Rumiko Takahashi


  << Back to Profile


Rumiko Takahashi at the beginning of her career discussing the way she creates her manga in Sunday Manga Garage.
 

Written by Harley & Dylan Acres

On October 10, 1957 one of the most significant creators in Japan was brought into this world in Niigata, Japan. Rumiko Takahashi had a normal childhood, but her interest in manga seemed no more developed than that of most Japanese adolescents. She occasionally doodled in the margins of her notebooks while attending Niigata Chuo High School, but never considered tackling the difficult life of a manga creator as a profession. Even during her college years, manga had only risen to a hobby for Takahashi. During her years at Japan Women's University she enrolled in Gekiga Sonjuku, a manga school that was known for the demanding nature of its founder, Kazuo Koike (best known in the United States for Lone Wolf and Cub and Crying Freeman). Koike is a giant creator in Japan, and his personal overseeing of Takahashi's formative years clearly left an impression on her work. During her time at Gegika Sonjuku she worked alongside another up-and-comer Atsuji Yamamoto. While attending Gegika Sonjuku, she also entered Nihon Josei-dai, an exclusive women's university, where she became friends with Hanako Meijiro, a fellow manga artist and Reiko Hikawa, a fantasy writer. She also worked as an assistant under Kazuo Umezu, Japan premiere horror manga creator, who's Orochi series is considered one of the finest in the genre. Takahashi would become more noted than any of her acquaintances, and her popularity would rival, and perhaps surpass that of her instructor, Koike.


For two years Takahashi trained under Koike, who stressed the importance of interesting characters in one's stories. Takahashi's fascinating characters can be linked to lessons she learned during this time. From the perverted protagonist of Urusei Yatsura, Ataru Moroboshi, to the conflicted innocence of Angela in One-Pound Gospel, Takahashi's characters are one of a kind. Her characters break the mold established for most anime and manga archetypes. She takes care to portray women as very strong characters who break away from the traditional view of the demure, Japanese, female. Her females match her male characters in toughness and intelligence.

Almost all of her characters though are not good or evil- only human. Her characters are constantly at odds with each other and the situations they find themselves in. Rivalries flare up and die down and people fall in and out of love. For instance, the hapless Shinobu Miyake of Urusei Yatsura loves the fickle Ataru Moroboshi, but eventually grows tired of his skirt-chasing and begins to pursue Shutaro Mendo, a suave, richboy. As the series goes on it seems as if the two will finally have their moment in the sun, but it never comes and Shinobu once again moves on to find true love with Inaba.

Another shining example of Takahashi's ingenious characterization is Shun Mitaka from Maison Ikkoku. In Mitaka, Takahashi has found yet another fascinating character study. She sets him up as a perfect man who has everything going for him, money, looks, refinement; and plays him against Godai, who has nothing going for him. It would be easy for Takahashi to follow the formula of most romantic stories and make Mitaka a greedy jerk who is only out to get what he wants and then leave Kyoko, but ingeniously she takes a completely different approach. Mitaka loves Kyoko as much as Godai does, and readers are made to see that he shouldn't be judged based on his looks or his money, but what is in his heart. These ever evolving relationships in Takahashi's work are a testament to the way her characters grow throughout their published lives.

 


After graduation, Takahashi returned to honor Koike's manga school by doing a years worth of covers for the school's magazine, Gekiga Sonjuku.

 



Before signing with Shogakukan, Rumiko Takahashi's work was first published in this fanzine, Bibitto.
 

In 1976 Takahashi began putting her training to use, publishing short manga as a part of the Japan Women's University Manga Club. As part of the club she put out stories like Thus A Half of Them Are Gone and Bye-Bye Road. Her earliest years were fraught with difficult decisions for the young creator. She had to choose between entering the work force or pursuing her dream of becoming a manga artist. In Japan, not participating in the difficult process of interviewing for a job at the same age as others can negatively affect ones future. Should Takahashi try her hand at comics for a few years and find no success, the job market would not hire someone her age when there were other younger people who were just as qualified. Thus the decision to become a manga artist was a difficult one. Her parents tried to dissuade her from her chosen path, but ultimately she decided to carry on.

Her stories caught the eye of mega-publisher Shogakukan, and she was invited to publish a story for their weekly boy's magazine, Shonen Sunday. Little did Takahashi know that this magazine would become her home for the rest of the century and beyond. The story that Takahashi published was Those Selfish Aliens, her first professional work and the one that earned Takahashi the prized "New Artist Award" and gave her the opportunity to publish her first serial. The story that she was about to create would go on to be one of the most beloved series of the 1980's, Urusei Yatsura.


The rigors of publishing a weekly manga series proved difficult for the young creator. Unfortunately Takahashi had trouble meeting deadlines early on and the publication was frequently interrupted until 1980, when she finally found her niche and began publishing with regularity. After all being that she was only 20 years old, and was entering a field dominated by males, strict deadlines and schedules, Takahashi was off to a rousing start. Urusei Yatsura was offbeat and quirky, but popular.

The story was unique- a young boy with incredibly bad luck is just trying to have time with his girlfriend when an annoying monk predicts terrible things for him. The young boy, Ataru Moroboshi, is forced to compete against Lum, an alien princess, in a game of tag with the world's fate hanging in the balance. The story evolves and changes as Takahashi becomes more comfortable with her characters and storytelling abilities. Ataru goes from a hapless, unlucky high schooler into a legendary pervert. Lum, a character who was intended to become only a minor part of the story became the main focus of the series and then as years passed evolved into a Japanese icon. Looking back Takahashi says that Urusei Yatsura was easy for her to write due to the fact that she was writing for a college-aged audience, which is exactly who she was at the time.

The early years of her career were tough. In the beginning she lived in a 150 square foot apartment with her two assistants. The apartment was small, messy, and crowded from wall to wall with artistic supplies, manga, and empty ramen cartons. She often slept in a closet due to the size constraints. Her life at this time became the inspiration for her second series, Maison Ikkoku. Created in 1980 and published simultaneously with Urusei Yatsura (although it was monthly whereas Urusei Yatsura was weekly), Maison Ikkoku follows Yusaku Godai, a young man in his early twenties who is a ronin, a student who has failed the college entrance examination and now must wait a year before he can retake it. As he waits, he moves into a cheap boarding house called Maison Ikkoku and encounters the insane tenants of the building, who waste no time in making his life miserable. When he finally decides to move out, a new building manager appears in the form of Kyoko Otonashi, a gorgeous young woman who was recently become widowed. The series follows Godai trying to win the heart of the more mature Kyoko as he attempts to find his place in the world and fend of his rival for Kyoko's affections, Shun Mitaka, a suave, handsome, rich, tennis coach. The complex romantic triangle established in the series sucks readers in and creates a truly universal story about the hardships of love.

 

Takahashi's home over the course of her entire career, Shonen Sunday. She would also publish in other magazines such as Big Comic Spirits, Young Sunday, BIG GORO, Petit Comics, and Heibon Punch.

 



Takahashi in her late late 20s, while simulatneously publishing both Urusei Yatsura for Shonen Sunday and Maison Ikkoku for Big Comic Spirits.
 

Takahashi wrote Maison Ikkoku for an older audience than the other projects she was working on at the time and it shows. The series is her most realistic work. There are no aliens, martial artists, or demons- only people who are down on their luck trying to find someone they can relate to and overcome the odds life has handed them. The characterization of the series is some of the best seen in any manga series. Yusaku Godai undergoes an amazing transformation as the series moves in real time. He grows with the readers and through sheer determination he leaves behind his indecisiveness and becomes a successful, mature adult.

The pinnacle achievement for almost any manga artist is to have one of their works translated into animation. Takahashi reached this goal in 1981, guaranteeing her more notoriety, success, and fame. Urusei Yatsura began airing on television sets across Japan on October 14, 1981 and was directed by a then unknown Mamoru Oshii. Oshii would go on to become one of the most significant Japanese directors of the 1980s and 1990s with other series such as Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell, and Jin-Roh, but his success began as he rode Takahashi's rising star of celebrity. The adaptation of Urusei Yatsura began her long association with Kitty Animation, the company responsible for animating all of her works throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Her association continued with the company until Kitty Animation went out of business in the late 1990s.

Takahashi had a mass of ideas she wanted to get on paper in the early years of her career, and the 1980s are marked by the dozens of short stories she created. Three of her stories- Maris the Chojo, Fire Tripper, and The Laughing Target were all made into successful OAVs. Her short stories would continue throughout her career, but the 1980s marked her most significant outpouring of this genre.


1987 may have been the most significant year of Takahashi's career. She had been in the business as a pro for almost 10 years when she decided to end her two ongoing series, Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku. In retrospect Takahashi views both series as her Twenties personified, and will always remember them fondly. Both series found their happy endings, and Takahashi was quick to move on to the next phase of her career.

She began by creating The Mermaid Saga, a series she has worked on on-and-off for a decade. The series follows a pair of immortals who seek to find an end to their everlasting life and die in peace. While most creators would make characters enamored with the powers of eternal life, only Takahashi would create characters who sought to end their unending existences. These characters marked a truly new direction in storytelling for the creator. This was not her usual romantic comedy, but a dark, horrific and graphically violent story. It was very akin to her mentor Kazuo Koike's works.

Yuta is a 500 year old immortal who wanders across Japan for centuries before he finds Mana, a young immortal who he takes as his companion. They meet others who seek to gain their power but are not strong enough, resulting in most becoming demonic creatures called 'Lost Souls'. The Lost Souls were used as a metaphor for qualities in man that would seek immortality for selfish gain. Takahashi has said that The Mermaid Saga is a way for her to release her inner emotions- a catharsis.

She followed The Mermaid Saga with One-Pound Gospel, published in the newly debuting magazine Young Sunday, a spin-off of Shonen Sunday where Urusei Yatsura had run. One-Pound Gospel is unique in that it deals with Christianity, a very offbeat topic for manga in a culture that is dominated by Buddhism and Shintoism. At it's core it is a series about commitments. Angela is a novice nun preparing to take her vows, the most important to the series being the vow of celebacy. She is tempted by a young boxer named Kosaku Hatanaka who has his own temptation- food. He constantly battles his weight problems to stay within his proper weight class, all while trying to win the heart of the seemingly unattainable, a woman who is completely unavailable due to her religious commitments to God.

 


The ending of Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku marked the end of an era for the author, and the start of a brand new one.

 



Takahashi hits 30 and begins Ranma and has her first work published in English in the USA. This photo was taken from an interview in 1989 shortly before the anime series debut.
 

And then, as if 1987 was not busy enough already, Takahashi released another blockbuster, her third major series, Ranma . During the late 1980s the shonen (boys) manga field was dominated by martial arts stories, the most significant being Akira Toriyama's hit Dragon Ball Z. Takahashi always enjoyed the action and martial arts of Fist of the Northstar and decided to take her own swing at martial arts manga. Of course she added in her trademark romance and comedy for an completely unique story. Ranma follows Ranma Saotome, a headstrong young martial artist who has recently returned to Japan from a long training trip in China. He is engaged to Akane Tendo, a friend of the family, against his will and then his embarrassing secret is revealed....when splashed with cold water this macho martial artist becomes a girl. The series deals with gender issues, an often touched upon topic in Takahashi's work. The relationship between a tomboy girl and a macho boy/girl creates an interesting dynamic that had not been seen before, but has been often imitated since.

Ranma , like her previous series, also was made into an anime. The series dealt with ups and downs in the ratings. The series sometimes drifted away from the work of Takahashi which could relate to the difficulties the series faced from time to time. As the series met it's end in 1992, Takahashi expressed her sadness to see it go, but subsequent specials and films hued more closely to her original ideas. Unfortunately though, she ended the manga in 1996 shortly after the final piece of Ranma animation was released. The series was never to be resolved in animated form. As the 1990s came to a close Kitty Animation, the home of all of the animated adaptations of her works went out of business.

In 1989 Takahashi had another distinction, her works were translated and published in English for the very first time. A subsidiary of Takahashi's publisher in Japan, Viz first released Urusei Yatsura in 1989 and ran the manga sporadically for a few years. Unfortunately it did not meet with the success that the series did in Japan, perhaps due to cultural hurdles or because of poor marketing. Regardless of the lack of success of Urusei Yatsura, it opened the doors for the rest of her work to be translated and each subsequent title met with increasing accolades. Rumiko Takahashi, more than any other creator, ushered in manga and anime to English speaking audiences. To honor her great achievements she won the prestigious Inkpot Award in 1994 at the San Diego Comic Convention.


On July 6, 1995 Shogakukan celebrated the sale of Rumiko Takahashi's one-hundred millionth book, Ranma Volume 34. Guests of the event were greeted by girls dressed as Lum from Urusei Yatsura, and Takahashi was accompanied by her favorite Takarazuka actor, Yoka Wao. As the ceremony began, a highlight reel was shown featuring all of Takahashi's past work. The montage was narrated by Fumi Hirano and Toshio Furukawa, better known as the voices behind one of Takahashi's most famous couples, Lum and Ataru from Urusei Yatsura. Following the presentation, Takahashi was given a piece of framed artwork signed by various manga artists congratulating her on the achievement. The artwork was presented by Mitsuru Adachi, a fellow manga creator who's series have appeared in Shonen Sunday alongside Takahashi's since the beginning of her career. The two artists have remarkably similar careers, both have a simplistic yet elegant style to their artwork, both have reached the one-hundred million selling point, and both have worked for Shogakukan's Shonen Sunday weekly magazine throughout their careers. The two artists have even collaborated on drawings. Takahashi openly admits that Adachi is one of her favorite peers. After Takahashi received her honor from Adachi, a wrestling ring was erected, and in honor of Takahashi's love of the sport, a match took place between Genma Saotome in panda form from Ranma and Kotatsu-neko from Urusei Yatsura. Following the exhibition, six of Japan's most famous wrestlers put on a show for the audience. The match consisted of a six-way tag match between Manami Toyata, Reggie Bennett and Kaoru Ito versus Kyoko Inoue, Takato Inoue and Aja Kong. After the match ended the announcer proclaimed, "The real winner tonight is Takahashi!".

Throughout the rest of the 1990s Takahashi continued on and off with her Mermaid Saga stories and One-Pound Gospel. Often her short stories were published in Big Comic Spirits rather than their old home of Shonen Sunday. Because of this change her works were more in the vein of Maison Ikkoku, domestic and family comedies rather than for the science fiction bent her earlier worked dealt with. This marked a maturation in her subject matters and would be even more apparent in the fourth major series of her career, Inu-Yasha Sengoku o Togi Zoshi.

Inu-Yasha marked a major change in the way she presented her most mainstream works. It was much darker and decidedly non-comedic when compared to the works that had come before. It had more in common with the dark and violent Mermaid Saga than anything else. Inu-Yasha deals with the reawakening of a half-demon named Inu-Yasha who must come to terms with the death of the woman he loved who he believed betrayed him fifty years earlier. A classic Takahashi love triangle is set up when the woman, Kikyo, comes back from the dead only to find he is now with her reincarnation from the future, Kagome. The relationships are more mature even though it focuses on youthful characters. Life and death are common elements dealt with in the series, and it often feels as though the characters lives are hanging by a thread. These are certainly the most tormented group she has ever written. It also marks the creation of her first irredeemable villian, Naraku. By doing this Takahashi moved away from justifying the actions of her earlier antagonists and created a truly evil being with no regard for the lives of others.

With the closure of Kitty Animation, Takahashi had to find a new production company to release the animation for Inu-Yasha. It had been four years since Ranma ended, marking the longest drought in having one of her television shows on the air in Japan. Fans welcomed her back with open arms and Inu-Yasha became one of her biggest successes yet. Some of this popularity can be attributed to the new company behind the anime, Sunrise, best known for their work on the legendary Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. Sunrise stayed closer to her original story ideas than Kitty did with Ranma , marketed it well, and success came in spades. In 2003, Sunrise began another animated series based on her short stories. This time the company decided to focus on her domestic, mature comedies rather that the slapstick short stories most recognized by her fanbase.

As the new millennium begins, Takahashi is still on top and growing more and more successful every year. Her career continues to explode after almost thirty years of creating manga. She has devoted her life to her career, never marrying, and by her own confession rarely having time to enjoy her massive fortune. She has no regrets regarding the path she has followed. Rumiko Takahashi's stories bring happiness to millions of people across the globe, and that enjoyment is what brings her back to her drawing table every week.

 

 


Some of her earliest English work was published in the anthology magazine Manga Vizion.

 

<< Back to Profile