's personal generosity and understanding despite the corporate glass behind which she sits. .

<< Back to Profile